Computing the Average Cost for 3D Architectural Visualization
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—which explains why the industry prefers 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 it’s built. The field of ArchViz includes everything—starting from basic sketches to more complicated and detailed 3D renders. Real estate agents, builders, architects, and interior designers for marketing their products and/or services use 3D architectural visualization. Through 3D ArchViz, they can show their clients a clearer representation of what product they can get.
In my article series on 3D architectural visualization pricing, 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:
- Costs required to produce an image?
- Value an artist provides to his client?
- Or something entirely different?
Of course, if value-based pricing sounds new to you, then the most obvious case is 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 providing a product/service that 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.
Let me share an example with you 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 archviz?”
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.
Going back to our main topic: how much does 3D rendering cost? Now we’re aware that there are 2 ways to define the price per render. One that 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 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.
The “What Ifs”
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 3D studio;
- “If” the 3D designer 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? If they both have the same rates—theoretically—experienced freelancers are punished for being quick? Do you think it’s rational? Do you really believe 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 3D project management. Increased 3D experts working on your project doesn’t always mean the work will be done faster.
- The location of the freelancer/3D studio.
Next, we’ll discuss each of the above sections separately. Note: assume that you’re searching for an experienced 3D freelancer/studio with excellent quality. If you’re simply looking for a cheap deal, then you’re reading the wrong 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 expected. These are just some of the possibilities when going for the cheapest 3D 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.
7 Major Factors in Computing the Cost for 3D Rendering
Back to pricing. Seeking the services of a freelancer is no doubt the cheapest 3D solution available. However, is it true all the time? Well, we must check it out:
A freelancer often works from home. Of course, there’s no problem with that. For freelancers to make both ends meet, they’ll need money. The question is—how much? Here’s how to calculate:
1. Location: A freelancer’s location along with their experience in 3D rendering (on average, a 3D artist can become pro after having 10 years of experience). We’ll just assume that he/she won’t accept a rate that is equivalent to the minimum salary in his/her residence. At least, they’d like to get a mid-range salary, or even higher.
2. Salary: The first step is to study the mid-range salary in their residence. Let’s apply the numbers to Estonia where I’m from. Here in Estonia, the mid-range salary is 1,200 euros per month (year 2016).
3. Equipment: The next step is to figure out what he needs to do his work well. A computer, of course. However, it’s not just an ordinary computer. 3D visualization eats up a huge amount of computer resources, so they’ll need a high-end unit. The average price for such a computer is around 3,500 euros.
4. Software: That doesn’t end there. To render, the 3D artist will need software specifically designed for 3D rendering—a lot of software. There’s no single software capable of handling various 3D projects. Your 3D artist will need to include the following:
- 3DsMax (or USD $1,545 or 1,936 euro/year)
- V-Ray (USD $835 or 750 euro)
- Photoshop (USD $55 or 50 euro/month)
5. Plugins: And there are lots of them, but to understand why they’re needed, let’s highlight an example from my experience. In some cases, we need to outsource our projects and seek help from other companies or 3D freelancer experts. 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.
6. Photorealism: Afterward, you will need a photorealistic result. In this case, the artist or 3D 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 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 USD $5,550 or 5,000 euros (sometimes more) to create their very own small objects library.
7. Repairs and Updates: 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 for 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—USD $3,890 or 3,500 euros
- Software licenses (3DsMax, V-Ray, Photoshop)—USD $12,900 or 11,600 euros
- Objects and textures library—USD $5,900 or 5,000 euros
All in all, you have a grand total of USD $22,360 or 20100 euros. To pay for such credit within 4 years, a 3D artist should have a monthly payment of at least USD $560 or 500 euros. However, the artist also needs to pay for property credit including communal expenses. That’s another USD $445 or 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 3D 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 3D freelancer to create the 1st image for your project, he/she 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 (USD $560 to 800) 500 and 800 euros.
“The Learning Curve”: Expense and Allocation
Also, there’s one more thing that applies not just to freelancers but for 3D businesses as well. There are two main goals of a 3D business:
- Generate profits;
- 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.
More Computers = Reliability & Faster Client Results...but Not Cheaper
Now let’s talk about 3D studios. They’re even bigger, so they’ll 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. Plus, when rendering, a freelancer can’t use their computer, thereby limiting their 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 more 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 high-quality output, you don’t ask a 3D service to deliver it to you for only $100. 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.