A Complete Guide to 3D Product Rendering

Everything You Need to Know
January 2024

Over the past few decades, 3D rendering has evolved to become one of the most widely utilized technologies for creating content across nearly every industry. From blockbuster movies to the latest AAA video game to the newest car commercial, 3D rendering has helped tell stories and bring visions to life. A technology that started all the way back in the late 1960's has now become a staple of modern day media and entertainment.

3D product rendering provides an alternative to traditional photography and videography by creating product images and videos using 3D software. Today, 3D rendering is widely utilized by companies looking for the best ways to visualize and market their products. It provides an unprecedented level of control and an ability to capture any detail with a photorealistic level of quality.

Furthemore, 3D product rendering allows for the ability to visualize a product before it even exists. This can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars on product development costs. Overall, 3D product rendering simply offers so many benefits and allows companies to showcase their products to customers in the best way possible.

In this article, we'll walk you through the basics of everything you need to know.

What is Photorealistic 3D Product Rendering?

To put it simply, photorealistic 3D product rendering is the process by which a 3D model of a product is "rendered" into a 2D image with the outcome being just like any photograph. 3D artists and engineers utilize 3D software to create the 3D models and the computer is able to calculate everything from the structure of the model to the surfaces, lighting, camera angle, etc. and produce a rendering or image.

Achieving photorealistic results depends on both the skill of the artist and the software being used. It typically takes a few years for most 3D artists to develop their skills enough to reach a photorealistic level of quality.

What Software is Used to Produce a 3D Product Rendering?

There are a number of different softwares that have the capability to produce both 3D models and renderings. Some of the most common softwares for 3D artists include Maya, 3DS Max, Cinema 4D, and Blender. These applications are capable of everything from producing detailed 3D models to photorealistic renderings and animations. Choice of what software to use ultimately boils down to personal preference.

In addition to 3D software, there's also rendering software also known as rendering engines. The above mentioned applications come with default rendering enginees, but 3rd party rendering engines can be purchased and installed as a plugin for added capabilities. Some of the most common rendering engines are V-Ray, Corona, Arnold, Redshift, Cycles, and Octane.

For product engineers and industrial designers, others tools such as Solidworks and Fusion 360 are more common. However, these applications are typically used for product development, but they do have rendering capabilities.

What is the Process for Creating 3D Product Renderings?

To create 3D product renderings, the process is actually somewhat similar to traditional photography. The end result is still an image of the product, but the steps in which we get there are a bit different. Below we outline each step in some more detail.

1. 3D Modeling

The term "modeling" may sound strange at first, but it basically just means the creation of the geometry of the product in 3D software. 3D artists or engineers essentially build or design the model based on the reference and direction being provided.

A 3D model is made up of 3 components: vertices, edges, and faces. A vertice is just a single point in 3D space. An edge is a line that connects two vertices. And a face is made up of 3 or more edges (known as tris, polygons, or ngons). There are a number of different methods and tools utilized to produce 3D models. Some of the most common modeling techniques are box modeling, spline modeling, 3D scultping, boolean, and sub-division modeling. Depending on the product, designers may utilize one or all of these methods to get the result they need.

The 3D model is the initial foundation for everything else to come and if you're goal is photorealism, then you'll want to ensure that your model is constructred with a level of detail and accuracy that mimics the real-life counterpart.

2. UV Mapping, Texturing, and Shading

Once the 3D model is finished, it then needs to be textured and given propper materials. However, before we can start texturing we first have to do what's known as UV mapping or unwrapping. This is a process that tells the computer how a texture will be mapped or projected onto a models surface. You can think of the process like unwrapping a present. Essentially you have a 3D object, but when unwrapped all of the faces lay flat as a 2D surface.

Once the model is unwrapped, we can begin texturing with colors, logos, and other graphics that will get placed based on the UV's of the model we set up. These are known as texture maps and they can affect both the color of the model as well as other properties of the surface such as reflectivity, glossiness, transparency, and displacement. This entire process is known as shading and it's what gives detail to the surfaces so that when lit the model will behave realistically.

3. Camera Set Up

It's at this point that the process starts to resemble something more like that of a traditional photographer. Once we have a fully shaded 3D model, or as we like to call it, a "render-ready" 3D asset, we can then produce 3D product renderings from any camera angle. Just like a photographer, 3D artists will stage virtual cameras at desired angles that best portray the product and features.

While it's always fun to explore new angles and compositions, especially in 3D where we aren't bound by gravity or the laws of physics, it's also very important to have an understanding of the basic principles of photography and composition as they directly apply here. It's equally important to have a knowledge of basic camera settings as well such as field of view, focal lenfth, f-stop, iso, shutter spped etc. and how these settings can affect things like perspective, exposure, motion blur, and depth of field.

4. Lighting

Of all aspects noted here, this may be the most important. Sure the model and textures need to look good, but lighting is what sets the mood and ultimately brings the product to life and poor lighting will make even best model and textures look awful.

Just like staging the camera, lighting in 3D is also very comparable to the real world. Virtual lights are staged around the product with various settings controlling the effect and desired look of the shot. There are a few main types of lights that include directional, spot, point, ambient, and dome with each serving a different purpose. Understanding the principles of lighting, how it bounces around the scene, casts shadows, highlights, etc. is imperitive towards achieving quality results.

Artists can adjust a lights color and intensity. They can add a texture to it or even control whether or not it casts shadows or is visible to reflections. The level of control is nearly endless and far beyond what is capable in the real world.

5. Rendering

The final 3D process, rendering calculates all of the hard work done thus far to produce the image. However, it's not necessarily as simple as a single press of the button. Each rendering engine will have a variety of settings that are used to determine the final output. These settings include basic options like the resolution of the image and file format, but also more complex settings that control the amount of noise, number of lighting bounces, etc. Each setting can have an effect on both quality and render time and it's an artists job to find the right balance between the two.

Additionally, artists can render out different "passes" or "render elements". The main image, also known as the "beauty pass", is a calculation of every element of the image, but artists can also render out specific elements like a shadow pass, reflection pass, color pass, and more to allow for greater control in post production.

6. Post Production

At last, we've arrived at the final process which is post production. It's here that the renders are brought in photo editing or compositing programs like Photoshop, After Effects, or Nuke and given final touches. Artists may have to do what's known as compositing which involves combining those image passes mentioned earlier, along with perhaps other elements, together to produce the final image.

Additionally post production may entail color correction, adding lens effects, motion blur, depth of field and really any remaining edits that might be needed to perfect the design. It's now that we finally have our completed 3D product rendering ready for the world to see!

How Much Do 3D Product Rendering Services Cost?

This is a question we dive into greater detail in our article "How Much do 3D Renderings and Animations Cost?", but the honest asnwer is that it depends entirely on the complexity of the design, provided reference, and overall scope of work. Rendering projects can range anywhere from several hundred to several thousands of dollars, and even into the tens of thousands depending on the specfics. We do offer some "starting rates" as shown on the 3D Product Rendering Pricing Page of our website to help give a general sense into our pricing structure.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

At Go3DViz, we'll discuss all of your needs in detail to determine what we'll need to deliver the best possibile results in the most efficeint way possible. Reference usually ranges anywhere from sketches to finalized 3D CAD files, photos and/or physical samples of the product as well as any graphics such as logos or label artwork.

Additionally, we'll also help establish a scope of work that includes the number of images, camera angle preferences, background preferences, and technical parameters such as image resolution and file format.

Can You Also Create 3D Product Animations?

Absolutely. The process for creating a 3D product animation is very similar, but with the added element of time. We can create anything from 10 second spin 360 animations to lengthy multi-minute explainer videos with compelling camera movements and high-end visual effects.

Interested in our 3D Product Rendering or Animation Services?

Quotes are free! Contact Us today to start learning how we can help bring the power of 3D rendering to your products.