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Recently, I've been wanting to create a model with a particular artstyle. It involves the model having glowing parts basically identical to the buttons from this question. However, the particular style I want to go for involves the parts being scattered about, irregular and generally a massive pain in the behind if I have to manually go in and add a separate emitter mesh to each one of them (which is what was used in order to create that effect in the original question).

Therefore, my question: is it possible to create a purely material-based setup where the object to which the material is given appears to have one material layered on top of another (e.g. translucent with emission behind it or glossy coated in a layer of glass)? I would imagine it MIGHT be possible using something like the Ray Length component of the Light Path input, but my attempts at it weren't super successful due to my general lack of experience with complex material node setups.

Any help would be appreciated.

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If you mean what I think you mean, then yes it is possible.

Layered volumetric material

Is this what you mean? It is one object, but there are different materials in different places.

This is the node setup: Render result for layered material

The way this works is I separate the object into its X, Y, and Z coordinates. I then select how much of these coordinates I would like to be one material (In this case emission, shown by the white in the colour ramp nodes. This allows layers of different materials within the volume.

If you require these layers of materials to be place at random points, you can just plug in the red component from a noise node into the factor for the mix node as shown below: Node setup for noise volumetric

I have also passed it through a brightness and contrast node to emphasize the border between the two materials.

Here is the result: Render result for noise volumetric

You can achieve really interesting results if you use different types of textures: Render result for interesting texture combination

Node setup: Node setup for interesting texture combination

Another interesting result I came up with: Wavy layered volumetric material render

Hope this helps you :)

EDIT:

Here is the technique applied for a layered material: Layered render 1 Layered render 2

Here is the node setup: Layered node setup

To achieve this layered effect simply change the color ramp. the black bars on each side of the color ramps indicate the thickness of the outer layer. However, this only works with volumetric materials like emission, volume scatter and volume absorption. To layer multiple surface materials they can simply be mixed/added. This will however not work with visible thickness as they are surface shaders and as such only appear on the surface and not in the volume.

That being said, the glass, refraction and transparent shaders can yield some interesting results with the fresnel node.

E.g: Layered glass: Layered glass render

Node setup: Layered glass node setup

The color ramp may look completely white but it is actually 1.1 and 1.45, set to constant.

However, a see through surface shader may be used together with a volumetric to achieve a different type of layered effect.

Volume scatter in glass: Volumetric within surface

Emission in translucent: Emission within translucent surface

Generic node setup for volumetric within surface: Volumetric within surface nodes

The volumetric can be replaced with any of the volumetric shaders shown above.

Hope all this additional info helps :D

EDIT 2:

Just ended up making the 'button' with this technique, thought I'd put it here: Light button

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm...while this is certainly interesting, it unfortunately isn't quite what I had in mind. The effect I need is that you have one material coated like a skin over another (that is, with visible thickness), but without having to create additional geometry for it (due to the irregular placement of the effect). $\endgroup$ – Takuanuva Apr 10 '16 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ This is possible with the method shown here. Just got into bed, if ypu dont get any other answers by tomorrow I'll edit the answer to include something like that. $\endgroup$ – SchoolBoy Apr 10 '16 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SchoolBoy what do you mean by The color ramp may look completely white but it is actually 1.1 and 1.45, set to constant. $\endgroup$ – Monkok Feb 14 '17 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Monkok the colour ramp in the screen shot looks completely white but the two values are set to 1.1 and 1.45, which are more than 1 so appear white but actually aren't just the same colour. Of you go into the colour picker and go to HSV, you can manually type in a value. Then just above the ramp you will see the mode is set to constant. $\endgroup$ – SchoolBoy Feb 14 '17 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @SchoolBoy thanks for the reply, but I don't understand how do you know the overall value of the colour and how you set any of the HSV parameters higher than 1? $\endgroup$ – Monkok Feb 14 '17 at 18:46

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