3D visualization software doesn’t always have the words ‘affordable’ or ‘inexpensive attached to it, at least not traditionally. So, when professionals hear the word ‘free,’ it’s grounds for an automatic write-off for software that is underdeveloped, anemic, and otherwise dysfunctional in a way that couldn’t possibly garner legitimate attention.
However, times have changed, and a growing catalogue of viable rendering software can be downloaded and used without requiring you to completely drain your bitcoin investment fund.
The programs on this list aren’t only free, but they represent an underbelly of open-source artists and developers who want to make the best possible rendering technology available to anyone with an internet connection. It’s a movement that has sparked the industry, and made it easier than ever to pursue a career in 3D art and visualization.
The journey towards professional rendering skills starts here.
We might as well get the big guns out of the way now. Blender is one of the best 3D modeling and rendering tools available regardless of price. It gives established money-makers vRay and Maxwell a serious challenger - and one you can have on your machine before you’re done reading this article.
Blender is fast, easy to use, and seamlessly combines modeling and rendering in a package that is as powerful as they come. Best of all? It’s supported by a dedicated (some say rabid) base of fans and users that continue to make it better on a daily basis. Blender is proof that free doesn’t have to mean worse.
According to the team who developed LuxRender, it is “based on state-of-the-art algorithms, which simulated the flow of light according to physical equations, thus producing realistic images of photographic quality.” Check-mate.
Lux is a powerful rendering engine that interfaces smoothly with established modelers such as Maya, 3DS Max, and SketchUp. If you’re looking for professional results from an open-source, free renderer, Lux could be your new best friend.
A quick look through Kerkeyhea’s gallery page reveals a quality of rendering you might expect from an expensive piece of software. And while the program’s name might be almost impossible to pronounce correctly, it’s much easier to use.
Kerkythea has been developed to cut rendering time while maintaining a physically accurate material and lighting model. The results speak for themselves, and the price is certainly right. It even comes equipped with a material editor, allowing artists to manipulate and create their own texture libraries for repeated use.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different than photorealism, Freestyle offers stylistic rendering that is truly unique. It utilizes an engine that focuses on line drawings as the basis for creating 3D art and visualization.
But don’t take Freestyles rudimentary approach to drawing as inferior. The program boasts a wealth of options giving designers and artists complete control over their work. Freestyle uses rendering techniques that can also be found in Pixar’s Renderman, which should give you an idea at the quality behind Freestyle’s unassuming facade.
Speak of the devil, back in 2015 Pixar made its fully proprietary rendering engine, Renderman, completely free to the general public with the stipulation that it only be used in non-commercial applications. This, of course, is a major stipulation, but for a freelancer rendering artist who is simply trying to up their game and try something new, this is a massive boon.
Pixar is responsible for some of the most innovative, creative, and mind-boggling rendered animation on the planet. The studio behind Toy Story, Wall-E, and Finding Nemo has gifted their rendering engine to the world, and it would be worth your time to plug in and see what you can do with the heart of Pixar.