Over the years, we have talked about many CPU and GPU rendering solutions, especially considering the plethora of renderers available to developers and consumers alike. More rendering engines are becoming compatible across most operating systems and platforms, and many 3D modeling software can allow you to compare and contrast their quality by switching them around on a whim and a click.
As 2021 comes to an end, we feel it is worth sharing our thoughts on the best GPU-accelerated rendering software to try in 2022.
*Prices are accurate as of the publication of this article.
OS: WIndows, MacOS, Linux
Software Plugin: Maya, Blender, Houdini, 3ds Max
This relatively new rendering engine continues to evolve and improve, offering new features, an easy-to-use UI, CPU+GPU heterogeneous rendering for even faster rendering and viewport visualization, and beautiful physically based rendering (PBR)-based results for absolutely no cost to you.
This engine is supported by most 3D modeling software, but it shines most in Autodesk Maya/3ds Max, Blender, and SideFX Houdini. Hardware-wise, it is also now compatible with MacOS as of this year. With the most recent available 2.0 update now including heterogeneous volume support, and with USD Hydra compatibility now being introduced in Blender, this means that ProRender really has a chance to become an industry-standard contender for large studio workflows.
Not just for photo-realistic imagery, ProRender also continues to perfect its toon shader materials and workflows and is used for film and television animation and production. If you are interested in cel-shaded animation, you may want to consider diving back into ProRender.
Software Compatibility: AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp, Rhinoceros, 3ds Max, VectorWorks
Price: $1700 (Standard Version) / $3400 (Pro Version)*
We have talked about Lumion before, but it still continues to impress and is still a mainstay in the architectural visualization community. This rendering engine is supported by most CAD-based modeling programs including SketchUp, Revit, Rhino, and ArchiCAD. Though a standard license is not exactly affordable to most consumers, Lumion does have a two-week free trial available to users who want to try out its features.
Known for being used for architectural rendering and landscape design, Lumion offers a robust object, material, and texture library that offers photo-realistic results for your 3D scenes. As it is a GPU-based rendering engine, you can view your results directly in your viewport as it renders in real-time, giving you complete control as you augment the camera and lighting to get the best final render.
OS: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Software Plugin: Blender
With Blender 3.0 on its way, Blender is still keeping users and studios on their toes with their updates and builds. While Cycles (and its upcoming younger brother Cycles X) is considered to be the standard engine Blender users rely on for its ray-tracing rendering capability, Eevee is its second.
Like Lumion, Eevee makes render times non-existent. It is exclusively a real-time renderer and can literally be set as the default viewport and be just as fast as Blender’s workbench viewport. And it comes packed with Blender, which is already free, which means money is no issue.
But it is still considered to be too new and more suited for beginners without much experience; not an industry-standard tool. Others claim that you sacrifice realism for speed and while that may be somewhat true, there are still many applicable aspects to Eevee that can be used in low-poly or even game developing environments.
OS: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Software Plugin: Standalone Engine, AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, Blender, Cinema 4D, DAZ Studio, Houdini, Lightwave, Maya, Modo, Nuke, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Softimage
Price: $930 (1-Year License) / $1200 (2-Year License)*
Developed by OTOY, OctaneRender is still keeping strong with its beautiful lighting system and spectrally accurate visualization. It claims to be the world’s first and fastest unbiased GPU rendering engine, with speeds that outshine its competition 10 – 100 times in terms of rendering speed.
This engine also prides itself in its real-time viewport rendering, streamlining your workflow and making it a cinch to navigate within your scene while being able to visualize what your final render will potentially look like with ease. It can function as a standalone renderer, but it also works well as a plugin for a long list of 3D programs. Almost all of them, in fact: Maya, Blender, Daz Studio, Nuke, and Modo, for starters.
This renderer does unfortunately hold a bit of a high price for a license, but if you are serious about your renders, this may be one to consider giving a try. It commands impressive rendering speed due to its GPU-based processing power, a very extensive UI that allows for exceptionally minute tweaking, and it can produce beautiful results in only a few moments.
OS: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Software Plugin: Maya, 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Blender, Katana, Houdini
Price: $45 (Monthly) / $264 (Yearly)*
Maxon’s Redshift is still very popular in the VFX community and wears its impressive complex shader and texture settings, out-of-the-box functionality, and GPU-accelerated speed on its sleeve.
While OctaneRender is an unbiased engine, Redshift considers itself more artist-friendly with its biased engine framework — meaning that there is less of a need for precision and calibration for aspects of a scene such as lighting settings and physics, giving the designer the ability to focus more on creating.
This engine is considered a must-have for those who want to animate visual effects and motion graphics. And even though it also carries a high price for a license, it is not anywhere near as costly as Lumion or OctaneRender. Redshift works well as an integrated plugin for Autodesk Maya and SideFX Houdini, making for very powerful workflows and beautiful results.