3D modeling is an essential tool for eCommerce businesses across the world. Creating 3D models allows companies to display their products at a totally new level of detail, giving customers the opportunity to play with models before making a purchase.

As online shoppers become more savvy and demanding, companies without 3D product visualization capabilities are falling behind. The increasing importance of omnichannel strategies and cost-effective ways to generate product images makes the shift to 3D eCommerce a no-brainer in many situations.

However, when you actually start to work with 3D modeling, you'll quickly find that the process differs from photography and there are a couple of things to learn about translating products into 3D representations.

Most importantly, companies commissioning models need to decide whether to create the so-called Low or High Poly 3D models. But what does this mean, and why does it make such a big difference to final results?

This article will look at the differences, workflows, and use cases of both modeling techniques. That way, you'll have all of the information needed to decide what modeling options to choose for your specific project.

Introducing High and Low Poly 3D modeling

3d polygons illustration
Words Low & High simply indicate the number of polygons a 3D designer uses for the 3D model. The more polygons, the more detailed (and heavier) the 3D model will be. (Source: Design Connected, CGTrader Marketplace)

When we talk about Low and High Poly modeling, we're really talking about the polygon count of an individual 3D model.

Every 3D model is made from a large number of 2D shapes (broadly referred to as polygons). You can't usually see these planes, as they fit together to give the impression of three dimensions. But they are always there, and how many are present determines the smoothness and accuracy of finished objects.

This really matters in some fields more than others. For example, gamers endlessly discuss the polygon count of characters in new titles. Players tend to expect an increase in detail and improvements to speed for every new release, making graphics development a real challenge.

If you view a 3D map of Paris, you might want to zoom in on the Eiffel Tower to check out its intricate iron structure. But without sufficient resolution, the results will be less than impressive.

When poly counts are higher, we say that the model’s weight is “heavier”, while Low Poly models are “lighter.” It’s like the file size of a PDF or Jpeg, and heavier models will take longer to process, download, and have greater storage requirements.

Having said that, High Poly models have a few advantages over Low Poly equivalents, which could include:

  • The ability to create photorealistic 3D representations of real-world objects.
  • High Poly models are ideally suited to creating cross-sections of objects.
  • Models can be looked at from up close without dramatic loss of image quality.

However, Low Poly models have other strengths that often make them a better option:

  • Lower processing requirements mean that Low Poly modeling can be faster.
  • Lower file weights make storing a large number of Low Poly 3D models more convenient.
  • Low Poly 3D models can be manipulated in real-time by users without lag or slow-down.
  • Ideal for use in games where speed matters more than visual richness.
  • Low Poly art generally has a much lower price tag than High Poly alternatives. However, that also depends on the model complexity.
  • Speed and interactivity mean that Low Poly techniques work well when VR or AR are involved.

High Poly and Low Poly workflows: how designers create 3D models

Workflow differences between Low and High Poly modeling are more a matter of quantity than quality. In both cases, modelers recreate the shape of the object using polygons.

There are simply more polygons to deal with in High Poly models, leading to longer modeling and rendering times. High Poly models can also utilize workflows that can't be translated to a Low Poly workflow effectively (e.g. dense fur). The result is much more realistic, but at the cost of the 3D model not being interactive in real-time.

Also, the lower polygon count means that it isn't always possible to achieve more intricate shapes. If complex shapes are being modeled, High Poly techniques will come into play.

For example, furniture material is an excellent example of how the two methods differ.

3d workflows illustration
On the left: High Poly workflow 3D model example. On the right: Low Poly 3D model workflow example.

In High Poly furniture texture modeling, artists can “groom” every kink and twist of the yarn, creating a richly textured representation of such material (image above.)

Low Poly furniture texture modeling is a little less detailed. Instead of labor-intensive grooming, artists work with polygon cards and preset patterns. The results aren't as realistic but are easier to implement and much less resource-intensive.

If you're engaged in character design for an immersive game, Low Poly art techniques will be the only viable option. Artists will need to use their skills so the textures of the 3D models look similar, if not exactly the same as the real thing.

It's also important to note that the line between Low and High Poly 3D modeling blurs at times. When creating 3D models, it's possible to take Low Poly meshes and apply High Poly details – a workaround that enhances the appearance of Low Poly models while keeping the model weight relatively low.

Real-world uses of High Poly modeling

3d render bathroom
Creating a High Poly 3D render gives you an opportunity to create multiple photorealistic images from a single render file.

In the real world, High Poly 3D modeling is essential when your users need photorealistic representations of objects or the ability to zoom in on specific features. This could translate into a variety of uses, where Low Poly techniques aren't sufficient:

  • Photorealistic 3D renderings for promotional purposes and prototyping. A good example could be creating visuals of buildings that are being built or designing toy figurines to represent characters from popular culture. Accurate 3D art is an excellent way to sell products in style.
  • Detailed cross-sections. Museums could use High Poly 3D rendering to create images of ancient dwellings, warships, or even the skeletons of dinosaurs. Anything that can be zoomed and cut into cross-sections is ideal for High Poly rendering.
  • Step by step assembly guides. Complex machinery can be disassembled in 3D, and users can see cross-sections of various components or watch them fit together - a helpful tool for engineering course materials and industrial settings.
  • 3D animation featuring zooms. Suppose you are using CGI for animated content and want to zoom in on a particular element. In that case, High Poly techniques will be essential, maintaining an even level of detail at all stages and avoiding blurring or distortions.
  • HD 360 viewers. Present your products with the highest definition images available. In these cases, High Poly models can deliver a degree of interactivity with excellent visual accuracy, showing off the subject in rich detail.

As we noted earlier, these use cases tend to involve static images or predetermined animations with limited involvement from the user. High Poly modeling is a great solution when accuracy and visual richness are a priority and interactivity is less important.

It's also a handy technique when you have a small batch of assets to model, and the price isn't the sole factor. If you want the highest possible fidelity 3D models, maxing out on the polygon count will be worth the price.

Real-world uses of Low Poly modeling

An interactive 3D viewer on your product page is one of the many ways to use a Low Poly 3D model.

The opposite applies when we think about Low Poly modeling use cases. Low polygon modeling is more suited to situations where users need to move and interact with 3D objects and where visual detail is lower down the list of priorities.

Examples of how to use Low Poly modeling could include:

  • 3D viewers featuring real-time model calibration. Many eCommerce operations now use Low Poly 3D viewers to display products. Users can rotate and flip these products to get a better look or explore environments where detail is less important than general information.
  • Virtual reality. Exploring virtual environments is becoming a major commercial concept (as well as a gaming frontier), and VR only currently works well with Low Poly 3D modeling. Low polygon counts allow programmers to create interactive worlds that flow smoothly, avoiding glitches that can confuse and frustrate users.
  • Augmented reality has a similar problem with High Poly renderings. If you add AR features like online apparel styling or garden layout visualization, Low Poly modeling will be the best way to go. Speed matters here, and detail is far less critical.
  • 3D gaming. This one is a crucial division between High and Low Poly modeling. Given current technology, even the most advanced 3D games use relatively low polygon counts to ensure they run smoothly.

So, in summary, Low Poly modeling prioritizes speed over detail. If you are modeling for interactive environments, Low Poly models will generally be the only way to ensure processing power and visual richness.

Create stylish 3D models for any project

If you seek to create a 3D catalog or have a smaller project in mind, choosing between High and Low Poly 3D modeling will be one of the key decisions.

As we've seen, Low Poly models are great for situations where interactivity and speed are crucial, while High Poly models are ideal when detail is all-important. However, each project is unique, and polygon counts differ greatly based on model complexity, so it's essential to find a level of detail that works for you.

It's also vital to work with modelers who know how to use the correct modeling techniques for each situation.

That's where Modelry comes in. Our network of expert 3D designers can work with High and Low Poly software to craft the models that clients need. Workflows can be monitored in detail, and revisions can be made at will, while the costs tend to be low and the speed of work is fast.

If you want to explore 3D modeling or want to find an alternative to in-house production, Modelry will be the perfect option to choose.

Sign up for the free Modelry platform to take your first steps in High Poly or Low Poly models today.

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What is the difference between High Poly and Low Poly models in 3D modeling?

Sarunas Vendelskis is the Head of 3D Modeling at CGTrader. Sarunas is a highly skilled 3D expert with more than 15 years of experience in the field. Besides leading a 3D team and implementing the latest 3D solutions at Modelry, Sarunas loves good food and traveling – and that’s why your journey with our 3D modeling services will be unforgettable.

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