3D Rendering Software Review

September 3, 2017
Barrel Hero Image

After following Tim Kaminski’s 3DCoat prop tutorial, I wanted to test which software could give me the best looking renders.

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I recently went through Tim Kaminski's “3D Prop Pipeline” tutorial series to learn more about prop modeling techniques in 3DCoat, Zbrush, and Substance Painter.

At the end of the series, Tim rendered his prop inside of Substance Painter's Iray renderer. Instead of just stopping with Iray, I used my model as an excuse to test many of the popular rendering programs that are out there.


Before I could make any renders, I had to learn the basics of each software package. Fortunately, Allegorithmic and Youtube already had a number of guides for setting up materials in other programs. While exploring each application, my goal was to make nice studio lighting renders, similar to ones you might find on sites like Behance or Artstation.

This was my first time using many of these programs, so all of my results and opinions come from a beginner’s perspective. Hopefully this blog post can be of some use to other 3D artists trying to figure out which program they should render their models in.


The software packages listed below are ranked from favorite to least favorite:


Marmoset Toolbag

Pros  👍

  • Real-time renderer
  • Quick and easy to export images and turntable videos
  • Affordable
  • Ideal choice for rendering individual objects
  • Easy to adjust lighting and HDR maps
  • Options for a transparent floor and background color/blur tweaking
  • Has lots of customization and tunable options like post processing effects
  • Fast to setup and make test renders with while you work on your models
  • Easier to use out of the box than other real-time renderers like Unity and UE4

Cons  👎

  • Some issues with normal maps if not baked and setup correctly
  • Time based free trial with small watermarks
  • Takes extra work to set up materials for multiple objects and things like glass
  • If you're rendering a complex scene or don't care about nice product shots, you might as well just use UE4 instead
  • There's free software that can achieve a similar look, but Marmoset is much easier to use

Redshift for Maya


Pros  👍

  • One of the easiest out of the box solutions
  • Has pre-made studio lighting options and HDR maps that you can just throw on your model and get nice results
  • Setting up materials from Substance Painter to Keyshot is very quick
  • Has an HDRI editor that lets you customize your HDR maps
  • Not as fast as Marmoset, but still updates its render preview quickly

Cons  👎

  • Customizing lighting outside of the presets is tedious, you have to apply a light material to 3D shapes and they're not very easy to manipulate
  • Very expensive software, should probably evaluate other options before choosing Keyshot
  • Limited trial that includes an insignificant watermark

Unreal Engine 4

Pros  👍

  • Real-time renderer
  • Easier to get a nicer looking result out of the box than Unity (with a similar studio lighting setup)
  • Has a built-in option to export an image from a camera with no additional setup or scripting needed
  • Easy to render out a video using it's Sequencer tools
  • Quick, free, and works especially well with many objects or more complex scenes
  • Supports a variety of post process effects

Cons  👎

  • Takes some additional work to set up its material graph vs drag and drop in Unity
  • No presets for things like an invisible shadow plane or easy background color tweaking
  • Doesn't offer area lights and requires some extra work tweaking its light baking and world settings to get high quality soft shadows

Substance Painter Iray

Unity Engine

Pros  👍

  • Real-time renderer
  • Setup from Substance Painter to Unity is straight forward and the material is easy too hook up
  • All that's needed is a directional light, a curved background panel, and optionally an HDR image as the skybox
  • Good for speed and for your renders you can just take screen grabs of the scene
  • Becomes a more favorable option as your scene grows and you have an environment in place
  • Easy to get a quick GIF if you're using a tool like GifCam to capture animations
  • Every feature needed for a nice looking render is free (unless you use the Asset Store)

Cons  👎

  • Takes additional work to get soft shadows, might require finding an asset on the Unity Asset Store or creating your own custom solution
  • There's no image export or render option, you have to find or write a script to render your camera out into an image file format

V-Ray for Maya

Pros  👍

  • Fairly quick render and IPR render time
  • Felt almost as fast as the GPU based renderers
  • Easy to set up its materials and lighting to match Substance Painter
  • Has options for placing a dome light with an HDR texture and some area lights

Cons  👎

  • The VRay frame buffer needs to be tweaked because of gamma problems, might be better to just use the normal IPR render
  • Has contrast, color, and gamma issues, as well as some discrepancy between renders and how they actually look when saved (try both raw and color-managed image when saving your render)
  • Maya trial plugin has a time limit that's difficult to uninstall and extend via another email account
  • A pricier rendering option

Arnold for Maya