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I have constructed a large model out of a few linked objects, which have been duplicated hundreds of times (using Alt+D) - imagine a wall built out of hundreds of bricks for instance.

I would now like to give these linked objects different materials so that they do not all look the same. The geometry will all be the same. Blender, though, doesn't give me a way of modifying the material of a linked object.

If this is not possible, is there a simple way of selecting a random number of these linked objects and replacing them with another linked object (which will have the correct material)?

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In the materials panel, choose Object instead of Data.

material link

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You can use an object info node to get a different random number for each object which all use the same material. This allows you to have a varied input that you can connect to different nodes, like the mix value or math node.

By putting the random value into a colour ramp you can setup a selection of colurs to be chosen for each object.

sample material colour variation

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