How to Achieve Photo-Realistic 3D Renders in 2019 and Beyond
How to Achieve Photo-Realistic 3D Renders in 2019 and Beyond

Venturing into the world of photo-realistic 3D renders is a difficult thing to do. There are a lot of things to keep in mind, and it takes a lot of trial and error until you get it right. But the end result is worth it. When done correctly, it will take a while for people to realize that it’s a 3D render and not the real thing.

3D renders are extremely useful in many industries, from gaming and entertainment to architecture and construction. Adding photorealism to your renders will not only impress your clients, but it will also keep you competitive in the coming years.

So, take a look at the most important things you should keep in mind when you enter the world of photo-realistic 3D rendering:

First Thing’s First

Think big - what is the overall concept? Are you trying to design a single object, a room of a house, the whole building? What style is your client looking for? Do you want the style to be modern, traditional, vintage?

Make sketches and consider carefully what you want to materialize with your 3D render. At this time, you want to have as much visual information as possible so that you can create a concept in your mind for what you want the end result to look like.

You want to ensure that you and your client are on the same page and that your product meets the client’s expectations in the end.


Once you have a clear idea in mind, find as many objects as you can for references. Look for real pictures online, or if you’re trying to design a bookshelf, for example, examine the one you have in your room.

It’s best to get an exact idea of how something looks like in reality. Examine it from all sides. How does the light hit it? How does it look like under different light sources? Where are the shadows? How different is it under indoor lighting and in the natural light?

When you have something that provides you with a clear picture, and something that you can physically examine, it’s much easier to render it in 3D. It gives you ideas on how you can improve it in your design, what kind of texture the object will need, and it’s a great reference point for all photo-realistic designs.

Design the Scene

Now is the time to actually start on your 3D render. Keep to the basics. If you’re designing a room, for example, start with a primitive cube and add the basic architecture- walls, doors, and windows. Decide whether you want to have indoor lighting or not.

Once you have the architectural design in place, it’s time to add 3D accessories and focus on the interior design.

Consider the design as a whole and think about where you want which object to go. All elements at this stage should be basic. Create the major components, and don’t focus on the details just yet. Your design is anything but photo-realistic here, but just be patient.

Asymmetry and Imperfection

We all strive for perfection, but to make your photo-realistic 3D render truly perfect, you have to leave room for irregularities and mistakes.

There’s no perfection in the real world, objects aren’t completely clean and glossy, nothing is completely symmetrical. Have that in mind when creating your designs.

Add cracks and scratches to the fine china, leave some dirt on the floors, cracks in the ceiling, crooked pictures on the walls. Adding some irregularities and that human touch is what makes the designs appear real.

Whether you’re trying to photo-realistically render a person or a man-made object, there’s no such thing as perfect symmetry in the real world. So, there’s no need for you to spend hours and hours trying to make it all symmetrical. Realism comes from the irregularities.


There are almost never razor-sharp edges in nature, and there should be no sharp objects in your photo-realistic 3D renders either. Even man-made objects sometimes have a certain roundness to them, so beveling your designs is a must.

Sharp edges make everything seem fake, and your design will be just another 3D render. Beveling adds that layer of realism that you want. The real difference, however, will be seen once you add the proper lighting. If your designs are beveled, you will see them come to life, the highlights and shadows will come together, and everything will fit properly.

Depth of Field

The blurred background effect is something we usually get from real-life photography. That’s why adding the depth of field to your photo-realistic 3D renders will take you that extra mile and create a more realistic design.

It’s an excellent tool when you want to emphasize or isolate certain objects, and it makes your scenes appear as if they were photographed.


The key element of photo-realism is the lighting. Just like in paintings and photographs, you have to find the perfect lighting to make your subjects pop.

Add some colors to your designs, and add the basic light. Before you create textures and materials, it’s best to see how the light would affect the objects in their most basic form. Adding light early on will save you time because you can experiment with different light sources and angles before you commit.

Often, we will have more than one light source in our 3D renders, so your best bet is to start small. Create the first light and see how it affects the scene. Make the first light source exactly how you want it to look in the final design before you move on to the next source. If you test your lights one at a time, it will not leave much room for mistakes and problems down the line.

Also, don’t be afraid to play with dark areas. They create atmosphere and add a realistic touch to the whole design.

Setting the Mood

Lighting plays a huge part in setting the mood of your design. Do you want the scene to be set in daytime, nighttime, somewhere in between? Do you want it in direct or indirect light?

Setting the mood also means playing with the shadows. Some are darker and some lighter. Create obstacles in front of your light sources that will add more definition to the whole scene by casting shadows or dispersing the light.

For a nice final touch, you can add dust particles that are picked up by your light sources which add another dimension to the whole thing.


Textures increase the photo-realism of your 3D renders and put everything together. Even if you have the perfect illumination, if it brings to light the textures that aren’t realistic, the whole design will suffer.

Get back to your reference object and examine its texture and material. Highlight leather or wood, the materials that are easily recognizable. Even glossy objects shouldn’t have perfect reflectiveness. You can add some grit and definition to them as well.

Add reflection, glossiness, or transparency where needed and incorporate some wear and tear into your designs, but don’t overdo it. The best way to keep it subtle is to imagine which places or objects of your 3D render would be the most affected by outside circumstances in the real world, then add the required texture at appropriate places.

Using Specular Maps is a great way to add realism to your designs. This application can detect which objects are supposed to be glossy, and which aren’t based on their lightness or darkness, and you can easily adjust the level of glossiness you need.

Textures can make or break your photo-realistic 3D render, so this is where you should dedicate most of your time and effort.

Final Render

If you’ve been careful enough in designing this photo-realistic 3D render, there’s not much left for you to do. Fine-comb the image and smooth out any rough edges that you’d missed. If there are some elements floating in space, or there are objects without enough texture, this is the time to fix it.

If you decide you’d like to reposition something, you don’t have to stress about starting over from scratch. 3D rendering allows you to shift things around, change objects, remove or add some elements without starting all over.

You can add some finishing touches by calibrating the colors, making sure the contrasts are good, adding minor details, etc.

Your final product should be of the highest quality and look almost completely photo-realistic.

What’s important to remember is that photo-realistic 3D rendering is not just about the software and applications that you use. 3D rendering requires hours upon hours of training, learning, developing skills, and incorporating your artistic talents.

Without the right skills, not even the best software will be able to help you create a good photo-realistic 3D design. It’s the designers that dedicate their time and energy into creating the most perfect end result, and it’s the designers that make their 3D renders come to life.