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Materials affect the way that your model is seen on screen. They simulate lighting, colors, reflectivity, and so on. You can use them to see what the model would look like if it were made of other kinds of substances. Let's start by opening the built-in DemoRhino. It's easier to see the effect of materials when a model has been subdivided to a more smooth level. Open up the Geometry sub-palette and click Divide a few times. I am just going to click it up till subdivision level 4. The way a model looks on screen is a combination of its material and its color.
Right now, this rhino has a very dark color. You can see it's the main color and it's a dark gray. So this is darkening the default color of the material. In order to see the material in its purest form, just drag here in the color chooser up to white. Now we see what the material looks like in its purest form. Now we can click on this button. It's the material chooser. And what we see is an array of all these different materials that we can put on the rhino. Hovering over any of them shows us a quick preview of what it's going to look like on the model.
So you can see there are some that're really fancy, have a really cool metallic look to them, and then there's others that are more plain. I actually like to use one of the more simple ones. It's really up to your preference. It doesn't have anything to do with how the model will look if it's exported into a different program; however, some of them can be deceiving and make a model look better than it actually is. So, for example, if I just click on this one right here, you see it gives a really metallic, shiny look to the model, but all that extra information can get in the way when you're trying to sculpt.
More exotic materials like this create a lot of extra information that make it difficult to really see what detail is sculpted on the model, so I prefer to use a simpler material like this one right here. You'll use materials to get a sense of what a model can look like with various surface properties, but you'll probably find yourself sticking to a favorite. It helps you see the forms that you're sculpting rather than a more eye-catching material that just looks pretty.
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