Every Render-Engine for Blender

Updated 26th July 2021

What is a Render-Engine?

A Render-Engine is an application, which takes the 3D models and all the information like light and textures and converts them into a 2D image.
Here I explained some terms you might not know. Which will appear in this article.

Most modern Render-Engines and also the most on this list are Ray tracing Render-Engines. They work by simulating the light beams, which become emitted by a light source bouncing around the 3d space into the Camera.

A fork is if a developer takes a preexisting software from and continues it another way.

rendered with logo of appleseed

Appleseed is the youngest Render-Engine project in the lineup. It is also an Open source Ray tracing Engine, but with the focus on VFX, which means there are fewer features for stylized renderings, but things like acoustics, Motion Blur, and Bokeh are wonderful compared to other Render-Engines. The only problem which most people will have is performance.

CGI dog following stick

Cycles is not only the default Render-Engine of Blender, it is also my favorite engine. It is by far the most versatile engine on the list. It is also one of the quicker ones. Especially with the new Denoiser.

One thing I am noticing currently while I am switching to Octane render for the Media Production Company in which I am currently working is, that Cycles has a lot of different Nodes which allows, to create extremely complex materials like in these examples at #Nodevember.

I have the feeling that Cycles allows you to work more freely and creatively because of the many options.
The only problems with Cycles are caustics, volumetric, and more complex scenes.

E-Cycles was the first Fork of Cycles with the goal to make it faster without a sacrifice in quality. According to the website, it is up 100% faster than normal Cycles on Nvidia GPUs. But because of the high price of $299 for the current version that supports RTX GPUs, I wasn’t willing to pay that much for a fork of an existing software. Which is the reason I can’t say much about it.

Eevee

CGI flying car

Eevee is a result of the collaboration with Blender and Epic Games. It’s a real-time Engine based on the Unreal Engine. The reason to use Eevee clearly is performance. Not having to render for a long time will also enable those, who don’t have access to modern Hardware. I am thinking about Nollywood (No, this isn’t a Mistake I am talking about the Nigerian film industry which most people don’t know about, but it is in fact the second largest in the world.  ) there. Maybe Eevee will enable many studios from there to create animated movies.

But it is also the Render-Engine, that delivers the worst quality. And it is also limited especially when it comes to things like glass or volume.

The Indigo Render Engine is the commercial counterpart of the Lux core render Engine. It is a Ray tracing Engine with a focus on photorealism and physical accuracy. Which makes it interesting for architecture rendering. But isn’t really popular in combination with Blender, which makes it almost impossible to find documentation or tutorials and test about Indigo Renderer for Blender.

K-Cycles is the latest big Fork of Cycles. It also has the goal of making Cycles faster. I am currently testing it, so that I can validate the information myself, but so far it looks promising. I really like the simple user interface. Which has basically one option which means there isn’t anything to learn.

Because of the performance and the compared to E-Cycles low price of $49 I think it is interesting because it doesn’t require learning new things and Graphics cards aren’t really available currently.

glass brick with caustics

The LuxCoreRender Project is the successor of the Lux Render Project. An Open Source Ray trace Render-Engine with the Focus on realism and physical accuracy. A big difference to other Render-Engines, is, that LuxCoreRender is excellent at creating caustics. Which means if you have a scene with a lot of transmission materials like glass, vodka or any fluids it can make a huge difference in realism.

The downside of course is, that it is a bit slower in most cases. Or in those without Caustics. But since it is also compatible with Intel’s  OpenImage Denoiser this isn’t a problem anymore.

The LuxCoreRneder comes with two different algorithms.

Path Tracing

Which is the same technique as in most other Render-Engines and is able to render with the CPU and multiple GPUs at the same time. Here you can also make use out of NVIDIA’s OptiX technology if you are the proud owner of an RTX Graphics card. The big difference to other Render-Engines is, the Light Tracing feature which if activated enables you to create good Caustics.

Bidirectional

To explain the difference here is really complicated, but if you want to know exactly what it does you can watch this video here. What you need to know is, that it is the most physically accurate rendering algorithm that is currently available for Blender.

Here is a Comparison between Cycles and the two Algorithms of the LuxCoreRender. One thing that is clearly noticeable is the caustics on the blue wall and how the Bidirectional Path-Tracer is able, to capture way more light which is the reason, it is brighter. In the Image, that is rendered with the bidirectional Path Tracer you can even see caustics from the pink wall on the blue wall if you look closely.

astronaut on parking lot cgi

Octane render was the first GPU Ray tracing Engine and was the fastest production renderer back then. This is the reason, it is the most popular Render-Engine outside the Blender universe. When it comes to performance it is comparable with Cycles. But Octane delivers more realism and is much better than it comes to things like volume and Subsurface scattering.

It comes with their render algorithms. Each having its own purpose.

Direct Light

This is the fastest Algorithm and delivers the lowest quality. It has what I would call Octane to look to it which some people tend to like but in my opinion, it is something bad. But it seems to be used more as an algorithm, to create previews.

Path Trace

It is comparable to Cycles. It doesn’t have a certain look to it but isn’t noticeably faster than Cycles. Except for things like volumetric or subsurface scattering (SSS). In which Octane is way faster.

PMC

Seems to be the same as Path Trace but slower. Which is not true. It uses another method, to distribute the light rays which makes it faster for very complex scenes with a lot of Glass for example. Or some indoor Scenes.

But there are also two downsides to this Render-Engine. One is, that Octane only works with Nvidia GPUs, not with AMD GPUs or CPUs in general.
The other downside is, with $699 per year very expensive. Meanwhile, there is also a Free Tier. But it only supports one GPU and no denoising.

Keep in mind, that you need an RTX GPU, to use Octanes Denoiser. But if that’s not the case you can still use the IOID Denoiser that comes within Blender since version 2.81. You can read about it in this article: Blender 2.81 new Denoiser (IOID) a real Game changer.

CGI motorbike with AMD Logo

The Radeon Pro Render is the same Render-Engines as the Pro Render which comes with Cinema 4D.

It is a Ray tracing Engine Developed by AMD. The only reason for its existence is, that it is the only GPU Render-Engines that work on Mac. This is also the reason the new Mac Pro gets advertised by rendering 6.8 times fast AMDs Pro Render. In comparison to an iMac Pro.

But the Radeon Pro Render is kinda dead by now, and you shouldn’t buy a Mac for CGI or VFX.

Renderman is a very special Engine, it is developed and used by Pixar.
Its has been used in every Disney Movie including Star Wars, Lion King, Cars, Batman and many more.
It is relatively fast in complex scenes like indoor scenes or scenes with many polygons.
But slower than Cycles or Octane in smaller Scenes, even do it supports the use of CPU and GPU simultaneously.
What separates Renderman from the other Engines is, that it is highly flexible. It can be used for stylized renders as well as for photorealistic renders.
It is also the most feature packed render engine currently available for Blender.

For non-commercial use it is free, but registration is required for commercial use Renderman cost $250 per year.

Before Otoy released the first version of Octane renders back in 2008 V-Ray was The Render Engine.
Today, there are much more options. Especially one who promises better performance but still the most VFX in Hollywood feature movies are made with V-Ray.
It is not a Ray tracing Engine, and it is not unbiased. But this different architecture allows V-Ray, to render big scenes much faster.

Originally it was a CPU base Render Engine. But meanwhile, there is also a Version for the GPU available, but it is not as elaborated and far developed as the CPU Version.
For architects or VFX Artists who want to render complex scenes it is the way to go, but for everyone else other Engines are probably better suited since they are faster and easier to set up.

Since V-Ray get rarely used in combination with Blender, there isn’t much information about it out there. Which makes it hard to learn.

Workbench Engine

The Workbench Engine is already integrated into Blender, but I think it rarely gets used and doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

The Workbench Engine was actually created, For Modeling and Sculpting as a viewport. But it can also be helpful for other things like exporting something completely shadeless and unbiased like a screen in a Mock-up for example.

I am sure, that there are a lot of different ways, to make use out of it. I used it for example in a 2D explainer for a teeth cleaning product that was made in a flat style in After Effects, but the Client said, that it is too hard to understand what the object is, so he wanted, to make it rotate in instead or being completely flat. And to match the flat style I exported it with the Workbench Engine.

What about the other ones?

There are also Render-Engines like Renderman, Yafaray, Pov-Ray, and so on. But all of them are not compatible with Blender Version 2.9+ Which makes them irrelevant.

I try to keep this article updated if something should change. Currently, it looks like Maxon will officially publish their integration of Redshift in Blender, which is something to keep an eye on since Redshift is way faster than every other Ray Tracing Engine. I am in contact with developers from Maxon and Redshift will appear on this list as soon as it is available.

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