Are photos now being replaced by 3D product renderings?

Kristian, March 15, 2021


Photography replaced painting 150 years ago. Now, in turn, more and more photos are being replaced by 3D product renderings in Switzerland. What is behind the trend of many companies to have their product images visualized in 3D?

And what are the chances and opportunities of 3D product renderings compared to conventional pack shots out of the photo studio? Is it true that product images rendered in 3D can be produced much faster and cheaper than with conventional photography? And where do the enormous cost savings come from for large volumes of items yet still maintaining high image quality?

The arrival of photorealistic materials in the world of product rendering

Until a few years ago, most 3D product renderings were clearly recognizable as CGI, and the images always had an alienating sense of computer-generated perfection. Since the advent of PBR (Physically based rendering), materials are now very photorealistic and can also accurately recreate specific material properties that occur during the production process, such as drawing grooves in aluminum, brushed metal, or paper fibers on packaging.

Automation and CGI for Webshops and Image Databases

If the product range consists of many different labels and packaging and you would like to standardize the product images, 3D can very quickly produce high-resolution images for online stores and catalogs.

The 3D models of the product renderings can be customized with any materials or colors. This offers endless possibilities for presenting and even variations with new textures can be realized quickly and cheaply.

For packaging, it is even possible to generate the textures directly from the print data and variations of the artwork of the packaging, e.g. language adaptations, can be rendered quickly and inexpensively, as well as other views such as the back of the product. All that is needed is a print PDF or open Indesign data, because unlike photography, 3D product renderings do not require real objects to create a photorealistic image.

Professional compositing for product renderings

Watches or jewelry usually have reflective surfaces and the appropriate studio lighting with softboxes is challenging. If you need professional pack shots, image sequences for product rotations or videos despite a low budget, 3D product renderings can help to show the jewelry in the best possible light at a reasonable price.

Also, thanks to 3D rendering in digitized virtual photo studio environments, color adjustments, and complicated corrections of reflections in the object can be made at any time, which would not be possible in reality – guaranteed dust-free. This eliminates the need for time-consuming Photoshop retouching, because in addition to a scalable high resolution, the 3D renderings are also already cropped.

Furthermore, shading on the ground can be controlled and color corrections and post-processing of the product renderings are already included in the 3D setup.

In contrast to photography, which requires real product samples, photorealistic 3D product renderings can be created and delivered within a few hours.

3D animations and sophisticated camera moves

Video productions are demanding and can quickly break the budget. The advantages of 3D animation are low production costs and many new creative options, for example complex camera flights with animatable rotation axes and tilt parameters. It is also possible to define interesting details with exact timing as a close-up shot including depth of field with changing focus points. Another example would be tunnel flights through the object – for example in a product rendering of a watch.

Thousands of product renderings based on excel data

Often marketing managers would like to show their latest products, but often do not have the budget to photograph thousands of products. Especially in the chemical and pharmaceutical segment, 3D product renderings are therefore a popular option to automate image production and showcase even large product palettes in a cost-efficient way.

For a large number of images, a fully automated 3D setup is recommended. This allows labels, tags, fill heights and material variations to be rendered using excel data, including metatags for easy import into product and image databases or image SEO in webshops. After importing the Excel data, quality checks are first performed on the data (e.g. bracket errors in chemical formulas). Then the textures (labels) are generated and the product renderings are produced. Even high-volume jobs can be scaled accordingly, and many 3D studios offer interesting discount rates here.

The future of packshots

On one hand, I miss the quiet afternoons in photo studios and the moment when you finally see the first photos on the screen after the exhausting setup of the lights. On the other hand, it’s also quite tedious (and expensive) to manually crop hundreds of packshots, retouch them and stamp away the dust.

With 3D product renderings, all retouching work can be integrated directly into the 3D setup and after a click on the render button, it is time to go home – with the certainty of having thousands of ready-to-ship product images the next morning.