8 Best 3d Rendering Software For Architecture in 2023
When it comes to creating images showcasing architectural projects then there’s plenty of 3D exterior rendering software options on the market for you to choose from. That being said, there are some pieces of software that are better than others, and this guide about the best rendering software for architects we will focus on our top 8 picks of architectural 3D rendering software so you can learn about the different options and then choose an option that works best for you.
Each tool has its pros and cons and is best suited to different user profiles, meaning that a one size fits all approach isn’t applicable. The main differences between the pieces of software is how easy it is to use them, what kind of features they have and what kind of results you can achieve with them. These are the main factors to consider when choosing the right software that will fit your specific needs.
For example, powerful advanced tools like 3D Studio Max are limitless and can produce highly photorealistic renderings, however they have a steep learning curve, whilst many users are happy to sacrifice quality for ease of use and opt for more simple software such as SketchUp.
Moreover, an important factor to consider is the price of the licence as it can be a significant investment and the costs add up quickly when you have a team. Most 3d rendering software for architects offer periodical subscriptions with some sort of trial periods for non-commercial use so that you can use them before purchasing the full product..
In this article, we will focus on paid software as we believe that these tend to produce the best results, especially for professional use. That being said, there are several free types of exterior design software on the market and these can be a good option in some cases. For more information on free types of software please check this article “13 Best Free 3D Rendering Software”.
Please find below our personal picks for the best 3d rendering software for architects:
Price – $ 1,785/year and it’s free for educational use.
3ds Max is a Software produced by Autodesk – a leader in software for architects and engineers. An Interesting fact is that the company was actually formerly known as 3D Studio Max instead of Autodesk. Currently it is the most popular and advanced software among professional rendering studios as well as animation agencies.
The tool itself has several uses with only one of them being the creation of images for architecture and interior design, and with the right tools (Corona or Vray) is possible to achieve highly photorealistic results. As it requires years of experience and has a steep learning curve, it’s mainly chosen by individuals and companies who specialize in 3d rendering rather than architects or interior designers.
- You can create fully professional 3D model (not all 3D rendering software has this feature)
- Enormous amount of resources (libraries, learning materials, etc.)
- Large community
- Great amount of plugins and add-ons that help to improve workflow
- Commonly used amongst professionals
- Has a multitude of uses (architectural visualisation, movies, games, metaverse)
- Hard to learn
- Lots of inconvenient bugs
- Only windows version (no iOS)
- Bad quality native-renderer that needs to be replaced for photo realistic results
- Poor internal libraries
Price – $ 1500-3000/life and 14-day free trial
Lumion is a new fast growing player on the market with a big community and is one of 3d Studio Max’s main competitors amongst users working professionally with 3d renderings.
In contrast to 3D Studio max, Lumion is solely used as 3d rendering software for architects. In addition, it has less bugs, it renders faster with its own native renderer and also comes with a massive content library, intuitive tools and features which give users creative freedom to showcase their interiors, exteriors, landscapes, and urban designs.
- Fast rendering (important for those who work with animations)
- Easy to understand and learn
- It comes with a detailed content libraries (especially Pro version)
- Native renderer is good
- You can’t create 3D models within the software meaning you have to import models from another software.
- Despite having great resources is still behind 3D Studio max
- It’s tricky to achieve ultra photorealistic results and there’s no option for changing the native renderer
- It relies only on GPU and the price of this component is growing (mainly because the same component in used to mine cryptocurrencies)
Price $1299/life and free to educational use
Twinmotion is an alternative software similar to Lumion and is very useful when it comes to creating images and animation for large scale projects with short turnaround times. Its flexibility in terms of workflow is limited but it’s easy to handle hundreds of renderings within a few weeks. For this reason, many large architectural firms are using this software whilst working on large scale projects like airports or urban districts.
- Stunning render quality
- Access to compensative libraries with models and textures (Quxel Megascans, Sketchgab)
- Quick rendering time
- High compatibility with Unreal, Revit, Sketchup, 3D studio max, Datasmith
- Hard work with cameras (they can’t be imported from other programs or 3D objects can’t be hidden per camera)
- No render elements which are important for professional post-production
- Lack of 3D modelling option so 3D models need to be created and imported from other softwares
It relies only on GPU
Price $ 113-699/ year and free to educational use
This is software developed by Google and it is dedicated to architects who work with rendering but are amateurs rather than professionals who are fully specialized in 3d rendering. It has filled the gap in the market for something which is easy to use and can achieve decent results quickly. Despite its limits in terms of workflow and image quality, it has become very popular among architectural firms as an exterior house design app as it perfectly fits their needs especially for smaller projects. On the other hand, professional renderings studios don’t use it as it doesn’t tend to produce photorealistic results that are required at a commercial level.
- Easy to use and learn
- Great free library
- You can create 3D models (although this feature is limited)
- Competitive price
- Commonly used by many architectural offices
- Large community
- it’s hard to achieve photorealistic images (this software is rather for showing architectural concepts than creating photorealistic renderings)
- Limited in terms of project type (it’s for working with standard architectural projects)
- Require the use of an external plugin to achieve photorealistic results (for example V-Ray)
Price $ 0 (The only paid thing is the support $ 1,500/year, and 5% commission if you create a product that generates + $1M gross revenue).
One of the most popular real time rendering engines for gaming. If you used to play video games back in the 1990’s then you most likely remember a game called Unreal Tournament, and the similar name to this piece of software is no coincidence – Unreal Engine was used to create this game. Currently it’s an open-source software that , besides being used for creating games, is also used to create virtual tours for the real estate market. However, this is a really difficult tool to learn and is more dedicated for those users who are already working with CGI images and have interest in programming.
- You can create real-time virtual tours with lots functionalities (they look like games)
- Open source and free
- Blueprint (visual scripting) gives you unlimited possibilities
- Unlimited possibilities in terms of functionalities for virtual tours
- Not easy to learn, requires a lot of experience with art programming development and debugging, impossible to be a master of everything you need to specialise in one unreal discipline
- 3D models need to be created in another software
- Despite being free, it’s quite tricky to get your head around without depending on the paid support
- The tours require a solid hardware to run
- Hard to to achieve photorealistic results
- Workflow is very slow
Price $ 280/year and 45 days free test version
Corona is not a stand-alone software but rather a plugin that is used to replace native renderers in some 3D rendering programs. Normally any 3D rendering software for architects can produce good quality images but this is much more difficult when the goal is to achieve photorealistic results. Corona is resolving this problem as it’s a plugin designed to achieve ultra photorealistic results and it replaces native renderers.
- Ultra photorealistic results
- Easy to use
- It only works with 3D Studio Max and Cinema 4D
- Rendering time is long
$ 466/year and educational version $ 149/year
V-ray is another plugin rather than an architecture or exterior home design software, that replaces native renderers and It used to be a competitor for Corona. Nowadays it is considered more complex and less efficient in terms of achieving photorealistic results than Corona. In other words, it’s inferior to Corona however it’s compatible with more softwares like 3Ds Max, Maya, Sketchup, Rhino or Revit.
- Good photorealistic results
- It’s compatible with many different softwares
- Inferior to Corona in term of ease of use and photorealism
- Rendering time is long
- No free trial version
Another software created by Autodesk, Revit is a software dedicated more to civil engineering teams as it is focused more on technical aspects of projects and the option to create renderings is merely an addition. 3D models can be created together with technical drawings (plans, elevations, sections), schedules and even documentations, after which it’s possible to create simple renderings. That being said, more often than not the model is exported to another software that’s more advanced in terms of rendering capacities and the rendering work typically continues there.
- You can create 3D models that are compatible with other types of architectural 3D rendering software
- 3D model are linked to technical documentation of projects
- Great library of technical elements
- limited possibilities for creating renderings
Conclusion – Which is the Best 3d Architectural Rendering Software?
As you can see, each of the mentioned software for exterior home design is targeted towards slightly different profiles and are suited to different types of users. With this in mind, here are a few examples of different types of users and which software is best suited to their needs.
For example, Architects that are looking for something that is practical for design development and doesn’t necessarily have to produce high quality renderings will find programs like Sketchup as a good fit. After this, if photorealistic 3d images are needed, then the sketchup model and images can be passed onto a 3d studio such as NoTriangle who can enhance the quality of images.
On the other hand, if you’re someone specailzed in 3d, or looking to become a professional in 3d, then achieving high quality results should be your top priority, meaning that softwares such as 3D Studio Max (with corona) or Lumion are the best options. This is why most 3d studios tend to use these pieces of software.
Many of the above mentioned tools work in a similar way in terms of creating 3D renderings – firstly a 3d model needs to be created (or provided) in order to start the rendering process. Many of these programs can work together and create interesting workflows, for example 3D models created in Revit, can be used in Twinmotion to create rendering and exported afterward to Unreal Engine to create Virtual Tours. So experimenting with different tools is never a waste of time as it can create interesting solutions.
Author – Shane O’Leary, the Chief Project Officer at NoTriangle. With a remarkable background in architecture and 3D animation, Shane possesses over 15 years of experience in both fields. Armed with Honors degrees in Architectural Engineering and 3D Design and Animation from two prestigious UK universities, Shane brings an abundance of knowledge and skills to our blog.