Material versus Appearance: What’s the difference?

Jesse Rosalia
fusion 360
Nov 29, 2023

In our Fall 2023 update of Bommer for Fusion 360, we were excited to unveil a feature that users have requesting for a while: the capability to display and export the Fusion 360 Appearance for parts and bodies directly within a Fusion 360 design. This advancement has sparked a lively discussion among our community about the nuances between appearance and material in Fusion 360. Let's dive into these differences – it’s simpler than it might initially appear.


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Physical Material

In Fusion 360 and other CAD programs, a body represents solid, surface, or mesh geometry within a component. This body indicates a physical material (or more commonly, just “material”), encompassing properties like density, Young’s modulus, and thermal properties. These properties, along with the geometry, are vital for computing mass properties, performing simulations, and driving material sourcing. Bommer has supported the export of physical material names for components for some time; earlier this year, we launched the capability to include other properties that Fusion 360 maintains for a material, further enhancing the functionality and utility of our BOM software for Fusion 360 users.


Appearance, in Autodesk Fusion 360 and similar CAD programs, serves a distinct purpose compared to physical material. The role of appearance is to define the visual aspect of a part or body in the modeling environment and in renders, yet it does so without altering the part's physical engineering properties. Each physical material has an inherent default appearance, but in Fusion 360, this can be creatively overridden at various levels such as the component instance (or “Occurrence”), at the body level, or even down to a specific face.

This flexibility allows for detailed visual customizations, enabling designers to apply unique finishes like paint to just one side of an assembly, or to distinguish differences in texture and color, such as showing varied grain directions on different parts of a table. In Fusion 360, you can experiment with these visual properties to an extreme extent, such as giving a steel part the appearance of being made of glass. This kind of visual manipulation can be particularly intriguing, offering a way to playfully challenge or even momentarily confound quality control processes.

Appearance can be called different things in other CAD programs. For example, in SOLIDWORKS this feature is known as the render material. Regardless of the specific CAD platform, the fundamental principle remains the same: these appearance settings control the visual aspects like color and finish of a part, while having no effect on the actual material properties.

Color, Material, Finish (CMF)

In the manufacturing industry, the discussion and decision making around Color, Material, and Finish (CMF) are critically important for any manufactured part. CMF serves as another way of thinking about material and appearance for the part: color and finish align with what we've discussed above as appearance and material, while implying physical material, tends to focus more on the end-use performance rather than the engineering properties of that material. These elements are intricately linked in product design and play a significant role in determining not just the performance of a product, but also how it is perceived and valued by consumers.

To delve deeper into the nuances of CMF, especially in the context of 3D printing, Formlabs offers an insightful guide here. For a broader perspective on CMF, Sofeast provides a comprehensive overview here. The key takeaway in both resources is the critical importance of CMF in getting your product design right. Accurately communicating your choices of color, material, and finish in your final design documentation, such as in a bill of materials, is essential for ensuring the product meets both design intentions and user expectations.

How Bommer helps

In Fusion 360 and other CAD environments, assigning a material to a part automatically sets a default appearance. This default appearance can be overridden by assigning a new appearance to the part, body, or face, which will then alter the visual look of the component both in the CAD model space and in any renders produced by the CAD rendering environment. Accurately capturing both the material and appearance aspects (including color, finish, etc.) in a bill of materials is crucial, particularly for workflows that involve rendering to visualize the final product (i.e., to present a detailed visual estimate of the finished product to a client or project manager). Bommer for Fusion 360 now makes this dual representation achievable and seamless.

Would the capability to automatically generate a bill of materials that encompasses both material properties and appearance streamline your process and minimize errors? Explore this functionality by visiting our installation guide for a complimentary, no-obligation 14-day trial! Already a part of the Bommer community? Ensure you're leveraging all the latest features by following our guide to updating Bommer for Fusion 360. And remember, if you have any inquiries or need guidance, just click the Contact button – our team is always ready and eager to support you.

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