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Rendering Wireframes

Blender 3d tutorial

Introduction

In the past, rendering wireframes typically meant duplicating your mesh, scaling it up a tiny bit, and then adding a wire material to the new mesh before rendering in the internal renderer. While it works well, there are many other ways to generate wireframes depending on your needs. In this tutorial, I am going to go over three different ways you can render wireframes and explain a few of the pros and cons of each method.

Wireframe Modifier

The first method is the wireframe modifier method. Start by removing the default cube and add the monkey (Add->Mesh->Monkey). In my scene, I added a platform, but this is not necessary. If you want, you can use any model you want. Choose something interesting!

When you are ready, select the mesh object you want to add wireframes to and go into the modifiers panel in the properties window. Add a Wireframe Modifier. You should see your mesh get replaced with a new wireframe mesh. To refine the wireframe, I like to change the Thickness to about 0.01 and I turn off the Replace Original setting. Doing this creates the appearance most people are looking for.

Wireframe Modifier Materials

First, change to the Cycles renderer if you haven’t already. Then, with your mesh still selected, go to the materials panel of the properties window. Add two materials by using the plus button. Rename the first material Base and the second to Wire. The order matters here because we need the wireframe modifier to use the correct material.

Base is going to be the default light gray material, as it will be good enough for this tutorial. The only setting I am changing for Wire is the color. To keep things simple, I went with black. However, because these are just like any other material, you can make these as simple or complex as you like.

If you do a quick render of your scene at this point, you should see your wireframe. Don’t forget to add some lighting to your scene, if you need to.

Wireframe Node

Before we start the wireframe node method, I am going to load a fresh scene with the monkey as I did with the previous method. Once you have done that, split one of the windows in Blender and change the new window to a Node Editor. Add a new material to your object and rename it Wireframe.

For this material, add a Wireframe node (Add->Input->Wireframe) and an Invert node (Add->Color->Invert). Connect the wireframe output to the invert input and the invert output to the existing Diffuse BSDF color input. To adjust the thickness of the wire on your mesh, change the Size setting in the Wireframe node to your desired thickness. I like it somewhere around 0.01.

If you have a whole scene of object to add wireframes to, you can also override all materials in your render. This is done by going to the Render Layers panel of the Properties window and changing the Material setting to your wireframe material. Now you can set up some lighting and render and you should your wireframes on your entire scene.

Overlaying With the Wireframe Node

Unlike the wireframe modifier, the wireframe node method overrides the materials you would otherwise see in your renders. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I am going to quickly go over how to overlay wires on a final render with this method.

Start by rendering your scene without the wireframes and save the image. Now we want to make another render with just wireframes. We will use a similar node setup as previously, except we can remove the Invert node and we will replace the Diffuse node with an Emission node. The emission node gives us a shadeless render and makes it easier to filter out in the compositor.

Now go to the compositor nodes and load the original render in an Image node (Add->Input->Image). Plug the color output of the Render Layers node into both the Fac and Color input of an Alpha Over node (Add->Color->Alpha Over). The Multiply node isn’t necessary, but it does allow you to change the wire color to Black or White or something in between.

Once you have all these nodes set up, you can render your scene and your wires will be overlaid on top of your original render.

Screenshot Method

Simple, right? Just take a screenshot of your 3D view window and you have your wireframes! You certainly can do this and it is very quick, but let’s go through a few tweaks that can make your screenshot look more like a render.

First, open up the Properties panel in the 3D View window (N key). In the Shading section, turn on the Matcap setting you can pick the shader you like best for your objects. In the Display section, you can turn off the Grid Floor, Axis lines, and other features. This will clean up some of that clutter.

Now select your mesh and go to the Object settings in the Properties window. In the Display section, turn on the Wire setting. You have to do this for every object you want to have wires.

Once that’s done, you might want to move any cameras, lamps, or other objects you don’t want in your screenshot to different layers. Then close sidebars and headers in the 3D view window. If you want it to be full screen, press Ctrl-Up Arrow with your mouse in the 3D view window.

To take the screenshot, press Ctrl-F3. You can also press the spacebar and type ‘Save Screenshot’. When the save window opens, make sure you uncheck the Full Screen option so you only get the 3D view window and not everything else. After that, you have very clean wireframes of your scene.

Pros and Cons

Each method has its pros and cons. The method you use really depends on the results you are looking for and how complex your scene is. Here’s a quick overview.

The wireframe modifier allows you to easily add a wireframe without messing with existing materials. You can also go nuts when making a material for the wires. Another plus it that it can use edges generated by a subdivision surface modifier. However, the modifier adds four-sided cylinders around each edge of your model. This isn’t always a problem, but if Blender is already slow due to a complex scene, the wireframe modifier will only make it worse.

The wireframe node is great because it allows you to easily apply a single wireframe material to every object in your scene. With a little bit of work, you can also overlay the wireframes onto existing textures. The big issue with this method is that it only generates triangular wireframes. If you are trying to show off your amazing quad topography, the wireframe node will make it hard to see.

The screenshot method is very quick and doesn’t require adding modifiers or materials. Premade shaders can quickly make your models look good. The problem is that you have to do some cleanup work to hide the interface. You also have to open up the resulting image in an image editor to crop or remove any remaining Blender interface bits you might want to remove.

Keep Learning!

No single tutorial will cover everything, so if you want to dig deeper, here are some resources for you to check out. If you have other resources you think I should add to this list, feel free to let me know!

Blender Docs

Tutorials

Books

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