Architectural rendering is a kind of art that can turn your 3D models into photorealistic images and really bring your designs to life. In order to do that, you need architectural rendering software, but there are so many different solutions out there that it can be challenging to choose the right one for your needs, not to mention your budget.
That’s why we have put together the following list of top software solutions currently available and, hopefully, you will find at least some of them compelling enough to try them out. Your budget and, most of all, your personal preferences are the two primary factors that will help you make the right choice, but you can be sure that all the following solutions are very high-quality and more than worth checking out.
V-Ray is definitely the one architectural rendering software to rule them all. It is the most powerful 3D rendering solution on the market right now and it is suitable for both newbies and professionals. Beginners might find it a bit intimidating at first, but this piece of software is very user-friendly, so mastering it is not actually so difficult.
V-Ray has a very extensive set of tools and features under its hood and provides a vast array of models and textures you can work with, not to mention that it boasts high speed and a seamless integration. There’s a steep learning curve when it comes to its numerous advanced features but, again, it’s fairly easy to get the hang of them, not to mention that it is incredibly worth it.
Being arguably the best architectural rendering software, you might expect a hefty price tag, but you’ll be happy to know that V-Ray plugins have very competitive prices. For instance, you can get a V-Ray for 3ds Max Workstation license for $850, but you can also take the software for a free 30-day test drive to see how it fits your needs before you make a purchase.
Blender is also one of the most powerful architectural rendering software solutions out there and the number one choice among a huge number of architects. The main reason why it is so popular? It’s completely free!
This open-source piece of software is entirely free of charge, but don’t let that cloud your judgement and make you think that Blender is less great than any other software solution on this list. Quite the contrary – Blender is one of the best and most capable 3D rendering software you can work with and it has a huge number of features and tools that can easily bring all your designs to life.
There’s a bit of a learning curve involved, but you can master all the features in just several hours. What’s more, Blender has a very capable online user community, so you can quickly find solutions to any problems that you might encounter along the way. Its user community is incredibly resourceful and helpful, so you will never have trouble finding your way out when you get stuck at something.
Maxwell is yet another giant in the architectural rendering industry and a very popular choice among both professionals and beginners. It is also open-source and completely free to use and distribute, not to mention that it is incredibly user-friendly.
With a very simple user interface and a plethora of features and tools, Maxwell could be just the thing you need to create beautiful photorealistic images and animations. You can quickly and easily learn to use it, which is precisely why a great number of architecture students choose to start their rendering adventures with this software before moving onto other more complex solutions.
Maxwell also has a user community that is very helpful and resourceful, so you can easily get the right help you need in case you run into some problems with the software. The only drawback to this software solution is that it is a bit slow at rendering, but that shouldn’t put you off since Maxwell is capable of producing truly wonderful renderings. It’s definitely worth the time.
Octane Render is one of the fastest architectural rendering software solutions currently available. It can produce fantastic, high-quality renderings in less time than any other rendering software, which is exactly why it is gaining more and more momentum as we speak.
It has become quite popular over the past few years due to its incredibly fast rendering engine that can produce very high-quality renderings, as well as due to its extensive set of powerful features and tools and a huge pool of materials and textures to work with.
What makes Octane Render’s rendering engine so powerful are Nvidia graphics cards (GPU), which is why it stands out from many other unbiased rendering solutions that use CPU. It also stands out because it can seamlessly handle complex problems, such as depth-of-field and motion blur and subsurface scattering, which is not a case with other similar software solutions.
You can get a license for Octane Render for $399, which is more than a reasonable price when you consider all its features and the strength of its engine.
Autodesk Revit certainly doesn’t need an introduction in the architectural rendering community. It is one of the most recognized pieces of rendering software that can help you create realistic visualizations quicker than you know it.
Revit has a very impressive set of features and tools, as well as a large array of models and textures to work with, not to mention pretty great rendering capabilities.
This is not as good as the previous software solutions, but it’s definitely worth the time and money if you are looking for something for your daily job that is incredibly easy to use. If you are a professional and know exactly what you’re doing when it comes to architectural rendering, you can quickly get the job done with Autodesk Revit.
This Building Information Modeling (BIM) software provider offers free 3-year educational licenses to students, but professionals have access to flexible subscription options. You can get the software for $280 a month ($2250/year), but there’s also a free trial and a 30-day money-back guarantee on annual plans.
Viz Render is another great product from Autodesk that is very popular among both architecture students and rendering professionals. You can create beautiful architectural visualizations with this software, but it is not one of the most powerful solutions on this list.
Despite that fact, Viz Render has a great set of features and tools that truly challenge the other software solutions listed here and it is very easy to use. Moreover, it works really great with other Autodesk products, such as AutoCAD and 3ds Max, which makes it worth both the time and effort.
The best part about Viz Render? It is completely free of charge, so you should definitely take it for a spin to see how it will fit your needs. You never know – it might be the perfect solution to suit your personal preferences.
Lumion is yet another very powerful architectural rendering software that boasts extremely fast rendering and can easily turn 3D models into amazing photorealistic images and videos. It has a very easy-to-use user interface and a learning curve that is incredibly friendly, which makes it one of the best rendering software solutions when it comes to actual usability.
Apart from being an absolute pleasure to use, Lumion stands out from other similar 3D rendering pieces of software in that it is compatible with almost every modelling software available. This is a huge plus for all the professionals who regularly deal with clients, students or peers who have their own personal preferences regarding 3D rendering software.
There’s absolutely no reason for anyone not finding Lumion attractive and remarkably useful, but students might find it more convenient than professionals because Lumion offers free educational licenses for students.
For professionals, Lumion offers licenses for a basic version at $1499 and for a Pro version at $2999, but there’s also a free trial with no purchase obligations. The only drawback is that the trial version contains only about 15% of the full content library and that it works on 7 days in total during a 30-day trial period.
Corona Renderer is not as popular as the other names on this list, because it is a relatively new software addition to the architectural rendering industry. Nevertheless, it has already proved to be more than worth being placed among all these powerful software solutions.
Although Corona lacks some features, such as velocity render, it is one of the fastest rendering software solutions currently available. It’s not as fast as Octane Render or V-Ray, but it does produce excellent renderings in considerably less time than other similar tools.
Corona Renderer creates very clean animations and fantastic light effects and software updates and patches are provided by the development team on a regular basis, so you would never have to worry about any potential vulnerabilities or hiccups.
The software also enables full integration with 3ds Max, so you can very easily employ complex 3D models without ever worrying about compatibility issues.
A standard license for Corona Renderer has a price tag of $530 (paid annually), but you can also choose one of the three monthly subscription options available at $24.99, $29.99 and $44.99.
Cinema 4D by MAXON Computer GmbH is one of the lesser known products in the architectural rendering community, but it is one of the fastest and easiest-to-use rendering software solutions available right now. Its set of features and tools is outstanding and can help you create marvellous renderings, which is precisely why more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon and harnessing its remarkable power.
If you are not a beginner but a professional who already knows their way around producing architectural renderings, then Cinema 4D could be just what you’re looking for. It’s very fast and stable, has a very intuitive user interface, and its powerful help system and procedural workflows make it truly stand out from the crowd.
There’s a steep learning curve so, in order to effectively work yourself over it, you would need to invest some time and effort into mastering all the features and completely getting the hang of various little details.
However, Cinema 4D comes with a very hefty price tag, but it can definitely be worth the investment if you are searching for something different that can help you bring your own unique style to life. If you can afford to pay $3510 for the software license and you’re ready to invest a lot of time into mastering the software, then you should go for it, but be sure to check out the free trial version first, so that you can make the right decision for your needs.
Artlantis is an excellent architectural rendering software solution for professionals who want to truly impress their clients. Its large set of useful features and a user-friendly interface can help you quickly and easily make fabulous 3D renderings that will certainly be more than satisfactory.
Its lighting features (both indoor and outdoor) and various luminous materials provide a huge number of possibilities for lighting scenes, especially because all the materials are physically based to help you get amazing photorealistic results.
The software also has a built-in render manager that can help you seamlessly deal with the computing load and distribute it evenly among all your local PCs, which is exactly what makes the producing of renderings extremely fast.
There are two versions of Artlantis available – one for creating high-res still images and the other for creating high-res animations, 360° panoramas, VR objects and still images. The license for the former is available at €500, while you can get the full license for the latter for €990.
If you choose any of these architectural rendering software solutions, you can be sure that you will be making a smart choice, because each and every one of them is definitely worth the time and effort (and the money when it comes to the paid ones), as you will enter a whole new world of 3D rendering possibilities and create magnificent renderings that will blow everyone’s minds.
In today’s digital climate, architects are relying more and more on their design software to not only produce detailed construction drawings, but create believable visualizations and bolster their design process. Computer aided design is an essential aspect of any design business, with a few programs rising above the rest to find their way into every studio across the world.
And while there might still be a few old guard, pen-and-pencil-only cats out there who will never relinquish their grip on trusty T-square and vellum, the rest of the world has moved on.
The software on this list is vital to the workflow and process of a majority of architecture offices. Without these programs, the entire construction industry would grind to a screeching halt until we all learned how to draw by hand again.
The drafting program that started a revolution. While much of the professional design industry has moved on to BIM and other, more informative means of construction documentation, there are still many who will forever and always use CAD. It’s powerful, fast, and capable of producing complex line drawings and schedules.
AutoCAD has been the industry standard for decades now, and won’t soon become obsolete. Until BIM can get a handle on detail drawing and engrained design discipline, AutoCAD will hold a large chunk of the design industry under its wing.
While SketchUp might not be the most refined, complicated, or powerful 3D modeling program, it is certainly the most accessible. And it’s in that accessibility that architects have found so much value in it. SketchUp allows designers to quickly model their work, assess its strengths, and take it right back to the cutting room for refinement and alteration.
Taking things further, SketchUp is now being used as a viable visualization tool with the use of several easy-to-use rendering plugins. SU Podium and Brighter 3D have opened up a whole new world to SketchUp users, and one architects and designers are taking full advantage of.
When architects are in need of adding texture, scale figures, trees, cars, and other contextual imagery to their renderings, they turn to Adobe’s world famous photo editing software for help. Photoshop is taught to architects very early in their education because it’s something they will use over and over again to push their work to the next level.
Architects might not edit many photos, but they do create artwork in various ways that all act to describe their designs and push forward the process of getting their work built. They might not dig into the deepest depths of what Photoshop can offer, but then again, they don’t have to.
As mentioned earlier, many architects have already made the jump from 2D CAD drafting to Building Information Modeling (BIM) software. Revit is the most popular BIM program on the market, and allows users to digitally construct their buildings in three dimensions with embedded information pertaining to construction, scheduling, and finished materials.
Revit endured a rocky start, but has since been developed into a program that is user-friendly, powerful, and nuanced. It still has a long way to go in the detail department, but those who use it can’t possibly make the jump backwards to strictly 2D drafting.
Presentations, competitions, and marketing materials make up a seldom talked about component to running an architecture business. InDesign helps arechitects and designers collect their visualization content and present it in a way that is easy to digest. It’s a layout program that’s also heavily used by book publishers and magazine editors.
InDesign is fast, streamlined, and easy to gain a grasp of. It offers a much smoother interface than Photoshop, and has a robust toolset that lets designers add visual flair, diagramming, and text-driven content to renderings, plans, and other design-related drawings.
Before SketchUp blew up the 3D modeling industry, architects relied on other, less user-friendly forms of digital drawing. Not to say Rhino is incredibly complicated - it’s not - but it’s vast catalogue of tools and setting has a way of turning new users off.
However, there are some things SketchUp simply can’t do. And for that, Rhino has the medicine. When used in conjunction with Grasshopper, designers can write their own scripts that allow for an advanced flavor of parametric modeling that’s reserved for only the most high-profile design jobs.
SketchUp is one of the most widely-used 3D modeling programs around, especially among architects and interior designers. It provides the speed and flexibility to make quick changes to a design, and lend strength to the process of developing a project. By itself, SketchUp is a powerful design tool and an adequate visualization tool.
However, there is a power locked away in SketchUp that can only be unlocked with supplementary software and plugins that transform its rudimentary graphics into photorealistic representations of your work.
The rendering programs on this list are the best for use with SketchUp because of the way they transform the most accessible 3D modeling program into a visualization powerhouse. Many of these programs are just as easy to use as SketchUp itself, making for a smooth transition for those who don’t have much experience in rendering and post production.
Here are 5 rendering programs for use with SketchUp.
SU Podium was designed from the ground up to be used specifically with SketchUp - making it the only one of its kind on this list. There aren’t many bells and whistles here, just an easy-to-use rendering plugin that will have your SketchUp models looking shiny and new in a matter of minutes.
If you spend time detailing your SketchUp models and finely tuning the applied textures and lighting sources, Podium will do the rest. It allows you to tweak things like brightness, contrast, and color filters after the rendering is complete, adding some flexibility to the whole process. For new users, Podium is the first place you should look for rendering help.
No matter how far we’ve come since the early days of computer graphics and 3D rendering, V-Ray will always be at the top of the food chain. As technology advances, so does V-Rays ability to produce the most mind-bending visualizations, renderings, and animations possible with ones and zeros.
V-Ray comes equipped with a plugin that interfaces directly with SketchUp. It certainly comes with a learning curve, but those willing to put in the time are rewarded with the ability to do just about anything with a rendering. With V-Ray, SketchUp is instantly transformed into a rendering tool professionals can be proud to utilize.
Twilight Render is a visualization tool for professionals and hobbyists alike. In fact, that’s exactly how it’s marketed, and with good reason. It presents the user-friendly interface SketchUp users appreciate, with a powerful rendering engine that can produce photorealistic images for even the greenest of amateurs.
Twilight Render isn’t the most feature-rich rendering program in the world, but it provides just enough in terms of quality and speed to find plenty to like here. For people who are just getting their visualization foundation underneath them, it’s an absolute slam dunk and one that won’t cost them much to get up and running.
If you’re looking to dip your feet into the bleeding edge of rendering technology, look no further than Keyshot. It utilizes real-time rendering in a way that allows you to see the results of a rendered scene as you’re working on it. That means you can tweak textures, lighting, camera, and even massing and instantaneously view the rendering.
Keyshot is still working on a proper plugin for SketchUp, but does have the ability to import your models into the base rendering program for quick use. SketchUp users will be impressed at just how easy Keyshot is to use, especially considering the technological magic it carries with it under the hood. Keyshot is something that has to be seen to believe.
If SU Podium doesn’t have enough to satisfy the professional renderers needs, Brighter 3D is another exclusive SketchUp plugin to try out. It works within SketchUp’s already user-friendly interface, and has enough in terms of options and flexibility that experienced users will love. It supports a variety of different lighting models, including artificial and HDR.
Brighter is a CPU multi-tasking rendering engine, meaning you won’t need an expensive graphics card to unlock its power. It is the perfect rendering plugin for people who don’t have the money to build themselves a dedicated visualization machine.
It’s okay to be skeptical about the quality of things that are offered for free. While there is plenty of free content out there, it’s typically saddled with some sort of nefarious ulterior motive, microtransaction, or otherwise unethical business practice that will either completely nerf the value of the content, or eventually bleed your wallet anyway.
For architectural visualizers, this is all too common a problem. Rendering programs are expensive because they offer a very sophisticated set of tools that provide professionals with the ability to be the best at what they do.
That all being said, we’ve managed to find a handful of free rendering programs for arch viz that aren’t complete garbage. In fact, they aren’t garbage at all, and in the right hands these programs can be used to create work that is just as impressive as some of the titans of the industry.
Free doesn’t have to mean terrible. This software is proof.
It’s impossible to separate “free rendering software” with the empire Blender has created. It’s an open source 3D modeling program that has been developed into a visualization powerhouse. It’s on-board rendering engine, Cycles, is easy to use, capable, and works so seamlessly with the base 3D modeler you simply can’t separate one from the other.
Blender is created by people who’ve grown up with the software, and is supported by a robust community of rabid fans who are more than willing to help newcomers unlock all the tricks, secrets, and shortcuts available. Blender is an absolute no brainer for anyone interested in architectural visualization, and it won’t cost you a dime.
LuxRender is a physics based rendering engine that has the ability to make your conceptual works of architecture looking like photorealistic jaw-droppers. Very few free pieces of software come with as many options and features as LuxRender, making sure every visualization artist has something they can apply to their own workflow and best practices.
A quick look at the gallery page on their website should give an indication of just how capable a renderer we’re dealing with here. Once you’ve downloaded the program, you’ll forget everything you thought you knew about using free visualization software. It’s set up to work with both CPU and GPU systems, making sure no users are left behind.
Once you learn how to properly say Kerkythea, you’ll be telling all your friends about this free, powerful, easy-to-use 3D rendering engine. It utilizes physically accurate lighting and texture, giving users a free option that allows them to create impressive, photorealistic renderings and animations without dropping hundreds on a software license.
It also comes with a free SketchUp exporter, which is perfect for architectural visualization artists who rely on that 3D modeling program for most of their up-front work. Kerkythea is a truly unique piece of free software that doesn’t skimp on usability. It’s geared directly towards architects and interior designers who want a reliable program they don’t have to worry about breaking the bank on.
If you’ve already gotten used to using Blender for your 3D modeling needs, you shoudl do yourself a favor and give Freestyle a try. It gives users a bit of a different feel than Cycles, instead focusing on creating images that rely only on line drawing. And since it’s a well-known fact that architects love lines, this is certainly a match made in heaven.
Freestyle is more of a light plugin than a fully-fledged rendering engine, but it will give architectural visualization artists something unique to supplement their photorealistic work with. It’s great for diagramming, concept development, and finding clever ways to promote design communication and process-driven workflow.
Yes, you can download and use Pixar’s famous rendering software right now from the comfort of your home desk. It was a shock to the visualization industry when Pixar announced they’d be making their software available to all consumers, and an even bigger shock when they actually delivered!
Of course, this version of Renderman is probably completely different then the one they’re using in house today, it still has many features architectural visualizers will find incredibly helpful to their practice. It’s fast, feature-rich, and used by Pixar! ‘Nuff said.
For those early adopters and future seers, it was easy to predict how much of a massive success story SketchUp would eventually become. And while those first few years were met with mostly skepticism, harsh scoffing, and a massive inferiority complex, it was the dedicated few who proved it could be used for more than just jagged representations of their ideas.
Now, SketchUp is employed as a full-fledged visualization machine. Not only does it interface with all major rendering engines, its ease-of-use lends itself to being a powerful design tool that has helped architects and interior designers do better work.
SketchUp is also entirely free, making it a modeling program with very few glaring blind spots. However if you’re looking for something else - like a modeler with a more robust feature set, there are some options that you can consider diving into. The programs on this list are just as user-friendly as SketchUp is known for, and all offer something just a little bit different under the hood.
Before the SketchUp era began almost 20 years ago, the cool kids in the architecture industry were modeling everything in Rhino. AutoCAD was way too cumbersome and frustrating to handle any serious 3D modeling needs, and the easy and intuitive design of Rhino meant quicker results and more complex solutions.
Rhino has evolved over the years to maintain its grasp on a large number of dedicated rendering artists and architectural visualizers. It can do things that SketchUp will never be able to do, and using Grasshopper to write your own scripts opens up an unlimited number of modeling possibilities.
New users wouldn’t likely sing Blender’s praises for having the most accessible of user interfaces. However, those who take the time to climb this initially steep learning curve are rewarded with a free 3D modeling program that can do just about anything. It spans 3D rendering industries, and is suited for anything from arch viz to 3D animation.
Blender also comes coupled with its own proprietary rendering engine, Cycles. As you’d imagine, the two pieces of software mesh together perfectly, giving users a powerful, all inclusive package to hang their reputation on.
For those 3D modelers who might be less serious about a contending career as a rendering artist, Inventor is the program like SketchUp for you. It carries the same whimsical attitude towards learning, tinkering, and...well...inventing as the aforementioned program. It institutes a drag-and-drop style modeling interface that makes it easy for users to quickly populate their scenes.
I doubt anyone would be so cavalier as to claim Inventor a ‘professional’ 3D visualization tool, but it is a nice alternative to SketchUp that spins the easy user interface genre of moders in a different way.
If Form Z is just a bit too grown up for your late-to-develop 3D modeling muscles, then you’re in luck! Form Z Jr. takes all the things people have loved about the parent program for years and makes them a bit easier to digest. You won’t find the grand chest of options and tools, but you’re gifted instead the ability to digitally create just about anything your imagination can conjur.
Form Z is primarily used by character designers, 3D artists, video game developers, and anyone else who requires a more freeform modeler. In that way it’s very much unlike SketchUp, but still worth a look for people who want to test out an intuitive program that does modeling a little bit differently.
3D modeling on an iPad? Not only an emphatic ‘yes’ to that question, but the kind of intuitive 3D modeling you’d only expect out of something being controlled by a mouse and keyboard. Sharpr 3D is the most widely used and capable modeling program for tablet consumption. Using it actually feels like magic, and is great for artists and visualizers who don’t feel like hauling around an expensive laptop.
It primarily targets Apple Pencil users, and is designed to work in concert with the technology. Once you start using Sharpr 3D, you’ll keep coming back because it’s, quite simply, good clean fun. Do yourself a favor and download it now.
Building Information Modeling was certainly around before AutoDesk launched Revit over a decade ago. However, that particular launch ushered BIM into the mainstream, as architects and engineers gravitated towards it for the flexibility and efficiency it allowed - not to mention its accuracy.
Over the years since its release, Revit has undergone a number of important quality of life upgrades that has transformed it into a powerful construction documentation tool that is no longer a clunky mess. Its usability has given designers no other choice but to abandon exclusive 2D drafting in favor of something that not only assists in the documentation process, but the design process as well.
Now, AutoDesk is searching for a new frontier for Revit to conquer: visualization. Revit has always had an on-board rendering engine that never seemed like an afterthought, and doesn’t begin to hold a candle against dedicated renderers such as V-Ray, Keyshot, or Maxwell.
AutoDesk is hoping to change that with the release of Revit Live - a licensed plugin that promises to give architects an all new Revit, complete with visualization tools that can be used seamlessly alongside the base program. We’re going to take an in-depth look at what Revit Live is, and how it can expect to change the way we use BIM software.
Revit Live is a cloud-based extension of Revit that will render your model in real-time, and allow architects and designers to create a variety of different visualizations, walk-throughs, animations, and even VR tours of their building model. It takes material and texture information directly from the components within the model to create a virtual space where users can explore at their heart’s content.
It gives design firms the ability to utilize a powerful visualization tool without the need for expensive equipment to run the back-end. The cloud computing offers almost instantaneous results, meaning users can quickly update the visualization once changes have been made to the base model.
Revit Live comes packaged with most AutoDesk software packages, so no additional funds need to be set aside to make full use of the service.
One appealing feature of Revit Live is the ability to share the visualization models with just about anyone. This means engineers, consultants, clients, and builders will have access to a fully rendered version of the building - as it is drawn in the construction documents - to better understand the design in its most current state.
For architects and designers, there is nothing more important than having the ability to clearly communicate ideas, details, and vital construction information that might make the end product more aligned with the design. Revit Live has the potential to do this, with cutting the middleman from the equation of designer to visualizer, back to designer and finally to the intended party.
It injects efficiency and accuracy into a program that is touted for its efficiency and accuracy. Architects are given the tools to quickly communicate visually without the need to hand-hold through a sterile set of 2D plans and drawings.
Perhaps the most impressive feature included in Revit Live is seamless virtual reality integration. More and more design firms are digging their teeth into the possibilities of VR to showcase their unbuilt designs. The problem has been finding software that doesn’t require a doctorate in computer engineering to be able to operate. Most offices have resorted to hiring outside help to set up and operate virtual reality experiences in the office.
With Revit Live, the software is all right there, and all that’s needed is an in-house virtual reality headset to get things up and running.
Clients love being able to freely move around in the buildings they are paying lots of money to construct before ground is broken on the project. It gives them hope during a long and sometimes painful design and permitting process, that their project is going to come out the other side as good as advertised.
This flavor of visualization is what strengthens trust between designer and client, and allows decisions to be made a bit more freely. The client can see with their own eyes, and therefore don’t need to blindly believe that things will turn out as planned.
Revit Live is just getting started, but it promises to shake up the design and visualization industries with streamlined information that is more closely aligned with real-world context.