Brick-and-mortar stores face dozens of disadvantages compared with their eCommerce peers. They require far more effort to visit, are often more expensive, and rarely offer the same variety of options. But there is one area where physical locations win out over their digital counterparts every time: the presence of physical products.

When a customer walks into a local boutique or big box store, she’ll be bombarded with hundreds of packages and the images plastering them. She’ll see every product in far greater detail than she could on any smartphone or computer screen. If she wants to pick it up, turn it over in her hand, examine its size, shape, and weight – she can. And if she’s shopping for clothing, she can even try it on right there and get the full picture of how she’ll look in it.

Visuals are powerful marketing tools. Research has shown that humans can process images 60,000 times the speed they can understand the text. Perhaps that’s why so many businesses have begun putting a renewed effort into developing and displaying more compelling product images. After all, recent surveys have revealed that digital shoppers expect to see eight or so images and up to three videos on every eCommerce product page.

In other words, people want the same visual experience they get from walking into a store while they’re browsing an eCommerce site.

But getting that quantity of high-quality, attractive images is a time-consuming and expensive endeavor – especially if your catalog consists of hundreds or even thousands of items. So, how do you get the images you need to effectively market your products without spending all your revenue on those images?

IKEA came up with a novel solution when faced with this problem back in 2007. Some of the employees who put their catalog together noticed how advanced 3D technology had become. So, they inserted a 3D rendered wooden chair into a single image in their catalog and waited to see if anyone would realize it. But no one did. So, they began putting more and more 3D rendered product models into their catalog until today, when upwards of 75% of their catalog’s product images are 3D models.

And so, IKEA pioneered a new and innovative way to optimize their products’ visuals without sacrificing fidelity or desirability.

The Most Common Ways to Get Product Visuals

While IKEA has seen tremendous benefits from using computer-generated images and 3D photography, this is still a fairly novel way to create product visuals. Because of this, many businesses are hesitant to jump on board with both feet. After all, more traditional methods of developing product visuals have worked for nearly a century. So, what are some of those methods?

Traditional Photography

Product photography
For a long time, photo studios have been a primary selection for many brands when it comes to products visualization (Source: Unsplash)

The most common way that product images have been produced in the past is with traditional photography. Products were selected, staged, and lighted, and then a photographer took pictures. Those images could then be edited in a variety of ways to come up with a final image. But if anything went wrong and made the photo or shoot unsalvageable, the entire process would have to be repeated.

Obviously, this was a process that took time and money. So, depending on the size of the business, several different options were pursued to get these photos.

1. Use Photos Directly from the Manufacturer


The easiest way to gather product images was simply to use those offered by the manufacturer. Many producers and suppliers have had basic photos of their products taken before they ever ship them out. And since they’ll only benefit from getting those images into the hands of B2C companies and consumers, they’re more than willing to make them available for stores to use.

Using these sorts of photos has a couple of major benefits. First, they’re completely free. So, a seller doesn’t have to worry about the cost of paying a photographer. Beyond their non-existent cost, they also offer the benefit of requiring no time investment at all. A company can get a manufacturer’s product image on its website within seconds.


Unfortunately, those benefits come with some hefty drawbacks. For one thing, a product maker’s image will rarely match a seller’s brand or site as well as it could if it was taken by the seller. And hitting that ‘eight photograph expectation’ that many digital consumers have today will be impossible unless the manufacturer happened to take that many photos. Finally, using these photos will leave you with the same photos that all your competitors have, meaning you’ll be less likely to stand out from the crowd or make a sale.


Since these are provided by the manufacturer, taking advantage of them in your advertising is completely free.

2. Create Product Images In-House


For those sellers who want to create product photos that effectively communicate their unique brand, offer a variety of image shots, and set them apart from the competition, creating a fully in-house department is an option.

An in-house product image development team will give you the ability to get the exact images you want for your site. This means you’ll have nearly unlimited flexibility with regard to your visuals and brand.
But it will cost you.


In particular, it will cost you a great deal of time and money. By developing an in-house product image team, you won’t just have to hire an entirely new team of employees. You’ll need to purchase cameras, lighting, sets, dedicated computers, editing software, and more.

In other words, the versatility you gain with an in-house photo department is weighed down by a potentially prohibitive cost.


Starting up an in-house studio will easily run you $10,000 for the equipment alone. And then, you’ll need to hire a skilled worker who can use all of it efficiently, costing anywhere between $10-$20 per hour for a part-time worker.

3. Hire a Photo Studio


If you can’t afford to create an entire division dedicated to producing custom, quality product images, you may want to consider the possibility of outsourcing the work to a photo studio. With a photo studio, you’ll have the same pros as you would with an in-house team. You can get the exact images you want – images that fit your brand and offer multiple perspectives on your product.


But you’ll also have to face down some big drawbacks. For example, photo studios charge a sizable amount to take pictures, especially if there’s a lot of setup involved. And that high cost means low scalability. If you’ve got hundreds of items you need photographs for, hiring a studio can quickly eat up your budget.

There’s also the time and expense involved in shipping items back and forth. Some studios won’t even be equipped to take photos if your products are particularly large or small. You may not be able to finetune the details of every photo’s setting.

Before you can even get started, you’ll have to waste hours of time researching the best studios in the area and trying to find one that will get you the images you want at a price you can afford.


After you’ve decided on a studio, you’ll still have to wait an average of two weeks and spend an average of $6,000 before you even have your images.

3D Rendering

3d rendering room scene
Realistic 3D renders offer better pricing & greater flexibility than similar photography.

While traditional photography still has its defenders, more businesses than ever are realizing the exorbitant costs and weeks of wasted time it takes to get attractive product images. And since 3D rendering technology has advanced to a place where digital artists can create photo-realistic images, the possibility of putting together attractive product images at a minimal cost has become very real.

In fact, it’s this power of CG (computer-generated) visuals (instead of photography) that has helped Wayfair increase their conversion rate by 20% to 30%. They’re using the latest 3D and Augmented Reality (AR) technology to allow online consumers the ability to see every angle of a product and even place it in a digital representation of their home to see how it will look once they have it.

Mike Festa, the Director of Wayfair Next, describes the benefits of AR for Wayfair by noting that “customers can actually see a product in their own home – to scale. We think this helps answer a lot of those questions that customers can’t answer in a store where the lighting is different, the ceiling is usually much higher, the product is in an entirely different environment.”

And it’s not just Wayfair and IKEA. A host of other companies have realized the benefits of this technology for creating product images. That’s why they’ve become an increasingly popular option for industries ranging from clothing to furniture. And that popularity shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Alex Hamilton, Head of Technology Innovation at Made.com agrees:

3D visualizations and AR-powered product experiences allow us to present our products and engage with customers in a completely new way. As we move away from traditional photography to 3D product visualization, CGTrader’s highly photorealistic 3D models allow us to offer compelling brand experiences that drive sales, dramatically reduce buyer’s remorse and ultimately, redefine the concept of traditional retail.

So, what options are available to the company that’s considering implementing 3D rendering for their product photos? There is already a variety and more will likely appear in the future. But for now, these three are some of the most popular applications.

1. Whitespace Rendering


In the case of whitespace renders, a 3D model is used and placed against a plain white (or other color) background. This allows you to take a wide variety of images from every possible angle and perspective. In addition, you can easily change the colors, patterns, and textures of a product without having to produce and assemble each option.

Tobias Nientiedt, the head of OTTO’s CGI Content Lab, recently put it this way: “CGI provides boundless flexibility which helps us overcome the limits of photography, also because we can edit product images at any time and modify them in terms of colour and size. This saves time and above all money.”

Making photorealistic images from 3D rendering has become a very popular choice for many companies looking to produce quality, versatile product images. But it’s not perfect.


These images may not have a complete 1:1 correspondence with the actual product. As a result, people may receive their item and complain because of a slight difference between the two. So, while it’s not a perfect choice, it certainly offers a number of benefits over traditional photography.


Whitespace rendering will generally run a company at least $50 for modeling and postproduction of each product. Check Modelry pricing here.

Photorealistic 3D Render with a white background (Source: CGTrader)

2. Lifestyle Scenes


Lifestyle scenes take whitespace rendering to the next level. Rather than placing a computer-generated model on a blank canvas, lifestyle scenes give you the power to set it in a realistic setting. This could include anything from putting a piece of clothing on a digital mannequin and adding a photo-realistic background behind it or adding a 3D modeled couch to a computer-generated living room.

Lifestyle scenes give you the power to uniquely set your products on a background that supports and communicates your brand. And you can even reuse scenes, again and again, reinforcing your brand image and developing a unified style.


The biggest disadvantage to lifestyle scenes is the fact that they can be time-consuming to create. After all, you not only need the 3D model of your product, you also need the scene to place it in.


Fortunately, the cost of creating a digital set pales in comparison with doing the same physically. As with whitespace rendering, lifestyle scenes will cost at least $50 for a quality 3D model while rendering prices begin at $70. Expect to pay more, the more complicated your scene becomes. Check Modelry pricing here.

3d rendering room scene
Living room in 3D render (Source: CGTrader)

3. 360 HD Product Showcase


360 HD product showcases put your product in the digital hands of consumers. Not only are the images available high definition, but you can even offer your customers an interactive experience. AR technology has allowed people to see what potential purchases will look like in their homes or on their bodies before they buy them.

Michael Valdsgaard, the leader of digital transformation at Inter Ikea, has described the benefits of this technology for IKEA by recognizing that “most people postpone a purchase of a new sofa because they’re not comfortable making the decision if they aren’t sure the color is going to match [the rest of the room] or it fits the style. Now, we can give them [those answers] in their hands, while letting them have fun with home furnishing for free and with no effort.”


Unfortunately, AR technology isn’t without its flaws. Most of the available technology can only take advantage of a single axis when rotating. And the ability to zoom into a product to see its details is not currently available. But these are small prices to pay when compared with the huge benefits of letting consumers actually see prospective purchases in their homes.


Right now, the 3D models required for a 360 HD product showcase will run you $50 plus a $35 rendering cost. You’ll also need the online space to host and deploy the 360 HD spin. You can find options available that are free for anyone.


Although many businesses are still using traditional digital photography to create their product images, as 3D and AR technology continues to mature and improve, that number will surely decrease. After all, studies have shown that most consumers can’t tell the difference between a digitally rendered image and a real photograph.

If the primary advantage of traditional photography for product images is its fidelity, and that advantage is quickly eroding, then what will be left? A world where most businesses take advantage of 3D rendering’s possibilities.

Just consider these potential advantages to 3D generated models:

  • A single product model can be created and then edited and photographed in a range of colors, patterns, textures, settings, lighting, and more. And once the model has been made, dozens of photos can be taken in minutes.
  • You no longer have to waste time or money on putting together an in-house photography studio or on transporting images to outsourced studios.
  • Marketing material can be put together in half the time – or less. You’ll never have to wait two weeks or more to receive your latest product images.
  • Save thousands of dollars that you would’ve spent on expensive equipment, salaries for a dedicated photography team, or outsourced photo sessions.
  • Design changes can quickly be made on the fly.

To put it simply… when it comes to 3D rendered product images, the cost is far less. And the speed, flexibility, and convenience are exponentially greater. Ready to create your 3D render with CGTrader? Get in touch now!

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3D Rendering vs Traditional Photography: Pros, Cons, and Costs. What is the best way to create product visuals?

Haidi Kelly is the CMO at Modelry. Formerly at WeWork, Haidi loves the challenges the B2B space brings. Excited about the transformative power of digital assets and content in eCommerce, Haidi helps individuals, teams, and companies reach their full potential. In her downtime, she is also a foodie, world traveler, and enjoys live music.

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