An Artist’s Tools: The Best 3D Rendering Software for Architects

An artist’s tools are only as good as their master, or so the saying goes. In the world of architecture, it’s important for an architect to have renderers that will not only present clear blueprints. What they need is a renderer that also gives a good picture of their vision and one that’s easy to learn.

Submitted for the scrutiny of discerning architects are these 3D renderers, both free and paid.

Mental Ray

It was a creation by Mental Images and now, NVidia has its sights on this renderer. It can come in standalone form and is supported on a myriad of platforms (Linux included.) The programs it supports are plenty as well—Maya, 3DS Max, AutoCAD—these are just to name a few. Owing to the name, the programs expertise lies in its ability to deliver high quality renders.


It’s slow. It’s cumbersome. It’s worth the wait, though. Those who use Maxwell and has the patience to wait for the rendering will attest to its ‘unbiased rendering’ engine, which is based on real-life models. With realism, however, also comes real-time waiting. The results are still worth it, many will argue. This is probably one of the reasons why it’s used in a wide range of applications not limited to architecture.


The very popular Chaos Group program boasts of a wide selection of textures as well as realism that doesn’t wait for no one. It’s one of the top renderers out there. If you want to learn, you’ve got plenty of help from the Internet. Light and shadow is one of its many achievements, and it’s also compatible as a plug-in with a wide collection of programs like Cinema 4D and Sketch-up.

Corona Renderer

There’s no denying that Corona Renderer is a pretty popular renderer to use these days. While V-Ray is holding up its own, Corona’s steady development is a good sign that this renderer is catching up. Corona is pretty popular among the crowd who like their design speed fast and their images up to par with quality. It is also one of the renderers to actually have good Distributive rendering.

3DS Max

This renderer harkens back to a time early on when Photoshop was also only beginning to catch on. It’s a workhorse and, while other architects may prefer realism to cartoonish images, it’s easy to use and has an on-board renderer. That’s hard to beat. Perhaps its staying power is boosted by the fact that Revit and AutoCAD—both Autodesk products—are easy to use with it.

These tools may take years of practice and trial and errors to master. However, with learning comes enlightenment; with the stumbling block of mastering these programs out of the way, it may be easier to come up with ideas that are unique and can be rendered through these renderers.