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I am brand new to Blender and just want to confirm that I understand the difference between models, textures and materials (particularly the last two).

My understanding (please correct me if I'm wrong!) is:

  • A model is the mesh of the 3D object (contains 3D coordinates of each vertex, and all the edge information between connected vertices). There are multiple file formats for models (PLY, OBJ, etc.) and Blender supports most of them.
  • A texture is a file that contains 1+ 2D images representing the surface of the model. Textures get mapped to the outermost vertices of the model and provide (primarily) sub-polygon color details, giving the models (essentially) their outward look-and-feel. There are also multiple file formats that can store textures since they are essentially containers of 1+ images (but what file formats are there?)
  • A material is a collection of light properties on each pixel or polygon (which one?) on the model. Materials determine what happens when light (and only light - nothing else) strikes the pixel/polygon at a specific angle, with a specific intensity, etc. Materials can either be baked (pre-rendered) into a texture, and subsequently exported/saved as a texture file. Or, materials can be exported/saved as a separate/third file type; I believe MTL files are material files.
  • Rendering is the process of baking materials into textures, and then applying/mapping the baked textures onto the surface of models, and producing a 2D image from a specific camera position/orientation.

How'd I do?

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You got most everything right but there are a few misconceptions there.

Model - A model is the geometry giving shape to a 3D object, it is generally a Mesh but may be also composed of other object types, like Curves, Text Objects, or less commonly in Blender NURBS. It may also comprehend other animation related data like rigging, shape keys, and armatures. The formats you speak of have nothing to do with models themselves, though they serve as way to export them. They are mostly interface file formats useful for transferring data between different applications, Blender does import and export most of them, but to faithfully save your data you must exclusively save in the native .blend file.

Textures are for the most part regular 2D images as in jpeg, png, tiff, tga, EXR image files. They are just a name for an image that will be controlling a property of a material, it is not a file format that contains "1+" images, it is an image. They simply describe color information, they hold no information regarding surface properties of an object themselves, and can't be used alone for the most part, but can however through a material serve various purposes like provide actual diffuse (visible) color of a material, or other surface properties like roughness (bump or displacement maps), shininess (glossiness or reflectivity), emission, and many other properties.

There are two main types of textures, actual image textures, as described above, using an image file, or procedural ones, generated by the rendering engine (generally can't be exported or used elsewhere outside the source program).

Material Is the collection of image textures, procedural textures, shaders, and surface/volume properties that describes the final appearance of the object. It may include reflectivity, lighting, color and/or volume information. Materials can under certain circumstances be baked into a "static representation" of the surface for export, but are otherwise for the most part not exportable

A material can use any number of textures, and an object can have any number of materials (except for certain game engines), but only one per face at each time. Of course using too many textures and/or materials may have a negative impact over performance of a scene or rendering.

Rendering Is generally used to refer to the process of transforming a Scene (composed of 3D models with Materials) into a 2D image (like taking a picture with a camera). The process of transforming materials into textures, although also achieved through the same rendering process, is generally referred to specifically as Baking. Just to be clear, baking obligatorily involves Rendering, but Rendering doesn't necessarily require baking.

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    $\begingroup$ Specifically, the purpose of baking is to take things like non-exportable procedural textures or high-poly geometry (in the case of normal maps) and render it into a simple image that other software could use. You can also use baked textures to speed up rendering in blender, particularly animation -- cgi films sometimes do this -- but usually the consumer of baked textures is a game or other realtime renderer. $\endgroup$ – StarWeaver Feb 3 '17 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ One thing I would add to you answer is to confirm for them that textures do not contain "1+" (ie. more than one) image, but that a texture is just another name for an image. $\endgroup$ – Ray Mairlot Feb 3 '17 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ @raymairlot agree, didn't really understand what the user actually meant with that. Feel free to edit my question and add any additional information you feel is missing. $\endgroup$ – Duarte Farrajota Ramos Feb 3 '17 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ Might want to change "rugositiy ". While I understand the meaning (after looking it up), it's not a word I've heard in the context of materials or textures before. $\endgroup$ – Ray Mairlot Feb 3 '17 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ True, fixed. Always have a hard time translating that while avoiding the "bumpiness bump" redundancy ;) $\endgroup$ – Duarte Farrajota Ramos Feb 3 '17 at 16:42

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