Difference between Displacement Modifier and Displacement Node

As I’ve been learning more about specular, bump, and displacement maps one thing has confused me. What, if any, is the difference between the displacement modifier and the displacement node input?

I’ve seen tutorials where in order to achieve displacement they subdivided a mesh, gave it a subsurf modifier and displacement modifier, and then plugged in the image. The other method I’ve seen is simply plugging in various maps and shaders into the displacement input under ‘Material Output’. Basically, one is used strictly in node editing and the other seems to be a combination of the two.

Are these two types of displacement different? I may be totally off in how I’m interpreting these terms, so I’d love some insight into this. Still learning the terminology and how to create more realistic textures.

Thanks

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The Displacement input of the Material Output node will by default only result in plain old bump mapping (I wish they would rename this input already, as it is utterly confusing to new users…). Might as well use the Bump node, which has far more settings built in and can be applied on a per-shader basis.

To get “real” displacement out of the Displacement input of the Material Output node, you will have to go all kinds of experimental with Cycles:

  • Experimental feature set enabled under the Render settings and
  • displacement method set to “True” under Object > Displacement.

However, you will still need to heavily subdivide the mesh via modifier, as the adaptive subdivision available in Cycles has - to my knowledge - never worked reliably (if at all).

As far as I can tell the only reason why this Displacement input is still there, is to provide backward bump compatibility for materials that were built before the Bump node was introduced.

Appreciate the thorough explanation. Many people just throw the term “displacement” and I was never sure which they meant. They really should change the name if one refers to actually changing the mesh geometry and the other is just the illusion of it. I seem to get different results by using “bump” and “displacement” nodes, but I definitely have more control using bump.