Picture this. You have a crazy big idea for your next design or animation. You fire up your favorite 3D or design app and you get to work. The excitement you get from seeing this idea being brought to life gives you an adrenaline only creatives can relate to. After a lot of work and God knows how long, it’s finally time to render.
But what app would you use to ensure that the work of art in your head comes out as a masterpiece? You definitely would not want a rendering application messing up with your final product.
Now, before we get into what are the best rendering engines for you to use this year, let us tell you exactly what a rendering engine actually is.
What Is A Rendering Engine?
To break it simply, a rendering engine reproduces an image based on three-dimensional (3D) data that is stored in a computer. This process takes raw data from a 3D scene (e.g shapes, materials, textures and lighting) and produces a final result known as ‘output’. It is typically a single image or a series of compiled image sequences (animation).
Through rendering, it stimulates realistic lighting bounces, shadows, colour, texture, atmosphere, and optical effects such as light refraction or helps blur out whatever you want on moving objects or scenes. Basically enhancing and making sure your visuals are realistic so that you do not have people calling you a B-grade artist.
However, making it realistic might not always be the goal, at times it is also used to transform something into an abstract image or a painting.
Now that you know what a render engine is and what it really does, here are our top 10 3D rendering engine recommendations to create mind-blowing high quality results. Let’s jump right in!
Created by Terrence Vergauwen of Refractive Software LTD, a New Zealand-based startup company that has now been sold, Octane Render is considered as one of the pioneers in Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) rendering. GPU is a hardware that uses a graphics card instead of a CPU enabling a faster rendering process with a more accurate render output.
- Supports multiple rendering features for instance particulate matter like smoke, fog, and fire with varying densities and clouds
- The render you see on-screen is the final render and any changes made is reflected in real-time
- Supports photorealistic rendering of natural and organic materials
- Allows users to freely manipulate lightning with choices from HDRI, IES files, spectral sun/sky daylighting systems and mesh emitters
Available on Windows, Linux and MacOS. Octane Render also has excellent interoperability with leading 3D modelling software such as Rhino, Sketchup and Autodesk Revit.
Octane Render Studio + Subscription gives you access to every software offered. An annual subscription is €19.99/month billed yearly and a monthly subscription is €23.95/month billed monthly.
For more information, visit: Home.otoy.com
If you are not new to the 3D world, you will know that Redshift is a pretty formidable and reliable application. First developed by Redshift Rendering Technologies Inc., a subsidiary of Maxon, this award-winning GPU renderer is known for its immaculate speed for 3D rendering. In terms of speed, Redshift is probably the best in the books.
- Crazy fast rendering speed, saving you a lot of time
- It’s solid functionality makes it easier to learn and use if you are a rookie in this industry
- Incredibly responsive real-time update viewer allows you to have a live preview every time you make changes on the spot
- If you are one to rely on third-party plugins, Redshift also does a great job with its compatibility with the more popular and useful plugins like X-Particles and Turbulence FD
Available on Windows, Linux and MacOS. Minimally requires 8GB of ram with an SSE2 support processor and a single GPU.
An annual subscription is at €22.85/month billed annually and if you are opting for a monthly payment, it is at €46.74/month.
For more information, visit: Maxon.net
Developed by Next Limit Technologies in Madrid, this unbiased standalone 3D software is used a lot in the film, animation and VFX industry. Even though they are well-known for their high quality results, speed is not something you can get when using Maxwell. However, there is a reason why there is a huge number of people sticking by this application.
- You are not limited to either CPU or GPU rendering, you can pick whichever works best for you
- Multilight for re-lighting allows you to re-light scenes during or after a render. There is a cache for each light source giving you the freedom to change the intensities of colours using a set of sliders
- Ability to host multiple supports
- Gives you amazing high-quality visuals
Available on Windows, Linux 64 and MacOS however the GPU function is not supported for Mac users as they do not use Nvidia cards.
There is a 30-day free trial available if you would like to check out their functions and features and if you would like to purchase their subscription, it is around an estimated €495 annually.
For more information, check their website here: Maxwellrender.com
It is funny how you might think this application might have been the birth child of someone during the pandemic but Corona Renderer was actually created by Ondrej Karlík as a student project in 2009 and was later developed by Render Legion, a company based in Prague.
Maybe he had a vision that the world would be hit by the coronavirus, who knows but this rendering software is an underdog compared to the other bigger, more popular applications. It is now under the development of Chaos Group, home of V-Ray so you know this app is equally reliable and trustable.
- High-quality, photorealistic visualisation
- Easy to use, makes adding small details to your animation a lot less tedious
- Hundreds of materials and presets all available for you in just a click
At $29.90/month billed annually, you get a fixed licence for a single device as for the premium licence, you can use it on any device at $39.90/month billed annually.
For more information, visit: Corona-Renderer.com
Unreal engine does live up to its name. Known for their innovative content, interactive and immersive virtual experiences, this advanced real-time award-winning game engine is developed by Epic Games. Rings a bell? Think of games like Tomb Raider, The Witcher and The Matrix Awakens, these are the children of Epic Games.
If you have an expansive, innovative and immersive 3D world in mind, this application might just be right up your alley. Their VFC technology has been used by productions such as HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots.
- It is used by many industries, not just limited to games, film, automotive and transportation industries but even in the architectural design industry as well.
- Ability to easily create immersive experiences with high-quality realistic images
- If you are looking to create the ultimate VR experience, this app allows you to preview them in real-time
Compatible with most major modelling software such as Autodesk Revit, Cinema 4D, Rhino 3D and 3ds Max.
You might be happy to know that this software is free! However for game designers and VFX artists or animators, there are a few conditions that need to be met for free usage.
V-Ray is one that needs no introduction. Developed by Chaos Group in 2002, it is an industry staple, providing real-time 3D visualisation for any of your art and design needs.
- Supports both CPU, GPU and Hybrid rendering
- Interactive rendering allows users to design and see the render output at the same time
- Viewport rendering lets you render above another software allowing the changes you make to be automatic
Depending on which platform you are using V-Ray for, the requirements vary but it is one of the most versatile rendering engines in the 3D industry so you do not have to worry.
A regular license costs $59/month billed annually, giving you access to V-Ray’s collection of 14 additional products from Chaos Group. For an individual software, it costs $30/month.
For more information, visit: Chaos.com
An advanced ray tracing rendering software built for feature-length animations and visual effects, Arnold has the ability to render complex images easily with its simplified user interface. Developed by Autodesk, Arnold Renderer is usually more suitable for VFX artists and animators working on either games or films.
- High-end features for detailing and 3D motion graphics giving you a high-performance result
- Able to render professional-grate 3D characters and complex scenes especially those that require the smallest details
Works with Windows 10 or later, Linux and MacOS however, GPU rendering is not supported on Mac as it requires Nvidia cards.
They provide three different subscription plans. Monthly costs $30, an annual subscription costs $380 and a three year subscription costs $1085.
For more information, visit: ArnoldRenderer.com
D5 Render is fairly new to the game compared to the other software listed here however, it is slowly becoming popular due to its stellar capabilities.
- Thousands of high-quality assets and materials available for you to use at your fingertips
- Supports image sizes that go up to 16K as well as 4K videos
- Render output supports photorealism and allows you to render in real-time
D5 Render is only available for Windows users, sorry my Apple fans.
There is a free version however if you want full access to all the features D5 Render has to offer, a monthly subscription is $38 and an annual subscription costs $360.
For more information, visit: D5render.com
Another formidable standalone 3D rendering software that is designed to make your life easier. Its high speed rendering, accurate stunning visuals and easy-to-use, drag-and-drop operational user interface makes it a top choice amongst most creators.
- Gives you ‘scientifically-accurate’ materials that make anything you design look realistic
- Has a library of many tools and materials for you to use
- Quick rendering saves you a lot of time
- Able to mimic effects of real lightning giving your 3D models a more professional look and provides an alternative to product photography
Does not require any special hardware or graphics card as it takes full advantage of everything within a computer. It is available on both Windows and MacOS.
KeyShot Pro subscription costs $99/month billed annually or $3,385.80 for three years. There are also add-on subscriptions available from $16 to $39 per month. If you are a student or an academic staff, you can enjoy a huge discount with just $7.92/month.
For more information, visit: Keyshot.com
We should all look out for this fairly new software produced by Pixar Animation Studios themselves. Of course if it’s from Pixar, you know it should live up to its name. The studio now uses RenderMan to render all their in-house 3D animated movies.
- Supports open shading language to define any textural patterns
- Great lighting tools
- Promises to give you high quality cinematic visuals
You can try out the non-commercial RenderMan for free and if you would like to use it professionally, you can get a quote depending on the licence you will need for your project.
For more information, visit: Renderman.pixar.com
Kasra Design’s Favourite Pick
It is a no brainer that Octane Render is our top pick. It’s easy to use interface, intuitive workflow along with the wide array of materials and tools available for us to use makes this software value for money.
After viewing this list you might be slightly overwhelmed at the amount of options you have. Fret not, depending on the project you are working on think of these seven factors: Compatibility, Reliability, Flexibility, Realisticity, Ease of Use (UI), Speed and Cost.
Figure out what is best and most cost efficient for you and go turn your crazy ideas into reality.