Design Exploration with Keyshot and Photoshop

Design Exploration with Keyshot and Photoshop

00_Nick_ProfileHi, I’m Nick Forrester, a final year product design student in the UK looking to start a career in the design/visualisation industry. I have always been a logical thinker throughout life and consider numerous outcomes before diving into anything. Which I believe is a great trait for a designer…analysing situations, spaces, and products while always asking ‘What if…?’ and ‘Why?.

I believe a designer should have a passion for design exploration****as this is what creates a real and useful design.

Exploring different cultures, interiors, products, landscapes, and nature, all contributing to your knowledge which you can abstract and apply to your designs…extracting features from one end of the spectrum and be applying them elsewhere. However, there has to be a viable reason or function for doing so, by applying something random to something irrelevant probably won’t work.

Exploration of Life

When starting a project remember to explore everything related to what you are designing. Who is it for? What does it have to do? How will it be used? Where will it be used? etc. etc… By sourcing similar existing products will help give you a good idea of how they work, how they are assembled, and how they are used. This will give you a better understanding of what you are about to design.

Immerse yourself in the world in which you are designing for. Get involved in the market. Visit related exhibitions, research magazines, scroll through websites and social media. This will again aid your conscious and subconscious thoughts for developing your design. For my ‘Foreman’ watch design I lived and breathed watches for several weeks, searching through websites and search engines for images of admirable watches and details, as well as attending the Salon QP Fine Watch Exhibition in Chelsea to see high end watch designs, admiring concept designs, and engaging with watch lovers and industry professionals to understand the world of watches just a bit more than the average joe.

When starting a project remember to explore everything related to what you are designing

Design something for you. Especially at this stage in your life, there are no boundaries and no clients, therefore, design something that you would like to see being used. What is the point of creating something that you don’t like? This is where my ‘Foreman’ design originated, from memories of my youth. I always visited a local area of outstanding beauty, the area nearby used to be industrial and well known for playing a big part in the British Industrial Revolution. Therefore, why not design a watch influenced by it.

Once you’ve decided on a path to follow, start creating concept ideas, start deciding on the functions and the overall form. I wanted the Foreman to be a tough and ‘hardworking’ watch. Therefore, the manual wind movement and material choice help reflect my design. No need for gimmicky Bluetooth extra’s, a watch is meant to tell the time, not to call your Gran. It is a time piece.


The key to a good visual is the CAD model. I created the various parts using Solidworks, making sure all dimensions were accurate, and that all edges were filleted (rounded off), even on chamfers. I know many people in Solidworks create parts to the exact dimensions with all edges nice and sharp which make it easier to produce technical drawings from, however, this looks shocking when rendering the design. In the real world nothing is perfectly sharp, so why render it that way.


Once I was happy with all of my Solidworks parts and assemblies, it was then time to begin the visualisation process. Using Keyshot, I imported the watch assembly and applied the standard materials to the watch parts to give an instant idea of what the watch would look like. After exploring different textures and colours to create the appearance I desired I then moved on to tweaking the materials. To create the stitching in the watch strap, I applied a simple opacity layer to he part allowing the part to appear correct.


To create the metallic, bronze-like material to the case I replaced the colour layer to an image of the actual material to achieve an appearance closer to the actual material.


I then explored numerous configurations of roughness, brightness, and scale, etc. with all of the materials until I was happy with the appearance. As I intended on creating a contextual image for the design I sourced a background image and imported it into Keyshot, this enabled me to apply the correct perspective and lighting for the render to match the background image.

Related Link: How to bring a design to life

Keyshot offers great built-in lighting environments, exploring the different options available is a must, sometimes a standard environment can give you exactly what you want without the need of additional lighting planes or further editing. The next step is to render the image. I usually render images with a plain coloured background and without ground shadows, this allows me to apply the render to any background images in Photoshop at a later date.

I always render to a TIF image with the ‘Include alpha (transparency)’ turned on, which delivers a high-quality render and the ability to alter/remove the background easily.

Finally, in Photoshop, I make sure the render looks ok, erase any unwanted areas to blend in with the background image, and to finish off ‘Smudge’ the edges of the render to soften it. A final contextual visual should express the function, the form, the emotion, the meaning, and the market all at once, if you achieve this, then you have a great purposeful visual.



I hope this mini design literature has helped in some way and also given you an insight into my design approach. Remember the key to all aspects of design is exploration, from start to finish.

All the best,