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3D Renderings vs Photography, Which is Better?

3D Renderings vs Photography, Which is Better?

The technology behind creating 3D renders of products and environments has become so advanced that telling the difference from actual photography has now become impossible in some cases. Both techniques have benefits and limitations.  

3D Rendering Advantages

  1. Greatly reduced time to market
  2. Overall cost
  3. Immediate changes/revisions
  4. Quality and consistency 
  5. Creative limitations

Photography Advantages

  1. Create authenticity in action/lifestyle environments
  2. Quick and dirty
  3. User-based packaging features
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Authenticity vs Convenience


  • Photography gets the nodFor authenticity & realism

  • Rendering is bestFor pre-production launches


DetailsPhotography vs Rendering

3D Rendering Advantages

Greatly reduce time to market

For new product launches, images can be created to represent your product before it may even physically exist. This reduces your time-to-market significantly, as many visual communication materials for retail or B2B can be created and worked through well ahead of the product launch rather than waiting for the final product and packaging to be produced and then starting production on those materials.

This is advantageous on many levels:

  • Creation of sales presentations for pre-production commitments
  • Generating visual materials for marketing campaigns and a web presence
  • Proof of concept and visualization of structural package and graphic design changes without prototyping
  • Creating an image library to meet retailer specifications that is ready to go upon launch

Overall cost

To create images to show the world your new product packaging or rebranding look, quite a few material expenses would occur traditionally. The following can all be reduced greatly or eliminated entirely when using 3D renderings.

  • An actual product and/or retail package mockups
  • Props for whatever environment the product would be shown in
  • A studio or location set rental
  • Models (for in-use or lifestyle settings)
  • Retouching for defects, dirt, or damage
  • Coordination time for arranging the above

Immediate changes/revisions

With the 3D rendering process the, packaging, branding, and retail environments can be changed “on-the-fly”. No waiting for prototypes, packaging mockups, location availability etc.

Quality & consistency

There is no dust, dirt or wind in a digital environment. Unless of course you want there to be. Lighting, angles, and color can all be meticulously controlled for a perfect and repeatable look between multiple products and “picking up where we left off” two months later in a controlled set environment (like inside a store setting) is easy to do.

Consistency comes in to play when creating multiple view angles and settings for retailer/reseller specifications. If there are several products (or hundreds) in your line, each of them can match perfectly.

Creative limitations

So you would like to feature your product balancing on a tennis racket, that is balancing on a ball, that is on a court, with the net in the soft-focus background. Yeah that’s going to cost quite a bit of money and time. Not so much with rendering, and many environmental models can be purchased just as well as stock photography. You get the idea. Rendering opens up the creative possibilities that would otherwise be unaffordable with traditional photography. Another example where the opposite is true coming up next.


Photography Advantages

Authenticity in action/lifestyle environments

Nothing beats the real thing? Not always, but in these instances photography gets the nod over digital renders.

Visualize your new soft drink can splashing into a cooler with the light sparling off of each water droplet creating a rainbow in the mist. Could that shot be done digitally? Sure it could, but it would not likely look “real” enough to pass muster unless the budget was significant. This is one example of an environment that may be easier to create and actually look better using traditional methods (even though this example would be costly as well). The same applies for added natural environment effects such as rain or mud, etc.

Quick & dirty

Your Marketing Manager needs a retail package photo NOW for a big opportunity. You have no access to the art files used to create the package. No one budgeted for a photoshoot when the new packaging was printed. There is an existing package in your inventory example room. You have a decent smartphone in your pocket. You know what needs to be done. Try to at least find a clean background setting.


Perhaps your product package has a unique feature to it like an easy-opening tear-off lid. This type of instance may be better represented with photography.

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