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In Depth: Which 3D render engine is best? (Updated 16 August 2022) #3drenderer

In Depth 3D Renderers

Indeed, there are so many 3D Renderers available. So, how does an artist know what to choose? Essentially, renderers really do the same thing. However, they work differently and will give different results. Below is a breakdown of what the different renderers offer, not reviews, so you can decide which renderer is right for you.

Note: This is a living document.

We are focusing on rendering tools that we sell at Toolfarm to help our customers make the choice. By the same token, as we add new tools to our store and products are updated, we will update this article.

There is a vast amount of information here and updates come out so often. We will try our best to keep it updated, nonetheless, some information may not be fully correct or may be out of date. Please let us know if something isn’t correct so that we may update the article and/or product information

Update Log

To view the update log, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Header image credit: PIRO4D

3D Renderers: An Introduction

This article on 3D Renderers was difficult to put together. As a result, there is a lot of information to digest. Indeed, I hope this will be a highly used resource. My goal was to create a document to help artists decide which 3D renderers work best for their work while presenting only facts. No opinion. So, users can compare 3D renderers on a logical level. This comes with a lot of terminologies of which you must have a basic understanding. First, I’ll go over some terminology, then a comparison chart of some criteria with renderers. Then a bit more about each 3D rendering engine with some videos.

Criteria for this 3D Renderers Comparison

  • GPU/CPU
  • Biased/Unbiased
  • Physically Based Renderer
  • Platform Support
  • Host Support
  • System Requirements
  • Price

Note: Pricing and system requirements are accurate as of the publishing of this article. We will keep this document updated when we get around to it. Please check for current versions.

3D Renderer Terminology

We’re going to go super basic and barely scratch the surface here. so make sure that you see the “Further Reading” list below if you want to know more about each term.

CPU vs. GPU Rendering

Think of the central processing unit, or CPU, as the brain and control center of your computer. A graphics processing unit, or GPU, is there to render 3D graphics and to help the CPU perform its calculations. The CPU is based on single cores so it works on one bit of data at a time. The GPU is designed for parallel processing so they can work with a lot of data at once. To sum it up, a quote I came across from Kevin Krewell from Nvidia explains it well: “Architecturally, the CPU is composed of just a few cores with lots of cache memory that can handle a few software threads at a time. In contrast, a GPU is composed of hundreds of cores that can handle thousands of threads simultaneously.”

Some 3D renderers will utilize the GPU instead of the CPU, which can mean faster renders, but the downside is that GPUs are limited to the amount of VRAM or video memory. Many renderers are hybrid and use both the CPU and GPU.

GPU vs CPU Video Rendering and Video Editing

Roberto Blake gives a great overview of whether you should choose GPU or CPU rendering.

Biased vs. Unbiased

Biased means that the renderer will estimate values, or do a bit of educated guessing using mathematical functions, and not calculate every single pixel. The benefit is that it’s much faster. The downside is that the results may not be absolutely accurate.

Unbiased, on the other hand, means that every pixel is calculated with no interpolation between pixels. Biased rendering methods include light tracking, path tracing, bidirectional path tracing, and metropolis light transport.

Many renderers are capable of producing both unbiased and biased renderers.

Grant Warwick about Bias and Differences of 3D Rendering Engines

Further reading:

Global Illumination

Global Illumination is the algorithm that the software uses to recreate natural lighting from the real world. There are several types of algorithms such as radiosity, ray tracing, beam tracing, cone tracing, path tracing, Metropolis light transport, ambient occlusion, photon mapping, and image-based lighting. Even more, these can be used on their own or in combination with each other to create better results. [Source:Wikipedia: Global Illumination]

C4D Fundamentals | 07 – Advanced Rendering – Understanding Global Illumination

While this video is targeted to Cinema 4D, much of the information applies to any other 3D software.

Monte Carlo Method

This is a common algorithm for photo realism used by 3D software and it seems to be tied in with probability in gambling! To explain, “Monte Carlo methods are also efficient in solving coupled integral differential equations of radiation fields and energy transport, and thus these methods have been used in global illumination computations that produce photo-realistic images of virtual 3D models, with applications in video games, architecture, design, computer-generated films, and cinematic special effects.” [Source: Wikipedia: Monte Carlo method]

Further reading:

Embree Ray Tracing Kernels

Embree, developed at Intel, is a collection of high-performance ray tracing kernels. Hence, it is explained in the video below from Intel.

Many renderers use Embree ray tracing kernels. In addition, V-Ray Next includes a custom Embree ray tracing library “which speeds up anything from proxies to motion blur.” [Source: Interview: V-Ray Next and the Future of Rendering – CG Channel] FluidRay RT, Corona Render, and others also use it.

Further reading:

Physically-Based Rendering

Finally, Physically based rendering, often abbreviated as PBR, uses mathematical theories that allow for photorealistic renderings.

What is PBR? Physically-Based Rendering Explained

Further Reading:

3D Renderers

Comparison Chart – Quick Reference

RendererDeveloperCurrent Host SupportGPUCPUHybridEngine TypeBiasGI Method
ArnoldAutodesk (Solid Angle)Maya
Cinema 4D
3ds Max
Houdini
Katana
Softimage
check
with Arnold GPU
check
no
OfflineUnbiasedPhysically-based uni-directional path tracer
Corona RendererCorona3ds Max
Cinema 4D
ARCHICAD (alpha)
Blender (add-on in development)
no
check
no
OfflineUnbiased & BiasedIntel Embree Ray Tracing Kernels
Cycles 4DInsydiumCinema 4D with X-Particles
check
check
no
Offline (Real-time Preview)UnbiasedPath Tracing
finalRenderCebas3ds Max
Maya (beta)
check
NVIDIA CUDA
check
check
OfflineUnbiasedPhysically Based (Spectral) Wavelength Simulation
MaxwellNext LimitStandalone with plugins for:
Maya
3ds Max
Softimage
Form•Z
Modo
Nuke
Rhino
ArchiCAD
Revit
Sketchup
check
check
check
See Maxwell for details.
OfflineUnbiasedPath Tracing Photorealistic
RedshiftRedshiftMaya
Softimage
3ds Max
Cinema 4D
Houdini
Katana
check
no
check
See Redshift for more information)
OfflineBiasedRay Tracing
RenderZoneForm•ZForm•Z
check
NVIDIA CUDA
no
check
OfflineUnbiased & BiasedRay Tracing
V-RayChaosCinema 4D
3ds Max
Maya
Houdini
Softimage
Rhino
Nuke
Sketchup
Revit
Unreal


Universal Nodes for:
3ds Max
Maya
Softimage
NUKE
KATANA
Standalone
Blender

check
check
check
OfflineUnbiased (optional)Path Tracing
U-RENDERUppercutCinema 4D
Standalone
check
no
no
Real-TimeUnbiasedReal-Time

Autodesk Arnold Render

The description from the developer:

Arnold software is an advanced Monte Carlo raytracing renderer. Another key point, it’s designed for artists and for the demands of modern animation and visual effects (VFX) production.

Autodesk Arnold RenderAutodesk Arnold Render

Global illumination rendering software

Arnold software is an advanced Monte Carlo ray tracing renderer that helps you deliver beautiful and predictable results.

Navigate through the software with simple and intuitive controls.
Produce professional-grade renders with full artistic control.
Get immediate results with interactive rendering.

Learn More

Arnold – The Details

Current release: api 7.1.3 , 3 August 2022

Platforms: Windows, macOS X, Linux

Host Support:   

  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Softimage
  • Houdini
  • Cinema 4D
  • Katana

License Options: Subscription, Floating, Multipacks, and maintenance plan renewal for perpetual licenses.

Price: One-year subscription starting at $360.00

Learn more: Arnold Render News


Chaos Corona

The description from Chaos, the developer:

New advanced high-performance renderer for 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, and other platforms. Chaos® Corona delivers high-quality, physically based shading for production rendering. Be an artist, not a technician, and achieve realism with greater ease than other rendering software.

Chaos Corona for 3ds MaxChaos Corona for 3ds Max

Realism without the headaches.

Chaos® Corona delivers high-quality, physically based shading for production rendering. Be an artist, not a technician, and achieve realism with greater ease than other rendering software.

Learn MoreTry Chaos Corona for 3ds Max for free!

Current Release:

  • Corona 8 for 3ds Max hotfix 2 (8.2)
  • Corona 8 for Cinema 4D hotfix 1 (8.1)

Platforms:

  • Windows (3ds Max, Cinema 4D)
  • Mac (Cinema 4D only)

Host Support:

  • Autodesk 3ds Max x64 version 2014-2023
  • Maxon Cinema 4D R14-R26, 64 Bit
  • Standalone

License Options:

  • Subscription

Price: Starting at $310 for a 1-yr subscription

Further Reading:


Insydium Cycles 4D

The description from the developer:
Cycles is an unbiased GPU/CPU render engine developed by the Blender Foundation and made available under the Apache 2 licensing system. Additionally, Cycles 4D is a dedicated bridge plugin allowing Cinema 4D users to access the Cycles rendering engine directly inside Cinema 4D without the need for an external application.

With Insydium’s own real-time preview and fully featured node editor, along with our eye for detail and quality, Cycles 4D is the ultimate render companion. Of course, it has unparalleled access to X-Particles.

Cycles 4D – The Details

Current release version: Cycles 4D Build 559, April 2022 – Supports Cinema 4D R19-S26

Platforms: Windows, Mac (no M1 Silicon support yet)

Host Support:   

  • Cinema 4D with access to X-Particles

License Options: Perpetual license

As of 14 September 2021, Cycles 4D is available in the Fused bundle only. It IS compatible with Cinema 4D R25.

In addition, check out Insydium Cycles News


Cebas finalRender True Hybrid

The description from the developer:

finalRender is a photographer’s dream come true
trueHybrid™ technology – bringing the power of CPU and GPU together! finalRender for 3ds Max is the perfect choice for 3d artists and studios alike wanting the maximum in image quality and photo-realism, without experiencing a brain melt when setting up complex scenes for rendering! And no compromises.

Cebas finalRender True-Hybrid – The Details

Current release version: 3ds Max (Subscription Drop 5), released Feb 16, 2021

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:   

  • 3ds Max 2022 2021, 2020, 2019
  • Maya is in beta as of March 2019 (Beta info)

License Options: Workstation, network license, GPU license

Price:

  • The first option is a 1 Year Workstation License, with an MSRP of $294.00 (Toolfarm Price: $279.30)
  • Second, a 1 Year Unlimited Network License, MSRP: $294.00, Toolfarm Price: $279.30
  • Lastly, a 1 Year Unlimited CUDA GPU License, MSRP: $294.00, Toolfarm Price: $279.30

Learn more


Maxwell Render

The description from the developer:

Maxwell – 3D rendering software for architects and designers.

To summarize, Maxwell is legendary for its quality and realism. It delivers great results via a simple set-up, which lets you focus on lighting. Now, Maxwell easily integrates a powerful denoiser (by Innobright’s Altus), while preserving texture and geometry details, effectively saving a lot of time. You can obtain your images around two to six times faster, depending on the scene for a similar amount of detail. Instead of having to render your images to a high sampling level, you can keep it low and let the denoiser do the job.

Multi-GPU Rendering / Hybrid Rendering?

*** Maxwell has the option of rendering on GPU, CPU, or can render both at once. They do not seem to use the term “hybrid rendering” in their manual or marketing materials, however, so it is unclear if it’s not the same or just not the same terminology.

Maxwell also has a feature called Multi-GPU, introduced in Maxwell 5, which allows users to use two or more graphics cards while rendering. This is windows only, however. From the Maxwell system requirements, “Graphics cards that support CUDA platform (Nvidia), running on Windows. No AMD or Intel will work, sorry. This means the GPU engine is not supported for Mac, as they don’t use Nvidia cards.”

Maxwell Render- The Details

maxwell 5 dropdown

Platforms: Windows, Mac (depending on the host)

Host Support, Current Release Version, release date:   

  • Standalone – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • 3ds Max – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • Maya – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • Cinema 4D – v5.2.2, 19 October 2021 – added R25 support
  • Rhino v6 – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • Form•Z – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • SketchUp – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • Archicad – v5.2, 9 March 2021
  • Revit – v4.2.5 (supports Revit 2020), 10 April 2019
  • Modo – Discontinued

License Options: Node-locked or Floating licenses

Price: Starting at $595, depending on the host

Learn more

Further reading:

Maxwell Render exporter for Blender

While there doesn’t seem to be official support for Blender, there are some tools that you can try. I have not tried either of these so these links are informational.


Octane

We’ve left Octane off of the list previously because we do not sell it. A couple of people recently asked us why we are snubbing Octane. We are definitely not snubbing it. In fact, we think it’s a great renderer and we’d love to carry it. However, we’re not going to put the energy and time into keeping it updated here since we do not sell it, and it’s tough enough to keep what we do sell up to date. Hopefully, we’ll be able to add it to this list in full detail in the future! We’d like that very much!


Redshift

Redshift for Maxon

The description from the developer:

Redshift is the world’s first fully GPU-accelerated, biased renderer.
Redshift is a powerful GPU-accelerated renderer, built to meet the specific demands of contemporary high-end production rendering. In other words, Redshift is tailored to support creative individuals and studios of every size. In fact, Redshift offers a suite of powerful features and integrates with industry-standard CG applications.

Redshift – The Details

Current release: 3.5.06, August 2022

Platforms: Windows, Mac

GPU/CPU: As of the 3.5 release in April 2022, users can now render with Redshift inside Cinema 4D. The rendering can be on CPU mode or in hybrid mode, which uses both CPU and GPU, without the need for a separate Redshift product subscription.

  • Redshift CPU, which uses just the CPU
  • Redshift XPU, which lets users render a hybrid, with both the CPU and GPU simultaneously.
  • Note: Users can also still render with the GPU.
  • Please see the system requirements for GPUs for all operating systems.

Host Support:   

  • Maya
  • Softimage
  • 3ds Max
  • Cinema 4D (Note: R26 IS supported)
  • Houdini

License Options: Redshift is a licensed per machine with no limit on the number of GPUs*. To clarify, there is no distinction is made between workstations and render nodes. In other words, 1 license is good for 1 machine.

Price: $264 for an annual subscription

Learn more

Redshift News:


Shaderlight Pro for SketchupShaderlight Pro for SketchUp

The description from the developer:
Shaderlight is an interactive rendering software plug-in to SketchUp that lets you create high-quality images, quickly and simply.

Current Release: 2021 (9.0)

Platforms: Windows

Host Support: SketchUp

License Options: Full/Retail, 2 Pack, Academic for student or educator,

Price: $120

Learn more


U-Render

u-renderThe description from the developer:

High-Quality Real-time Rendering for Cinema 4D

Current Release:

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:

  • Maxon Cinema 4D
  • Standalone

Price: $275 Subscription

Learn more

News


FormZ RenderZone

The description from the developer:

RenderZone Plus adds photorealistic render capabilities to formZ
Add photorealistic rendering with global illumination, ambient occlusion, and radiosity effects to formZ! Single user license of RenderZone plugin for form·Z 8.

FormZ RenderZone – The Details

Current release version: v9, 12 January 2020

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • FormZ

License Options: Perpetual license for Form•Z Pro or Form•Z Jr.

Price: MSRP: $395.00, Toolfarm Price: $375.25

Learn more


Chaos V-Ray

The description from the developer:

Smarter. Faster. Render.
Built for artists, designers & jacks-of-all-trades, our 3D rendering software helps you visualize anything imaginable. Undoubtedly, you will save time and create your best work with tech from Chaos.

Chaos V-Ray – The Details

HostVersion/BuildRelease DateNotes
V-Ray for Cinema 4D5.20.0427 April 2022Details
Release notes
V-Ray for 3ds Max6.00.0810 August 2022Details

Release notes
V-Ray for Maya5.20.0220 April 2022Release notes
V-Ray Next for MODO4.12.01 - Discontinued as of 20 Jan 202224 Apr 2019Release notes
V-Ray for NUKE5.20.002 Dec 2021Release notes
V-Ray Next for Katana4.10.02 - Discontinued as of 20 Jan 202226 Mar 2019Release notes
V-Ray for Houdini5.20.029 Dec 2021Release notes
V-Ray for Revit5.20.21 2 Feb 2022Release notes
V-Ray for Rhino5.20.0614 Apr 2022Release notes
V-Ray for Sketchup5.20.0514 Apr 2022Release notes
V-Ray Next for Unreal5.10.01

27 Jan 2022Release notes
Softimage3.0 (previous version)

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • Cinema 4D
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Softimage (no longer in development)
  • Rhino
  • UPDATE Modo and Katana – Discontinued 20 Jan 2022
  • Nuke
  • SketchUp
  • Revit
  • Unreal
  • Universal Render Nodes for V-Ray for 3ds Max, V-Ray for Maya, V-Ray for Softimage, V-Ray for NUKE, V-Ray for KATANA, V-Ray Standalone, and V-Ray for Blender. (*V-Ray Render Nodes are required to render with V-Ray 3.0.  Will not work with v2.x and below.)

NEW License Options: Purchase a single V-Ray license to access all V-Ray integrations, including 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Maya, Nuke, Revit, Rhino, SketchUp, and Unreal.

Price: Starting at $695, depending on host support.

Chaos V-Ray News & Updates


3D Renderers Updates from 2022

  • 16 August 2022: Updated V-Ray, U-Render, Arnold, Redshift
  • 20 July 2022: Updated Corona, Redshift, V-Ray for 3ds Max, V-Ray for Cinema 4D, Arnold
  • 9 May 2022: Removed Keyshot
  • 4 May 2022: Updated U-Render, Redshift, V-Ray for Maya
  • 14 April 2022: Chaos Corona, Arnold, and several V-Ray hosts updated.
  • 24 January 2022: – V-Ray products discontinued, Updates for Redshift, Corona Render 8 coming soon.

3D Renderers Updates from 2021

  • 4 November 2021: V-Ray 5 for SketchUp, V-Ray 5 for Rhino, Update 2 Now Available
  • 26 October 2021: Arnold Renderer 7.0, V-Ray for 3ds Max update, V-Ray for C4D now supports R25, Next Limit Maxwell Render for Cinema 4D now supports R25.
  • 20 September 2021: Several products have been updated to support Cinema 4D R25, including Cycles 4D, U-Render, and Redshift.
  • 19 July 2021: updated V-Ray for Revit and Maya. In addition, Redshift updated to v3.0.50.
  • 30 June 2021: We updated a few recent updates for V-Ray, finalRender, and U-RENDER.
  • 3 May 2021: Corona Renderer 6 Hotfix 2 adds support for 3ds Max 2022, V-ray for Cinema 4D 5.00.45 (Hotfix 3) adds support for Cinema 4D S24.
  • 15 April 2021: Redshift and V-Ray for 3ds Max updated
  • 9 March 2021: Maxwell Render 5.2 updated
  • 24 February 2021: Major Chaos updates for V-Ray, an Arnold point update
  • 12 February 2021: Updated Luxion Keyshot
  • 5 February 2021: Updated Arnold,  U-Render, V-Ray for Cinema 4D, Redshift
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Posted by Michele Yamazaki