Top free rendering software for CG artists

Looking for a particular rendering possibility or style? Create high-quality renders with this free software.

This article is produced in association with Masters of CG, a contest for creatives in partnership with HP, Nvidia, and 2000 AD. Check out the shortlisted entries here.

Creating a CG project on a budget? Or looking for a particular rendering style? Check out these free 3D rendering softwares.

01. LuxRender

Produce ultrarealistic imagery with LuxRender

An unbiased rendering engine, the LuxRender team describe the software as being 'based on state-of-the-art algorithms, which simulated the flow of light according to physical equations, thus producing realistic images of photographic quality'.

Free for both personal and commercial use, LuxRender works with all the major 3D suites, including Blender, Maya, 3ds Max, Cinema 4D and SketchUp. It features include a variety of material types, virtual film that allows you to pause and continue a rendering at any time. Upcoming releases look to support hair and optionally biased path tracing too.

02. Cycles

If you're a user of open-source software Blender, you'll probably be aware that it comes with it's very own, built-in GPU-accelerated unbiased render engine, called Cycles.

Flexible and speedy, Cycles allows artists to work quickly and efficiently, with its global illumination producing quality, photoreal imagery. The latest version of Cycles has Blackbody emissive materials, hair rendering, tone mapping and volumetrics.

03. Kerkythea

Available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux, Kerkythea is free software capable of producing high-quality renders. Using physically accurate materials and lights, Kerkythea has been developed to create the best quality renders in the most efficient timeframe.

The software accepts .3ds and .obj models as well as having a free exporter for SketchUp. The website, very helpfully provides explanatory pdf files for anyone new to Kerkythea as well as a useful material guide editor, so you can really get to grips with the software.

04. Freestyle

Freestyle, a rendering software for non-photorealistic line drawings, offers something a little different. The software was developed in the midst of a research project dedicated to the study of stylised line drawing rendering from 3D scenes.

Designed as a programmable interface, users have complete control over the style of the final drawing. Inspired by the shading languages in photorealistic renders such as Pixar's Renderman, Freestyle offers access to a wealth of parameters and allows the design of a variety of rich and complex styles.

And, one to watch out for...

05. Pixar's Renderman

Register and get Pixar's Renderman free for non-commercial use

While it's not free yet, we thought it worth mentioning Pixar's Renderman too, as it's creators say it soon will be. The advanced technology for shading, lighting anf rendering can be plugged into Maya, Houdini, Katana or Cinema 4D.

At the moment, you still have to pay for the software but the animation giant have commented that they'll be releasing it free for non-commercial use in the last quarter of 2014. Register online for more information and release dates.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerrie Hughes is associate editor at Creative Bloq. Her employment at Future Publishing began in January 2010 as staff writer for 3D World magazine. Since then, she's written regularly for other publications, including ImagineFX and Computer Arts magazines.

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3D