Modern architects are a different breed than what they were some 20 years ago. From the beginning of the 2000s, widespread broadband changed many businesses, which, in turn, put software development into overdrive, which again, impacted the evolution of various industries.
The development of software used by architects has skyrocketed in the last decade. We have a variety of different solutions that offer different functionalities and cover specialized tasks. It’s a difficult choice to make, and sometimes the projects dictate the tools you need to know.
Let’s take a look at ten reliable software solutions used by architects around the world and do a short review of each of them. We’ll make sure that we include pros and cons for each of them as well as pricing so you can get the general idea about what they have to offer without wasting time.
One of the most famous software solutions on the market currently, Maxwell offers powerful rendering capabilities wrapped up in an easy-to-use interface. It takes some time to get used to it, but every program falls into this trap.
One other big factor is the longevity it has on the market. The longevity of a particular program makes it a consistent presence, which in turn means that it is supported across the board. If you have a concern about support in long-term projects, you can be sure Maxwell is a great choice.
As is the case with software that has been around for a while, there is a large community gathered around it. The Maxwell community is there to help you with any problems you might run into while using it and find easier approaches to completing particular tasks.
Pros: Interface, rendering power, support, community.
Cons: A bit slow on rendering.
Price: From $350
This is another important and well-established rendering software brand most architects have at least heard about.
It is an advanced rendering engine with a lot of textures and models in its library that software owners are free to use. This library facilitates a lot of things for its users and cuts down on time.
Autodesk Revit has a wide range of BIM functionalities that make it one of the most sought after rendering software solutions on the market. They offer a free license for students, but professionals will have to pay for licensing.
Professionals will be happy to know that Autodesk has a lively community of users, which makes troubleshooting a whole lot easier. Being that it is completely free, there is a reference, Reddit post, video tutorial, or some other source to help you resolve issues on the fly.
Pros: Powerful rendering, plenty of textures, amazing toolbox
In collaborative projects where more than one company is involved, there can be compatibility issues because different software is used. If you find yourself in these situations often (and it happens very often for freelancers), then you might want to check out Lumion 3D.
Lumion 3D is a decent rendering software, but its biggest edge on the current market is the compatibility with every other 3D rendering option.
Another big plus for Lumion is the fact that it’s very easy to pick up. It has a state of the art user interface which anyone who is computer savvy can adjust to quickly.
The fact that it’s easy to use and is compatible across virtually all other rendering environments makes it a perfect learning tool. That’s why many professors and students rely on it, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t be used in a professional capacity.
Pros: Compatibility, UI.
Price: Student license (Free), Basic Version: € 1499, Pro Version: € 2999
If you are looking for rendering software that is topping the charts, then VRAY is probably your best bet. While we wouldn’t name it as the most powerful tool period, it does run head to head with many high end rendering programs in the current market.
Designed to be one of the most robust engines out there, VRAY has many tools and features that make it highly versatile and usable for any project. There are VERY FEW architectural challenges that VRAY can’t help you with!
While not the priciest option on this list, VRAY is still going to cost you a few bucks if you intend to use it professionally. Still, if you are looking for a new option and want to test it without making a financial commitment, VRAY offers a trial version you can use to see if it’s a good fit.
Keep in mind that this software is very powerful, and figuring it out may take some time, even for those with a lot of experience with other options.
Pros: Amazing options, potent engine, trial period.
Cons: Very robust and takes time to adapt to.
Price: From $790
So far, we’ve talked about some giants that have long established themselves as valuable options on the market. Corona (a brand with an unfortunate name at the moment) is a relative newcomer to the market, but this doesn’t mean that they fade in comparison to the competition.
Unlike the previously mentioned 3D rendering options, which were designed for general use, this one is focused on covering the needs architects have specifically. The lower price compared to the rest of the market and the highly specialized functions targeted at architects is something you shouldn’t overlook.
It’s perfectly integrated with 3DS Max, which offers a lot of freedom when it comes to modeling without forcing you to worry about compatibility. It’s slower than a lot of other engines, but it will get you there.
Pros: Specialized for architects, compatibility with 3DS Max.
Cons: Slower rendering.
Price: From $25 per month
If you are looking for powerful rendering software that is 100% free, then you should take a look at Blender.org. It’s an open-source 3D creation suite that can manage everything from animation, modeling, and more.
Still, this isn’t a specialized tool for architecture, and this only means that you’ll have little community support for problems you face as an architect specifically. Still, general 3D modelers and animators are no strangers to this software, and many techniques and approaches apply to all uses of Blender.
The software does have a slightly steep learning curve, but given the price, it’s more than worth the effort.
Don’t let the fact that it’s free lead you to conclude that it’s a sub-par option. It’s a high-end rendering tool and can compete with the best of them.
Pros: Free, large community.
Cons: Learning curve
Another newcomer on the market that has made a name for itself in a very short time. The fact that it’s relatively new doesn’t mean that it is lightweight.
The primary advantage that Octane Render offers is the power of its engine. It is fast and robust, capable of matching or surpassing the capabilities of household brands that have been around much longer. It’s probably the best way to make a name for yourself as a rendering brand.
It is quite popular, but it isn’t the cheapest choice on the market. Octane Render also has quite a complex UI but one that reminisces of other popular rendering options so experienced architects will adapt to it in no time.
Pros: Powerful engine, relatively affordable
Price: From $699
What makes RenderMan interesting is the fact that it is powered by Pixar. Pixar has made a name for itself as a company that pushes out amazing animations, and naturally, so does its rendering software. Still, can it match other powerful options for architects currently on the market?
Still, one downside of RenderMan is that it isn’t explicitly focused on providing architects with everything they need. It may take you some time to adapt to it as its controls are a bit unconventional for the industry we’re focusing on.
Regardless, if you want to try RenderMan without dishing out a lot of money, you most certainly can. They offer a non-commercial license which allows testing free of charge. If you want to take it for a spin professionally, you’ll have to get a quote from them and see if you can get a price that works for you.
Pros: Free non-commercial use, fantastic animation.
Cons: Weird UI
Price: Get a quote
The main distinction between RedShift and the rest of the market is, as they say, that it’s the world’s first fully GPU-accelerated, biased renderer. This means that it strictly uses your graphics processor and doesn’t put a strain on your CPU. For those of you not well versed in understanding hardware, this means that you’ll conserve a lot of hardware power while using RedShift.
It was built to handle high-end production rendering., which should speak volumes about its capabilities, but what about its pricing.
The good news is that RedShift offers a demo version of the software that has all functionalities unlocked, and you can use it indefinitely in this form. Albeit, the animations will have their watermark until you pay for licensing.
Pros: GPU-accelerated, powerful, demo version
Price: From $500
This rendering suit is powered by Adobe, and this should be enough to point out how reliable it is. Adobe offers integration with its other products, and the suit itself contains numerous tools like:
● Substance Source
● Substance Painter
● Project Substance Alchemist
● Substance Designer
The suit is very versatile and is recommended for animators and modelers working in architecture, games, film, and other fields.
It has a high level of compatibility with other 3D apps and software that are usually used in these industries. Adobe is a legendary graphic software manufacturer, so their specialized software is usually up to par with the rest of the market.
Pros: Adobe supported, versatile.
Price: From $19.90 per month
These are by no means all the options that are worth taking a look at. The architectural rendering market is massive and keeps growing. There are a lot of software companies out there that are doing good work in this field, and there are a lot of specialized choices.
Make sure to do your own research, and as you had a chance to see, many of these brands offer some sort of demo, trial, free version of their software so you can give it a try. If you are at the beginning of your career, the chances are that you’ll be forced to try out more than a few of them anyway.
The price should be a factor in a lot of cases, but it doesn’t always matter. Professionals with a few years of experience behind them shouldn’t have a problem affording most of these options.
Still, beginners might see a $700 investment with no chance to earn that money back in the foreseeable future as detrimental to their budget. You should consider this investment as an opportunity to build a portfolio for yourself using specific software, which will improve your chances of landing your first project.
As a final point of general advice – make sure that you find something that works for you. It’s easy to get distracted by eye candy in the form of features and tools that you are rarely going to use.
It might take you some time to settle on a choice or a few of them, so be patient and realistic when making the decision. We hope we managed to help you make a choice, and we wish you a lot of luck with your projects!