Architectural Rendering Style Guide

Architectural Rendering Techniques, lighting, cameras, and & Style Guide

This guide covers what you need to know about the different elements that affect an architectural rendering style. Most people know if they like a render but have difficulty identifying what it is they want. These elements are usually colour palette, camera angle, lighting, and photo editing effects. This guild will help you understand the different components, styles, and techniques that go into a great rendering.

Types of architectural visualizations


An architectural rendering is simply an artistic representation of a  preconstruction architectural design, drawing a building's plans. A rendering could be your architect sketching something on the back of a napkin or a large scale animation project created by a creative studio. The categories below are not an exhaustive list but merely some common examples.


Traditional Artist Renderings - Watercolour & Pencil


Before CGI (computer-generated images), if you wanted to see an architectural design before construction, you had two options. Become an expert at reading line drawing and understand the design from the plans or hire an artist to illustrate the plans' design. These drawings were generally quite stylized and done in watercolour or pencil. Watercolour and pencil drawings are still used today, and pencil drawings can be handy when the precise finishes are undecided.



Photoshop Generated Renderings


People can do just about anything with Photoshop, including some extremely impressive architectural renderings. In most cases, these renders start with an export of a perspective from a 3D cad program. From the template, a photoshop artist digitally paints the rendering. Photoshop rendering is a time-consuming process, but as is all rendering. The photoshop results can be genuinely stunning, but they will only be as good as the artist like traditional artist renderings.


3D Renderings or CGI or 3D Architectural Visualizations

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From here on, we will discuss the different styles, typical camera angles, and types of 3D rendering or CGI (computer-generated images). Although an artist can replicate these styles and techniques, the industry standard is to rendering architectural images using computer software. The core advantage is a less artist reliant process where revisions are much more effective. Once modifications are complete to the 3D scene, one simply has to hit render again, and the computer recreated the image. That is not to say revisions are fast a simple, but they are much quicker and more straightforward than re-painting or re-photoshopping an entire image to change the camera angle. In 3D rendering, a studio can reused cars, vegetation, and furniture from project to project. 3D modelling, texturing, and lighting are very time consuming, but a good studio can make the process very efficient. If you would like to try creating some architectural renderings for yourself, checkout our guide to the best rendering software available today.

3D renderings Lighting Styles


Lighting is one of the most critical factors in the style of a rendering. It usually dictates the images background colour palette and the mood of the image.


Bright Daytime Rendering

Daytime rendering is one of the two main lighting styles used in architectural visualization. The renderings tend to look bright and inviting. The artist is usually trying to capture the feeling of a warm summer day, or a crisp autumn morning.




Daytime rendering is great for projects marketed at families such as townhouses, gated communities, or tract housing.


Dusk or Dawn Rendering

The other main lighting styles used in architectural rendering is Dusk or dawn renderings. This rendering style is more dramatic and higher in contrast between colours and light and dark. Dusk or dawn renderings tend to use heavily divergent colour palettes. The building and interior lighting are very yellow or orange, and the exterior is blue or purple. This contrast in colour makes the outside look cool, and the building and interior warm and cozy. 


Dusk and dawn images are ideal for projects marketed to young adults or retirees. This style is prevalent for condos, towers, hotels, and vacation properties.


Nighttime Renderings

Night renderings are far less common but sometimes very useful for towers or highrise developments. Typically the building is rendered with a transparent background, then a photo of the city at night is added in the background. These images are great for marketing a metropolitan lifestyle.


Snow Rendering

Although not a lighting style, snow scenes, fall into a category of their own. Snow scenes showcase the stark contrast between the warm interior and harsh outside environment. Rendering snow is trickly, so like nighttime renderings, the building is usually rendered separately and superimposed into a photo. Apart from ski resorts, snow renders are somewhat uncommon. They also are a real test of skill if you are to render the entire scene. Snow is problematic because it needs shadows and dynamics, but it's all white and tends to blow out with lighting.


Bad Weather Renders

This category is for stormy days. These renders tend to be more artistic and very dramatic. Bad weather renders are great for architecture competitions, high-end custom homes, and some downtown city developments. They provide a very stark contrast between the harsh outdoor environment and the warm interior. However, they come at a risky as they may put buyers off. You might end up having the rainy building, and everyone else has a nice summer night, or beautiful simmers days.

Camera Angles



Cameras in 3D rendering offer all the camera angles and settings you would have with a real camera plus some exciting options that are generally only available with a 3D render. Although there are almost endless options, the categories below are some of the most common we encounter.


Three Quarter Street Level

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Three-quarter street-level renders are probably the most common camera angle used in architectural rendering. The popularity is due to two benefits. The building and aesthetics of the image generally look good from this angle, and you get to see two elevations of the design. Below are a few examples. This camera angle also lends its self to most building designs, large or small.


Straight On Street Level

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Straight on street level renders are very common and very useful for showcasing roof lines or doing streetscapes for city approval. The downside is that they only showcase one elevation of the design; however, they can better showcase that elevation than a three-quarter perspective. Another option for this perspective is an orthographic view that removes the camera perspective and lens distortion. Orthographic straight on renders is excellent for streetscapes as they show the most accurate idea of how the home's rooflines and design will fit into the street. However, with streetscapes, there is an additional cost to incorporate the other properties. 


Aerial site plans


Aerial Site plans are rendering with a top-down perspective. These are very useful for larger developments or industrial properties where traffic flow is a significant consideration. There are two main techniques for creating aerial renderings. The first is all 3D aerial renderings where the development, background, sky, and everything else is in 3D. The second option is with a photo from a drone with the building merged in.


Standard interior Renderings


This category of renderings is 3D images that replicate photos one would take with a real camera in a home. The goal is to copy beautiful interior photos. Like real-life photos, the challenge with interior renderings is the lighting. The challenge is to create a balance between the exterior and interior lighting. Below is a few examples.


Impossible perspective renderings


One of the most significant benefits of 3D rendering is the ability to do things that are not cost-effective in the real world. One of the best examples is to remove walls and use camera angles that might not be a realistic position to set up a camera. Below is an example of removing a wall and putting the camera far enough back to show the entire length of a long apartment. Although possible to recreate the image, it would be a costly build.


3D Floorplans or dollhouse renderings

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3D floorplans are an upgraded option for 2D colour or blackline floorplans. The advantage of 3d floorplans is it is much easier to understand the layout. These images tend to be reasonably cost-effective since the details of the image are all at a distance.


Cutaway renderings

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Cutaway renderings incorporate the interior and exterior of a building into one image. These images show just about as much as possible in one image. These images tend to be more costly than standard interior or exterior renderings but less expensive than doing both.


Drone Renderings

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One of our favourite type of rendering is rendered buildings incorporated into drone photos. These images tend to be incredibly realistic, showcase the neighbourhood, and show off the building's features and design. Because the background is not 3D, they are more cost-effective, and the drone photoshoot images are beneficial for marketing materials.


Shadow Analysis Renderings

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Shadow Analysis renderings are generally not as visually stunning as some other renders but they are often very important in gaining approval from regulatory boards.

3D Rendering Styles

Photorealistic Renderings

The most common style for architectural rendering is photorealistic. With this style, the goal is that the rendering is indecipherable from a photograph. Every element of the rendering should be realistic. By far, the most challenging technique to master for photorealism is lighting. Understanding the behaviour of light is something most people don't think about, but it is integral. The artist must be conscious of both the ambient and feature lighting. Light and time of day is a significant element in the colour pallet of the image. Daytime can range from warm a yellow to nearly white, where dawn and dusk have blues, purples, orange, and yellow. Reflections and surfaces are other challenging elements, but sometimes less demanding due to the libraries of pre-setup finishes available. Lastly, vegetation is challenging and time-consuming to make from scratch but again purchased in libraries.


Sketchup Renderings


Sketchup is a 3D modelling software created to make it more intuitive and more straightforward to 3D model. The creators chose a watercolour like style for the views as you model. Unlike most rendering software where the 3D scene is prepared, then a computer renders the image SketchUp is what you see is what you get. The stylized imaged exported from SketchUp has a unique style and is very common in architecture. There are options with plugins to use a photorealistic renderer with SketchUp, but when one is talking about SketchUp renders, they are generally talking about the colour palette and style of SketchUps natively exported images. 



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This style of 3D rendering is typical with traditional design homes. The colour palette is similar to classic Disney films. A few standard features are atmospheric effects and capturing movement with birds or leaves.


Post Apocalyptic Renderings

This rendering style is most common in architecture competitions or as an additional option alongside a more traditional style. The main aspects are a greyed out or wasteland of a city with the building as the bright, vibrant center point. Post-apocalyptic would be a bold choice for marketing, but for the architect, it makes your design look good the make the rest of the city look dead and lifeless.


Futuristic Renderings

This rendering style combines futuristic elements, overly precise reflections, transparent overlays, and blurry futuristic-looking people. This style is usually primarily done in Photoshop and can be an option if it fits your style.


Film Noir Renderings

This architectural rendering style is most frequent with mid-century moderns custom homes. The effect is usually replicating old crime movies and uses desaturated images with dark blue and green colours and atmospheric effects. The renderings are high contrast and intended to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. These rendering like post-apocalyptic styled images are great for showcasing architecture.


Natural Environment Renderings

This rendering style features a large natural landscape, and the architecture takes up a relatively small amount of space. This style is excellent for projects where the environment is the star. This style usually involves rendering only the building and merging it into a photo from the property's site. If the client can provide a high-quality photo, this can be a cost-effective option. If everything is 3D, these images can be quite pricey.


Photo Editing Effects / Post-Production

Renderings share the same formats as digital photos. Therefore, the same post-processing options are available with a photo editing program such as Photoshop. One thing to keep in mind with rendering effects is you can combine multiple effects.  


Muted Colour Effects


In muted colour renderings, part of or the entire image has the colour muted or desaturated. A typical application of this style is muting the background colours, so the building pops out more. Other times the entire image is muted. Muting images as the whole is common for brochures or website background images. This style also helps if there is text added directly to the image as it allows the contrast between the letters and the image.


Vintage Effects

Sometimes things are made better by being made worse. For years, camera manufacturers worked tirelessly to get rid of vignetting and created lenses and technology to perfectly capture colours. Now thanks to apps like Instagram, we are making our perfect photos worse for the vintage feel. However, some of these effects are advantageous. Vignettes are very effective at drawing the eye to the center of an image, typically the building's location. Vintage colour palettes can also help make renders look more realistic. We feel the added realism is due to the viewer getting lost in the render's mood instead of picking up on the imperfections.


Monochromatic Effects

This style is used entirely for marketing materials and can be a great way to get extra mileage out of your images. Monochromatic images are generated from a photorealistic rendering using photo editing software. 


Black and White Effect

Once again, a throwback style that gives the rendering a very vintage look. Like monochromatic renderings, these images are great for marketing materials and stretch your mileage from your renders. 


High Contrast Effect

High contrast renderings are another photo editing technique applied to the renderings. This style tends to work better with interiors or simple (not busy or detailed) exteriors. The goal is to get bright colours and deep darks. Again mainly used on brochures and websites and not for helping potential real estate buyers understand a space. 


Atmospheric Effects

Atmospheric effects are when the 3d artist adds haze, mist, fog, or streaming light to an image. Used sparingly, they add realism. However, there are times when you may want to take these effects to the extreme to achieve a specific mood. Some examples might be a misty morning or a warm and humid hazy day.



Hopefully, you found this guide to be helpful. Knowing what you want can streamline getting the perfect rendering. One thing to keep in mind with 3D rendering is that the possibilities are almost endless since most real-world constraints don't exist. However, due to the production process, different elements contribute to price. We have written a comprehensive pricing guide to help people understand rendering pricing. 


We are a full-service 3D rendering company and would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have or help you out with a quote for your next project. 

Initial Consultations & Quotes Are Always Free