Make A Sexy Rendering

We’ve all been there. You spend a ton of time building a digital model, but after clicking ‘render,’ you end up with a bunch of white boxes. You then spend what seems like eons changing materials and textures trying to make the image look realistic, only to make matters worse. Your simple white box rendering has become a grotesque, dystopian vision of your project– certainly not what you imagined.

Leave the photorealistic rendering to the professionals; in this workflow we’ll show you how to quickly create sweet diagrammatic and atmospheric visualizations of whatever you may be designing, with tips for how to avoid the uncanny valley.*

*In aesthetic theory, the term uncanny valley refers to inanimate human figures that look almost human, but not quite, a repulsive sight. This term may be applied to rendering of inanimate stuff as well, where the object, architecture, or urban space is rendered with either too little, or too much attempt at representing reality, creating an image that may be perceived as unsophisticated or immature.

Digital Rendering

Image Processing



Time to complete: 2 – 8 hours

Step 01-03: Rendering in Rhino + VRay
Step 04-06: Image manipulation in Photoshop
Step 07: Vectors Lines in Illustrator
Step 08: Present your work in InDesign

If you’re reading this, you probably have some idea of how to make a digital rendering. If rendering is not part of your skill set yet, spend some time getting up to speed on the basics. Try out the resources above for help! For this workflow we will use Rhinoceros with VRay, and the Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud, but you can use any software you are comfortable with that perform similar functions.


Time to complete: 1 hour

While plans and sections are generally straightforward and designed to a particular scale, vignettes must highlight the best moments of your work – they deliver the atmosphere and the experience!


For interior spaces, views should be at eye level if possible. Turn on the camera (F6) to verify your camera is about 5’ or 1600mm above the ground. Also a wide angle lens length helps get more stuff in the view (under viewport properties in Rhino).


For objects, buildings, and sites, choose an aerial view that explains the relationships or highlights difference. Oblique projections work well. For large sites, a camera elevation of about 500 feet showing the horizon is a good place to start.


Once you’ve chosen a view make sure to save it! This is essential. You may think you’ll just leave that viewport alone, but the next thing you know you’ve sneezed and accidentally knocked your whole angle out of whack. For Rhino it’s a little tricky to find: View > Set View > Show Named Views Panel.

Note: Right click on the top of the panel area (layers, display, help, and properties often show up in the panels), and open named views, and sun. You’ll use the sun for the rendering.


Time to complete: 30 minutes

1200px image

There are a few ways of producing linework from a 3d model – many use the make2D function in Rhino, which essentially takes a snapshot of the view and turns it into a line drawing, then export the linework as an Adobe Illustrator file. If you wish to produce a more diagrammatic drawing, having access to the vector lines may be useful, as seen in the header image of this post. However if you simply wish to outline the objects and elements in your scene, an easier option exists: print a high-resolution image directly from Rhino!

All images are ultimately be rasterized for viewing. Printers generally print no higher than 200 dpi, and screens can only show 72 dpi. With that in mind, printing a high-resolution image at 300 dpi directly from Rino can produce a crisp line drawing.


Make the model look like a nice line drawing all the time! Download these Viewport settings, and install it into your rhino options view display settings. This setting will give all surfaces the material of their render material, so if you want to change their color or transparency, you must adjust their material setting. Here are links to additional viewport display modes and assistance:

Advanced Display Mode Add-ons
NEON: FREE In-Viewport Ray-Tracer
Rhino Help: Advanced Display Modes


Image size: twice the size that you will print the image in the end.
Resolution 300 dpi
Print raster image
Click ‘print’ – change file type to PNG.


_Print Dialog in Rhino_

Now return to the layers panel in Rhino, and change the line weights to bump up certain lines, change colors, transparencies, etc. Reprint as many times as it takes to get it right. This view setting is a great way to review design ideas with others as it is clean and simple. Consider using it as one of your primary view settings. Don’t bother rendering every time you want to show your latest iteration to you studio professor!


Make an Orthographic or Axonometric Drawing

The process for making an ortho or axon drawings using this process is mostly the same, except that you will use either a plan view, or cut a section for the image and rendering. Even in orthographic views, you should save the view so that your drawing will land on the same place on the page every time you print. Additionally, set a specific scale in the print dialog. As long as you maintain the proportions and image size when you transfer to in Photoshop, the image will stay at the correct scale. Note that the image will automatically revert to 72 DPI in Photoshop with the image size multiplied up to compensate.


Time to complete: 1 hour

1200px image

For this step we will use Rhinoceros 3-D with V-Ray. We suggest at least trying the rendering system below, as it saves time and energy. The goal of rendering in this workflow is not to produce a realistic result, but to create an underlay through which we can Photoshop various textures and images, creating a particular atmosphere or feeling to convey through digital drawing. With that in mind, we’ll keep the render settings as simple as possible.


Limit the pallet of materials – simple, solid, muted base colors, as well as any transparent materials that are required for the view. This will minimize render time and give you a strong base to embellish in Photoshop. Avoid using textures or bump, which usually only serve to slow down the render time, unless you are already a pro, in which case you probably don’t need to be reading this anyway. Instead, make important surfaces bright colors – later, you’ll easily be able to select these colored areas in Photoshop to layer with textures.

3.02 SET A SUN

Do not input a sun object! Set your sun by turning it on in the sun panel, and adjust location, date, and time, or just locate the sun manually for more control.


If you don’t use V-Ray, render the image as you know how, and skip to Step 04. Presuming you are using V-Ray, download this vRay settings file developed by Section Cut’s editorial director. Open the options panel and click File>load. It contains basic settings for architectural rendering. Rendering is a 3 step process:

  1. Render a small image, no more than 300 pixels wide to test sun location, lighting and camera settings, and materials. You don’t even need to save these little guys, just use them to steer how you tweak the settings.

  2. Once you are happy with the basic settings, save your irradiance map for use on the large rendering. Under the Irradiance Map* panel click ‘save irradiance map,’ save it as ‘1.vrmap’ to your desktop.

  3. Change the irradiance map from single image to ‘from file’, and render your image at a large resolution, say 2-3000 pixels wide or more if you plan to print the image large. If the image is too dark or light, change your camera settings to adjust the brightness and contrast. You can also change material colors while retaining the same irradiance map. The rendering will now bypass the irradiance map calculation, and go right into the final rendering, saving you a lot of render time!

  4. Save your final image as both a PNG, and a JPEG.


Shadows don’t require nearly the same rendering operation that a full view does, because the rendering does not need to calculate all of the bounced light. Under V-Ray options VSB channels, deselect image and Alpha, and select raw shadows. Now turn off global illumination. Render both orthographic and 3d views at at least double the size of your final image.

*What’s actually going on under the hood? For this rendering process V-Ray uses 2 rendering algorithms – irradiance mapping and monte carlo. The irradiance map is the calculation that lights the scene initially, and the output is devoid of image size. Therefore, we can run a first pass with a small file and apply it to the big one. Monte Carlo calculations are based on the idea that if you throw enough random guesses, they’ll start to converge on a solution, in this case, the rendered view.


Time to complete: 10 min – 2 hours

1200px image

Open all of the files that you’ve saved in Photoshop, including the line drawing and the renderings. Depending on your image, there will be various procedures to accomplish in Photoshop, and you’ll have to apply your own aesthetic and ideas, but we’ll run through the basics that most all images require.


If you’ve chosen the print-from-Rhino option – copy the line drawing file into the rendering file. In order to see through the white parts of the drawing, change your image blending mode to multiply. The image may not overlay on the rendering precisely, and may require some visual finagling so that the lines overlap correctly. Lock the line-work layer when you get it right.


If you have created bright colors for any specific parts of the drawing, select them using Select> Color Range and copy them to a new layer. Then desaturate the color in the base image. Turn the copy off for now, but keep it around and probably label it.


Time to complete: as long as it takes.

1200px image


Many filters exist to choose from, but we tend to stick to one of a small handful, including:

Cut Out: flattens colors and images
Film Grain: Gives the image a granular look
Diffuse glow: Makes the image look damn sexy.
Half Tone: Makes an image 2 tone, dot patterned

Once you’ve chosen the filter you like, drop the transparency of that layer so that it blends in with the original rendering. You also might want to play around with the transparency settings (multiply, screen, etc.) to get it to really blend in the way you want.


Time to complete: 10 min – 2 hours

1200px image

Generally we suggest leaving rendered images mostly black-and-white, only using color and texture for the parts of the rendering that you want the viewer to focus on. Subtle textures overlaid on a rendering help give life to the drawing. At minimum you should usually include people and vehicles for scale, trees, and other vegetation, if appropriate, and any additional elements requisite of your image.

6.01 FIND

If you don’t have a library of textures, people, and vegetation, first check out Skal Grubbar below in Resources. We bet your colleagues may have some good stuff too. If not, Google image search anything that you might need and make sure to get higher resolution images – remember, you can always lower the resolution once you have a file, but that’s a one way street!

6.02 PLACE

Copy the texture into your photoshop file, and cover the area of the image you want with the texture (you may need to tile the image to keep it at the resolution you desire). Now turn off the layer.

6.03 TRIM

Select the areas that should receive the texture in the rendering, then invert selection (ctrl+i). Turn on the texture, select its layer and click delete.

6.04 TWEAK

Lower the transparency and/or change the transparency settings to achieve a desired result. You may also want to partially or completely desaturate the texture, or perform other image manipulations.

'Entourage' Resources for populating your rendering


Time to complete: 30 – 90 MIN

1200px image

This is an optional step, or necessary if you’ve opted to overlay linework from rhino as vector lines. Open the Photoshop file in Adobe Illustrator to add any vector-based line work that you might need. The .psd file will remain linked in Illustrator, and will update if you change the .psd file (note that you’ll need to open and re-save the Illustrator file should this occur).


The best use of Illustrator in this workflow is for the addition of annotations and other vector graphics. Try adding explanatory notes – we suggest using white text and lines if on a dark background, or a highlight color such as red or magenta if your aesthetic calls for it.


Add icons from the noun project, or scale figures from All Silhouettes (have some fun, throw in a dino!)


Time to complete: as long as it takes.

We use InDesign for everything. Try it out. Start an InDesign file any time you have to print an image or collection of images. The powerful program will give you control over the size of the image on the page, as well as allow you to easily add title blocks, annotations, and other vector-based elements if you don’t want to go into Illustrator. If you don’t know InDesign, try out a few tutorials from Lynda.

The Final Rendering, and the rest can be seen in Dan's Master's thesis presented at the University of Michigan's Taubman College on April 28, 2010. The project was published in Issue #1 of Soiled: Groundscapers.

If you have any questions about this or anything else found on Section Cut, email us:


Share the Love