Over the past decade, our gadgets have been getting progressively stronger hardware. Accordingly, we expect more from the media we consume through them: more details in our photos and images, our games, even our music tracks. Realism is one of the most in-demand characteristics, and for images that are not photos, photorealistic rendering is the best way to achieve it.

This article will examine the phenomenon that is photorealistic rendering and set you up on your way to creating your own stunning renders, whether you want to do it alone or with 3D modeling services.

What is Photorealistic Rendering?

Photorealistic rendering is an approach used in 3D design that sets a goal of achieving maximum lifelike imitation in a render. In other words, the render (a still image) should contain a 3D-modelled object that matches or imitates something that exists in real life, and visualize it so clearly that it would be indistinguishable from an actual photo of the thing.

A photoreal render should do more than just visualize every detail and fiber of an object; it should also depict it as it would look in a natural setting. This includes recreating how light falls on the object, how it interacts with surfaces and other objects, and how the object texture changes from one section to another.

Types of Photorealistic Rendering

There are 2 main types of rendering used by artists that aim for photorealism – real-time and final-frame. Let’s examine what they accomplish and what sets them apart.

Photorealistic real-time rendering

This type of rendering (sometimes called interactive rendering) has appeared only recently, and allows changes to a 3D model and scene to be reflected almost immediately (in a matter of seconds) on the preliminary rendered image. However, the image is only used for reference purposes.

Photorealistic final-frame rendering

Whether you choose to create a preliminary image first or go for the completed product right away, you will still have to go through the (sometimes lengthy) process of final frame rendering, when a high-resolution image is created for your 3D scene, in contrast to the simple one generated in real time.

Photorealistic rendering techniques

The basic mechanics of rendering are pretty uniform – you create 3D content, import it into a scene and make some tweaks, and then generate an image. However, when you read between the lines, there are several peculiarities and ways to go about these steps. Below, we list some of the most popular techniques:

  1. Using bevels

    Many rendering applications feature a Bevel tool, which is perfect for creating rounded, smooth, and uneven edges on objects. Most of the things in the world around us do not have rigid, razor-thin, and very acute edges, so 3D models with this kind of geometry look a bit artificial. Bevels, on the other hand, restore a modicum of realism.

  2. Photometric lighting

    In the physical world, objects obviously aren’t illuminated from all sides, so 3D scenes should be no different. With photometric lighting, real measurements of light taken from different angles and distances are measured and turned into an algorithm. This algorithm is then applied within software to make lighting angles and results highly realistic.

  3. Texture mapping

    Although textures are created in the form of 2D images, they can play a pivotal role in adding detail and realism to 3D content. You see, 3D models are initially created without color, material, and style. They are just a virtual structure that these characteristics should be applied to. Thus, you don’t always need to add details to the structure when you can add them faster to the top 2D layer.

  4. Chromatic aberration

    When you take a photo, do you remember how certain fields of the scene come into focus and others fade into the background? Chromatic aberration seeks to replicate this aspect of photography, bringing an object to the foreground and dulling all outside elements, just as would happen with a person or camera focusing on the thing.

  5. PBR shaders

    Physically-based rendering (PBR) is sometimes equated to photorealistic rendering, but it is more commonly associated with shaders. Shaders are essentially digital shadows applied to images through 3D modeling software, and their use has been strongly boosted by the drive towards greater photorealism.

Where to Use Photorealistic Rendering

Photorealism is more than just a fancy and ideal that designers try to achieve: it is a popular demand among businesses that order 3D content and renders. So which industries and fields are using this approach? Let’s take a closer look.

Photorealistic product rendering

Photorealistic product rendering

Product renders are commonly used to market a product (advertisements, billboards, magazines), but they are equally present in the field of design and manufacturing. Here, they serve as a valuable reference for further creation of prototypes and product testing.

Photorealistic human rendering

Photorealistic human rendering

Rendering humans is a challenge in itself, but making them look realistic is a whole new level of difficulty. Still, game designers often have to do this for key characters, and human characters are also pretty popular in marketing (when a regular photo just isn’t enough).

Photorealistic architectural rendering

Photorealistic architectural rendering

Construction crews and engineers use architectural renders regularly, and their professions require great precision. Thus, photorealism is a top priority, and the dimensions and structure of the building renders that they work with must hold up to actual construction processes.

Photorealistic interior rendering

Photorealistic interior rendering

When you are not able to visit a home or building, a render can be the next best thing. That is why real estate agents and interior designers often use high-resolution photorealistic interior rendering, and their clients get such a level of detail that they can easily picture being in location themselves.

Photorealism in medical renders

Photorealistic product rendering

Medical renders can be a helpful reference for medical equipment, procedures, processes, and patient data. These renders can provide a lot more information and perspective than a regular photo or capture, as well as remove certain imperfections and inconsistencies.

Photorealism in game renders

Photorealism in game renders

We have lightly touched upon human game characters, but this is hardly the full list of assets used for renders. For various game materials, artists create renders of props (inventory + secondary objects), non-human characters and beings, and even game environments.

How to Make Photorealistic 3D Models

Though many of the tiny details and subtle effects that provide realism are added when 3D content is already created, there are plenty of things you can do in the earlier stage of 3D modeling to make the further rendering as fast and pain-free as possible. Let’s go over some top tips on how to make a render look more realistic through modeling:

1. Rely on more than one reference

It usually takes more than one image to create a model that is accurate and realistic. With one reference, you are just mimicking the existing work, while a whole selection lets you get a full grasp of how the object can be represented.


2. Beware of over-texturing

You should try to find the right balance between adding details through 3D modeling and through texturing, because it is very easy to overdo the texturing part and make your image too saturated with detail or look fake.


3. Play around with different lighting schemes

Even when you are sure about your choice of lighting scheme for your 3D asset, it won’t do any harm to play around with it and try new combinations. What you find may bring out the best of your model in a way you didn’t expect.


4. Consider adding flaws

People have a great eye for authenticity, and get suspicious when something looks too perfect. Thus, purposefully adding some tiny flaws to your model will go a long way towards delivering realism and tricking the eye.


5. Don’t overextend yourself

Last but not least, you shouldn’t feel like you have to go through the whole modeling, rendering, texturing, etc. processes alone. If you lack the knowledge and qualifications, you don’t necessarily need to spend weeks learning about them, and can instead trust a service provider with the task.

Photorealistic 3D Rendering Services

Hiring art services (rendering, modeling, animation, etc.) from a 3D photorealistic rendering company is a great way to save time and funds. After all, most of the 3D studios operating today will get your renders done much faster than you could yourself, and many of them at a lower price (due to their location and the average rates there).

3D-Ace is one such provider ready to assist with all your 2D and 3D needs. We have a large team of artists, designers, animators, and other specialists with broad experience in creating stunning assets and images. You can get a taste of what we are capable of in our portfolio.

To learn more about our services and the work you want done, just send us a message.