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There are a lot of HDRI's out there, but some are better to preview materials, as they for example make surface features more pronounced, or are less colored, therefore not tinting the surface color.

So what are your suggestions for free HDRI's to preview materials?

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    $\begingroup$ Anything considered "studio lighting" is often good as the colors are pretty neutral most of the time. Try some of these - polyhaven.com/hdris/studio $\endgroup$ May 12, 2022 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ I like the look of seventh HDRI called "sunrise", would you consider that one to be neutral? $\endgroup$ May 12, 2022 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Was that supposed to be to my answer? No, I wouldn't consider that neutral -- beautiful, my fave, but the strong slanting sunlight and bold surrounding colors would have an impact on any material previewed with it. $\endgroup$
    – KickAir8p
    May 12, 2022 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ The best way to preview materials is with the lighting you're going to use in the final render because lighting makes a huge difference to how materials appear. If your final render is going to use an HDRI, use that HDRI in material preview and enable world and lighting. This only works for Cycles because of the way EEVEE does lighting. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2022 at 18:34

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Thought of an answer while writing a comment - something you can try is to pick ANY HDRI you like (lighting wise), and then desaturate the colors (either fully or completely) by placing a Hue/Saturation/Value Node before the Background input of the World Shader (you can change the hue too if needed):

Note - you mentioned some HDRI's being better for showing surface details - there is no real formula, but I tend to avoid ones with "flat" lighting. Basically avoid things like large overcast skies or dull, evenly lit interiors.

Colors

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    $\begingroup$ I also just thought of that ;-) What i found to be most optimal is to use an HDRI with a strong directional light like sunrise in combination with the HSV node. $\endgroup$ May 13, 2022 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ And the HDRI should also cast hard shadows to best reveal cavities and normal mapping etc. $\endgroup$ May 13, 2022 at 14:21
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Blender comes with eight CC0 HDRIs included (Windows installation in the \datafiles\studiolights\world folder). One of them, studio.exr, is a near grayscale studio lighting setup that sounds like what you're asking for. If you want higher resolution versions they can be found (also free CC0) at https://polyhaven.com/a/studio_small_01 .

But for even all-round lighting, instead of an HDRI, you might want to change the Color in the Background node (in the World Shader) to FFFFFF white and adjust the Strength:

enter image description here

Another useful method is to remove all lighting (Background node in the World Shader to 000000 black, Strength 0.0) and use an Emission node in your material -- this allows you to render your material as-is, without any lighting issues:

enter image description here

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Use some hdri that gives flat light and not too much shadows and highlight. I like to use hdri that comes with Substance Painter and Designer. You can download it for free from https://hdrmaps.com/industrial-room/

enter image description here

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