Rendering chrome

Tips and techniques on rendering chrome convincingly?

You have to remember that chrome is a highly reflective material. It will be reflecting something in the backgroupnd. Normally this is marker rendered with a blue sky, and some sort of ground color. My prof used to say put some ‘mountains’ in the middle. What he meant was to make the black ‘horizon’ line in the middle vary a bit to appear as though there was something there.

An amazing reference for marker rendering is our very own vintage sketches thread: Questions about the Art Institute of Colorado

A good example pulled from the thread:

So I decided I would just do a quick demo using your sketch to help show you how to look at chrome. I did this based on chrome shot in a photo studio. This is very popular with Alessi so you should google there images. The key for chrome is contrast. You need black directly against white. There are a few sublet gradients that you need to be aware of these will come from a surfaces that are been reflected in this case a white surface. The black will come from the studio space. If you are rendering chrome outside there are fixed environmental aspects. Such as ground and sky. The ground is typical render as brown or tan and the sky is render as blue. In the sky you are going to get a light source reflection from the sun. This will show up as a white dot, ellipse and some times a line depending on the reflective part’s surfaces. The key is contrast using the darkest against the lightest color been reflected. This is a very brief summery of the complexities of chrome. But use observation to help learn more. Every time you see chrome or reflective surfaces try to figure out what the reflection are.
Chrome Demo.jpg

I think you’ve done an OK job of understanding the behavior of “Chrome style” reflections in your rendering, but you need to keep in mind that a profile view of a purely cylindrical shape is of very little visual interest. Chrome, or any reflective surface in sketches works to help the user understand the profile of the surface. If you did that same sketch in perspective and added a little bit more profile to the shape, it would help make it feel a little more convincing.

JZ’s point about “Adding some mountains” is a valid trick to trying to add some visual interest. Also you can see from the rendering he posted they use blue and gold to help designate the sky and ground, and you can see on the left side of the rim where the noisy black line represents the “Mountain”. If it was a perfectly straight line at that point (which if it were a perfectly reflective surface in a perfect environment it would be) it wouldn’t look as convincing.

Always get your linework and the design right first and the rendering becomes much less important. Here is a quick overlay of your design. The first thing I did was a new underlay getting the lines roughed in. I then overlayed that and tried to get the linework to be expressive. I adjusted the design to be more manufacturable by extending the chrome piece down the handle so you would have a single front part and a back half that would be simple injection tools. The UI is on the front again to align with the pull of the tool. The strain relief completes the bottom of the handle. I tapered the barrel to both be easier to mold and let the light refract nicer. The back air intake I set in a bit and made not a full round.

Once all that was sketched in I started to indicate the chrome and shading in pencil… and then started overlaying a bit of marker. The chrome got a little muddy, but still a good quick indication.

Keep in mind most people providing you with insight have been doing renderings for quite some time one thing that helps greatly when you are first starting out is you should have lots and lots of ref. material with you to look at and examine. A quick Google image search of chrome hair dryers present a variety of images that show you the material in real life. Trying to do a realistic material rendering weather it be with marker or in CAID is difficult to do from your minds eye unless you have carefully memorized the material in the real world. Also have ref of not only the material but different forms, flat, concave convex cylindrical, indoor, out door , studio all helps. Not only do i have an inspiration library of cool designs i also have a materials and form ref library for when i do renderings…

And for you youngs out there note Yo’s comments… This is what makes him a product designer vs a stylist (no slight intended for stylist). And allows his designs to be make it through to the market with design intent in tack. Because he even in this quick study took a variety of items into consideration. All which if not considered up front will drastically change the design down stream when manufacturing gets a hold of it.

Another detail that helps is to have your reflections rapidly distort/fade/whiplash when they hit the radius/edge of the chrome surface. This applies to all glossy surfaces. Notice it happening on the buttons and glass window of this phone. The glass shows gradual curvature. The buttons show how a shadow/highlight can sharpy bend when it hits a small radius. The sharper the value disappears or distorts, the sharper the radius you’re communicating.

Don’t forget the importance of observation. I find I’m still getting better at rendering, even though I don’t do it consciously, just because I can discern what doesn’t look real enough, and how it can feel more real. EG, google image search chrome hair dryers and look at 5-10 examples. Look at one in real life at the store, other chrome stuff on cars and motorcycles in parking lots, etc…