The following is our list of the Best 3D Render Engines for Blender users.  UPDATE:  I have just added Radeon Pro Render and Nox Render to this list, both are free to install and use with Blender.

Five years ago there were very few production capable external renderers for Blender. With the advent of Cycles came a lot of debate about the integration of external 3d party paid render engines into Blender.  One side arguing that Blender was open source and should stay open source and the other side arguing for greater integration of Blender into more commercial pipelines.

Also there were also a number of software developers (think Allegorithmic) who flat out refused to port any of their technologies to Blender citing incompatibilities between Blender’s Open Source license and their commercial license, and for a time it looked as though those license incompatibilities could restrict the development of rendering platforms willing to write plugins enabling Blender for their platforms.

Luckily for Blender both sides of the argument won and today in late 2017 there is now a great array of extraordinary external renderers available, both paid and open source. From Oscar winning renderers like Pixars Renderman to full Unbiased GPU enabled speed monsters like Octane and incredibly beautiful nuanced engines like Maxwell (and of course including Cycles) Blender in 2017 now finds itself with one of the best rendering capabilities of any major 3D package in the Industry.

Of course you can also look at Games Engines such as UE4, Cryengine and Unity as essentially free Render Engines for Blender as well and the quality of all three are pretty amazing, however realtime PBR Games engines aren’t really the focus of this article.  (Although it is great that Cry Engine has now moved to a free to use business model)

So for the purpose of this article we’ll be dealing with Render Engines geared to producing final quality cinematic and film based imagery for TV and Film production, not for a Games output.

Either Scroll down or click these anchors to go to the Render Engine of your choice:

List of the best 3D Render Engines Compatible with Blender

Appleseed
RadeonProRender
Lux Render
Renderman
Indigo
Nox
Octane
Vray
Maxwell Render
Corona
Thea Render
Yafaray
Mitsuba
POV Ray
RedShift
Keyshot


Appleseed

FREE, OPEN SOURCE, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Unbiased, physically-based, photorealistic render engine
http://appleseedhq.net/

Appleseed is a beautiful render engine developed by a mainly European team led by Francois Beaune and Esteban Tovagliari.  It has one of the best, most liberal Open Source libraries out there (you can view the source code on Appleseed’s Github here) and is of course completely free which makes it a great Renderer to complement Cycles or even to use as an alternative complete rendering solution.  Some of it’s most notable features are that it is good with Caustics which has always been one of Cycles weak points and it has a huge list of reflection models and shaders from Lambert and Oren Nayar style shader right through to advanced metals and a really good Disney style layered BRDF shader.

Other strong points are

Raytraced Subsurface Scattering, No Precomputation, Scene Editing while Rendering, Progressive Rendering, Multipass Rendering and Iterative rendering like Cycles.  It also has a great array of lighting models including Mesh Lights, Gobos, Image Based Lighting, and all the standard lighting types and it has excellent Motion Blur features, a pinhole Camera feature and good depth of field. The feature list on Appleseed is always developing so it’s worth installing it and checking it out, and it’s a good investment of time to integrate it into your Blender Pipeline.

Back to List


Radeon Pro Render

FREE, OPEN SOURCE, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Biased, physically-based, photorealistic render engine
https://pro.radeon.com/en/software/prorender/

Radeon Pro Render is an insanely powerful and fast Render Engine that is exceptionally integrated into Blender. Of all the Render Engines I’ve tried with Blender to my mind Pro Render is the most suited to Production work and is the best integrated. I love that is not only uses the GPU but also uses the CPU. Pro Render allows you to “render at massive scale” because it is an out of core solution meaning it is not limited to your GPU and will overflow processing to your CPU so you will never see another “Cuda out of memory” error which is the one big downside of Cycles.

Will it come to replace Cycles, I’m not actually sure. Before trying out Pro Render I was still a big advocate for Cycles, because Cycles is Blender’s best feature and I love how interactive Cycles is when Modelling and doing Look Development and Lighting for shots, but once you enable both CPU and GPU simultaneously on Pro Render within Blender my experience is that doing production work with it is unbelievably fast – as in approaching Redshift speed fast.

I really love the library of Materials Pro Render comes with, especially the glass. I find it looks great – I’m often not happy with how Glass looks in Cycles even with Blender 2.79’s new Principled BSDF Shader and my view is Pro Render’s Glass is a lot more realistic, not just Glass but also all the other Pro Render Materials that come ported with the base installation. It’s also very easy to use your normal Cycles workflows regarding HDRI images – essentially the workflow is not any different with Pro Render to the point that using Pro Render feels totally natural to me as a long term Blender user. Pro Render also convert Cycles materials and I’ve found it pretty efficient in terms of it’s samples to noise ratios. It has less firefly issues than Cycles.

Clearly it is not fair to directly compared every aspect, Cycles is fully physically unbiased and Pro Render is biased, and traditionally I much prefer unbiased Engines to Biased ones – but with Pro Render you get the look of an unbiased engine and you don’t get that sometimes Cartoony look that say VRay render’s often have.

I think it’s a phenomenal render engine, and to have it completely free for Blender is just amazing. Redshift while on this list isn’t currently directly compatible with Blender, so it is very welcome to be able to plug Pro Render right into Blenders architecture and have it integrated so seamlessly.

If one Render engine on this list could be described as a “complete game-changer”, I would definitely say it’s Radeon’s Pro Render and I don’t see, moving forwards, how any professional pipeline using Blender wouldn’t incorporate it.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Lux Render FREE, OPEN SOURCE, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Unbiased, Physically-based, Photorealistic render engine
www.luxrender.ne

Lux Render was being developed under GPL and recently the license ported to APL2 (Apache Open License).  No issues there we love Apache Open Office and the APL2 license is a great license model and of course Lux remains free.  Lux Render is a true physically based, unbiased engine and has a mature and balanced integration into Blender with a large materials library that also has complex properties such as absorption, refraction and thin coating.  Image quality can vary from exceptional to quirky which reflects the nature of the Lux Community.  The new 2.0 API is slated to include a new path tracing integrator and better hair support.

Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

House at lake – Aaron Solo – Lux Render

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Renderman

FREE FOR NON COMMERCIAL USE,COMMERCIAL LICENSE $500, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Pixar’s Renderer is completely free for personal use making it one of the Best 3D Render Engines to learn Blender with. This engine is what half of Hollywood uses and has won more Oscars and Emmy’s than any other rendering solution.
https://renderman.pixar.com

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Indigo Renderer

PAID, 595 EURO FOR A LICENCE,  ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Unbiased, Physically-based, Photorealistic render engine
http://indigorenderer.com/

Indigo Renderer is an extremely fast GPU unbiased, physically based photorealistic renderer which simulates the physics of light to achieve near-perfect image realism.  Indigo is much loved by the architectural community and is famous for producing natural looking renders. Indigo doesn’t use RGB colors like most other render engines but instead it uses spectral light computations. Some of the strongest points of Indigo are it’s physically accurate cameras which produce perfect depth of field and bokeh effects; its aperture diffraction which produces natural light effects in camera; its realistic materials library which has great SSS; and its highly advanced Sun and Sky system which has just been fully upgraded and rewritten in Indigo 3.0.

Indigo also has good standouts from Cycles. One of the strongest features being an very detailed shadow catcher and alpha cutout compositing node, and near real-time interactive rendering. The other being render time displacement for the creation of large detailed landscape elements. Indigo is fully GPU accelerated and supports both Cuda and Open CL so it works with both Nvidia and AMD cards making it one of the Best 3D Render Engines for Blender for architectural style projects.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Nox Renderer

Free, Open Source,  ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Unbiased, Physically-based, Photorealistic render engine
https://evermotion.org/nox/downloads

Polish Studio Evermotion’s Nox Renderer is an unbiased physically based renderer like Cycles which doesn’t have the same deep nodal and material structure Cycles has but does have some really interesting post-processing features. One of the main benefits being that you can make post-processing adjustments (exposure, contrast etc.) while the render is still progressing and it adds a lot of useful effects such as Bloom, Glare, Bokeh and masking objects to the camera as post-processing.

Materials in Nox comes as a library of around 65 pre-made materials but there is no way to preview a material before you load it which makes the workflow clunky. There are also no options to generate textures so you have to do that in an external editor which means if you are used to Cycles a workflow that would take mere moments in Cycles – say adding a noise texture to a material – becomes unnecessarily tedious in Nox. There’s also a lack of a Render Preview, so you have to Render to see what the Render will look like. Which if you are used to how fast Cycles render mode moves in a production workflow for my taste makes Nox difficult to use. I rely on a small constantly updating Cycles render window throughout most of my workflow and have grown so accustomed to it that I find going backwards in this regard makes me not want to use Nox much. It’s a really promising engine otherwise so hopefully this will change at some point.

Nox does give really nice renders on metallic objects and wood objects – gorgeous even, prior to Blender 2.79’s Principled BSDF I would have said possibly Nox’s metallic renders were better, but now Cycles metals are finally looking as they should.

Where Nox really falls down in comparison to Cycles is in Render times. Currently it is still not GPU based and Cycles is just soooo much faster. I came from a production background where it was taboo for a long time use GPU rendering but these days GPU Rendering often matches CPU rendering for quality and Cycles has the benefit of being both unbiased and GPU based.

Nox does do invisible light sources now, making effects like faux Caustics easier and it is fully integrated with Blender even if the node side and texture side are limited inside of Blender. It’s main features are a physically based engine, enhanced post-processing, rendering to layers, real and fake depth of field, instancing, displacement, subsurface scattering. It is also capable of some Breath-taking renders so I do think it’s worth playing with.

Currently however just because of the lack of GPU rendering and the lack of integrated render previews I wouldn’t personally use it in production on a job with a deadline. But it would be a nice engine to do something like a still life where taking 3-4 times the time to render an image compared to Cycles is not an issue. So while it may not be great right now for rendering animation scenes, it has a lot of interesting features under the hood that definitely makes it worth installing for Blender for stills work. Nox does support subdivision surfaces but doesn’t support shape keys natively or group instances which again steers it away from usefulness as an animation renderer. It does have great color correction post processing tools which again point it towards usefulness for Stills renders.

One last downside is that Nox is currently only Windows based so that excludes probably a majority of Blender users. Hopefully again this will change now that it is fully open source.

I think in summary Nox is a really interesting Render Engine for Blender. It’s not quite usable for Animation Pipelines as is, mainly because it needs to be GPU based to compete with the likes of Cycles or Radeon Pro Render, but it does have an open source licence so you can use it commercially unlike Pixar’s Renderman. Being open sourced is only a recent development so I hope a lot of Blender Developers get behind this engine. It can produce some really beautiful work for Stills projects, so if you are only doing Stills then it’s worthwhile, and hopefully one day with some further development it will be a contender for Animation renders too.

https://quaintproject.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/how-to-set-up-and-use-nox-renderer-for-blender/

Source: Quaint Project

https://quaintproject.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/how-to-set-up-and-use-nox-renderer-for-blender/

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Octane

PAID, $399 PER LICENSE, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Unbiased, Physically-based, Photorealistic render engine
https://home.otoy.com/render/octane-render/

Slated as the world’s fastest unbiased GPU renderer.  Otoy’s Octane is surprisingly well priced for such a powerful commercial grade renderer.  Octane is GPU based renderer like Redshift, however unlike Redshift is fully unbiased, and physically correct. OctaneRender 3 has new tools including volumetric light field primitives and is fully VR capable and enabled. Octane has a big list of features including:

Volumetric Rendering – rendering of particles, smoke, fog, fire of every density in near real time; Micro Surface Displacements allowing you to render micro displacements on both volumes and surfaces; Deep Pixel Rendering: HDRI; Mesh Emitters; full Global Illumination; tons of node based materials with a huge library or the ability to create your own: complex IOR, subsurface scattering, absorption materials; live texture baking; spherical harmonics; displacement mapping; fully featured hair and fur; texture animation; texture baking; great quality and firefly removal.

Octane’s speed makes is one of the best 3D Render Engines for commercial work in Blender and for work involving volumetrics, fog, smoke and particles.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Archipelago House created by Radek Ignaciuk

VRay

PAID, $350 3 render node, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Biased Monte Carlo style Renderer
https://www.chaosgroup.com

Vray is a biased Montecarlo (brute force) style renderer. The Vray for Blender Plugin is free and open source and is available on Github.  To run Vray you must have a paid standalone license installed.

Vray is a very well loved Industry recognised Brute Force Biased Ray Trace renderer that creates exceptional images and has a huge array of materials and options. It is multi-core accelerated and robust and used by thousands of artists and studios around the world, making it one of the best 3D Render Engines for Blender users who want to find commercial paid work in larger studios.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Maciek Ptaszynski “Heavy Rain”

Maxwell Render 4

PAID, $500 -$900 approx depending on licence options, ✅ BLENDER CAPABLE WITH THE B-MAXWELL ADDON
Unbiased, Physically-based, Photorealistic render engine
http://www.maxwellrender.com/

Maxwell Render is made by Next Limit who also made Realflow. It is considered to be one of the top Render engines and can produce stunning renders.  You can read all about the creation of this featured image from the artist Maciek here. Maxwell 4 is now fully GPU enabled bringing it’s speed closer to Redshift and Octane. It also has a new technology called Multilight which allows infinite iterative lighting versions of renders from the original base render.  It has a large material library covering every type of material.

Maxwell is known for its easy and fast workflow and an artist can be up and running with it in a few minutes. Thanks to Multilight it’s a great render engine for 3D artists who love exploring light variations. Maxwell Render isn’t natively coded to work with Blender but is integrated into Blender through the B-MaXwell Addon which can be found here.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Thea Render

PAID, 295 Euro, ✅ BLENDER CAPABLE WITH NEW OPEN SOURCE THEA BLENDER PLUGIN
You must purchase the Standalone for the plugin to work.
Biased, Unbiased, GPU render engine

Thea Render is tightly integrated biased, unbiased, GPU engine that works with Blender including interactive rendering, materials and instancing support so it now has a great workflow in Blender. It is also considered one of the best renderers out there and is the most affordable paid renderer on this list.  By virtue of price and features making it one of the best 3D Render Engines for blender.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Yafaray

FREE, OPEN SOURCE, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
Monte Carlo style (brute force) Raytracing engine
http://www.yafaray.org/

Of all the open source render engines available to Blender Yafaray is my favorite. I use it all the time. YafRay (Yet Another Free Raytracer) was created in 2001 by Alejandro Conty Estévez, and the first public release was in July 2002 so in terms of a lot of the other engines on this list it is ancient but it still holds up today and is a robust and useful Raytracing engine for Blender.

It’s a dream to integrate Yafaray with Blender and for an older renderer it is still surprisingly fast, and it still does some things Cycles struggles with well. Caustics and Volumetrics are easier to achieve than in Cycles. It also has a direct lighting engine so it uses Global Illumination to produce photorealistic 3D renders.

Yafaray supports a lot of GI options including Pathtracing, Photon Mapping, Final Gather, Stochastic Progressive Photon Mapping and Bi-Directional Pathtracing. It is very well integrated into Blender and outputs a huge amount of render elements. It has a good background illumination system including skies and soft shadows and has full HDRI lighting and a complete Sun/Sky solution. It also has materials that are integrated into Blender and full texture and procedural texture support.

I actually love this renderer and highly recommend that every Blender artist uses it to see what it can do.  For a free render engine it is terrific and is definitely one of the best 3D Render Engines available!

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Mitsuba

FREE, OPEN SOURCE, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED, COLLAD WORKFLOW
Deterministic Quasi-Monte Carlo (brute force) Raytracing engine
http://www.mitsuba-renderer.org/

Mitsuba is a research oriented PBRT Raytracing style renderer that is cited by it’s creators to be very much an experimental research oriented renderer. To quote: “In comparison to other open source renderers Mitsuba places a strong emphasis on experimental rendering techniques, such as path based formulations of Metropolis Light Transport and Volumetric modelling approaches.” So Mitsuba seems pretty cool and it produces a lot of really interesting / beautiful renders.  I’ll certainly be testing it out more over the coming months. Mitusba features a parallel computing node to node structure.

Back to List


 

Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

POV Ray

FREE, OPEN SOURCE, BUNDLED WITH BLENDER, ✅ BLENDER ENABLED
http://www.povray.org/

POV Ray is one of the oldest RayTracing engines in 3D and it’s origins go back to the 1986 render engine DKBTrace which later became STAR-Light then POV Ray. It was developed officially until version 3.7 and then subsequent support and releases moved over to POV Ray’s Github which you can find here.

POV Ray is licensed under AGPL3 and comes bundled with Blender.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Corona

PAID, 24 EURO A MONTH, ❌ NOT CURRENTLY BLENDER ENABLED

https://corona-renderer.com/

Currently available only for Max, Maya and C4D Corona Renderer offers both biased and unbiased rendering and interactive rendering.  Corona is CPU based not GPU based rendering but is blisteringly fast and matches most GPU renderers.  So not currently one of the best 3D Render Engines for Blender but one to keep an eye on if in case Corona yields to pressure and releases a Blender plugin.

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender
Redshift

PAID, NODE LOCKED LICENCE $500 US PER MACHINE, ❌ NOT CURRENTLY BLENDER ENABLED

But Blenderartists has a thread with people working on porting it.
Redshift is a biased GPU renderer.  Slated as the fastest renderer in the world.  Not currently one of the best 3D Render Engines for Blender because there is no compatible plugin
https://www.redshift3d.com/

Back to List


Blender 90 Best 3D Render Engines for blender

Artist Travis Tom

Keyshot

PAID, 595 EURO FOR A LICENCE, ❌ NOT CURRENTLY BLENDER ENABLED

CPU based Realtime Renderer of amazing quality.  Not native to Blender with a live link so you have to export your model and is a complete pain to use directly with Blender.  But Keyshot has a direct live link with Zbrush so if you work in a Blender to Zbrush pipeline it could work for you.  Downside is rendering animation, none of your Blender animation will render.  So Keyshot is a Good renderer for photographic stills work in a Blender to Zbrush pipeline, but is not currently one of the best 3D Render Engines for Blender directly.

https://www.keyshot.com

Back to List


This list of Best 3D Render Engines for Blender will be regularly updated, if you’d like us to add a render engine that we’ve missed please feel free to leave a comment below.

If you like the information presented and would like to receive future Blender informations, tutorials and free resources including free model and texture packs, then please feel free to sign up to our Newsletter.