A lot of renderers are available as plugin version as well as standalone version or as both. Arnold for example delivers a plugin called MtoA but you can export the scene as ass file and render with the standalone. VRay does the same whereas mentalray has a maya plugin but you have to buy the standalone seperatly. For this reason we will distinguish only between commercial renderers and free render systems, not between plugin and standalones. For every system I try to give some infos about features. For a normal renderer such featurs like antialiasing and raytracing features are normal. So I will only mention some more intersting features like global illumination or the lack of features that are necessary for a effective production rendering.

Overview Renderer

There exists 3 types of renderers out there in the universe: native renderers, plugin renderers and standalone renderers.

Native Renderers

Native renderers are built in into the 3d application. Often there are some different engines. For maya you can choose between maya software renderer, hardware framebuffer, hardware renderer and vector renderer. The builtin renderers have an big advantage concerning data management: They have direct access to the whole scene data. There is no need to translate the scene into an temporary file or to use API functions to convert the scene into an appropriate format for the renderer. So they can access directly the objects in memory what means they need much less memory than plugin renderers and most builtin renderers start much faster with the renderprocess than plugins.

An disadvantage of native renderers are that supported features depend on the plans of the vendors. e.g. Maya's software renderer doesn't offer true depth of field or true subdivision surface rendering or global illumination.

Other ones like the renderers of Cinema4d, lightwave or houdini are up to date and offer a big variety of features.

  • Advantages:
    • direct access to scene data
    • very small time delay to start rendering
  • Disadvantages:
    • they often do not support all necessary features, the developement depends on 3d application producers
    • long update cycles

Plugin Renderers

With plugin renderers you can do everyting. If one is unable to do a special thing, you can simply use another one. If you plan to render a lot of particles, you cant to it with maya and mentalray (until now with Maya2016), so switch to finalRender or Renderman or Arnold to render a big amount of particles.

  • Advantages:
    • You can render everything possible
    • plugin renders often have a shorter update period and can implement new features faster because they dont have to take care of the consitency of the whole 3d application
    • they can completly change their data structures independent of the 3d application to handle much more data or use more disk caching.
  • Disadvantages:
    • A plugin renderer only can use the remaining memory of the system. If the host application already a large amount of memory the renderer may fail if it doesnt have enough ram to render.
    • Not all renderer features may be supported. Somtimes a plugin is some versions behind the standalone version.

Standalone Renderers

This is the king of rendertypes. You can do everything what a renderer offers and of course you are free to optimize as much as you can. All features are available. On the other side you will have a big overhead because you need the translate all scene data to an external file that will be rendered. e.g. a mentalray standalone file for a scene with a lot of objects can need about 400mb of diskspace without any file textures. For a sequence of 100 frames you will have 40 gbyte of data. And if you want to render over the network, you will have to distribute this amount to the clients. So the standalone offers you the freedom to do everything, but you need a deeper understanding of what is goin on and you need an appropriate workflow to use it efficiently.

  • Advantages:
    • All features are available.
    • If an exporter does not support a special feature, you can build it yourself
    • often editable text scene files
    • all optimisations are available.
    • whole memory is free for the renderer
    • workflow can be extremly efficinet if adapted to the special renderer features
  • Disadvantages
    • Scene has to translated before it can be rendered instead of a direct API creation
    • Data overhead compared to plugin renderers
    • need of deeper understanding of processes, no "push and render" solution


Last update: 07.2016