Free Stand-Alone Rendering Software

So you’ve created your 3D model… now what? Many 3D design programs have their own renderer built in, but some don’t. You may need an external program to create images. In other cases, the software may include its own renderer, but it may not have all of the features that a stand-alone renderer provides.

If you’ve never tried a stand-alone renderer before and want to try one, here is a list of well-known stand-alone 3D rendering programs that are available from their creators free-of-charge:

Note: This list is in no particular order. I wasn’t sure how to rank them, as render output is often a matter of type of artwork and personal preference.


POV-Ray is one of the most popular of the free, stand-alone rendering programs. As such, it’s very well supported by many third-party modeling tools. POV-Ray is a CSG-based raytracer, able to render effects like reflections and caustics. It also has a very powerful script-like scene description language. The scene description language is POV-Ray’s greatest pro and con. It allows you to create very complex scenes with only a few lines of code, but it makes it much more difficult for beginners to learn. Source code is available.


3Delight is a professional-quality RenderMan-compliant renderer. 3Delight has been used in films such as Superman and Charlotte’s Web. Licenses are normally about $1000 each, but your first license to the software is free.


MegaPov is an unofficial collection of patches for POV-Ray. It adds additional features such as built-in post processing and HDR rendering. In the past, some of the features of MegaPov eventually made their way into the official version of POV-Ray, but for the most part the added features of MegaPov are experimental in nature.


Kerkythea is a ray-trace based renderer supporting physically-based materials and lights. It has an OpenGL-based GUI you can use to preview and setup your scene. Because Kerkythea is a relative newcomer, it doesn’t have the third-party support of some of the other renderers and doesn’t import as many file formats. However, hopefully that will improve in the future as it appears to be under active development.


Indigo is a physically-based renderer with built-in TCP\IP network renderering. Indigo employs Monte-Carlo path tracing to create its images. Path tracing is a close-cousin to ray tracing. Each ray is recursively traced along a path until it reaches a source of light, theoretically calculating a more accurate result.


Aqsis is an open-source renderer released under GPL. It is RenderMan-compliant. It is a Reyes-based (scanline) renderer and supports procedural shaders. It’s documentation is currently a work-in-progress.

3D VirtualLight

VirtualLight is a freeware global illumination renderer. It’s not RenderMan compliant, however, it utilizes a not-dissimilar scene description interface. It uses a combination scanline renderer\raytraced shadows to produce its images. It also has an OpenGL preview mode.

EDIT: The VirtualLight site seems to have gone off-line, but you may still be able to find it out there.


Sunflow is an open-source renderer written in Java. Its stated primary purpose is as a framework for experimenting with global illumination and other rendering algorithms, but it can be used as a stand-alone renderer. Sunflow supports a number of features, but is at present mostly undocumented making its usefulness to beginners somewhat limited. On the other hand, it’s object-oriented code layout may make it of some interest to programmers.


Pixie is an open-source renderer with support for the RIB format. It is licensed under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL). Pixie is a pet project one of the professors at University of Texas.


Gelato is the free version of Nvidia’s Gelato Pro. Gelato is a GPU-based renderer. It uses the hardware features of your PC’s video card to accelerate the rendering process of non-realtime images. It requires a 3D card with a Nvidia GPU to run.
If you can think of anything good I may have missed, please feel free to post a comment!

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6 Responses to “Free Stand-Alone Rendering Software”

  1. Olivier Says:

    Hi Lisa, luuckyy from the AC3D forum (h)
    I can think of something good about PovRay : *PoseRay*
    It’s a cool free software that helps setting the scene, tweaking the materials and so and so …, within a GUI … but I’m sure you already know it 😉

  2. Tadd Says:

    You forgot YAFRAY –
    And Toxic –

    Never used Toxic, but it looks promising.

    Also, 3D VirtualLight is broken. Bummer too.

  3. johnno Says:

    Awesome, there is also a great list of free renderers at

  4. Mac Adobe Says:

    Mac Adobe…

    […]Independent Developer » Blog Archive » Free Stand-Alone Rendering Software[…]…

  5. Yegeta Says:

    Thanks for the list
    However, if i am not mistaken Indigo is not free?

    Did you check it before posting?

  6. Bryan Says:

    They still have a free version.