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What Software Should I Use for Architectural Visualization?

*View article on web here


With the release of our latest course, there have been some questions about software. It is quite common for people to wonder, do I need to learn software X, or what is the difference between software X and software Y. The truth is, as architectural visualization artists, we have to be versatile. Rarely are my tasks routine. In fact, I have spent all this week inventing a completely new technique that involves a lot of hand drawing and Photoshop. I am developing a look that I have never gone for before in my 15 years as a professional. It is very common, I have found, to have to adapt, learn new software / techniques. So the answer to the question, "which software should I learn?" is really all of them (or as many as you can).

When considering learning and adopting new software into my workflow, I usually approach it by researching with tutorial videos, youTube, etc. Then, I just download the trial and start trying to do stuff with it. If I find tools that will be useful to my process, I try to start adopting them. Sometimes I learn just a small part of the program to fill a specific need. Other times, like with my core software programs, the learning continues forever. The more you learn, the more capable you are of tackling every task that comes your way as an artist in the most effective way.

Here are some good examples of things I have had to learn and adopt throughout my career:

  • V-Ray and 3ds Max - core software, learning is ongoing

  • Digital Sculpting with Mudbox / ZBrush - Mostly used for adding detail or for basic sculpting tasks, generating normal & displace maps, 3d painting, etc.

  • Drone Compositing with After Effects - had to learn to fly a drone / operate a camera, then how to camera match and composite in After Effects

  • Virtual Reality with Unity and Unreal Engine - had to learn to code, and how to operate new, complex software

  • Photoshop - compositing, hand drawn effects, digital painting with a pen tablet, post-processing

  • Video Editing with Premiere and After Effects

  • Photography - creating HDRIs, shooting nice backgrounds for compositing

I could go on, but I will spare you. This list will continue to expand in the future as well, without a doubt.

As you can see, there is a lot to learn (that's what makes the job awesome, btw), and the more you know, the more equipped you will be for making awesome visualizations regardless of each project's unique challenges.


Lumion Architectural Visualization

First of all, there are a couple different software packages we are talking about, that all use real time graphics technology. I think the main ones for architectural visualization right now are Lumion, Twinmotion, Unreal Engine 4 and Enscape. This technology is very important in architecture for two main reasons, speed and ease of use. Oh, and lets not forget that if you are talking about VR, it is also extremely effective and communicating design ideas. Architects LOVE all of this, because it means they can quickly and easily iterate through design ideas with instant feedback. Not only that, but they can communicate those ideas very effectively to the clients. The problem of clients not getting what they expect from a design and has greatly decreased with the advent of this software. The value of this in the design world should not be underestimated.

In contrast to real time, offline rendering solutions (like 3ds Max + V-Ray) focus on extremely accurate, polished images, which can look indistinguishable from a photograph or even live video footage. This certainly is a powerful tool that has its place in arch viz. It is still my core workflow currently. However, sometimes architects don't need a polished image as much as they need something close, that they can have right now. And architects don't tend to care whether the GI calculations are 100% unbiased and physics based, they just want to see a good representation of what is in their head. And this is not to say that something like Lumion can't approach photorealism, because it can, but its true strength is in the speed and ease of use. So, if you want to start achieving photorealism really quick, without a steep learning curve, Lumion is a great option. It isn't the tool for every task an arch viz artist will encounter, but for certain tasks, it can't be beat.

There is a ton more I could say about this subject, and where I think the industry is going, but that will have to be for another post. We haven't even talked about what software we should use to model! I'll stop and give some space to Andy.

Andy is the instructor of's latest Lumion course. He really specializes in real time software solutions, and he has done a great breakdown below of the pros / cons of different software. I added my two cents on V-Ray as well.


As 3d artists and designers, we have an incredible amount of tools at our disposal for rendering. We are going to look at each of the most common rendering packages and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. These comments are based off our professional experience so your mileage may vary:


Cost: Free for now while Unreal Studio is in Beta, UE4 has a royalties system


  • Photo-realistic

  • Unlimited possibilities because it is based off of what your team can think of and build

  • Extremely versatile and tools for everything, art/lighting/blueprints

  • Can add in interactions and animate anything

  • Can render 2D images

  • Can render cinematics extremely quickly

  • Can render 360 renderings using Nvidia Ansel

  • Can create VR experiences

  • Can create standalone programs, apps and desktop tools for any OS

  • Starting templates can make starting a type of project easier

  • Can handle an insane amount of data from 8k textures to millions of polygons

  • Particle effects builder

  • Version control can be used

  • Built by industry professionals

  • Marketplace to purchase assets from other professionals

  • Supports spatialized audio

  • Extensive plugin support with other programs such as Allegorithmic/Quixel

  • Lots of manpower and money behind it thanks to the engines own success and Fortnite

  • Supports IES profiles

  • Solid documentation and community for help, answerhub, UE4 forums, YT, stack overflow, Udemy, books


  • Steep learning curve, each branch is a profession in itself(blueprints/materials/animation/sound etc.)

  • Lightmaps and lightmap bleeding

  • Light Building can take a long time and even crash

  • Architecture pipeline still needs work (datasmith) is not as smooth as others. Have to export then reimport.

  • Material/Blueprint functionality is dependent on user ability, like grunge effects is a series of nodes part of your master material and then instanced

  • Have to make, or purchase 3d assets, although UE4 is free, this is still a cost

  • No camera scene manager so you have to go to each camera and then create a highres screenshot

  • No additional rendering samples. What you see on screen is what you get.

  • Backface culling can be frustrating

  • Having different time of days can be difficult because of the light baking process


  • Updates frequently, leading to project/asset incompatibility and keeping up with the changes can be difficult. Thankfully they do offer patch notes and videos explaining changes


Cost: Free for students, or one time purchase of Lite $1,650, or Pro $3,300 (floating license)


  • Large Asset library for your entourage, trees/plants/cars/people/food/etc

  • Large material library, stones/woods/tiles/metals/etc

  • Real-time Rendering with additional sample rendering to improve rendering quality

  • Live Sync-Instant updates between authoring tools and Lumion

  • Has been in development for 20 years

  • Quick to learn

  • Support for all software packages

  • Photorealistic

  • Built-in rendering presets/templates

  • Purchase once license

  • Can render images

  • Can render cinematics

  • Can render 360 renderings

  • Can be used as a presentation tool (60%) and design tool (40%)

  • Instant weathering effects for grunge

  • Instant edge softener

  • Can render precipitation like snow and rain or change seasons

  • Supports spatialized audio

  • Can animate objects like people/cars to navigate a scene

  • Effects affect the specific view, meaning each rendering view is independent

  • Effects are fully customizable

  • Time of day effect

  • 3D massing models of cities built directly into model

  • Ocean effects

  • Design option tool, easily swap between different design schemes

  • Customizable global illumination

  • Solid Autosave

  • Free for students

  • Supports IES profiles

  • Solid documentation and forum community


  • Expensive upfront, but there are 2 purchasing options and you own it, not subscription-based

  • No direct desktop VR support, only 360 renderings


  • Standalone program


Cost: $449 yearly (fixed seat), or $679 yearly subscription (floating)


  • Live Linked model

  • Import support for all software packages

  • Photo-realistic

  • Built-in presets for foam core mode and heat gain

  • Can render 2d images

  • Can render cinematics

  • Can render 360 renderings

  • 1 Click VR mode for desktop

  • Can be used as a presentation tool (40%) and design tool (60%)

  • Affordable at $679 a year but you do not own the software

  • Walk-through mode lets you walk through the model or fly through it

  • Can deploy a standalone version of the file to give to consultants or clients-but client has to be somewhat "tech savvy" to pilot through

  • Supports spatialized audio

  • Real-time Time of day light function

  • Supports IES profiles

  • User friendly

  • Medium documentation and forum


  • Fairly new player to the render scene, I cannot find anything about them past 2016

  • Relies on Revit/Sketchup for materials. if you need a wood material - you need to provide those texture maps which is extremely time-consuming. Also firm dependent, some firms add materials to their Revit models while some don’t use the textures.

  • Small entourage library

  • No material library

  • Cannot animate objects like people/cars

  • Not too many effects/light customization

  • No 3d city option

  • No ocean function

  • Approximated Global illumination tools, can't customize contribution to final gather

  • No additional rendering samples. What you see on screen is what you get.

  • Documentation can be a bit limited


  • Launches directly out of Revit or Sketchup

  • Effects affect the whole presentation

  • Yearly subscription



  • Free (until November)

  • May have a bridge between UE4

  • Support for all software packages

  • Photorealistic

  • Camera manager with time of day controllers

  • Built in assets for materials and vegetation

  • Friendly UI

  • Open Streetmap

  • Ocean tool

  • Can animate objects like people/cars to navigate a scene

  • Can animate people and vehicles


  • It has an old unreal look-like 4.10ish. Hard to describe

  • Asset library is small but growing

  • Uses dynamic lighting

  • Renders what is on screen

  • Have to manually click sync, does not instantly process changes


  • Difficult to understand how this fits into epic's ecosystem since Datasmith exists

  • If a bridge does come into existence, why use this over UE4?



  • Best visual quality

  • Industry standard

  • Not limited by the software on how realistic you can get

  • Best for compositing with live video or photos

  • Very powerful lighting and shader tools

  • Uses physically accurate GI calculations for lighting

  • Much more control over materials than most real time solutions (the exception being UE4)


  • Steep learning curve

  • Design iteration can be difficult

  • Render times


  • Subscription model

Personal Choices

Andy's software choices based on project

  • Exterior Render: Lumion

  • Interior Render: Lumion for speed/UE4 for quality

  • VR for design and analysis: Enscape

  • Photorealistic VR experiences: UE4

Adam's software choices based on project

*I am a dedicated arch viz guy, so my tasks are usually visualization specific, not design. The designers I work with rely heavily on Enscape and Lumion during the design process.

  • Exterior and Interior Renderings: 3ds Max + V-Ray

  • VR for design and analysis: Enscape

  • Photorealistic VR experiences: UE4

  • Compositing: 3ds Max + V-Ray and Photoshop / After Effects

This debate is like 3ds Max vs Maya, Xbox vs PlayStation, Mac vs PC, Revit vs ArchiCAD. They do 70% of the same things, the remaining 30% is personal taste, speed, cost, and what your goals are that the tool needs to accomplish.

It’s important to remember that there is no one size fits all tool.

#Lumion #Lumionforarchitecturalvisualization #archvizsoftware #twinmotiontraining #twinmotion #ue4 #3dsmax #vray

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