Computing the Average Cost for 3D Architectural Visualization

If you’re simply looking for a cheap deal, then there’s no point reading this article.
Morning mist by Faraday 3D

I believe both of us know that designing and constructing a building is a really expensive process. Every change you make to the layout or materials during the construction process could mean extra expenses, and that explains why the industry prefers the clients to have a clear vision of what a house or building looks like before the actual construction begins.

This is where the 3D architectural visualization, ArchViz for short, enters the picture. If this sounds completely foreign to you, it’s a term that refers to “seeing” an architectural design firsthand, even before they’re built. The field of archviz includes everything starting from basic sketches to more complicated and detailed 3D renders. 3D architectural visualization is used by real estate agents, builders, architects, and interior designers for marketing their products and/or services. Through 3D archviz, they can show their clients a clearer representation of what product they can get.

In my previous article, I talked about the topic “Client’s Vexing Thought: There is Always Someone Willing to Do the Job at a Cheaper Cost!” Today, we’re going to delve even deeper. We’re going to discuss the factors that can affect a 3D image. How are we going to define how much a 3D image will cost?

Before everything else, we have to understand what price means. Does it mean the cost required to produce an image? Or does it refer to the value an artist provides to his client? Or is it entirely something else. Of course, if value-based pricing sounds new to you, then the most obvious case would be the image cost of production.

What is Value-Based Pricing?

Allow me to go a bit off-topic here and mention a few words about value-based pricing. Value-based pricing refers to the approach wherein you set a final price for your client depending on the approximate value of the service you provide, not based on the cost of your service. In this case, it means you focus on creating positive ROI for your client, instead of giving him a product/service which you deem is good in your own opinion.

The problem is, ROI is not as easy as it sounds. Positive ROI can be measured in economic terms (via revenue gains and cost reduction) and non-economic terms such as emotional contribution to value. The first two are self-explanatory, but the third one is a bit complicated.

To give you an idea, let me give you an example of how it works. Imagine that you’re looking to buy a new phone. If you’re an avid fan of the iPhone, you will surely choose to buy an iPhone even though it’s more expensive than an Android phone with the same specs. The tendency to buy things on impulse, in this case, is due to a non-economic factor that is an emotional contribution.

So the question is, how does it apply to 3D archiviz?

You might have already heard of the 3D studio MIR. Imagine that you’re planning to build a property that has an estimated cost of 200M. Of course, if your project is represented by MIR, which is a well-known company in the 3D visualization industry, you will definitely feel proud. This is yet another non-economic example.

Let’s go back to our main topic: how much does a 3D render cost. Now we’re aware that there are 2 ways to define the price per render. One which is value-based pricing can’t be defined in numbers. First, you need to know your client and the exact values for his:

  • Cost reduction – let’s say your client wants to look at the interior design first before deciding to apply it in real life. With a 3D render, he will save a lot of money for a real interior design because he can finalize the design before the real construction begins.
  • Revenue gains – with a 3D rendered image, your client will be able to justify the market value of his property quite easily. Without images – relying only on architectural plans and words – the overall market value of his property could drop by several %.
  • Emotional contribution – it’s a completely subjective factor and will vary from one person to another.

Let’s take a look at another means of calculating a 3D image’s cost of production. To produce an output, you need to allocate enough time for it. Therefore, the first logical step is to multiply the hours you spent on an hourly rate. The result will give us the final budget for a 3D image.

Now there are several ifs which are as follows:

  • If you seek the services of a freelancer or a studio
  • If he has plenty of experience or just starting out. Take note of this: an experienced freelancer can work at a quicker rate compared to a newbie. Most customers compare freelancers depending on their hourly rates. So what happens when a newbie freelancer and an experienced one both have the same hourly rates? So, if they both have the same rates – theoretically experienced freelancer punishes himself for being quick?  Do you think it’s rational? Do you really think it’s rational to compare freelancers based on their hourly rates?
  • If you work with a 3D studio. Perhaps you think that the more people working on your project, the faster and earlier the delivery will be. It’s right, but only partially. Nine women can’t give birth to a child in just a month. The same applies to project management. Just because there are more people working on the project, it doesn’t always mean the work will be done faster.
  • The location of the freelancer/3D studio

Now let’s discuss each of the above section separately. Note: Assume that you’re looking for an experienced 3D freelancer/studio with excellent quality. If you’re simply looking for a cheap deal, then there’s no point reading this article.

You can just stop reading and look for the cheapest possible solution out there – simple as that. However, don’t complain if you end up paying twice the original price because your chosen artist took 3 times longer to finish your project and wasn’t able to deliver you the quality you expect. These are just some of the possibilities when going for the cheapest artist, and there’s actually more to that.

By the way, according to statistics, those who go for the cheapest option are the least satisfied compared to clients who invested in a more premium service.

Computing the cost for 3D rendering

Back to pricing. Seeking the services of a freelancer is no doubt the cheapest solution available. However, is it true all the time? Let’s check it out:

A freelancer often works at home. Of course, there’s no problem with that. For a freelancer to make both ends meet, he will need money. The question is – how much? Here’s how to calculate:

  • His location along with his experience in 3D rendering (on average, a 3D artist can become pro after having 10 years of experience). Let’s just assume that he won’t accept a rate that is equivalent to the minimum salary in his residence. At least, he would like to get a mid-range salary, or even higher.
  • The first step is to study the mid-range salary in his residence. Let’s apply the numbers to Estonia where I’m from. Here in Estonia, the mid-range salary is 1,200 euro per month.
  • The next step is to figure out what he needs to do his work. This is, of course, a computer. However, it’s not just an ordinary computer. 3D visualization eats up a huge amount of computer resources, so he will need a high-end unit. The average price for such computer is around 3,500 euros.
  • That doesn’t end there. To render, he will need a software specifically designed for 3D rendering – and he will need a lot of them. There’s no single software capable of handling all stuff. What he needs include the following:
  • 3DsMax (1,936 euro/year)
  • V-Ray (750 euro)
  • Photoshop (50 euro/month)
  • Plugins. There are lots of them, but to understand why they’re needed, let’s take an example from my experience: In some cases, we need to outsource our projects and seek help from other companies or freelancers. In one project for a landscape creation, our estimation was around 8 hours for the project to complete. However, those who we outsourced our work to gave us a 32-hour estimate. This is four times our estimated duration, and it’s because they didn’t know which specific plugins to use. The work can be completed a lot faster with the help of plugins. Hence, investing in them is necessary. For a bunch of plugins, the cost is around 1,500 euros or more.
  • Afterward, you will need a photorealistic result. In this case, the artist or studio will require photorealistic textures such as stone, wood, walls, or whatever is required in your image. In most cases, it is a lot better and more cost-efficient to buy, say a sofa, compared to creating it from scratch. Hence, a 3D artist will need bundles of textures and objects. There are a number of websites to buy these from, such as https://www.turbosquid.com or https://www.viz-people.com/shop/3d-seating-furniture. To work comfortably, a 3D artist often has to spend around 5,000 euros (sometimes more) to create his very own small objects library.

Before we compute the total, we also need to factor in computer updates and repairs. On average, a computer should be replaced every 4 years. The same goes with software licenses which you have to update every 2 years. Putting all these factors together, we can calculate how much a 3D artist should charge for his rendering service to be profitable in a span of 4 years:

  • Computer – 3,500 euros
  • Software licenses (3DsMax, V-Ray, Photoshop) – 11,600 euros
  • Objects and textures library – 5,000 euros

All in all, you have a grand total of 20100 euros. To pay for such credit within 4 years, a 3D artist should have a monthly payment of at least 500 euros. However, he also needs to pay for property credit including communal expenses. That’s another 400 euros per month. I haven’t even included the expenses for food and other stuff. Also, I didn’t include taxes which can be up to 50% as well.

Therefore, to live in a property with a computer (not computing expenses for food), a freelancer living in Estonia should pay around 1,000 euros per month. You see, the mid-range salary here isn’t enough for a 3D artist in Estonia. He will need at least 2,500 euros or even higher per month.

Now, for a freelancer to create the 1st image for your project, he will need to spend at least 1 week (this doesn’t include any possible revisions, etc.) That means the average price per render shouldn’t be lower than 600 euros. Of course, a freelancer will also need time to look for clients. This would mean spending at least 1 week every month just looking for new clients. If you include that factor, it would mean the average price for a single render is somewhere between 500 and 800 euros.

Also, there’s one more thing that applies not just to freelancers but for businesses as well. There are two main goals of a business: one is to generate profits, and the other is to improve the overall quality of its products for its customers.

As a freelancer, you won’t be able to improve your skills if you just do what your client wants you to do. You still get stuck, and the quality of your work won’t improve. This only means that as a business, you need to allocate time and resources towards learning new things, improving skills, etc. Of course, this is only possible by allocating time. I call this R&D or Research and Development. The point is to allocate a portion of the price for each product/service to improve the overall quality of service. In other words, each client pays for the learning curve.

Now let’s talk about 3D studios. They are even bigger, so they will have more expenses. As mentioned earlier, 3D visualization eats up a huge amount of computer resources. This only means that in order to provide results and deliver them faster, several computers are necessary. Through this, we can deliver results or revisions a lot faster.

Here at Faraday 3D we can render a single image within minutes, in the same way, a freelancer using a single computer will take a day. Also, when rendering, a freelancer can’t use his computer, thereby limiting his workflow. 3D studios, on the other hand, have dozens of computers at their disposal. Some of them are specifically designed for rendering, so a 3D artist’s workflow won’t be interrupted.

The real edge of using 3D studios is that they’re a lot reliable and can deliver results a lot faster. However, their prices for services are certainly not lower.

Now, I hope that if you’re looking for a high-quality output, you don’t ask a service to deliver it to you for only 100 euros. I’ve already given you the formula for calculating the average cost for a 3D render. Be reasonable, and try to understand why the price is way higher than what you expect. Also, respect the people who make it happen.

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