3D rendering is an important part of CAD design, CGI, and other design-based processes. By definition, 3D rendering is:
“3D computer graphics process of automatically converting 3D wire frame models into 2D images on a computer.”
The rendering process is the last part of creating 2D animation or 3D designs. It adds the finishing touches to the design – it gives polish and is what is required to make an animation or design work. There are several different types of rendering – wireframe, scanline, ray tracing, radiosity, and real-time rendering are a handful of the most popular methods.
Powerful software is required to perform 3D rendering. It is a time-consuming and power-hungry process. Due to these facts, the software is usually extremely expensive. That being said, there are a variety of free programs available that can be used to perform 3D rendering:
How to Choose 3D Rendering Software
Before we take a look at 10 awesome free 3D rendering programs, you must understand what to look for. 3D rendering software can be extremely varied. One program could offer something completely different to another. The following are some common considerations you should make when choosing 3D rendering software:
- Supported file types and export options
- Minimum computer requirements
- Type of 3D rendering performed (wireframe, scanline etc.)
- Support and community
File types are important if you are exporting your work and want to share it with your clients. Different programs may use proprietary or vendor-neutral file formats – this can radically affect sharing capabilities. Check what file types the rendering software provides.
Computer requirements can also be a major issue. As mentioned, rendering software is processer-hungry. If your computer does not have a sufficient processor, enough memory, and a graphics card, you may struggle to use some of the software. Always check the minimum requirements beforehand.
Community and available support are also highly important. Rendering software is often complex and difficult to master. If you choose a program that has fantastic support and a myriad of tutorials and guides, the learning curve should be quicker.
The Best Free 3D Rendering Software
The software we have listed is all completely free. No support costs, no monthly fee. You may think that this comes at the expense of quality but it doesn’t! These ten programs are perfectly capable of 3D rendering:
LuxRender is one of the best-known open-source 3D rendering programs available. It is a cooperative effort created by a plethora of engineers, coders, and designers. This program has excellent support and a dedicated community that pushes its development. Others have used this program to render automobiles, interior designs, product visualization, and more.
What makes this program worthwhile is the realism and end product it can create. It can recreate light flow to a high degree of accuracy, and the 3D renders look superb. Moreover, this product can work with programs such as 3ds Max and Maya.
- Open source rendering software that anyone can contribute too
- Can produce realistic lighting effects and physics
- Supports HDR rendering too
- Material library is extensive with many different textures and types
Blender is actually a suite of tools that can be used for various functions including 3D modeling, animation, simulation, and rendering. The render engine itself is known as Cycles and is extremely powerful. It is a ray-trace based rendering system that can utilize multi-core rendering using NVidia and AMD GFX. This program can take care of everything, from geometry and shading to lighting, textures, and motion blur.
Aside from the powerful Cycles 3D rendering engine, Blender also features the FreeStyle rendering engine. This is a great tool for creating 3D blueprints and realistic drawings. The Blender suite is one of the best in the industry and has won numerous awards for its capabilities.
- Open source rendering software
- Vast community and plethora of details resources
- Customizable interface and layout
- Has support for virtual reality too
Kerkythea may not be as well-known as Blender and LuxRender, but it has amazing functionality. You only have to look at the website’s gallery to see the realistic renders this program can create. It can be used for anything from architectural designs and interiors to product visualization. Furthermore, the program has great documentation and various guides on its usage.
- Uses physically accurate materials and lighting
- A fast and efficient rendering process
- High degree of automation to speed up the process
- Available on Windows, MAC, and Linux
As mentioned above, Freestyle is actually part of the Blender suit but has a slightly different usage to the aforementioned program. Freestyle is used to create non-photorealistic designs and renders. The engine within freestyle concentrates on line drawings and can create exceptional blueprints, cartoons, and artistic renders. Different styles can be used to create different effects such as paintings or hand drawn. Many of the line types and styles are pre-set into the program. If you do not require photo-realistic renders, Freestyle is certainly one of the top choices.
- Part of the popular Blender suite
- Great support and tutorials
- Fantastic array of pre-set brushes and line styles
Visit: Freestyle on Blender
Pixar is renowned for its excellent animation and films. Did you know that they have actually released their rendering software to the general public for free? The only stipulation, however, is that it cannot be used for commercial renders. That being said, if you simply want to learn 3D rendering and improve your skill, this is certainly one of the best choices available.
- Fantastic capabilities for creating volumes and particles
- Advanced shading for objects such as hair and fiber
- Included denoiser tool
- Cloud capabilities for worldwide usage
K-3D is an understated piece of software that looks simple but is hugely powerful. The simple and plain interface may put people off, but this is part of its charm. It is easy to use and the rendering process itself is powerful. You can improve the functionality of this software using a myriad of plugins. Furthermore, it has support for Pixar’s Renderman.
- Available for Windows and Mac devices
- Easy to use interface and controls
- Native support for Renderman
- A fast and powerful rendering process
Sketchup is an extremely powerful CAD 3D rendering program that can also be used for modeling. It is often used in an architectural design capacity but is also useful for engineering. There is a paid version of Sketchup, but there is also a free version that has reduced features.
This is a superb tool for beginners. By using Sketchup, you can get to grips with the basic functionality of 3D rendering. It is certainly not as powerful as some of the other programs on this list, but it is still a viable option.
- Advanced drawing, shape rotation, and push/pull surfaces
- Extensive library of existing shapes and models to use
Sculptris is a unique form of 3D rendering software that uses virtual clay. You essentially work with a lump of virtual clay and mold and shape it in any way you see fit to create 3D models and designs. This program is part of the ZBrush software and is a brilliant tool for beginners. Once you ha ve created the basic clay 3D design, you can then use a brush mode to apply realistic textures and surface maps.
- Advanced digital sculpting and modeling tools to create 3D objects
- Uses virtual “clay” to create details models
- Easy to use interface
Wings 3D is a brilliant open source 3D rendering and modeling tool. The interface is extremely easy to use, and you can quickly access a myriad of useful commands. It uses subdivision modeling to create smooth and realistic designs. There is no support for animation, but you can include textures and detailed surface maps to your designs with ease.
- Advanced subdivision modeling and rendering
- Full support for lighting and a range of materials
- Open source program free for both commercial and personal usage
- The interface can be configured to suit your needs and workflow
Visit: Wings 3D
BricsCAD shape is specifically used for architecture and engineering. Using this 3D modeling tool, you can easily render your designs and improve the effectiveness of your workflow. This program has a large library of pre-defined objects that you can incorporate into your 3D renders. These items include furniture, people, landscaping items, and even transport. Moreover, the layout and interface can be customized – it is one of the easiest programs to use on this list.
- Hundreds of pre-set items to use in your renders
- Can work in cooperation with BricsCAD BIM
- Advanced project management features
As you can see, there is a superb range of free 3D rendering software packages available. You don’t have to splash out and break the bank. If you are working with a limited budget or simply want to trial 3D rendering, any of these free programs are fit for purpose. If you have any experience using these programs, why not leave a comment and share your thoughts?
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