Types of 3D Renderings: All that You Need to Know

3D rendering is a powerful type of technology that is used in many ways across many markets. Whether you’re playing Candy Crush on your smartphone or clicking buttons on a website—there’s a rendering process taking place.

What are 3D Renderings? Exactly?

3D rendering

3D rendering is, at its core, a way to create an image representative of some sort of design. That design might be a product, might be a person, or might be some crazy idea that someone cooked up during a dream.

Most modern rendering techniques rely on computers to create digital images. This wasn’t always the case and, decades ago, hand-rendering artists were invaluable members of product development teams.

Being able to quickly show a client what a product is going to look like is an invaluable step in the development process.

Modern Rendering Technologies

Fast forward to today—3D renderings have advanced right alongside computer processing abilities. In most cases, faster and more powerful computers equate to better and more realistic 3D renderings.

Real-time rendering has become a more viable option, as have CPU-intensive photorealistic renderings.

There are several different approaches for creating 3D renderings. Some are bleeding-edge techniques only made possible by the latest computer architectures, and others are advancements on older approaches.

Knowing the different types of 3D rendering technologies out there can help better understand how to use them in your favor.

For most businesses, contracting with a 3D rendering company is a much more economical approach.

Types of Rendering Technologies

There are many nuanced ways to create a digital rendering, but most software is designed to utilize several common approaches.


Scanline rendering was born from the days of lesser CPU power. It is often still used in real-time rendering use-cases where speed is the greatest concern. This approach renders based on a polygon-by-polygon basis.


Ray-traced renderings are the industry-standard for photorealistic images but require the highest amount of processing power.

This method simulates particles of light being “shot” from the camera into the scene. These simulated particles then bounce from 3D object to 3D object and create a very accurate simulation of color, reflection, and surface texture.

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Radiosity (GI)

Radiosity is a rendering technique that is calculated without respect to a scene camera. It simulates lighting data by using surface orientation and typically uses advanced algorithms to blur and merge areas nearby.

This method is often referred to as “global illumination” and provides a smoother diffused lighting effect for scenes.

Hybrid Techniques

Each of the rendering methods above has its unique advantages. Many modern rendering engines such as V-Ray, Maxwell, or Corona leverage more than one of these to create a better balance of performance and overall rendering quality.

For example, V-Ray typically uses global illumination as an initial rendering pass and later follows up with a raytracing calculation. These two unique versions of the same scene data are then merged into a single image.

Types of Rendering Computations

A “pipeline” means the overall process by which something gets created. A rendering pipeline includes many steps from creating initial scene lighting and textures to compositing in software like Adobe After Effects.

Common to any pipeline is the actual rendering process. Depending on end use there are several approaches to this. In most cases, all these approaches can be lumped into one of two categories.

Real-Time Rendering

Real-time renderings typically leverage the power of graphical processing units (GPU) to make calculations as a user interacts with a scene. This is how Virtual Reality works as well as video games.

These applications take input from the user, make calculations on how that affects the scene geometry and lighting, then immediately returns feedback to the user. Generally, this approach is great for interactivity but falls short in the realism department.

Pre-Computed Rendering

High-resolution photorealistic renderings can’t be produced in real time—at least not yet! All the calculations required to simulate real-world lighting is too resource intensive to deliver adequate results that a user can influence in such a way to receive immediate feedback.

These types of renderings are often used for product presentations, marketing, and product catalogs. This method is also the one used by Hollywood studios to create the most modern movies and TV Shows.

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This approach has historically been a CPU-centric process, but modern GPUs are starting to find their way into the pipeline as well.

Rendering Software

You may be wondering what type of software is required to create digital renderings. The rendering industry is a very tech-savvy one, and there are several free 3D modeling and rendering programs out there.

Most studios leverage the full-feature offerings of premium software packages, however, and these can be very expensive. It all depends on what you want to accomplish, but there are some major names that nearly every studio uses.

  • Autodesk 3DS Max
  • Houdini
  • Cinema 4D
  • Rhinoceros 3D
  • Solidworks
  • Autodesk Maya
  • ZBrush
  • V-Ray
  • Corona
  • Unreal Engine
  • Unity3D

These are the programs that create 3D models and can manage rendering as well. Software like 3DS Max is used by most architectural rendering companies while Solidworks is more centric to engineering firms and manufacturing-based workflows.

Unreal engine and Unity3D are gaming engines that use precomputation methods to create real-time interactive render environments that are great for games and immersive product experiences.

Team BR
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