Using Bump Maps to Make Realistic Water Effects

Reference Number: KB-01807
Last Modified: June 21, 2017

The information in this article applies to:

Chief Architect Premier or Chief Architect Interiors


When I ray trace my image the water in my plan looks like glass. How can I make it look like water with different ripple effects?

outdoor pool with bump map applied.


The traditional way of creating water using a texture image can create some great looking images, however, in Chief Architect, there is even more power available in using bump maps.

On the right side of this image we have created our pool and applied a generic water material from the Core Catalog. The resulting ray trace reveals a glass-like surface on the water, so the reflection on the surface is unchanged.

On the left side of the image the same water material is used, but a bump map has been applied. Notice the ripples in the surface and the distorted reflection. 

Bump maps are simply images that are layered with the original material, and the program uses the dark and light areas in the bump map to simulate changes in the surface of the model.

In this example, we will illustrate how applying a bump map can greatly increase the quality and realism of the swimming pool.


To set up the scene

  1. From a standard Full Camera ,  select the Adjust Material Definition  tool and click on the surface of the water.

  2. In the Define Material dialog on the General panel select the color for the material, in this case a light blue.

  3. On the Properties panel verify that the Material Class is Transparent and is set to Water(1.33).

  4. On the Texture panel, make sure that no texture is currently assigned and check Use Bump Map and then click Browse to find the desired bump map.

  • The Height Multiplier can be increased or decreased to control the strength of the bump map's affects.

  • The bump map used in this article can be found in the Attachments section of this article. 

  • As this is a pool, and the water feature is large, on the Texture panel, set the X Scale and Y Scale to 100" and the Height Multiplier to 0.01.

    Note: In X8 and prior, Use Bump Map in Ray Trace Views was an option on the Properties panel. The properties panel also included the Height Multiplier and an X and Y Ratio to be used instead of the X and Y Scale on the Texture panel.

  • Click OK to accept the changes to the material and you are ready to begin your Ray Trace .

  • The result should apply a wavy pattern to the surface of the water distorting the objects beneath the surface.

    Helpful Tips: 

    • Since a bump map is just an image, you can use any image you have, or can find, to simulate a bumpy surface.

    • For many materials, it is important to match the size of the bump map with the size of the texture being used on the material.
      In this situation, you may want to use the texture image as the bump map as well, which you can do in the Define Material dialog by copying contents of the Texture File field and pasting it into the Use Bump Map File field.