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20 Tips for Getting the Most Out of 3DS Max

Did You Know You Can Emulate Sunlight in 3DS Max 2017?



As an architect, you have access to several digital design packages. Selecting the right one for the job is crucial. One of the most popular is 3DS Max. It offers an array of features for architectural design. The software combines easy and flexible model creation with superb rendering and real-time display options.

This makes it the software of choice for many architects. However, even those who have used it for years may not know all of the tricks for getting the most out of it. Here are 20 useful tips that can help you when using 3DS Max.


Tip #1 – Naming Elements

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The more complex an element becomes, the more elements it will contain. This presents a problem when it comes to naming. Many people name their elements based on their shape. This can get confusing in models that use the same shape a lot. Instead, you should give logical names to your elements. For example, give all elements in a wall the same tag, such as “North Wall”. This makes them easier to identify than if you had labelled them as “Cube” or “Sphere”.


Tip #2 – Group Your Elements

Even with logical naming, it can become hard to navigate through your elements with large models. This is where grouping can help. It is good practice to bring all of your individual elements for a section of the model together. Let’s say you have modelled a stairwell. Grouping every element, from the stairs through to the walls and scene decoration, makes the area easier to access. Further, you can use instances to handle copies of the same element. Doing this means a single change to one element in an instance gets reflected across all of the elements in that instance.


Tip #3 – Isolate Your Elements

Trying to work on single elements in complex models presents plenty of difficulties. A couple of slips of the mouse and you have a few mistakes to undo. It’s not a huge problem but it can waste time. There is an easier way to do it. You can isolate an element so you can work on it without the distractions of the rest of the model. Right click on the element and select “Isolate”. This hides every other part of the model.


Tip #4 – Use Populate



Many architects using digital design software struggle to help their clients visualize the scene. You could have the greatest model in the world but it means nothing if the client can’t figure out how it will look in the real world. This is where the “Populate” function comes in handy. You can use it to fill your models and scenes with virtual people from the 3DS Max library. These people even come with animations for idle standing and walking. Populate is ideal for models that will host people when built, such as library buildings.


Tip #5 – Workspaces and the Basic 3DS Max Concepts

The 2017 version of 3DS Max has a few new concepts for you to get to grips with. It offers a helping hand with the “Design Workspace” feature. This creates a design layout that teaches you all of the basics of the software. It introduces you to the main concepts and new tools. Further, it helps you figure out how to create a 3DS Max workflow. In essence, it will introduce you to the software’s user interface and make you more efficient. Take your time to go through it, even if you have used 3DS Max before.


Tip #6 – Use Pre-set Bevels

Newer versions of 3DS Max offer several pre-set bevels for use in your models. You can find them in the pre-set options in the software’s text tool. These allow you to work directly with the bevel profile modifier via a dropdown. Using pre-sets is ideal for creating simple bevels. This will save you plenty of time when working on your models. Of course, you can still create your own bevels if you prefer.


Tip #7 – Optimize Your Scene Materials

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3DS Max contains a good rendering engine. Even so, many prefer to use other engines. One of the most common is V-Ray, but there are several others that work with 3DS Max. The key here is that you need to consider your scene materials when using another rendering engine. Ensure that you optimize the materials for proper display in the engine. If you don’t, you may find that you end up with strange lighting effects and element behaviour when you come to render.


Tip #8 – Use the Sun Positioning Tool

Another new feature for the 2017 version of 3DS Max is the “Sun Positioning” tool. You can find this tool in the lighting menu. It allows you to set the position of the sun and make changes to the sky around your model. You can even set times, dates, and locations. This is ideal when working from photographs of a location as it allows you to emulate the lighting conditions exactly. You can also show how light will affect the building at various times of the day.


Tip #9 – Toggling Lighting

Did you know that you can toggle lighting effects quickly when working on your model? It’s true. Use Ctrl + L to toggle the lighting on and off in a matter of seconds. This may not seem like a big deal. However, when you consider that you usually have to navigate through a couple of menus to toggle lights manually you can see where it can save a lot of time.


Tip #10 – Using Soft Shadows

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Realism is key when creating renders for clients. This means you need to make proper use of shadows in your models. As a general rule, use soft shadows over hard ones. The latter give the model a less realistic look. Use Omni lights to cast light from a single source in all directions. Further, use Mental Ray to create “Raytraced” shadows. As an aside, you will need to enable area shadows in Omni/Spot when using V-Ray to render the model. The render will take more time but it will look more realistic.


Tip #11 – Emulate Real World Photography

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As a general rule, you should avoid making your models look obviously computer generated. 3DS Max offers an array of environment and camera settings to this end. You can use these settings to move beyond the constraints placed upon a photograph. However, doing so will create that CGI look that you may wish to avoid. To remedy this, aim for your models and their renders to emulate real photographs. This makes the model look more realistic and helps with visualisation for clients.


Tip #12 – Saving Files

You have several options available to you when saving files in 3DS Max. Many opt for the JPEG format. Typically, this is because JPEG files take less space on a hard drive than most others. Unfortunately, JPEGs are also compressed files. This means that they will restrict the amount of information you have to work with in later edits. This can come back to bite you when attempting to alter exposure and lighting. Avoid this by saving all models as TIFF files. These are 32-bit files that use no compression.


Tip #13 – Quick-fire Saves

We’ve all been there. You work intently on a model for hours on end. So engrossed in your work, you forget to save at regular intervals. Suddenly, you discover a mistake made hours ago has caused an issue with the model. That’s hours of work down the drain in an instant. You can avoid this by adjusting your workflow so that you save regularly. A good rule of thumb is to save directly before and directly after editing an element. Create several saves instead of overwriting the same one, so you have a few points you can go back to if you make a mistake.


Tip #14 – Hidden Modifiers

3DS Max presents you with a bunch of modifiers that you can use when creating your models. Many people happily use them without knowing that the software offers even more with a little searching. All you need to do is right click on the modifiers list that you can see. This will unveil a whole new list of hidden modifiers. These relate to an array of key functions in the software. You can make changes to surface and animation settings. Plus, you can even modify parametric constraints.


Tip #15 – Only Edit Poly Models

Using 3DS Max you can create models in the mesh and poly formats. When editing, you should always use the poly format. Mesh models offer more room for error when editing. They also come with fewer settings, which means you have less flexibility when working on the model. Don’t fret if you have started work on a model in mesh mode. You can always convert it to a poly model to gain access to more editing settings and reduce the amount of issues you run into. Just use the “Turn to Poly” option in the “Modifiers Menu”.


Tip #16 – Always Download Updates

As great as 3DS Max is, it is not without its bugs. Each new release of the software generally comes with a few issues that you will have to work around to create your models. Happily, Autodesk offer plenty of support for the software. The company releases regular updates and service packs. Make sure you download them as soon as they become available. This will allow you to fix bugs and get back to working on models without any constraints.


Tip #17 – Assign Hotkeys

Using hotkeys allows you to complete common tasks without trawling through menus. 3DS Max comes with several default hotkeys. For example, you can use “Q” to select an object or “E” to rotate any selected objects. You can also create your own hotkeys for other common actions. Head to the “Keyboard Panel” in the “Customize” menu and select the desired action. Use the “Hotkey” field to enter a keyboard shortcut for the action. If you assign an existing shortcut to the action it will pop up in the “Assigned To” field. Assuming you’re happy with the selection, click “Assign”. You now have a new hotkey. Create them for every action you use regularly.


Tip #18 – Use the Camera

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Efficiency is key in 3D modelling. You can’t hit maximum efficiency if your scene camera is in the wrong place. Spend some time finding the perfect frame and angle before you start working on a model. This ensures you only work on what the camera can see. As a general rule, use a narrow angle lens for more detailed modelling. Avoid the temptation of trying to work on the entire scene all at once.


Tip #19 – Build to Scale

Resist the temptation to work off-scale when using 3DS Max. The software uses proper units and ratios for all of your models. This means that going off-scale will cause several issues for your models later on. Avoid this by building to scale. You should have detailed measurements to hand before you start working on a model. Do the math and put some time into preparation. This will save a lot of time later on that you may have wasted making adjustments.


Tip #20 – Use Templates

You may create a lot of models that use similar scenes. Creating a new scene for every model will waste a lot of time. Thankfully, 3DS Max has a template system. You can save commonly used scenes in this system for use whenever you need them. Create some common templates with settings for lighting, scale, and rendering. You can then apply the template whenever you need it. This saves time and also lends a degree of consistency to your work.


The Final Word



3DS Max is one of the most flexible pieces of digital design software on the market. By using its features correctly, you can create detailed models quickly. Each of these tips will help you get more out of 3DS Max.

Beyond this, ArchiStar Academy offers several courses in 3DS Max for those who wish to learn at a more advanced level. We also offer AutoCAD courses and courses in several other software packages. Contact us today for more information.

Archistar Academy offers several courses across the spectrum of digital design software. You’ll develop your skills, allowing you to create more accurate and functional models.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Archistar Academy today if you have any questions.

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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