The best rendering software in February 2024

Best rendering software; a mix of logos
(Image credit: Chaos Group, Autodesk, Luxion, Otoy)
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The best rendering software

(Image credit: Octane)

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1. Best overall: VRay
2. Best for speed: Arnold
3. For beginners: OctaneRender
4. Best for VR: KeyShot
5. Best for ArchViz: Chaos Corona
6. Best GPU rendering: Redshift
7. Best for value: Iray
8. For animation: RenderMan
How we test
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Choosing from some of the best rendering software available now can be more complex than you'd image; the 3D art industry has an amazing range of different renderers that are the pick of 3D artists. Some of these have been in development for decades and others are new and trying to break into the mainstream. There is a mix of built-in renderers contained within specific pieces of software and then there are standalone options. 

Most of the best 3D rendering software on the market aim to provide the necessary tools to enable 3D artists to create photo-realistic renders of their work. These can cover GPU and CPU rendering and they're often targeted to specific needs, such as for 3D artwork, ArchViz and even VR. In my guide I pick the best rendering software for you, including highlighting the fastest rendering software, the best value and the best rendering software for architects.

Below you'll find all the main renderers that I think are worth mentioning. Many of these options have grown and developed over many years of active investment from their developers. There has been an increasing demand for GPU renderers to power real-time interactive experiences and so many renderers now support both CPU and GPU rendering. (see our guide to the best graphics cards). 

I have tested and reviewed all of the renderers in the list and am well placed to comment on their pros and cons, as well as what sets them apart from the rest. See how we test software for more information, use the quick link at the side of this page to see how 'how we test' details, and look for the links in my entries below to full reviews of each 3D renderer on this site.

The best rendering software available now

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The best rendering software overall

The best rendering software; a classic car rendered in VRay Renderercb badge

(Image credit: Chaos Group)
Best renderer for all rounders

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS
Cost : $37.16 / £29.90 per/month

Reasons to buy

+
Photo-realistic rendering
+
Incredible camera tools
+
Chaos ecosystem of products

Reasons to avoid

-
Subscription-based
-
Better real-time rendering alternatives

VRay is a long and established renderer with a set of tools that make it stand out in many ways. This is one of the most popular and widely used renderers on the market and has found a distinct user-base within the architectural visualisation field. That's not to say it is only for that sector, as it works equally well across a variety of industries including VFX and automotive, with this accessibility enabling it to become the renderer of choice for both individual artists and massive award-winning studios.

One of the major strengths of VRay is that you benefit from an ecosystem of Chaos products, including Chaos Scatter (Scattering tool) and Chaos Cosmos (Resource library) to name only a couple. VRay is available across a range of digital content creator tools and has been strengthened by Chaos’ acquisition of Corona. 

VRay is under constant development and benefits from its Chaos ownership. This is evidenced by the inclusion of Chaos Scatter, Chaos Cloud Collaboration and even the introduction of procedural clouds which was only made possible by Chaos’ merger with Enscape. Read our VRay review, where our writer called it, "A solid update that boosts creativity and improves workflow". All of these were added in the most recent major update, VRay 6 (reviewing in progress).

The best rendering software for speed

The best rendering software; an impressive render by Damien Guimoneau using Arnold

(Image credit: Damien Guimoneau)

02. Arnold

Best renderer for speed

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS
Cost: $67 / £54 per/month

Reasons to buy

+
Physically-based renderer
+
Incredibly fast and reliable
+
Memory efficient

Reasons to avoid

-
Can struggle with heavy scenes
-
Not the clearest interface

Autodesk Arnold has been around for almost half a century. In the rendering world, that makes it one of the longest standing renderers. Originally developed by Marcos Fajardo and now by Autodesk; Arnold is a force to be reckoned with in the sea of renderers that artists have the pick of. 

Arnold is relatively straightforward to work with and its inherent speed makes it quick to render even some of the most complex of scenes. With both CPU and GPU options, artists can choose whichever suits them at any given time. The GPU is ideal for shot development whereas the CPU will give better and more realistic results, albeit at the cost of render times.

The best rendering software for beginners

The best rendering software; a breathtaking render in Octane by Samuel Hipponen

(Image credit: Samuel Hipponen)
Best renderer for beginners

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS
Cost : $21.75/£17.50 per/month

Reasons to buy

+
Intuitive interface
+
Simple workflow
+
Fast results

Reasons to avoid

-
Liable to crashing under extreme tasks
-
Limited settings

OctaneRender completely relies on the GPU and has no CPU alternative. This is ideal for quick results and interactive rendering but is not great for heavy data scenes and those with a lot of complex textures. 

The renderer produces stunning results and has a beautiful lighting system making it possible to create photo-realistic images and videos with almost unrivalled results. In my OctaneRender 2022.1 review I commented on how this software is no more stable and easier to use the ever before. (A newer version, Octane 2023.1, is out now.)

One of its greatest strengths is that it is relatively simple to use. There are a limited number of settings available to users which means the renderer takes over and delivers the results without much need for the user to have a huge amount of technical knowledge. 

The best rendering software for VR

The best rendering software; a render created with KeyShotCB endorsed

(Image credit: Future)
Best renderer for virtual reality

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
Cost: $1,236 / £995 per/year

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn and use
+
Great VR capabilities
+
Growing feature set

Reasons to avoid

-
An expensive option
-
Very fast CPU required

KeyShot is an established rendering and animation software that prides itself on providing artists with the tools to create amazing 3D scenes through materials and lighting. As a standalone package artists must first import their model, but once that’s done KeyShot provides simple yet powerful tools for bringing scenes to life.

With drag and drop solutions, KeyShot makes the visualisation process an absolute breeze, and it's a process that can be built upon. For those who are prepared to pay extra, KeyShot can be extended to include virtual reality capabilities and render sharing over the web. As is standard with KeyShot software, both of these additional features are intuitive and include wizards to help beginners.  

KeyShot is by no means the most affordable of renderers and relies on artists paying the increased subscription fee for the benefit of having a renderer that is both simple and intuitive to use. But as our writer Steve Jaratt states in his KeyShot review, "If you can afford its steep price tag, this is must-have piece of software will make your workflow much easier". (The latest version is KeyShot 2023.)

The best rendering software for ArchViz

The best rendering software ; an image created with Corona renderer

(Image credit: Corona)
Best for architects

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
Cost: $30.95 / £24.90 per month

Reasons to buy

+
Intuitive workflow
+
Part of an ecosystem of products
+
It's very affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Only for 3ds Max & Cinema 4D

Way back in 2009 Ondřej Karlík was at Czech Technical University in Prague. With a passion for 3D visualisation Ondřej put his incredible talents to good use and created the Corona Renderer. With the help of Adam Hotový and Jaroslav Křivánek they were able to turn this student project into a successful commercial endeavour. In 2017 Chaos came knocking and Corona was acquired and further developed.

Chaos Corona is one of the only renderers that has such a targeted market, that of architectural visualisation (ArchViz). It is therefore perfect for any 3D artist or architect to pick up and create amazing images and videos with. The intuitive interface means you don't have to be a 3D expert to create beautiful results.

Now at version 10, Chaos Corona continues to build on its core motivation; to deliver a renderer that makes artist’s lives easier. Many of Chaos’ existing tools that were designed to make visualisation an intuitive pursuit have been fully integrated into Corona. Chaos’ acquisition of Corona hasn’t damaged its core purpose but has actually enhanced it. 

The best rendering software for GPU rendering

The best rendering software; a render created with Redshift

(Image credit: Eric_Mcguire)
Best GPU renderer

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, Mac
Cost: $124.15 / £99.89 per month

Reasons to buy

+
Fast processing
+
Clean renders

Reasons to avoid

-
More settings than Octane

Redshift is primarily a GPU renderer that is very good at creating images quickly. The interface is not as simple as other renderers but once you're familiar with the settings, Redshift is very powerful indeed. 

For those who are familiar with Redshift and its GPU boasting, it will probably come as a surprise to learn that Redshift, as of version 3.5, now includes CPU capabilities. This gives the best of both worlds and is a great alternative for artists who don't want to buy an expensive graphics card.

Redshift is a biased render engine, meaning it uses techniques to 'cheat' how the image works – exactly the same methodology traditional CPU based render engines such as V-Ray use. Unbiased engines mimic the physics of light much more closely, meaning comparably much longer render times and potentially less creative options.

The best rendering software for value

The best rendering software; a render created with Iray

(Image credit: Future)
Best for price

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
Cost: $295 / £237.35 per year

Reasons to buy

+
Widely integrated
+
Affordable
+
Great denoiser

Reasons to avoid

-
Performs best with NVIDIA GPUs
-
Computationally intensive

Nvidia Iray is a physically based renderer that delivers amazing results. Having Nvidia on their side provides a huge number of significant benefits including being able to leverage their denoising technology that is accelerated by AI, utilising Nvidia's CUDA technology, and having access to their Material Definition Language (MDL).

Iray does work best with Nvidia's latest RTX cards, which are designed with ray tracing in mind. These cards are by no means cheap so it's worth keeping that in mind when considering this renderer. (Read our guide to the best Nvidia graphics cards for more details.)

Iray has a number of different plugins enabling it to be utilised in the likes of 3ds Max, Maya, and Rhino. Iray is one of the cheaper renderers on my list, making it a good value renderer, though you may also need to upgrade to an Nvidia GPU.

The best rendering software for animation

Best best rendering software; a render of elemental cartoon characters, one made from water and one fire

(Image credit: Disney Pixar)
Best for animation

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
Cost: Free (non commercial), up to $595 per license

Reasons to buy

+
 State of the art rendering technology
+
CPU & GPU rendering
+
Perfect for animations

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive for pros

I’ve always experienced RenderMan as a bit of an enigma. The fact that it has been used to render some of the biggest and most high profile animated feature films only contributes to this mystery further. 

Now at version 25, RenderMan is a power house, owing its developmental success largely to the fact that it has been used in such big budget films. With each film providing new technical challenges and directors desiring to push the boundaries even further, developers have regularly been encouraged and pushed to add new features and refine existing ones. RenderMan can run as both a CPU and GPU renderer, or alternatively as an integrated CPU/GPU renderer. This is called XPU. 

RenderMan has been a perfect renderer for animation and VFX studios to create breathtaking final frame films but other renderers such as VRay and Arnold have become the ‘go tos’ for the majority of the 3D industry. RenderMan is more ideally suited towards professionals and more established studios, so while there is a free non commercial license it's kind of a fun thing to try, but maybe not a renderer for everyone. 

The best rendering software: how we test

We review and test all the rendering software on our list but a team of in-house professional artists and freelancers working in the CG industry. Our testers put the software through their paces, using new features and comparing to older editions.

Our reviewers are experienced artist, not only working in the industry but they also write for our sister magazine 3D World, that is the world's longest running magazine for the 3D, VFX and CG art industries.

The best rendering software: frequent questions

Should I choose CPU or GPU rendering?

The choice you make will come down to whether you want quick results at the cost of not being able to handle super complex scenes, or more accurate results at the cost of longer render times.

Both CPU and GPU rendering approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. CPUs are slower at rendering but can handle a lot of data whereas GPUs are quicker at rendering but can’t handle as much data. Time has not deemed one camp the winners over and above the other camp. The war looks like it’ll never be decided precisely because of the nature of those pros and cons. 

What types of renderers are there?

There are two main types of renderer although many common renderers deliver on both fronts. The two types are offline renderers and real-time or interactive renderers. 

The former is the more traditional type and relies heavily on the CPU. The latter has arisen due to the increased capabilities of GPUs and artist's need for delivering quicker results. 

When researching renderers, look out for whether they are a CPU renderer or a GPU renderer, or both, and that will help you understand what is being offered.

What is the difference between biased and unbiased rendering?

Biased renderers are focused on delivering great results but at the cost of accuracy. Unbiased, on the other hand, focus on accuracy and realism but at the cost of much longer render times. 

It's worth noting that no renderer is truly unbiased but will require a certain amount of bias to function properly. The consideration is therefore more around how much bias you want your renderer to have. 

Unbiased renderers also tend to have much simpler interfaces as they don't have an array of 'biases' that need to be set. 

Paul Hatton
Writer

Paul is a digital expert. In the 20 years since he graduated with a first-class honours degree in Computer Science, Paul has been actively involved in a variety of different tech and creative industries that make him the go-to guy for reviews, opinion pieces, and featured articles. With a particular love of all things visual, including photography, videography, and 3D visualisation Paul is never far from a camera or other piece of tech that gets his creative juices going. You'll also find his writing in other places, including Creative Bloq, Digital Camera World, and 3D World Magazine. 

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