The Best Render Plugins for SketchUp

We've brought together a list of our favorite tried and tested SketchUp rendering plugins based on output, workflow, and budget...
Render Plugins for SketchUp

SketchUp is a 3D modeling program that it is employed for an immense variety of projects such as architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, and video game design, among many many others.

With its user-friendly tool set and intuitive interface, it is swiftly developing into one of the most commonly adopted 3D modeling programs in the architecture and design industries, and it’s obvious to see why.

In today’s world, it’s essential to know what products look like and how they operate long before being released into the market. But seeing designs realistically means you require 3D rendering programs.

On that account, there are tools you can use with SketchUp to achieve beautifully crafted rendered results but as with all 3D plugins, there are of course a lot of options available to you.

So to make this easier, we have brought together a list of our favorite tried and tested rendering plugins based on output, workflow, and budget.

Why use SketchUp for rendering?

Due to their being dozens of modeling and rendering software in the market, identifying the one that will perform the best for you is no easy task. But for architecture and product design, SketchUp is an excellent starting point

Best Render Plugins for SketchUp

SketchUp is an incredibly powerful tool in the 3D visualization industry. With its flexible and simple learning curves, SketchUp suits best for modeling architecture, structures, site plans, furniture, and mechanical devices, for example. Unlike many others programs, it is also very good at illustrating reality closely. You can moreover put your model within “Google Earth” right on the actual location! 

SketchUp is one of the most easy-to-learn and easy-to-use 3D modeling programs on the market. You can somewhat become skilled in SketchUp within just a few days. Its patented ‘push and pull’ process certainly helps with this, as it allows users to effortlessly maneuver any 2D and 3D geometry with just a single click.

The program covers drawing layout functionality and surface rendering while supporting third-party plugins from the Extension Warehouse. It almost becomes a digital adaptation of your concept sketch.

SketchUp comes in three distinct segments to cater to the needs of designers of various standards across the enterprise:

  1. SketchUp Make
  2. SketchUp Pro
  3. SketchUp Free

Whether you aim to model for 3D printing or for game design and development, SketchUp offers all the tools required to produce professional and well crafted results, even for a complete beginner. Pair this with any one of the below rendering plugins, and it really becomes a 3D powerhouse.

Does SketchUp have a renderer?

Though you can accomplish so much with SketchUp, it has some limitations. One of the significant limitations is its out of the box rendering means. SketchUp does not have a built-in renderer.

To render with SketchUp and get photorealistic images of your model, you will need to download and install a compatible rendering plug-in.

SketchUp has styles that can in some measure make your model look more artistic or sketchy, which is a process drawn from just a few clicks of your mouse – which also allows you to create your own custom styles and save them to a library.

But, mostly, you want to use an a secondary plug-in (known as a render engine) to get visually appealing results. V-Ray, Enscape, Maxwell, and Twilight are some common ones.

Can you render in SketchUp for free?

With so many good products available, there are few plugins that let you render for free. Some of the most popular plugins include Blender and Kerkythea.

If you are a student, there are a few plugins such as V-Ray, Enscape, Maxwell, Keyshot also offer educational access. All you have to do is provide a proof of your student status and qualify for special pricing. This allows you to enjoy software licenses temporarily at a substantially cut down cost.

Can you render in SketchUp without plugins?

A principal point of modeling with SketchUp is to spawn imagery for presentation. While there are a couple default textures and materials to render your models without plugins, SketchUp’s built-in renderer produces images that are, well, lifeless.

So here, the answer is no. For a rendering, you need additional rendering software to work along SketchUp. This is where rendering plugins come in.

SketchUp render plugins are some of the frequently argued subjects in digital modeling. Rendering plugins widen SketchUp’s potentials by boosting photorealistic lighting and materials. These may help with generating lifelike images, establishing a more extensive material library, or even operate tools that aren’t available in the basic SketchUp.

Irrespective of whether you are an architect or designer, a rendering plugin is a valuable tool that can help you get your SketchUp models to the next standard.

The Best Render Plugins for SketchUp

…lets get into the review and breakdown.

V-Ray

Well appreciated for its realism and quality in the architecture community, V-Ray is among the most powerful rendering engines available today. It creates real-time, photorealistic rendering and brings a collection of intricate design tools into SketchUp that take your 3D models to the next level.

Many professional digital modelers use it for its skill to bring SketchUp to its full capacity. As a standalone program from Chaos, it offers powerful, detailed models with sharp rendering speeds. 

With its friendly user-interface, V-Ray is convenient for all standards of 3D artists, both learners and trained professionals. We strive for the most aesthetic result possible with the tools provided and thanks to their material editor we get various textures to choose from.

This makes it effortless to adapt to the plug-in, allowing us to create photorealistic images quickly. With its real-world cameras you can adjust white balance, exposure, and depth of field. It’s relatively simple to dive straight in because it comes with so many predefined materials and settings!

V-Ray comes with a rich learning curve and if you are wondering where to begin, there are bundles of resources and tutorials available that cover every aspect of this vast program. 

Key Features:

  • It allows you to envision your designs in real-time.
  • With V-Ray Denoiser, you can eliminate noise and dramatically reduce the render times
  • It comes with an incorporated assets library
  • You can take care of all your scene files in one place.
  • With V-Rray Frame Buffer, you can track render history and fine-tune color, exposure, render elements and more.
  • You can alter the lights in your scene even after you render.
  • You can work like a photographer with its real-world cameras, with controls for exposure, white balance, depth of field and more.

Pros:

  • High speed and high quality
  • Good material library
  • Interactive rendering
  • Enables progressive rendering and provides deep image composition
  • Supports different software

Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve
  • Requires precise setup for desired lighting output.
  • Heavy for the system

Pricing for V-Ray: V-Ray’s complete visualization suite for SketchUp is $694.80 per year.

Thea

Thea Render is a 3D rendering engine that blends with SketchUp to enrich your designs. This renderer comes with its own standalone application with various tools and material editors. You can also use it in synergy with modeling applications. 

Thea has an array of excellent render methods, thus allowing you to flip works between designs more quickly than other plugins. The most exciting feature of Thea is that it allows you to run Interactive Rendering either inside Thea’s window or directly inside the SketchUp view.

You can also render a desired region of the SketchUp view via Interactive Region Rendering, and with its variety of rendering modes, it also reduces your PC’s memory consumption by treating the same models in your design as a separate object to be refined. 

Be it layering, tone-mapping, displacement, or textures, Thea brings you a broad material library which can easily be accessed for your specific needs, with the option of further loading additional libraries in a SketchUp or Thea format.

While Thea may not offer you the same rendering quality as the other plugins spoken of here, its rendering speed and its fantastic material lab will definitely draw you in.

Whether you prefer to render using biased or unbiased methods, Thea is packed with features. With Thea, you can design in SketchUp and render on the go!

Key Features:

  • Thea gives you an interactive rendering experience with prompt feedback.
  • With The Relight Editor, you can generate unlimited images from a single rendering. 
  • Its Adaptive Tracing feature allows you to solve difficult lighting situations.
  • You can create high-quality noise-free images with the Al denoiser feature.
  • It allows you to acquire full creative control over realistic looking, physically based materials.

Pros:

  • Uncompromising photo genuine quality that looks just as good as V-Ray 
  • Easy on budget
  • Fast settings; just aim and hit render
  • Great renders with low impact on memory

Cons: 

  • Weak denoiser for interior renders
  • Buggy studio interface
  • Poor customer support

Pricing for Thea: Thea has two versions: you can download one for free, or buy the complete version for $280 for an annual license and $675 for a 3-year license

Enscape

If you are seeking a rendering engine that designs, visualizes, and documents simultaneously using a single model, Enscape has a lot to offer.

Enscape is a professional real-time architectural rendering software that runs seamlessly with many BIM and CAD programs. It strikes the ideal balance between ease-of-use and a wide variety of feature arrays. With its live link, your 3D models and your 3D rendering imagery can work parallel, allowing you to see the impact of every change moment you make.

Enscape gives photo-realistic yield, employing the latest techniques for accurate ensues. It hooks up with multiple BIM and CAD programs. Enscape works seamlessly with SketchUp, Revit, Archicad, and other BIM tools. Atmospheric settings like clouds, time of day, white mode, and depth of field help users create fascinating scenes.

With Enscape, you get a wide range of features and tools for creating walkthroughs and 360-degree panoramas, along with built-in material library with an amazing array of vegetation, entourage, objects, materials, and others to choose from.

The immediate production of lifelike ideas allows the team to look at design alternatives and critique and select design direction. The platform also makes it easy to collaborate with clients and stakeholders.

You can easily share videos, stills, and 360-degree panoramas via batch exports or one-by-one. It allows you to walk through your space right after creating it.

Key Features:

  • Enscape’s real-time technology allows you to visualize your project as a fully rendered 3D walkthrough which can be maneuvered and examined from every angle.
  • You can calculate lighting and reflections at a considerable speed therefore giving you impressively detailed renders swiftly. 
  • It provides you with a feature to adjust the time of day to see the clouds travel across the dynamic Enscape sky.
  • Its rich asset library will help you fill your scene with life and make it more realistic.
  • Enscape is compatible with most of the leading design software packages and works directly within your CAD / BIM tool.

Pros: 

  • Built-in asset library spares a lot of time
  • Provides the ability to check and evaluate any changes made
  • High quality walk through animation
  • Helps in the detection of the collisions to avoid mistakes early in the project
  • Faster and lighter

Cons:

  • Does not allow producing batch 360 renderings or animations
  • Files are large if complex geometric objects exist in the rendering
  • Night modes with light aren’t their strength

Pricing for Enscape is only $74.90 per month for a full version license you can share across multiple machines. There is also a 14-day free trial available. You can go through the official website for more information.

Render[in]

Render[in] is a well-integrated, real-time rendering tool fashioned for SketchUp users that produces realistic images, applying advanced materials and lighting controls. It uses the same settings as SketchUp making it pleasant for users to generate high-definition, photorealistic renderings in a robust, easy-to-use application. 

With its real-time rendering feature, Render[in] allows you to customize designs with textures, materials, and camera effects and then preview it in real-time. It gives you a vast material framework, such as reflection and gloss, with added surrounding settings like realistic skies and ground textures such as grass, water and sand.

The platform’s 360-degree panoramas provide you with a feature to create interactive virtual tours and present them to clients on any device.

Render[in] provides professional benefits in terms of time savings, allowing you to apply advanced options and get a realistic 3D view. Using its material editor, you can also forecast shadow computations and create models and scenarios flexible to the client’s stipulations. 

Key Features: 

  • The preview window allows you to follow each step of your rendering in real time until you get the desired result.
  • Render[in]’s presetting brings you with several pre-defined mood modes such as indoor, outdoor, lowlight with different calculation speeds.
  • You can create virtual shadows in all areas where natural light does not reach, therefore giving more intensity and relief to both indoor and outdoor scenes.
  • Its wealthy material settings allow you to attain strikingly realistic HD renderings.
  • Render[in] comes with various pre-defined environments.
  • Its visual effect called Architect Camera allows you to get a 2-point perspective that keeps vertical lines parallel.

Pros:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Good response speed
  • A good place to start if you are new to renderings

Cons:

  • not compatible with previous versions
  • The applications are heavy
  • requires a good computer with ample Ram memory 

Pricing for Render[in]: $225 for full version. $112 for upgrades.

Maxwell

Another popular software well suited to architectural rendering needs is Maxwell Render. It is a dedicated photo-renderer, with a rendering engine that runs entirely inside of SketchUp.

This program blends an artistic user interface with a dynamic set of rendering toolboxes which can be used fluently for both professionals and newcomers. With its easy-to-learn platform, it offers everything you need to experience reality in your models and attain professional results – even while working on a deadline!

Maxwell mimics light and materials precisely as they behave in the real world. It blends lighting with materials to create highly realistic and accurate images.

The camera parameters of the program are configured as an actual camera with light intensity calculated by real-world values. It also provides you with an expanded library of materials, thus giving you more options to work with. 

With Maxwell’s reduced setup time and easy-to-use interface, you can simply create complex scenes and get the best architectural renders. It also allows you to set a time for a specific render. The longer you let the rendering engine work its magic, the stronger the structure of the rendering you get.

It also gives you an option to generate images swiftly if you are meeting with a client or testing out ideas.

Key Features:

  • You can find thousands of online materials available in Maxwell’s community based library. 
  • To boost realism, Maxwell provides you with a feature to set optical properties such as f-stop, focal length, shutter speed, ISO, film size yourself according to your requirements. 
  • It also allows you to set multiple computers to render one animation frame.
  • Its memory saving instances are an excellent way to save memory when rendering.
  • The Multilight feature eliminates the need to re-render images when light variations are needed and thus allows the user to change depths of individual lights and multiple scene emitters.
  • Maxwell includes an integrated denoiser solution to help achieve noise free images.

Pros: 

  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Easy to learn and use
  • Multi-light rendering features 
  • Amazing shading and lighting qualities
  • Reliable 

Cons: 

  • Slow at rendering
  • Does not display all the details.
  • Unbiased rendering leads to slower render times

Pricing for Maxwell: $595 with free trial available. It works on both Windows and Mac systems. There are free and licensed versions available.

Keyshot

Keyshot is a stand-alone 3D rendering software devised for designing interactive visuals. It comes with an easy-to-use platform with quick rendering speed and scientifically accurate materials.

In addition, Keyshot’s real-time 3D rendering displays results immediately and reduces the time needed to generate realistic product images. It not only gives a smooth, straightforward user interface, but it’s toolset also presents an amazing learning curve that makes getting the complex details a breeze. 

Keyshot offers you a faster, smoother way to generate amazing photographic visuals of your 3D models. This rendering tool has an immense library of physically accurate materials that are drag-and-drop assigned to a 3D file.

It does a good job with curves, hard surfaces, lighting and eliminating noise and artifacts. You can set presets, interactive labeling, structure mapping, physical illumination, animation and more. It comprises built-in workflows for every step and switches automatically to update every part of the project as soon as you make changes.

Keyshot supports the entire development cycle from the earliest stages of design, to presenting to clients and promoting work, and is the only software that is completely standalone with its own UI, its own library of materials, and volumetric lighting effects.

Key Features:

  • With Keyshot’s minimal but powerful user interface, you get all the options you need for advanced visualization and none of the clutter to interfere with workflow.
  • Its unique real-time rendering technology makes it possible to see all changes to materials, lighting, and cameras instantly.
  • It comes with advanced lighting capabilities that create the most authentic lighting for basic studio shots or the highly complex interior lighting.
  • You can see every change from material and lighting to cameras and animations instantly as you work.
  • Its toon shading feature allows you to create non-photorealistic renderings suited for technical documentation, patent drawings and more.
  • It comes with an impressive Sun & Sky generation with date, time, and location, such that you can place the sun where you desire it in the HDRI.

Pros:

  • Simple and intuitive interface
  • Easy to use for quick renderings
  • Does not require specialized hardware and without a dedicated graphics card
  • Allows real-time rendering
  • Doesn’t require complicated integrations 

Cons:

  • Expensive compared to other software 
  • Can’t change geometry like a standard 3D software 
  • Does not rely on GPU rendering.

Pricing for Keyshot: License for Keyshot starts at $995.

Twilight

Twilight’s platform might be one of the best beginner-friendly options on this list. This intuitive plugin handles the entire process of rendering, from lighting and environmental effects, to materials. It gives you zero distorted geometry or lost textures.

Twilight Render is like the training wheels of all SketchUp rendering plugins. It will create great renders without requiring a workstation with a high graphics card.

This rendering engine is not a rendering plugin on par with V-Ray and Maxwell. However, if you’re getting used to SketchUp and learning to create photorealistic models, Twilight Render is a great place to learn the ins and outs of materials. 

Twilight Render also comes with a vast material library with commonly used architectural textures with render-ready materials that will help you create dazzling architectural visualizations.  

​​Features:

  • It comes with advanced easy-to-adjust material templates that help make editing simple.
  • Twilight provides an extensive set of photo-realistic render settings, such as ray and path tracing, photon mapping, light transport, and more.
  • With its intuitive camera setup, you can render exactly what you see in SketchUp.
  • It provides you with a flexible and extensive lighting tools point.
  • Twilight’s Render Cut Section feature renders visible section cuts and handles section planes inside components and entire scene.

Pros:

  • Specifically geared to non-specialists
  • Simple user interface
  • Decent image output

Cons:

  • Does not support high DPI screens
  • Slow rendering speed compared to other render plugins
  • Does not render complex geometries

Pricing for Twilight: It comes in both free and paid versions. A single-user license for Twilight Render starts at only 99 USD. 

Summary

Conveying a concept can sometimes be a challenge. Whether you are taking part in design competitions or presenting your work for critique, 3D modeling and rendering play an important role in projects communication. It helps in the understanding of design, textures, lighting effects, and environmental situations.

We feel that there’s something here for everyone, but the best way to establish a work flow is really to just start experimenting with a few until you find one that works for your individual requirements. For us its Vray.

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