Luxion KeyShot 4.1

04 September 2013

The Luxion team presents some powerful tools for the professional designer in this point release. Al Dean takes a look at what’s new

Product KeyShot 4.1
Company name Luxion
Price From $995

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about KeyShot. If you haven’t, download the trial and have a bash.

KeyShot’s new Toon shader is useful and worthy of further experimentation

To bring you up to speed, if you have missed out, the system started out as a progressive rendering tool predominantly focussed on generating static, photorealistic images of products.

It wasn’t a general purpose rendering tool, covering everything, it was solely focused on doing one thing and one thing well, very well indeed.

While it’s continued to refine its tools in the static image stakes, the system has also been expanded over the last few major releases with a set of more advanced tools.

It’s progressed from animation in terms of both simple rotational turntables to more complex animations of individual parts from within a model through to more advanced rendering tools (think: caustics).

With the previous 4.0 release, the introduction of KeyShotVR enabled the automatic creation of interactive web-usage assets directly from the system.

Focused caustics

Caustics is one of those rendering techniques that many are aware of although it’s not a common option in most systems.

Caustics is the effect that translucent materials have on the light passing through them and how it refracts onto the surface surrounding them.

It’s a combination of the refraction index of the material, the position of the light and the colour of the material and dispersion.

KeyShot has a caustics toggle that will provide a preview of where light is and where caustic effects appear. This can then be calculated out in the final render.

Of course, if they aren’t key to your scene (such as there’s not much in the way of refractive material), it might not be worth using as it’ll add an overhead, even with KeyShot’s speedy algorithms.

Toon shading

The introduction of toon shading is an odd one for a system that’s so focussed on the creation of photorealistic rendering.

That said, the ability to assign a material that forces the system to shade the edges of a model, leaving the body blank or in an assigned colour, can be incredibly useful.

Whether looking at it as a way of simplifying how a product concept is shown (to strip back extraneous detail) or to make a more artistic statement, it’s there to be played and experimented with.

Personally, I like the ability to mix and match this cartoon-like appearance with the more realistic materials the system has to offer. Quite compelling images can be created with ease.

Procedural textures

Again, this is a big one for the 4.1 release.

Unlike image-based texture maps, procedural textures are built on an algorithm and are perfectly suited for materials such as leather, metals, stone — typically those that have complex and randomised patterns.

These avoid the problems often associated with tiling texture maps and should help users get more realistic renders of specific materials.

This release includes preset materials for leather, marble, wood and a couple of options for noise. However, the community is already making some interesting adaptations (if you’re using KeyShot, the customer forum is definitely worth staying up to date with).

Colour calibration

For most, this won’t make a slight bit of difference, but for those users working in colour critical environments, such as the generation of advertising and marketing imagery, this will be a massive boon to achieving precise colour matches.

KeyShot 4.1 introduces the ability to import colour profiles (in the ICC format) from either a monitor vendor or, more likely, a third party calibration device.

Once it has been loaded in the current profile, images should match exactly across all devices and most critically, be accurate when reused by other departments.

Grabcad integration

Following the integration trend (with Autodesk and Solid Edge having recently done similar work), Luxion has built in some GrabCAD integration that allows users to post images directly from the UI to the CAD data sharing and collaboration service.

For those that know GrabCAD for its public sharing of 3D models, this might not make too much sense, but with the launch of its private workbench collaboration tools, it most certainly does.

In KeyShot, the user loads the model, set ups the render and calculates it. Then, from the renders’ browser, simply right clicks on the image (or selects multiple images) and selects “Publish to GrabCAD”.

This pushes the images to the chosen Project (public) or Workbench (for private project work between colleagues). Job done!

iBooks integration

KeyShot is one of a few, but growing number, of systems that supports Apple’s hardware natively on OSX. While that hardware choice is something of a religious-cum-dividing choice for many, it does have a few benefits.

One such benefit is the new integration into KeyShotVR that allows the output of a ‘widget’ that can be quickly built into an iBook.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Apple has a free publishing tool (iBook author) that allows users to create interactive documents for the iPad and iPhone (Mac hardware will be following soon too with the forthcoming OSX Mavericks due to be available this Autumn).

In short, whereas the KeyShotVR tools allow for the creation of a web-based asset that enables the user to ‘spin’ a fully rendered model, the iBooks integration will now allow the user to do something that’s available offline.

This can then be combined with other information to create an interactive portfolio of rendered work — ideal for sharing with colleagues or clients to show off work in progress or final renders when pitching for new work.


KeyShot is becoming a beast of a system. I don’t mean that negatively at all. It’s moved from being focussed on a single task (static image rendering) to encompass animation and VR output.

And the team at Luxion is still consistently expanding its capabilities. What’s interesting is that this has been done without burdening the user with an overly complex interface and more commands to learn and relearn.

KeyShot 4.0 was a pretty big release, bringing a whole set of brand new tools — but this so called ‘point release’ also brings some pretty incredible tools to the table.

These aren’t unique to KeyShot, but that’s not the point. KeyShot is all about workflow and speed of getting the most photorealistic result you can — in a sensible and workable time frame that a professional design-led user demands.

Professional designers need rendering tools that aren’t all dialogs, knobs, slides and toggles. We need to get the data in, add the materials and have the system do the donkey work. For that, KeyShot wins every time.

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