Improve Your Material Workflow By Combining Nodes Into Groups

The more you learn about nodes the larger your node trees can become, and the more complex your materials. But even if you know what a specific node is used for when you create it, that does not mean you won’t forget later on. And there are a lot of nodes to remember for those more complex materials.

Node groups are special nodes that are created by selecting multiple nodes and then using the hotkey Shift + G. You can then expose specific parameters to the inputs and outputs of the group node, leaving you with a single master node that still grants you the control of the many nodes used to create it.

These group nodes can very quickly reduce the clutter of a more complex material that may have dozens of nodes. But in what scenarios are node groups truly useful to beginners and even advanced material artists.

Why Do We Need To Use Group Nodes?

The more nodes that we have in our node tree the more difficult it becomes to recognize which nodes perform which tasks and what to do if you want to make changes to a specific property of the material.

Eventually, as you create more materials the number of nodes used will increase, and it is possible to create a material that uses 100 nodes or more.

Think of it this way, would you rather have 100 nodes all piled up on top of each other, or would you rather have 40 nodes with three larger group nodes.

Below is an example of a node setup that has a modest number of nodes, used to create a basic grid texture on a cube.

No attempts have been made to organize the node setup to be more presentable.

Material Without Group

Now we have a second image with the same node setup, only this time we have taken 11 nodes and combined them all into a single group node.

Material With Group

Despite the fact that we have effectively turned 11 nodes into 1, the material still has the same level of functionality. We can even control the exposed parameters of the nodes used to create the group so that we can keep adjusting them in the main material.

How To Create A Group Node?

If you want to create a group node, you must first select all of the nodes that you want to be a part of that group. As your selection will normally be directly connected to each other, using the box selection tool is a suitable method for grabbing the nodes that you want.

Border Selecting Nodes

Just click and drag over your selection and release the LMB to select everything within the border. Be careful not to select any nodes that you do not want to be a part of the group.

To convert the selection to a group, go to Add (Menu) > Group > Make Group, or use the keyboard shortcut of Control + G.

Make Your Group

When you do, Blender will create the node group and take you inside of the node. The node group almost turns the editor into a layer-based system, as each node group will have its own node trees to work with.

You should see all of your selected nodes here, plus a group input node and a group output node, and you should also see a green background behind your nodes.

Inside The Node Group

To return to the main node tree of your material, there will be a button with an icon of a curved arrow in the header bar. Press that button to return to the material.

Exit Node Group

When you want to go back inside a group node, there will be an icon in the title bar of the group node that you press to access it.

Enter The Node Group

Exposing Your Parameters As Inputs And Outputs

When creating the group node, you will have nodes that are connected to others that are not a part of that group node.

Blender maintains this connection by creating inputs and outputs for the group node that are automatically connected to those nodes.

This is great, but what about when we want to change the parameters for nodes that exist within the node group, as it sees cumbersome to always have to go into the group node to make these changes.

Fortunately, we can manually expose parameters as new inputs on our group node. For example, lets say I wanted to expose the greater than values so that I could adjust the size of the grid on each axis.

Connect Parameters

I can drag and drop each of these parameters into an empty socket in the group input node to connect them, then press N to open up the side panel, select the name of the input and give it a more accurate description.

Label Inputs

When I exit my node group I should see those three parameters have all been exposed to the main group node. Now I can adjust them without going back into the group.

Exposed Parameters

Another thing we can do here is connect these parameters to a single group input socket, which would allow us to control all three values at the same time.

The normal rules of nodes still apply, so the socket from our group input node (Which is actually an output) can be connected to as many parameters as you want.

Other Ways To Organize Your Node Tree

In addition to being able to condense your node trees down using group nodes, you can also use other tools fr better organizing your node trees. Below are three tools that we recommend learning to get the most out of your material setups…

Frames are fantastic visual markers that are an alternative to creating group nodes. Like group nodes, you store a selection inside of your frame, but the frame is just a border, so all of your selected nodes are still visible in the material tree. To add a frame go to Add (Menu) > Layout > Frames and then drag and drop your selection into your frame.

Reroute nodes are individual sockets that act as both inputs and outputs allowing you to redirect your noodles throughout your node tree. This can be great for when noodles are forced behind other nodes making the node tree confusing to look at. To add a reroute go to Add (Menu) > Layout > Reroute and then connect it to your noodle, then use G to grab and reposition where appropriate.

Labels are the simplest way of identifying what nodes are used for. These labels replace the default name of the node with a user-defined description of what that specific node is responsible for in this material. Frames can also be labeled as well. To create a label select the node, then press N to open up the side panel. In the nodes tab type in your new label in the text box.

Thanks For Reading The Article

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