10 simple steps for rendering in V-Ray 5 for SketchUp. Part 1 of 10

A rendered house in the desert

Guest author: Felix Heuman. Founder of Swedish 3d studio Holygon.

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.


This tutorial provides 10 simple steps for making good digital renders. And if you persevere, your good renders may become great. This guide is intended to be easy to understand, non-technical, and relevant to both beginners and professionals.

As a starting point, take a good look at Holygon’s rendered image above, Chihuahua Incident Noon. The text gives a rough breakdown of how we made it. Along the way, we will discuss how to think when creating a render, warn against common pitfalls, and share some decent tips. We will also examine the value of visual style and photorealism. 

This particular render is a still image of an exterior architectural setting. It serves as a point of departure for our discussion. We created the image above using V-Ray 5 for SketchUp, on SketchUp 2021 Pro, on Windows 10. But the particular versions should not matter that much. We hope that parts of this guide may be useful also for rendering interiors and other subjects, and perhaps for rendering digital 3d stills in general. 

»Chihuahua Incident Noon«. Finished render made by Holygon in 2021.

The fundamental principles behind the craft remain the same. Therefore, we will hold back referring to specific buttons or values. It helps this guide keep relevant as the landscape of digital tools changes – as it has been doing at breakneck speed for fifty years. Whatever tools you choose to learn, we hope that this guide will help you create better renders.

– Are you ready? You can do it. If you ever feel stuck with SketchUp or V-Ray, just contact me and I’ll help you. You never need to walk alone.🙂 Let’s go!

This tutorial provides 10 simple steps for making good digital renders. Over the course of 10 weeks, we invite you to come along on this journey. We will update this blog weekly and cover these topics:

  1. Prepare the Model
  2. Strike a Pose
  3. Work Large to Small
  4. Make Materials
  5. Light It
  6. Invite Entourage
  7. Make It Believable
  8. Redo and Deepen
  9. Render
  10. Post-produce

Step 1 – Prepare the Model

🚩 Our goal is to make a render. Here, as input, we start with a SketchUp 3d model of a house with some adjacent smaller buildings: 

A screen export from Holygon’s original SketchUp model that served as starting point for the render.

💡 Holygon 3d modelled this object for a client architect, using measured 2d drawings as input. Soon thereafter, the house was constructed in the real world. To learn how this 3d model was created – watch the Swedish-audio webinar on modelling this building. In this tutorial, we will assume an existing 3d model with some terrain as input. 

🌵 In this particular case, we wanted to make a render that conveys a mood that is distinctly un-Swedish. And what could be more un-Swedish than a desert? In any case, the real building now stands in the southern USA at a spot that looks absolutely nothing like in the render. Check out the pixel perfect rendered image.

In general, good renders should express and enhance what is already there in the raw model. Rendering is not a way to cover up for sloppy modelling. 

If you are serious about an accomplished result, you may end up spending a lot of time with it. If you can, pick a model that you really like.

⚡ Try to finish the main modelling first, and create a render only after, and in a separate file.

💡 One reason is that the added complexity of render data tends to slow down model editing. Another reason is that the renderer may introduce delicate dependencies on materials and their face positions. A third reason is that preparing a scene for rendering often deteriorates the visual appearance in SketchUp. While it is possible to address this with workarounds, the easier solution is to start preparing the render only at the end of the main modelling process. 

⚡ If possible, make model parts solid. 

💡 Solidity is important for transparent materials like glass and liquids that need thickness to make sense. Solidity is a sign that your geometry is topologically sound, without holes, overlaps, or stray faces. In any case, V-Ray will dutifully render nonsolids, too.

⚡ Purge the model from unused or needless materials, components and styles. 

💡 Remove anything that won’t contribute to making the render better. Erase junk geometry. V-Ray only renders faces. You can check this effect by turning off edges in Styles.

Once you have onboarded your rendering project, you should never purge materials in SketchUp, as it may break composite V-Ray materials such as blends. Purging materials in V-Ray is safer. 

⚡ Make sure materials have self-descriptive names, and assign them accordingly.

💡 A renderer is hardly helped by the fact that your terracotta terrace has the exact same hue as your carrot juice. If a material ought to look different in your render, it ought to be different already in your modeller. Moreover, the material name should describe its uniquely differing character.

For complex scenes, the list of materials tends to grow unwieldy. To effortlessly find them, all materials ought to have names that are self-descriptive and hierarchical. Example of bad material names include: »Color_53#2« and »Dark4«. Examples of good material names include: »Holygon Wood Birch Lacquered 01« and »Northway Rubber Worn 01«. Such names sit next to similar resources in asset lists, are easy to find and to filter, and you can tell what they represent simply by reading their names. 

Let this suffice for model preparation.🤨 Next week, let’s strike a pose!

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