Repeatedly, people say that conventional brick & mortar stores are at a disadvantage in the modern world, where customers have the option to shop from the comfort of their own homes. Physical stores require more effort to visit and rarely offer the same variety as their virtual counterparts.
It’s also easier and quicker for buyers to browse hundreds of products in many different online stores rather than spending hours walking through a mall. But despite all those downsides, physical stores have the ultimate advantage over their digital competitors—the presence of the actual products.
Say a mother and her kid walk into a large store that sells toys. Immediately, they’ll find themselves among tall and wide shelves filled with stuffed animals, die-cast action figures, dolls, RC cars and helicopters, LEGOs, game consoles, playhouses, and all sorts of miniaturized vehicles with flashing lights. Most stores even allow customers to hold and try playing with some toys.
The same thing applies to physical stores that sell clothing products, school supplies, computers, furniture, construction tools, and just about everything else. In online stores, they cannot touch, let alone try the products being displayed.
Online stores understand the issue all too well. While they cannot provide the same experience as physical stores, they can optimize product presentation. If customers cannot touch and feel it, the most effective way to convince them to buy is through effective visualization. Humans can process images much faster than they are able to understand text. Product descriptions still matter, but text alone is not going to be as eye-catching as pictures.
Freelance 3D visualization services don’t just take photographs of products in front of plain-colored backgrounds. To make those pictures appear as realistic as possible, there must be some true-to-life elements surrounding the products.
Compelling visualization does a great job convincing buyers even when they cannot touch and try the products before purchasing. However, getting high-quality, attractive images can be a time-consuming endeavor, especially if an online store has hundreds of products to display.
Before 3D rendering came on the scene, the only method for product visualization in online stores was photography. In the past, photorealistic imagery was photography. As computer imagery continues to develop, 3D CAD turns from being a novelty into being mainstream. Product visualization is no longer a market dominated by photographers; it’s now a field where freelance 3D visualizers of varying experience levels offer their services.
At a glance, photography seems to be simpler than 3D rendering, but in reality, a photographer is not just anybody who can operate a camera. It takes a good understanding of proper lighting, image composition, viewing angle, depth of field, and putting all that knowledge into a shot to capture a realistic picture.
On the other hand, 3D rendering is often regarded as the more sophisticated method. An artist creates or uses a pre-made 3D model of an object then puts it into a fabricated digital environment that depicts a real-world setting. All elements in the frame, including shadows and lighting, are computer-generated, meaning there can be limitless versions of visualization for the same product without using any physical object at all. A professional 3D modeling service can produce the same product visualization as an image by a photographer seemingly out of thin air, but not always the other way around.
The basic process has always been generally the same: products or samples are selected then put into some carefully staged scenes before the photographer captures the images. There is also post-processing to make the image look more realistic and appealing.
If something goes wrong or product visualization requires a different scene, the photographer does everything repeatedly, making it a little less practical than it should be. But being less than ideal does not make photography a complete loss. It still has its place in both the manufacturing and retail industry for several reasons:
- Manufacturer’s Stock Photos
Business owners can use photos provided by manufacturers to save costs of product visualization. It is quick, easy, and free. Manufacturers often have basic photos of their products in front of a plain background and are willing to provide them to wholesalers, who then share the images with retailers.
Basic photos are not always bad; manufacturing services can only benefit from producing good quality product visualization because end consumers may rely on those photos to decide. More sales in the retail market may lead to larger purchases by wholesalers from manufacturers. At the end of the day, every company in product distribution makes money.
One aspect where photography shines much stronger than 3D rendering is authenticity. You can certainly argue that 3D design services generally want to render like a photographer. The final image must present real-world views from just the right angle with a precise amount of lighting to make the visualization as authentic as possible. It wouldn’t be silly to say that rendered images should look as if they were photographs.
There are product categories of which buyers want to see actual photos instead of 3D rendered visualizations. One of the most obvious examples is jewelry, especially the types made with precious materials. Buyers want to see gold necklaces, rare antiques, luxury watches, and diamond rings in authentic photos, not computer imagery.
Not everybody can create a high-quality rendering of any object. It may take months, if not years, and a reasonable investment in computer hardware before anybody can master the required skills. Most online store owners are not experts in 3D CAD. On the other hand, most people can use a point-and-shoot camera. Even if they cannot produce the same quality as professionals, at the very least, they can learn a trick or two online.
They may not need to have a camera because their smartphones can do the job quite well anyway. If necessary, anyone can take multiple shots of the same object with different camera settings and various backgrounds then choose one representing the product best. This trial-and-error process should take just about an hour, maybe less.
Doing It Right
As mentioned earlier, not every product is best visualized as a 3D model, even on a computer screen for an online store listing. Besides jewelry and second-hand consumer goods, other products you may want to photograph include fashion accessories and clothing. You can create 3D models for jackets, hats, shoes, sunglasses, pants, and gowns to highlight their best features.
However, potential buyers like to see the products (or the samples) on actual people before purchasing. When product design services need to capture human interactions, photography can probably capture the emotional connections between users and the products better than computer imagery.
The basic photography checklist for product visualization must include the following points:
- Make sure you do it in a well-lit environment.
- Shoot from a tripod for greater consistency.
- Capture enough images from various angles to get more variety.
- Post-processing to refine photographs before uploading.
And if you have the resources, there is nothing wrong with hiring a professional photo studio to handle your product visualization. The more products you have, the more money you’ll spend on visualization.
The level of realism you can get from photography done right is unbeatable. Photographers may use artificial light sources, camera effects, and sophisticated post-processing effects, but the eventual results are images of actual objects. If you handle the photography work without product engineering services, the routine is all too familiar. You select the objects, capture the photos, do a little bit of refinement, and upload.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks. Unlike computer imagery, the level of correction opportunities with photography is relatively limited. You can change important elements like colors, brightness, exposure, luminance, and so on in RAW file format, but all of those pale compared to what you can do to a computer image. An example is that you can change the focus point of a 3D rendering to anything you want.
The biggest downside is the cost. Every single variation of product visualization almost certainly needs a different lighting setup, lenses, and, if necessary, an entire backdrop with decoration. Hiring a professional photographer for the job takes a lot of money because you also essentially rent the equipment. If you do this on your own and expect equally good results, it would take not only a lot of money but a lot of work too.
There is no camera involved in 3D rendering. The various things you see in images both on screen and in print do not necessarily exist in the real world. They are based on physical objects, especially when the visualization aims to advertise actual products. Instead of using cameras to capture photos, 3D rendering relies on CAD software to create photorealistic images. Examples of such software are Enscape, V-Ray, SolidWorks Visualize, and 3Delight, to name just a few.
At first, the main object or the product is drawn in 3D using CAD software. The 3D model is then rendered into images alongside other photorealistic elements such as lighting, shadows, textures, and more complementary objects to create a complete scene.
Because everything is digitally fabricated on screen, the entire process of creating 3D rendered images requires nothing but a computer (with reasonable powerful hardware) and appropriate software. In the hands of skillful artists, seemingly standard equipment can produce hyper-realistic imagery that looks like a professional photographer’s work with all the right settings, lighting conditions, and ideal environment—if not better.
The workflow is relatively straightforward too. Once the industrial design service has enough information about the product specification, the work begins with creating a detailed 3D model. Next, the model is put into a digital scene with all the needed elements, including lighting intensity and direction, material texture and colors, background view, and so on.
These other elements are modifiable; it is possible to remove them and only use the product’s rendered image with a blank background or replace them with something else to create various scenes. There is no limit as to what the result will look like. Between photography and 3D rendering, there is a massive difference in almost every aspect, as outlined below:
Photography does not happen without the presence of physical objects, in this case, the product. Imagine an online store owner wanting to have every product photographed and use the shots for listing. An online store that sells hundreds of products may have to hire photorealistic rendering services for a whole month to complete the project or send a sample of every product to a photo studio.
On the other hand, 3D rendering requires no physical object to photograph. Everything is made entirely within a digital space on a computer screen. That same store owner should only send images of the products—captured using smartphones or a basic camera—instead of the real artifacts to a professional 3D artist.
Additional information such as product specifications and detailed instructions are also necessary, but they are easy to produce anyway. Using the information provided, an experienced artist can create photorealistic product visualization for the listing. The only camera involved in the process is the store owners.
Most people don’t know about hiring a photographer because the cost of the job covers labor and the equipment used. Professional photographers’ work includes at least setting up multiple cameras, creating the background set, and adjusting artificial light sources. If the photographer has to rent the equipment, the client must also cover the cost; if the photographer has all the necessary equipment, there can be maintenance cost involved. Also, nearly all photos need post-processing, which adds to the total cost.
One can argue that 3D commercial rendering services or any form of computer imagery requires some serious computing power. Therefore, the expensive hardware configuration is necessary, and that is not cheap. The good thing is that 3D artists never charge their clients for that. Otherwise, every 3D rendered image of product visualization will cost thousands of dollars. That is fortunately not the case at all.
The cost is only for the labor, so it depends solely on the specifics of the task at hand. The number of rendered images and their quality or resolution play the most significant factors. The amount of project revision may also increase the price, but clients can avoid that by providing detailed instructions, to begin with. There is no equipment to rent or maintenance cost to cover.
Proper lighting and shadows are crucial to improve the realism factor and define the aesthetics of an image. Together they create the backbone of a scene surrounding the product. At the same time, lighting is one of the biggest challenges in photography. Getting the right intensity and direction of natural lighting for an ideal shot is not always a certainty. Shadows in the wrong places within the frame can be difficult to avoid without additional equipment.
To get a proper product visualization, the photographer will have to wait until rays of sunlight hit the right spot before pressing the shutter button. An artificial lighting setup cost may not be overly expensive, but it can be for a small business owner. Large objects like the dinner table, vehicles, or reflective surfaces may require a more complicated setup, more time to get right, and more money.
These two elements of product visualization are never troublesome in 3D rendering. Since the image is created digitally, the artist has all the power to control how much lighting is needed, how it behaves, in what direction it comes from, how the sunlight affects product colors, and so on.
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All those aspects are integral parts of the 3D rendering process. Again, there is no additional equipment to create every scene, so it does not affect pricing, yet the quality is often better than photographed images.
Some products are best represented in product visualization that showcases how they are used in real life. Visualization does not merely display what a product looks like, but it’s put within a believable context to which people can relate. In addition to a stand-alone exploded view of the product, the image should also depict a real-world situation where an end-user is portrayed to bump into a problem and then find an easy, effective solution. The main point is to show how buyers can improve their lives thanks to the product.
In photography, you must build the set and arrange the props to get the perfect shot. On top of that, there is lighting equipment in various spots for clarity and dramatic effect.
As mentioned earlier, every different scene calls for some significant changes to the set. If necessary, the photographer may travel to various locations to capture the landscape. The whole enterprise comes at a steep cost, partly because you must pay for the service provided by human models.
Unlike in photography, where every scene must be staged carefully to convey and deliver the intended message, 3D rendering does not use any physical background to achieve the same purpose. Scenes and backgrounds are all created within a digital workspace, so making changes is done on screen.
Every prop is also a digital image that can be removed, replaced, and modified quickly. Believe it or not, humans can be 3D rendered as well with the hyper-realistic level of details. They may not be natural, but convincingly so that it can be unbeatably useful if a product visualization requires imaginary characters.
When you have the same product but in different colors and materials, creating identical visualization scenes for all the options is easy with 3D rendering. It’s not exactly difficult with photography, but the alternative can accomplish the same task much quicker. Ideally, the photographer can use a sample of every variation, then capture the shot without changing the camera setting and background.
Any modern 3D rendering software is likely to provide built-in color and texture selections for natural and fabricated materials. Many different finishes are available. All the freelance 3D product modeling service has to apply them to the product and adjust the affected elements such as shadows and gradient accordingly. The need to produce multiple renderings will increase the project budget, but only because of the amount of repetitive work, not the task’s complexity.
If you’re a manufacturer developing a new product, an architectural design service currently on a project to build a new structure, or a designer tasked to select sets of furniture, 3D rendering is the most effective product visualization method because there is no need to have a prototype apart from 3D models.
Creating a physical prototype is not cheap, and even more so for products with intricate details and premium materials. Furthermore, if the prototype requires more refinements, you must spend more money to build a new one. This is especially true in the luxury goods market segment, including jewelry, watches, high fidelity sound equipment, and exclusive limited-edition products.
The same thing applies to the real estate industry, where architectural 3D modeling services must use product visualization for marketing their products. In most cases, the marketing campaign for houses starts even before construction begins, so photography for product visualization is simply impossible. Interior designers may have to offer clients various options and let them choose from dozens of available selections.
With 3D rendering, product visualization does not necessarily need physical prototypes or objects. Potential buyers can see what you have to offer on websites or prints without requiring you to purchase the products first.
Using only a blueprint, sketches, and a 3D model, a rendering artist can create stunning and, more importantly, accurate visualizations of products that are not yet in existence. Used for a marketing campaign, rendered images can help you convince customers even if you haven’t actually produced anything but plans. It gets better if you allow interested buyers to propose changes or personalization to the theoretical products.
How 3D Rendering Helps Save Money
The first thing that comes to mind is the increasingly affordable cost of product visualization, mainly due to the absence of photographers and expensive equipment. In contrast, with 3D rendering, you only have to hire the artist (or a team of artists), and that’s about it. Apart from that, there are other money-saving benefits from the technology, including but not limited to:
- Flexibility: Before you agree to the presented product visualization, you can make any changes to any element anytime you want. Some artists allow for one or two instances of revisions free of charge if the modifications do not stray too far from the original project. You don’t have to restart all over and spend more money.
- Shortened design cycles: The easiest way to showcase an upcoming product to customers is to present it in a photorealistic visualization. In large products like furniture or houses, the rapid prototyping process often has to be eliminated from the process due to budget limitations. Thanks to 3D rendering, buyers can see what the final version of the product should look like. Now that you don’t have to build a prototype, the design cycle is much shorter.
- Streamlined manufacturing process: Product visualization with 3D rendering allows everyone to collaborate more easily. The reason is that not only can they communicate design changes, but they can implement them much more quickly compared to photography. Modifications in design or aesthetics are neither overly difficult nor expensive when done on screen.
All those benefits mean manufacturing services, architects, online store owners, and every business that requires product visualization to reach their target customers and accelerate product introductions and marketing campaigns.
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