The Best 3D Rendering Programs for Architects and Designers

The Best 3D Rendering Programs for Architects and Designers

This article tries to address the different types of rendering and design programs for architecture and designers but does so in a way that assumes a wider variety of users and use cases. For example, this isn’t just for high-powered and employed architects, in the same way that it isn’t just for design students or hobbyists. The software listed in this article were chosen because they each appeal to different types and levels of designers and architects.


Yes, let’s start with the free one that isn’t typically associated with architectural design. Yet, just because this program isn’t pushed by the affiliate-cuddling media, doesn’t mean you should ignore it. If you want to create genuinely good-looking, gamified, or photo-realistic designs, then Blender is all you will ever need. Plus, it is so popular that you can learn how to use it by watching YouTube videos alone. The sheer amount of features and functions is staggering, and you can extend the program with thousands of extensions.


Old School Millennials are going to agree with AutoCAD taking its place on this list, especially if they went to High School and college and took some sort of design course. Yet, most people don’t know that this software was first released in 1982, and over time was honed to help building designers and architects do their job a little easier. The interface is built to help users solve complex problems and render out their designs in the most convenient manner. It helps designers create the necessary documentation and streamline their process. There is an architecture software package that allows you to create architectural drawing and to generate renderings from said designs.

AutoDesk 3DS Max

Seems unfair to add another AutoDesk product so high in this list, but the company has done a lot to help designers and architects visualize their designs, and that is exactly what the 3DS Max does. This is a little like having a Blender program that creates animations and designs, but it works better with the complex math and associated CAD files that come with modern design procedure. It gives you things like realistic lighting and shadows, photo-realistic images, and more importantly, you can import your existing plans rather than create them within the 3DS Max software. The rendering and processing is a little labor intensive, so you are probably best off using a service like Rebus Farm if you want to create prototypes and render/test your more detailed designs.


The ArchiCAD architectural CAD program has the power to create good-looking 3D visualizations; but they are not even close to the quality of what Blender and 3D Max can produce. However, on the technical side, some people prefer ArchiCAD when planning and designing. Many engineers are familiar with AchiCAD, which makes it a good option for those looking to collaborate on an on-going build or design (fixing, honing and improving as the process moves forwards). Another reason why this program is so popular is because it allows you to store a lot of information into 3D models; which again is good when collaborating with different people from different fields and is also handy as a teaching tool. It is known as Open BIM (Building Information Modeling). As you may imagine, the software also has a lot of tools made for designers and architects, including for interior designers.


This is another piece of BIM (Building Information Modeling) software and is another program developed by Autodesk. The last program had collaborative potential, and so does Revit. It also has tools built for architects and designers; but there also collaborative tools that allow a central coordinator to access centrally shared models. Similar to modern project-management software, you are able to set permissions to dictate who can submit; who can download, who can alter/edit, who can leave notes, and who can view. If you were ranking these tools, you may shy away from Revit because its interface isn’t as clean or as structured as ArchiCAD. On the other hand, if you are the sort of worker who likes to spread their tools around the table before using them, then Revit may suit you better.


Speaking of making choices based on user interfaces, there is a reason why Cedreo is becoming popular with newer designers. It has a more modern and sleeker feel than your average CAD design tool. Even with updates, many of them are mired in the old-fashioned appearance; one associated with older operating systems. Cedreo is also a web-based home design program; which is also a newer innovation that was made possible by more reliable Internet; more reliable web browsers, better server response times and so forth.

The time-saving features make this a great program to rough out your first ideas. It takes a relatively small amount of time to quickly draw out your 2D and 3D floor plans; throw in a few customizations, add a few stock elements (a 3D rendering of a tree for example); and render out your first draft. Of course, you can go deeper, more technical and more accurate; but do not underestimate how convenient this tool is for bashing out your first concepts and ideas.

Octane Reader

More of a rendering program, this is one to watch. They are using machine learning to streamline the process and to produce higher quality textures and scenes with less work and input from the designer. You get a large pool of textures and materials to use in your scenes; which will help improve the overall quality of your renders without the required photo-realistic design skills.

Again, this is one to watch because it doesn’t offer the technical specificity of something like Blender; or the customization and realization tools of Blender. However, machine learning is a hot topic at the moment; and if the developers of the Octane Reader are integrating modern advances in AI into their already-existing systems; we could so the Octane Reader become a go-to rendering program for modern designers and architects. It is entirely plausible that in ten years, when students are leaving college/university; this will be one of the many tools they are familiar with.

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