What Does it Mean to 3D Render?

3D rendered images are incredibly common, so common that it is rare that they are recognized as a 3D rendered image. Some animated cartoons, images in magazines, and billboards often feature 3D rendered images. This process is now an essential component of modern advertising strategies, despite its complexities.

But what exactly does it mean to 3D render an image?

3D Rendering Explained

3D rendering is the process of taking the information from a 3D model and using it to create a 2D image. These images can be photorealistic, where the model is recreated in 2D form as accurately as possible, or non-realistic where it is obvious it is a rendered image. Photorealistic rendering can be so true-to-life that only a well-trained eye can detect the differences between 3D rendered images and those taken with a traditional photography style.

The first stage of 3D rendering is to create a 3D model. This is usually done with a digital model and specialized software that uses mathematical expression and syntactic entities to depict the surface of the rendered object or scene.

What Does it Mean to 3D Render

Some key factors determine whether a 3D model is appropriate for the final desired 3D rendered image. The texture of the model is determined by the information gathered from any specified lighting or color variations that would in real life allow the brain to deduce the feel of an object. This needs to be perfected for photorealistic rendered images as there will be a feeling of something ‘not quite right’ to the image, regardless of its overall quality.

This means that lighting is vital at the 3D modeling stage. Many modern software algorithms use natural light simulations as much as possible, but will often also account for the look of artificial lighting sources. Using light to blur and refract information within the model will help improve its realism, as will keeping any movements smooth. This aspect of the model, like texturization, marks a well-rendered image out from the rest.

Once the 3D model has been lit and texturized to the desired degree, the actual rendering process can begin. This involves converting the computer model into a single high-resolution image. This image is the 2D depiction of the model that can be used for whatever purpose it was intended – from advertising to animated movies.

The rendered image is often not immediately used and needs some final adjustments to fit the image’s brief. This often involves making small adjustments to the texture and lighting to make it more realistic.

Time Scale

The amount of time needed to properly render an image will depend a lot on the software used and the desired outcome of the image.

Creating an image from a ‘product catalog,’ for example, is a very quick process as there are millions of hyperrealistic and photorealistic images to choose from and is often the most popular choice for advertising campaigns. This process is also much quicker and cheaper than traditional photography that would require the products to be taken to a studio, photographed, and then transported back, before being edited by the photographer or their staff. With 3D rendering, you choose from a catalog of products to use that image or you create a model with software to use.

Product customization on websites is another example of near-instantaneous rendering. Next time you look online at a product that has lots of color options to choose from and each option is displayed when you select the color, remember that this is a rendered image.

If, however, the file needs to be created from scratch the time scale shifts from seconds or hours to days or weeks. A photorealistic 3D rendered image can take months to create to a high standard. This is primarily because the 3D model used at the initial stages needs to be fine-tuned to an incredible degree to get the desired finish.


Due to the technical and expert nature of the process, 3D rendered images can be pretty pricy. Generally, you can expect to pay more for a more realistic image as more time is spent building up the 3D model and adjusting the image at the final stages.

It is, however, important to bear in mind that the software used has a fairly substantial impact on the final price, and the cost of this software is decreasing. In the last ten years alone the cost of 3D rendering software has dropped so much that it is no longer exclusive to big brands that have thousands of dollars to spend on advertising. Now more and more smaller businesses can use rendered images, often saving money compared to traditional photography techniques.

Things To Consider

Photography is undeniably more time-consuming and costly than producing 3D rendered images. Another disadvantage of traditional product photography is that the advertising campaign is limited to the photos that the photographer took. With 3D rendering, however, an image of the model can immediately be generated from any conceivable angle, giving the customer more choice and decision over the final image.

Companies who have an online retail presence will benefit from 3D rendering in the long run as the process has been shown to increase sales and limit product returns from eCommerce websites. Spending a little more on 3D rendering is therefore not necessarily an issue as it will likely be recovered from shipping and returns as the product images will be better.

What Does it Mean to 3D Render

3D rendered images are popular with consumers, resulting in fewer product returns, as the product can be seen in any available colors, at any angle, and at any distance instantly on the website.

Creating a rich and varied image content selection is often a benefit to companies, allowing them to create an interesting portfolio to engage future customers. This portfolio can then easily be transferred into other forms of rendered image, namely virtual and augmented realities. This software is, for the moment, quite expensive and out of reach for many but, like 3D rendering, the cost will eventually decrease and the company will have data readily available to create a more holistic experience for customers.

3D Rendering Application

As there is so much data available in a 3D rendered image, this disciple is popular across a varied number of industries that rely heavily on information.

Online retail, mentioned above, often uses 3D rendered images to allow customers a nearly in-store experience. Architecture design customers will similarly benefit from having the most detailed and realistic understanding of the proposed plans.

Engineering and aeronautic companies will benefit from 3D rendering as the models can be analyzed from a myriad of perspectives in great depth. This is great for ensuring the best standards of safety in the engine design.

Final Thoughts

3D rendered images are quickly increasing in popularity due to their broad range of potential applications, comparatively competitive pricing, and the multitude of finishes and editing techniques available.

The process works by taking a computer-generated 3D model and using this data to construct a 2D image. This image can then be edited to fit the requirements of the client. Modern rendering techniques are so developed that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between a rendered image, and a traditional photograph.

Michael Moore