I am always on the lookout for top notch free software that I can make use of, and one of the best that I have found is Blender. The output for most of the jobs that I do is either the 3D model, or 2D drawings and cut files, but from time to time I need to do some renderings. I need software that is quick to set up and gives professional results, Blender definitely ticks the boxes. And I can’t justify buying a software package for rendering as I spend so little time with it in relation to my 3D Cad work.
I generally export from Fusion 360. Initially I exported as .stl, as that is what professor Google suggested, but there were a couple of issues. Even after I un-grouped the imported file, if 2 solids were sharing a face they became fused together, and I could not apply two different materials. And I would also need to apply smoothing modifiers to the faceted .stl curved surfaces. I am now exporting as .obj, which has none of these issues. And I have yet to try .fbx, which I have on good authority also gives excellent results. Just make sure to enable the correct plugins inside Blender, tick the box for .obj import to enable this function first.
The render preview environment allows you to see what your material choices immediately, and is where I spend most of my time. Speaking of materials, Blender has an amazing built-in material library that comes with Blender version 2.8. You need to sign up for a Blenderkit username and password to access the library (but this is free as well). There is a huge variety of materials and textures, including transparent and translucent ones. And very importantly there are a couple of textured water materials.
Another invaluable feature is the built-in HDR sky. Not only does it give global lighting, but also a customizable 360 degree sky and horizon line to show the boat off to it’s full potential.
Then it’s on to setting a camera view to render the scene from, and setting the render iterations and image pixel quality. One of my favorite features is the GPU ray-tracing rendering. Not only do I prefer to have my graphics card working flat out, rather than my CPU, but my GPU renders much quicker.
I have yet to try the particle simulator, where water can flow around the hull to (hopefully) give a realistic wake, or an animation. But I am sure I will get to these in due course. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to Blender, but I have no doubt that it will be time well spent, and now that I am familiar with the basic workflow and environments it has become a pleasure to use. From my own perspective, even over the last two years, I have seen an increased demand from my clients for renderings of projects, and I have no doubt that this will continue to grow as the industry moves away from the traditional 2D drawing packs towards creating a digital twin.