What Does Sheen Mean When Working With Blender Materials?

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Most materials that you create in Blender will use the Principled BSDF shader as the base for that material tree, thanks to the many individual attributes that can be manipulated through this node. One of the lesser-used attributes is the sheen attribute.

Sheen is a reflective property that controls how reflective the fresnel of the material of the object is. In other words, it can control how reflective a material is when viewed from an acute angle. This attribute can be useful for softer materials like cloth and velvet which are more reflective in the real world when viewed at an angle.

The sheen property is not the most commonly used attribute that you are ever likely to use in Blender but is important for use on soft-body objects like cloth so that they behave correctly from different viewing angles.

How To Use The Sheen Attribute For Your Material?

The sheen attribute, found with the principled shader, is a 0 to 1 slider that determines how much specular reflection is added to the Fresnel reflections of the surface. In other words, it influences how reflective the surface can be when viewed from an angle.

The Principled Shader

A value of 0 indicates that no sheen has been added to the material, while a value of 1 indicates that a full sheen has been applied.

A sheen value of 0 DOES NOT mean the Fresnel reflections of the object will not be visible, as fresnel itself is a fixed real-world attribute that is applicable to all objects.

Sheen is an additive value, meaning it adds to the already existing fresnel to make the reflection more pronounced.

While the sheen attribute has a node socket allowing you to use other nodes to control your sheen, it is rare that you would plug anything here and would normally just use the 0 to 1 slider.

Sheen And Sheen Tint

An example where you would use other nodes is where you combine a value node with math nodes to connect several principled attributes together so that when you change the value you change the attributes together.

Below the sheen value is the sheen tint attribute. When this value is set to 0 the sheen reflects neutral white light but set it towards 1 and the color of the reflection will mimic the base color of the material.

What Materials Benefit Or Require The Sheen Attribute?

To use the sheen in the correct cases, we need to know what real-world materials would follow the principle of sheen making angular reflections stronger.

One such example is a soft cloth material like velvet, which is a prime use case for sheen as while it does not appear that reflective from direct viewing this changes when we begin to view it from an angle.

Therefore when creating a velvet material we need to set the sheen to be a relatively high value. The sheen tint value can vary here, but won’t go as high as the sheen itself for velvet.

Another similar example is the use of silk as a material, which is slightly more commonly used than velvet. Silk would require a sheen value in the middle range depending on how you construct your material.

A third material that could potentially use the sheen attribute is leather. Another softer, man-made material that works well with a little bit of a sheen value added, but not as much as the other examples.

In short, you will notice that a lot of examples involve materials that follow two characteristics, they are soft, and they are man-made.

It Does Not Appear To Be Having Too Much Of An Effect On My Model?

Unlike roughness, which rapidly alters the appearance of the material, the sheen attribute is a subtle addition that is used to highlight the fresnel effect of angular reflections on the model.

No Sheen On Surface

Keep in mind that not every change you make can have the same visual impact as the roughness value, and that attributes like sheen are used to ensure that your material behaves properly under certain viewing and lighting conditions.

Avoid overdoing your sheen value just because it does not make much of a visual difference, as it can affect other elements of the scene to a surprising degree.

Sheen Added To The Same Curved Surface

Avoid Over Exposing Sheen With Ambient Occlusion

The effect of sheen can be highlighted further when we use global illumination, which creates the effect of ambient occlusion, in our lighting setup in Blender.

When using global illumination in the Eevee render engine in particular, the sheen can overpower the material, resulting in a potential loss of detail on the material as the colors can begin to appear washed out.

Other Attributes Of Fabrics And Soft Body Materials

So sheen is primarily used for those softer, man-made materials like cloth, silk, and velvet. But are there any other attributes in the principled shader that we can use to improve these materials besides sheen?

Most fabrics are not highly reflective, and yes we are talking normal reflection now rather than fresnel. So depending on the material, we will want to increase the roughness value so that we can’t see reflections in the surface.

As with any material, we need to make sure that the IOR, or index of refraction, is correct for that material. Most dielectric (nonmetals) materials tend to hover around the 1.5 range for IOR.

Thicker materials may require a degree of subsurface scattering, where light penetrates the surface of the object and scatters underneath, and is a common attribute for soft body and organic models.

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