Using material nodes in Blender can get messy. It’s hard to remember which node is doing what and difficult to visualize the effect any single node has on the final material. Here is a Blender add-on that helps….a lot!

The thumbnail of the node preview add-on displays node previews above Blender nodes.

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The Node Preview Add-On for Blender was created by Simon Wendsche. It adds a preview image above (almost) every node in the shade editor. The images display the outputs of each node and they all update in real time.

Image previews display above each node in a Blender shader editor node tree.

Installing Node Preview

The Node Preview add-on is installed the same way as other add-ons in Blender. Click here for a full explanation.

Once the add-on is installed, there isn’t really anything else to do. We will begin seeing a node preview image above nodes in the Shader Editor. Each image shows how the output of the respective node appears.

Node Preview Settings

In the add-on settings in the User Preferences, there are a few settings for the Node Preview plug-in.

The settings for the node preview addon in the Blender user preferences.

Previews Visible by Default

With the “Previews Visible by Default” setting activated, every node will have a preview image by default. If you’d like to choose which nodes to preview individually, uncheck this box. Then in the shader editor, select a node and press “Ctrl + Shift + P” to activate a preview for only the selected nodes.

Thumbnail Scale

The scale of the thumbnail is how large the preview will be above the node. It defaults to 50% but can be increased or decreased.

Scale 25%
Scale 50%
Scale 100%

Thumbnail Resolution

The resolution of the thumbnail defaults to 150 pixels. We can move the slider to as high as 300 but can type in values up to 500. Higher resolutions may look crisper and have more detail but could slow down performance.

Background

The background setting is for when a node outputs transparency. It can be set to display the standard checkerboard pattern or a specific solid color of our choice. If we choose a checkerboard pattern, we can choose custom colors for it.

To learn more about transparent materials, I have a full article on them.

Show Help Messages

We can turn on and off help messages, but I honestly don’t know where these help messages appear.

Enable Debug Output

Turn this on if we want to write debug info to the console (a programming and development tool most won’t need).

Node Preview Shortcuts

There are a few shortcuts / hotkeys that work with the addon while in the shader editor.

Toggle Visibility of Node Preview

To toggle the visibility of a node with the Node Preview addon, select a node and press “Ctrl + Shift + P.” This is useful if we only want some node previews visible at a given time.

Ignore Scale of Image in Preview

When the scale of a node’s output is made very large or very small, it can be difficult to see what the output looks like without the scaling. We may not want the scaling to affect the node preview image. We can have the node preview image ignore the scale input of the selected node.

To have the Node Preview add-on ignore the scale input of a selected node, press “Ctrl + Shift + i.” Press this again to toggle back to the scaling the image. Here are some examples of the difference.

The output of a musgrave texture node with a large scale that is included in the preview image.
Scale included
A musgrave texture node with an image preview has its scale ignored by the addon.
Scale ignored

Node Output Preview Selector

Some nodes have multiple outputs and with the Node Preview Addon for Blender, we can choose which output we wish to preview. Select a node with multiple outputs and press “Shift + O” and a small menu box will appear.

The output selector appears near a color ramp node displaying options to choose which output is previewed.

By default the menu box will be set to “Auto.” However, we can select from the list of available outputs. Whichever output is selected will be the image that appears in the preview.

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Node Preview Add-On Review

What do I think of the Node Preview add-on for Blender?

The add-on is simple and it works consistently. It’s flexible so we can turn on and off previews for different nodes. It really provides a function I wish Blender had by default.

The only drawback I found is that it does slow down the shader editor at times. Fortunately it’s simple to turn on and off the preview nodes and only use them when they’re needed.

If you work a lot with procedural nodes, you would find this add-on very helpful. Check it out on Blender Market if if interested and…. Stay Creative!

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