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A Primer on Materials in Revit 2013

April 17, 2012 Filed under: General Posted by Gary Sprague

We’ve recently been working on a project involving the creation of custom materials for system families. This gave us a good chance to test out the latest interface and features for materials in the newly released Revit 2013. There are a few significant additions in terms of functionality, most of which have been covered in good detail already by Daniel Stine over on AECbytes, and in broader terms by others such as David Light.

The handful of posts I’ve seen discussing materials in Revit 2013 have focused mainly on two changes from prior versions: 1) the addition of thermal properties for energy calculations/analysis (and to a lesser extent the increased structural properties, now called physical instead), and 2) the introduction of an “assets” data model for managing appearance, thermal, and physical properties. I would agree with the articles I’ve read that these changes should be seen as a welcomed expansion and streamlining of materials functionality in Revit.

A sample material from Revit 2013 with its list of assets and the thermal asset properties displayed.

To the prior two changes I would add a third significant improvement, which is that you can now store libraries of complete materials outside of projects. In prior versions, although they were called material libraries, you could only store appearance properties outside of projects. Now you can take a whole material from inside your project (called “In Document” materials), including all of its different property sets (now called “Assets”), and add it to any number of external libraries that you create. You can also add materials from one library to another. Libraries that you create are stored as standalone .adsklib files, just like the “materials” libraries (read “appearance properties”) of prior versions, so they can be ported and shared between installations with ease.

The menu for managing libraries in the material browser.

On the other hand, several posts I read also complained about the new interface for materials being a challenge. They generally highlighted that there are too many dialog windows to deal with. In my limited experience, I’d say that’s true, but only because there are other quirks to the interface that make the dialogs a bit difficult to parse. I thought I’d offer an overview of the interface and highlight some of the behaviors I found most challenging in the hope that it’s helpful to others trying to get their arms around materials in 2013.

Material Browser
This is the first dialog window that appears when you click the Materials button on the Manage tab of the ribbon menu. The top half of the Material Browser shows you all of the materials you currently have in your project or family (called “In Document” materials). The bottom half has two panes. The left pane shows a list of external libraries you have available for bringing materials in and out of your project/family. The right pane shows the list of materials available in whichever library is currently selected. At the very bottom of the Material Browser window are three buttons. From left to right, the first button lets you open/create/edit libraries, the second lets you create a new material from scratch, and the third, on the far right, will open the Material Editor.

The Material Browser is the first window you'll see when clicking the Materials button on the ribbon in Revit 2013. Note that the first time you click the Materials button, Revit will automatically open the Material Editor window as well.

Material Editor
This is the second-level dialog window that will appear if you click the button in the bottom right of the Material Browser, or if you click the edit button (i.e. pencil icon) on any “In Document” material (note that you can only edit materials that are in your project or family, more on this later). In the Material Editor, you can change a material’s identity information or modify the properties of any of its assets. From here you can also launch the Asset Browser, which is where you can replace a material’s existing assets with totally different ones (as opposed to simply modifying the existing ones). The Material Editor also has a spherical icon that you can click to duplicate the selected material or create an entirely new one.

See the first image at the top of the post for an example of the Material Editor window.

Asset Browser
This is a third-level dialog (and to be fair, that’s as deep as the dialogs go) that you access from the Material Editor. You can launch the Asset Browser either by clicking the window icon at the bottom of the Material Editor or by clicking the swap button on a material’s existing asset in the Material Editor. In the Asset Browser, you can swap assets in and out of the currently selected material, as well as move assets between your project/family and any external libraries you have available.

The asset browser window in Revit 2013, with the two buttons to access the browser highlighted in red.

These are groups of materials and/or assets that exist outside of any particular project or family. They are saved as standalone .adsklib files, and it’s important to note that a single library can contain both materials and assets. This makes perfect sense: if materials are made up of different assets, then a “materials” library must somehow contain appearance, physical, and thermal assets as well. It wouldn’t make much sense if Revit forced users to hold a material’s identity info and graphics properties in one library file and all its related assets in another (technically graphics are also an asset, but those properties are specific to each material and can’t be moved between materials or libraries). So if your library contains a material, then by definition it will contain at least one appearance asset as well (physical and thermal are optional in a project). But if you want to take just an individual asset and place it in a library, you can do that as well without bringing along the container material or that material’s other assets.

With that framework in mind, here are some of the detailed behaviors that might trip you up when working with the new materials and assets interface in Revit 2013:

1. When you open or create a new library from within the materials browser, that library doesn’t automatically show up within the asset browser. You have to manually add your libraries in the asset browser as well.

Adding a library in the material browser does not automatically add it in the asset browser. Note how ‘Custom Library 2’ already appears in the material browser but still has to be added in the asset browser.

2. The name of a library within the interface is not inherently connected to the name of the .adsklib file that stores the library. Revit automatically gives them the same name when you first create the library, but after that you can “rename” the library to anything you want within the interface, and the .adsklib file’s name won’t be changed to match the new name. You can even name the library of an .adsklib file one thing in the material browser, and something else in the asset browser. If you ever have a doubt about which .adsklib file a library is pointing to, you can always hover your mouse over the library name and see a tooltip with the .adsklib file name and location.

The .adsklib file "Madonna’s Library" has been named "Material Girl Library" in the material browser and "Material Boy Library" in the asset browser. Both libraries point to the same file shown in the tooltip.

3. Within a project, Revit won’t let you remove a material’s appearance asset (you can only modify it or replace it with another appearance asset). But Revit will let you delete appearance assets in a library (even if they are used by materials in that library). Revit will also let you take an appearance-less material from a library and add it into a project. So while you can’t delete an appearance asset from inside the project, Revit gives you a workaround via libraries to achieve the same result.

4. Changing an asset’s properties within one material will change that asset’s properties in any other material that uses the asset. This makes sense if you understand that assets are meant to be shared between materials (which does follow how property sets worked in prior versions, so it’s not exactly a new concept). But for new users this could be a painful discovery to make, and there is no way to tell which assets are shared and which aren’t. Tread carefully when modifying your assets!

5. You can only edit materials and assets that are inside of a project. In a library, you are limited to viewing the names of materials and assets, and to performing basic functions like Rename or Delete. If you want to edit a material or asset that’s in one of your libraries, you have to: 1) bring it into a project, 2) make your edits, then 3) add it back into the library to overwrite the original version, and finally 4) remove the copy that’s inside the project (if you don’t want it there).

Materials or assets in a library cannot be viewed or edited (except for renaming or deleting).

6. You can’t open the asset browser unless you open a project material in the material editor. Once you have the asset browser open, you can close the material editor and keep the asset browser open, though in modal form only.

7. Revit 2013 comes with two default material libraries –Autodesk Materials and AEC Materials– but it’s not clear what the difference is between the two. Some materials are in one and not in the other. Some materials are in both but just spelled differently. Overall there is a great deal of overlap between the libraries. Also, the default asset library called “Autodesk Physical Assets” has some appearance and thermal assets in it as well.

The Fabric sections of the Autodesk Materials library and the AEC Materials library. Note the list of materials and how they are spelled differently in each library.

The updated data model for materials in Revit 2013 adds key functionality and gives you lots of flexibility for managing materials in your projects, but it does require some time and experimentation to get comfortable with the interface. I hope this post provides some useful guidance for those looking to make the transition.


  1. 18 April 2012 6:37 am William Sutherland

    Excellent post, thanks very much.

    Even on a well spec’d machine I am finding it extremely slow to open the browser/editor – even if reduced to a text list and the editor pane turned off.

    I wonder if it relates to the number of custom materials in the project?


  2. 18 April 2012 11:13 am Gary Sprague


    Thanks for the positive feedback on the post! I’m not sure what is causing the sluggishness you’re experiencing. I haven’t noticed any slow down from adding custom materials myself. I’m not sure what order of magnitude you have in your project, but you should be able to test the hypothesis by creating a new project from one of the templates and seeing if the material browser is still slow to open. That project would only have the default materials in it. This is probably something you should take to the Autodesk or AUGI forums for additional troubleshooting.

  3. 18 April 2012 1:42 pm William Sutherland

    thanks Gary, that is what I’ve done.

    Just come back to re-read your post…

    I think I’ll bookmark it in fact :-)


  4. 18 April 2012 3:40 pm Gary Sprague

    William, thanks again! Really glad to hear the post seems helpful. I hope you’ll leave another comment if you’re able to figure out the slow down issue from those other resources.

  5. 11 May 2012 11:48 am SKR

    This is as good a review of the materials workflow in Revit as I have seen, but still leaves me wondering on some items. Can you explain to create a custom library of appearance assets? I can’t find anything that actually walks through this. My best picture is to have a material in the material editor, create the appearance asset you desire there and “swap” it into the asset browser (into a custom library). But I can’t make it work. Am I missing something basic here…or can you explain how to create and maintain my own material library and appearance assets? Many thanks for being willing to look at this.

  6. 23 May 2012 3:04 am Gary Sprague


    Sorry for the slow reply, but I believe the answer to your question is as follows:

    1. Go to Manage > Materials to open the Material Browser.

    2. Click on the pencil icon next to any material to open the Material Editor (it may automatically open when you open the Material Browser).

    3. Click the little menu/window icon in the lower left of the Material Editor to open the Asset Browser. (If you click the swap icon instead, Revit automatically filters the current asset out of the list, which might be what was tripping you up.)

    4. In the Asset Browser, click the gear icon in the lower left and choose Create New Library. Give your new external library a name and click Save. Your new library should now appear in the left pane of the Asset Browser.

    5. Click Document Assets in the left pane to see all of the assets available in your project. You can sort by the Aspect column to get all of the appearance assets together.

    6. Click on the appearance asset you’d like to add to your library and drag it until your cursor is hovered over your external library in the left pane. A little plus sign should appear to indicate that you are about to add the selected asset to the library.

    7. Release your mouse click and voila, the appearance asset will be added to the external library.

    I hope this is helpful!

  7. 27 July 2012 11:56 am Nancy McClure

    Great post – I anticipate to be very helpful for some upcoming tasks.

    I met Jose Fandos at #RTCNA – great discussion on content creation philosophies! Hope to interact with your team more in the future.

  8. 29 August 2012 12:04 am 1010

    Great post no doubt, but just an introduction to what
    you will be up against as you begin the long journey
    toward learning Revit 2013 materials.

  9. 29 September 2012 12:33 pm Zipporah Holmes

    This was a delightful post, just wished I had found this before I spent hours relearning how to manange the 2013 materials. My struggle for the last couple of days has been to get my custom materials to render as applied when using the cloud. When I render from my pc (draft – medium) the materials are applied, but when rendered in the cloud the models just have a “paint” applied. Help! Has anyone else experienced this issue and found a resolution to this concern. I am very familure with the program from ’10-’12 but his new interface presents itsself as challenging. Please e-mail me any help and Thanks inadvance.

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