Physically Accurate Renderer for under $100



I know similar questions have been asked before, but my question is a bit more specific.

I need to render building interiors and exteriors, not for promotion, but for evaluation and to help me improve the design of the building.

First of all my budget is $100 (maybe I could stretch it to $150). This should eliminate several options.

Secondly, I need a renderer that will produce as physically accurate results as possible. I don’t need just a nice looking result, but a result that will be very close to reality. For example I need a renderer that will allow me to place actual lights (with specific wattage / temperature, IES) and will have accurate daylight for my location, and using only these should produce accurate results, without the need to light the scene with anything that wouldn’t exist in the real world. I should also be able to get accurate materials.

Back in 2012-13 (when I was doing another project) I tried a few renderers: Twilight V1, Maxwell Free, Shaderlight, Podium, and Kerkythea. Kerkythea was a bit too complicated. I didn’t like the output of Shaderlight and Podium. I liked the UI and renders of Maxwell and close second was Twilight, but I ended up buying Twilight because Maxwell had a few limitations.

My Twilight V1 doesn’t work on newer versions of Sketchup so I should buy something else. I am considering Twilight V2 (which is now on discount) but I want to see what other options are available now, and then if possible try 2-3 of them before I choose one.



After my initial research the following fit my budget:

Twilight Render Pro ($99 / $59 now)
Raylectron ($99)
Brighter3D ($99)
SimLab Composer Lite (Free)
Indigo RT (€145)

Which of the above (or any other) meets my other requirements?


You should look at LightUp too. It’s almost entirely about setting lighting based on the specification of light bulbs. There is a 30 day trial, and its annual cost is more than your budget. But worth looking into.

Here’s an example dialog box for when you’re setting the light type.


Thanks. I had a look at it but it is way over my budget. Also, looking at their gallery it seems that the renders are more similar to what you get from a game engine and not very photorealistic. Seems like their strong point is speed and not photorealism.


I use Raylectron for concept design, including interiors.

It does not currently have IES lights but is going through a complete rewrite, coming out in March apparently.

I chose it for the simple interface / v.quick learning curve.


Out of curiosity, why do you need this incredible realism? What kind of “evaluation” are you doing? What kind of improvements to the design are you doing?


LightUp is not a raytracing renderer - so not as realistic overall - not sure why they use IES lights.
It is realtime though.


Thanks. I am planning to try Raylectron. In their website they say “Download your unlimited time free trial”. If time is unlimited, then what are the limitations of the free version?


800 pixel image max.

They have CPU and GPU versions currently. The CPU version is also compatible with the Scatter extension.
The GPU version is Open CL compatible - so AMD GPU’s.

Tech support is excellent too.


I am going to start plans for my new home and I want to see how it will look before it is built so I can change things as needed while still on the planning stage.

With Sketchup on its own I can I get a pretty good understanding of spaces and volumes, but I have to imagine how lighting and materials will look. If the rendering is not realistic (and accurate) then it might be prettier than what Sketchup provides, but it wouldn’t tell me much more. With an accurate rendering I should be able to understand if I added sufficient lighting and if I positioned it correctly to get the effect that I want, if I have enough natural light coming in the rooms, if all the materials I choose fit nicely together etc.

If it is photorealistic but not accurate then it could be even worst, as it could mislead me. Of course I understand exact accuracy isn’t possible, especially for my budget, but I want something close enough to be helpful in the design process.

Maxwell and Twilight I used in the past were quite decent, and that was 6 years ago, so maybe there is something better now (although from my initial research it seems that progress has slowed down the last years, in this price range at least)


OK, if the only limitation is the resolution then I will definitely try it.

I also just saw that Indigo 4 (the full version) can be used for free with up to 1000px x 700px resolution, which is a bit restrictive, but would be fine if I could get better results from it than the sub $100 alternatives.

Any other of the “major” renderers with such kind of “free” (or low cost) versions that can be used for non commercial work?


Not that I know of.

It is almost impossible to tell the quality from an 800 pixel render - the gradations and effects are very abbreviated, giving a less than realistic impression.


This reminds me of the saying, "You can have it Fast, Cheap, or Good. Pick, two. In this case, I’d change that to Easy, Cheap, or Good. Pick two.


Yes, in the case of Raylectron I would get the full version if I like it, since it is just $99.

Indigo 4 gives a bit more resolution for free (1000px x 700px) which I think it would be OK for my needs, although I would certainly prefer a bit more.


It doesn’t have to be very easy.

I said that Kerkythea was a bit too complicated, but that is in relative terms compared to the alternatives. I choose Twilight because it had the same rendering engine but in a more integrated to sketchup package. I was even considering to do everything in Blender instead of sketchup, and Blender is a lot more complicated. I decided against this because I think sketchup is better suited for architecture.

So if there is something which is not Easy but it is Cheap and Good (significantly better than the easier alternatives), then I would definitely like to know about it!


Kerkythea is free and can give you excellent results but you need to invest some time and effort in learning how to use it.


My understanding is that Twilight is using the same rendering engine as Kerkythea, and it can also use Kerkythea materials. What would be the advantage of using Kerkythea over Twilight?


More control over the output.


Forgive me, but I wonder if the goal is overly ambitious. Even if your potential home was physically built in the real world and then a high-quality camera was used to capture actual photographs of the home at various times of day, etc., would those (hypothetical) photographs contain enough information to allow you to make irrevocable lighting decisions? Photographs as viewed on digital displays can be quite different depending on monitor calibration, ambient illumination in the room with the monitor, etc. Same for hard-copy prints.


While it involves some further steps, you can take your sketchup model into Blender and render there for free. The Cycles renderer is excellent and the new Eevee super fast but requires even more input. However, the learning curve may not be worth the price of Thea or V-Ray!