In a 3D animation or design project, rendering is usually the final step, the end result being what potential customers, viewers, and clients see. Rendering can be a very time-consuming, CPU-intensive task, but that can be swayed if you find software that exclusively employs your GPU to lighten the load and speed up the process.
Depending on which rendering software you use, there are many different plugins and extensions you can choose from to make your work shine. Finding the best renderer can be a daunting endeavor, so we’ve put together this comprehensive software list for you to see which plugins fit your needs, workflow, and budget.
Note: All prices are accurate at the time of publication.
|LuxCoreRender||Free||3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, DAZ Studio, Maya, SketchUp, XSI||
|Radeon ProRender||Free||3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, Houdini, InstaLOD Studio, Maya, Modo, SolidWorks, Unreal Engine||
|FurryBall||$215 / license||Standalone (3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Maya plugin)||
|Arnold||$360 / year||3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Katana, Maya, Softimage||
|V-Ray||$470 / year||3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, Maya, Modo, Nuke, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Unreal Engine||
|Maxwell Render||$495–695 / license||3ds Max, ArchiCAD, Cinema 4D, Form-Z, Maya, Modo, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, SolidWorks||
|Redshift||$500 / license||3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Maya, Softimage||
|Octane Render||$699 / year||3ds Max, ArchiCAD, AutoCAD, Blender, Cinema 4D, DAZ Studio, Houdini, Lightwave, Maya, Modo, Nuke, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Softimage, Standalone||
|KeyShot||$995 / license
$1,995 / Pro license
|Standalone (Microsoft Windows, macOS)||
|Lumion||$1,500 / license
$3,300 / Pro license
|3ds Max, ArchiCAD, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Vectorworks||
Best Free Rendering Software
LuxCoreRender is an open source-licensed, ray tracing rendering software tool that utilizes complex processes like subsurface scattering, volumetrics, and physically based materials to mimic the flow of natural light in physically accurate space (this type of rendering is called Physically Based Rendering, or PBR), making for convincing photorealistic final images.
- Price: Free
- Software: 3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, DAZ Studio, Maya, SketchUp, XSI
- Pros: Free/Open source, multiple rendering algorithms
- Cons: Buggy outside of Blender
A free software plugin developed and released by AMD, Radeon ProRender is a CPU+GPU physically based renderer that has recently seen a rise in popularity in the industry.
Built with AMD’s Radeon GPU technology in mind, ProRender offers a hardware agnostic experience, offering Nvidia, Intel, and even ASUS GPUs to utilize its functions. It’s also capable of using your machine’s CPU and GPU at the same time, allowing for real-time rendering in your software of choice, speeding up your workflow, and increasing efficiency when compositing complex scenes.
ProRender also comes equipped with a built-in interactive denoiser, cleaning up your final frame renders without oversampling your scene. It’s most fantastic feature is its unmatched ability to integrate into almost every industry-standard modeling and composition software from Maya, SolidWorks, and Cinema 4D to Houdini, 3ds Max, and Blender.
- Price: Free
- Software: 3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, Houdini, InstaLOD Studio, Maya, Modo, SolidWorks, Unreal Engine
- Pros: Free to use, hardware agnostic, final/viewport render denoising
- Con: Difficult-to-use interface
Best Rendering Software Under $500
FurryBall is a unique, easy-to-use, GPU-based rendering software that uses a real-time progressive preview system, which allows you to edit your scenes while observing your potential render and not have to wait for a final render pass. This makes for a faster, more efficient workflow.
It’s aimed at developers for VFX rendering and full-length animated films. Therefore, not only does it come as a standalone rendering viewport, each license has an integrable plugin for Maya, Cinema 4D, and 3ds Max, further making for a smoother workflow between render passes and program-specific third-party plugins that control algorithms like particles, fluid, and hair.
Though support was discontinued a few years ago, FurryBall is a very quirky and exciting program that may be a refreshing alternative to those who were initially underwhelmed by the rendering options that come standard with 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, and Maya.
- Price: $215 / license
- Software: Standalone (3ds Max, Cinema 4D, and Maya plugin)
- Pros: Unbiased/biased rendering, all 3 plugins included in license
- Cons: Discontinued support/updates as of 2015
This unbiased CPU-based (now with GPU capability) rendering software, originally designed for Sony Pictures-owned VFX studio Imageworks, is now one of the most utilized software in the visual effects industry, used in over 300 studios around the world and the primary rendering engine for films like Gravity and Pacific Rim. It’s built to meet the demands of process-intensive computations that are used for feature-length films, animation, and VFX.
Arnold is incredibly versatile and houses a plethora of features. Though not as fast as Redshift below, its speed is still quite exceptional allowing for real-time rendering, using a node-based material editor, a Physical Sky shader, and a very sophisticated Atmosphere Volume shader.
A near all-in-one studio in a bottle, this software can be used with many of today’s leading 3D production software.
- Price: $360 / year
- Software: 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Katana, Maya, Softimage
- Pros: Capable of hyper-realistic renders, easy-to-use interface
- Cons: GPU functionality exclusive to Nvidia CUDA GPU
Developed by Bulgarian company Chaos Group, V-Ray is another biased raytracer engine plug-in that also can harness both your machine’s CPU and GPU to provide exceptional renders for your architectural, VFX, and film projects. V-Ray, and its most recent generational iteration V-Ray Next, can compute complex global illumination algorithms, allowing it to add more realistic lighting to your 3D scenes. Path tracing, irradiance maps, and shading have all been improved with half of the rendering time.
Another feature exclusive to V-Ray is the V-Ray denoiser, a filter that decreases the amount of noise of your render without needing to up your sampling count, allowing for a smoother real-time experience, cutting your render times down significantly, and speeding up your workflow. The denoiser’s biggest caveat is it can only be used by Nvidia GPUs.
V-Ray is compatible with almost all industry-standard programs including the likes of Rhino3D, SketchUp, Revit, 3Ds Max, and Maya.
- Price: $470 / year
- Software: 3ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, Maya, Modo, Nuke, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Unreal Engine
- Pros: Progressive rendering, selective light sampling
- Cons: GPU functionality exclusive to Nvidia CUDA GPU
Well known for its realism and quality in the architecture community, Maxwell is an unbiased CPU/GPU-based rendering software that is geared toward industrial design and architectural visualization. Along with an incredible degree of hyper-realism, it also has an easy-to-use setup, which allows you to produce fantastic results with little fuss.
The most recent iteration of this plugin allows for GPU rendering as well as CPU rendering, which helps streamline your workflow while not compromising your final render quality. However, it’s still experimental and can only be used with a CUDA-capable Nvidia graphics card.
That minor caveat aside, this software, unlike Lumion below, can be utilized in almost all industry-standard CAD and 3D programs like 3ds Max and Maya as well as underused programs like Form-Z, Modo, and ArchiCAD.
- Price: $495–695 / license
- Software: 3ds Max, ArchiCAD, Cinema 4D, Form-Z, Maya, Modo, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, SolidWorks
- Pros: Easy-to-use interface, multilight rendering features
- Cons: Unbiased rendering leads to slower render times, GPU functionality exclusive to Nvidia CUDA GPU
Best Rendering Software over $500
Touted as the world’s first fully GPU-accelerated biased renderer by its developer, Redshift offers the flexibility and quality of CPU-based rendering with GPU-based speed.
Unbiased engines tend to be very difficult for artists to render with as they are much more precise with their calculations regarding processes like lighting physics. However, Redshift is a biased engine, meaning there is much more freedom for the artist to get the desired render without having to overwork settings — meaning you can focus solely on creating.
Redshift is easily integrated into programs such as Cinema 4D, Maya, and Houdini, making for very powerful workflows and beautiful results.
- Price: $500 / license
- Software: 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Maya, Softimage
- Pros: Fast GPU-accelerated rendering, Out of Core (OOC) capability
- Cons: Steep learning curve for new users
Octane Render is a GPU-based renderer that handles processor-heavy algorithms with ease. It’s considered one of the fastest real-time render software plugins on the market to date. Making use of its interactive real-time viewport system, it smoothly speeds up your workflow by essentially displaying your final render as you work, edit and place materials, and frame compositions.
It works as a standalone program, or it can be easily implemented as a plugin for many industry-standard programs including 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Maya, and Blender just to name a few.
An ideal contender for architectural visualization, this rendering software also boasts that along with its comprehensive interface yielding beautiful results fairly quickly, its processing speeds dwarf that of other GPU-based plugins by 10–50 times.
- Price: $699 / year
- Software: 3ds Max, ArchiCAD, AutoCAD, Blender, Cinema 4D, DAZ Studio, Houdini, Lightwave, Maya, Modo, Nuke, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Softimage, Standalone
- Pros: Fast GPU-accelerated rendering, integrated online material archive
- Cons: Steep learning curve for new users, difficult-to-use interface, price
KeyShot is a completely different beast compared to all other rendering solutions on this list.
It’s the only software that is a completely standalone application with its own UI, its own library of materials, and volumetric lighting effects. Your workflow can be completely localized to the application window. Luxion has done everything they could to make KeyShot the most user-friendly experience possible resulting in unmatched ease, speed, and accessibility.
Set up your scene with lights, cameras, materials, and composition all in real time and exclusively use your GPU cores. KeyShot’s GPU mode allows your GPU’s resources to be used with the click of a button, allowing it to make multi-GPU performance scaling and ray tracing rendering very simple.
Similar to V-Ray, KeyShot has a built-in denoiser that can remove any unsightly noise in your scene and in your real-time viewport.
- Price: $995 / license; $1,995 / Pro license
- Software: Standalone (Microsoft Windows, macOS)
- Pros: Simple/easy-to-use interface, integrated material library, impressive rendering speed
- Cons: Price, steep learning curve for new users
A GPU-based software primarily used with programs such as AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Autodesk Revit, Lumion is the fastest CAD software solution. It makes architectural rendering and visualization easy and is a must-have for industrial designers and architects who are looking to beautifully develop their work and bring their creations to life.
It also comes equipped with a substantial content library of realistic environmental elements and materials including flora, fauna, and people. These assets and effects are easily implemented and can be copied and repeated to the designer’s whims without bogging down the system or slowing down rendering times.
- Price: $1,500 / license; $3,300 / Pro license
- Software: 3ds Max, ArchiCAD, Revit, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Vectorworks
- Pros: Integrated map/asset library, drag and drop menu
- Cons: Price, difficult-to-use interface
Powerful Rendering Software Is Now Available at Any Price
As hardware capacity grows, software now has so much more room to evolve and compete. Every year, the competition gets tighter and the lines between their functions and capabilities diminish. Whether you’re looking to get your money’s worth or get the most out of your machine and its output, hopefully this list will aid you in your search for rendering software that best caters to you and your studio’s future projects. Happy Rendering!