What is 3D Product Rendering? What does it consist of? How to 3D render a product? Today, I would like to touch on all these topics and share with you my story related to this methodology.

So without further ado, let’s get started! What is a 3D product rendering all about?

3D Product Rendering – what is it?

3D product rendering or 3D product visualisation is the process of generating photorealistic or non-photorealistic images with 3D models via dedicated software.

A key advantage of 3D product rendering is that it helps to envision a product long before it is made. That is precisely why it is so commonly used in a wide variety of industries. Its most popular variation is archviz rendering. Archviz is the 3D product rendering and visualisation of buildings and developer projects.

Now that we have covered the basics, let me brief you on my start with 3D product rendering.

3D Product Rendering – my story

The subject of 3D product rendering is extremely close to my heart, as it is the one that drove me toward graphic design. Leaving aside childhood stories of what I did and what I liked, 3D product rendering was at the centre of my first actual 3D job. I was working for a sizable fireplace and fireplace equipment company. Its owners were quite ambitious, and had grand plans for the future but lacked the marketing material.

They approached me by coincidence. It is a funny story because it all happened when my brother presented my portfolio to a friend in one of the Apple retail shops.

At the time, I was mainly interested in 3D modelling products and selling them online, so I already had quite a bit in it of product packshots. The shop owner turned out to be involved with other companies and called me to arrange a meeting. Long story short, I agreed to work for them.

My job was quite simple. The designers would come up with certain product designs, and I had to create renders of these before they even made the first physical copy of the model in question. I have no idea exactly how many images I created while employed there, but I worked there for about a year. And because they had hundreds of products and only one sub-line of biofuel fireplaces, they had about 5,000 to 6,000 images in that one small product category. Packshots, hero shots, flat lay and interiors for magazines – interior design around fireplaces meant thousands of images. That’s when I first thought that if a fireplace company had such a huge demand for 3D product rendering, I might have hit the jackpot.

3D Product Rendering vs Photography – why the first one wins?

Nowadays, the engines used for 3D product rendering are powerful enough to accurately simulate the actual images in minute detail. There is little reason to assume that the quality of any of them is better, as both will have their advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, proper aesthetics is always a priority, so achieving it has to do with skill.

Let’s go through what a typical product photo shoot will look like, assuming you have found the right professional to do the job. That is the tricky part, as I have rarely had positive experiences with photographers in my practice.

Product photo shoot in a nutshell

To start with, you need to plan the session. What will such a session consist of? Well, you have to get all the products you want to be photographed in pristine condition to the studio. That not only creates a logistical problem, as someone will have to spend the better part of a day or days collecting all the products, or planning their production, but you also have to create the need to pack and ship to the right place.

Now do not get me wrong if you are working with essential oils, this may not sound so rough. But what if every single one of your products weighs between 50 and 300 kilograms?

Secondly, imagine you are working on prototypes, trying to raise a bit of a crowd for a fresh new item, so you will have to waste your time and production resources on making a physical copy of something that no one could use. Then, during the photo shoot of your item, you are not going to be able to have much say in what you get, and you will not see the result for at least a few days. No good photographer will send their images without hours of post-production because usually the result does not look like the raw file. Remember the part about heavy products? Imagine how it works in a photo studio.

You finally get the images and can start using them. But what if your product looks different in the final version? Or your online shop needs some of the images to be rotated 4-5 degrees to match the template? Rinse and repeat…

OK, this experience sounds a bit problematic, is it not? Usually actually is so.

3D product rendering in a nutshell

How to 3D render a product? 3D product rendering is quite different and can be at least a bit better. There is no heavy lifting, everything can be sent in an email, and no one will be using any physical resources to build a prototype.

The workflow is a bit easier you get the files to create 3D rendering product images and refine them so that the quality of the model is good enough. Sometimes you have to build up a model from scratch because the manufacturer will not have any files to share. That also opens up new opportunities for you, as the models can then be sold to a client, as architects and 3D artists love freebies that save them time, or you can upload the models to some online marketplaces to earn extra cash over time.

Once the model is ready, you can place it in your studio or simply use suitable studio templates, such as scenes and HDRi maps, available all over the internet for free or by paying a small tip to the creator.

The final step is to create the footage. In the past, it could take a lot of time, but with libraries as rich as the ones we have available now, it’s a pleasure to work with.

Then in most cases, you hit render, and that’s it.

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3D Project Rendering setup

Enough of the storytelling. Now, let’s discuss configuration a bit. My programme of choice is 3Ds Max because it is the most reliable and accessible software. It has a gigantic resource base available online and it is pretty much the current industry standard worldwide. We currently use Chaos Corona Render 3D product rendering engine. It’s a younger and a little bit better sibling of Vray Rendering Engine. I recommend using these programmes, but the workflow would be adaptable to other software, as all the information you read in this article is fairly universal.

3D Project Rendering – where to start?

First, I recommend using some websites or programs to help you gather reference images for what you plan to create, for example, PureRef. Alternatively, you could download some graphics to a few folders on your drive. Gathering images like that will help you dive into the topic, come up with some creative ideas and sometimes mix and match solutions from other artists. Check what works best for you.

I always try to keep my inspiration tab open in times of doubt or when I think I’m a little bit slower than I should be. It helps you set your goals and speed up the creative process. If you like drawing, try a few sketches before you proceed – it always helps, even if you are not yet an experienced designer.

Second, you should have your 3D model and some photos ready. It is the best-case scenario, but it is not that rare. Yet, we can’t assume that every company will have meshes to share with outsiders, but you can always count on drawings or photos.

If your client can’t provide you with a high-quality 3D model, that’s when you need to start figuring out where you can get one. Remember that often when you land a 3D product rendering job, your clients will expect you to help them design its final look, which means that they might not even have the final product imagined yet. That opens many possibilities for additional income. Remember that just rendering an object is different from designing it with the client but for now, let us focus on the lack of a 3D model.

The obvious solution would be to model it in 3Ds max, but not everyone will have time and patience for that, plus the scale of the commission might be too big to handle in a reasonable timeframe. So we might need to hire someone to do that for us. Depending on the complexity of the model the cost would range from £20 to £300. Please keep in mind that this is purely optional, and the estimate depends on the model complexity and quality you expect. I create all my models, and I recommend my mentees to practice 3D modelling if they have a little bit of extra time on the job, but rather not during professional projects with a fixed deadline. You will inevitably learn and experiment while working on all of your projects, but that should not be your priority.

3D product rendering model 101

Let’s analyze the model I have shown you, and focus on some of the rules and tricky parts. The bottleneck, how to add liquid and the pipette inside please note that your objects won’t require perfect quad meshes and even mesh distribution in most of the cases. I model them this way as I find them more aesthetic.

Let’s start with the bottle shape. It’s safe to assume you don’t need to cut through it to know that it won’t be the same thickness in all areas. Each bottle would have a bit thicker neck with some extra glass building up at the bottom. The only exception to this rule would be laboratory equipment, specially designed to be more or less even on all surfaces. Hence, it’s good to examine your model before you commit to modelling it. A physical copy will be helpful, but just a few photos taken by your client’s phone should be enough.

Modelling should start simple. You don’t want to start with an overly complicated object. Focus on figuring out the elements of your model before you commit to building it. With an object as simple as a bottle, you probably don’t need to create multiple blackouts to understand how is made. Yet, some parts would surely require more attention if you plan to go for the quality.

Modifiers like Lathe or Compound objects like LOFT are a blessing for this sort of situation. Nevertheless, as I mentioned before, even for a model like this you have to at least contemplate the workflow for a couple of seconds, as that can prepare you for some of the challenges. Here is an example; I knew that by default “Helix” object will always create a 32-segment mesh along the Z-axis. So that is how I am sure that my main bottle body also has 32 Segments.

That is the same mesh I used for my project, and that is the type of topology I do mostly for fun, as it is a little bit too much. With the newest 3Ds Max and the latest version of Chaos Corona Renderer, this is not essential to care for all this topology this much, as long as there are no critical errors or overlaps. What will be important for you is keeping your normals in check you have to make sure that your object has no flipped normals.

Liquid for most of the products can be quickly done by selecting the middle part of your mesh. I typically try to find a loop at the bottom, convert the selection to polygons and just grow my way up. The object you now have selected should be detached as a clone, flipped and scaled down by using the push modifier. Cap the top and make some protective loops for the mesh, as we will add TurboSmoooth. You must do this, or your liquid will not calculate correctly, and you will see a lot of artefacts.

The pipette is the most straightforward model of all. It seems complicated because of all the small elements, but in reality, it is essentially a few cylinders with extrusions and the same helix inside. The difference is that it has much more segments inside than outside. Magic of 3DS max allows us to hide it under Turbosmooth. I have included a section of this model for you to see.

How to 3D render a product – conclusions

In conclusion, 3D models for your product shots should have a little bit better quality than a regular scene object, not because of the difficulty of the process, but because you want to make it more interesting for the viewer. Quad mesh is optional and whatever looks fine is the right approach. I think we can stop here and continue with the studio setup next time! Share your thoughts! I encourage you to comment with questions, and we can discuss the process together.

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