CGI Vs. Traditional Photography: Exploring 3D Product Rendering for E-commerce

In today’s crowded and competitive digital marketplace, visuals play a crucial role in capturing the attention of potential customers. Captivating imagery can make or break a sale, especially for e-commerce retailers. Many businesses are now turning to photorealistic 3D product rendering to enhance their online presence and boost their sales. 

In this article, we delve into the practical considerations and potential challenges for companies adopting CGI, as well as the Sprout process for project success. 

Benefits of 3D Product Rendering for E-commerce Retailers

Increase Profit: Companies adopting CGI have experienced up to a 40% higher online conversion rate and up to a 30% lift in average sales prices when using 3D models to replace static 2D images. Brands also report up to an 80% reduction in returns after using 3D visualization. These statistics indicate that investing in high-quality visuals can lead to significant business growth. From hero images that can stop shoppers mid-scroll, to detailed views that communicate differentiated features and quality, CGI helps to close that sale.

Save Time & Money: Product marketing relies on accurate imagery to drive storytelling. But traditional photography is expensive (and exhausting) — from transporting products and coordinating staff to renting a studio, equipment, and photographer. It is also risky — when the final product is delayed or the first articles have blemishes that require retouching, timelines and budgets suffer. CGI reduces those risks. Modifying digital images is a much more cost-effective process than re-shooting an entire campaign and creating complex environments and in-context imagery can be achieved at a fraction of the cost and time.

Augment the Product Development Process: Our clients use CGI to evaluate the ROI of product features before tooling or to measure market interest by segment or by SKU so that forecasts for overall volume match demand. With product renderings, retailers can A/B test and evaluate different imagery to gauge customer response, determine what drives conversions, and adapt to those results in real-time. Insights can help fine-tune an offer prior to production and creative teams are free to explore alternate product configurations, designs, styles, color schemes, textures, and backgrounds. 

Build Once, Use Often: Digital assets can be used indefinitely across multiple mediums from your website and social media, to marketing collateral or on packaging. Once set up, the ability to change angles, lighting, and environments to keep content fresh is unsurpassed. Additionally, you can create scenarios that would be impossible (or at least, extremely difficult and expensive) with traditional photography. Your digital library will include props and environments to compose ownable scenes unique to your brand, over and over again.

Potential Challenges of Switching to CGI

While the benefits of CGI are numerous, there are some challenges that e-commerce retailers may face when making the switch. But fear not— the three main issues we run into with e-commerce clients can be overcome with proper early-stage planning. 

CAD Consistency: The quality of available CAD is of utmost importance in creating high-quality 3D product renderings. However, some product and manufacturing teams do not have consistent file quality standards which can multiply the time required to execute the project. We use a variety of tools to analyze and repair CAD, and to identify where we can automate or gain efficiency in the process.

Setting Standards: Sprout starts enterprise visualization projects with the development of style guide(s), ensuring consistent quality no matter how high the volume. Alignment between internal product, merchandising, and marketing teams is crucial to establishing creative standards that work across the board. This can require some recalibration for teams who typically have independence in decision-making.  

Decisions, Decisions: CGI allows for a much more accelerated process compared to photography. This means making decisions earlier in the product cycle, which can be a new and unfamiliar territory for some. Delays in decision-making can result in rework, costing unexpected time and money.

The Sprout Process for Project Success

It all begins with a comprehensive analysis of your website’s performance metrics, including sessions, engagement, add to cart, sales, and more. By studying this data, we gain valuable insights into the current state and how it aligns with user expectations. For a deeper understanding, we can utilize advanced techniques such as eye tracking to bridge the connection between visual and written content gaps, uncovering opportunities for optimization. Once this foundational analysis is complete, we evaluate the competitive landscape to understand how other brands are positioned in the market.

With a clear understanding of your current state and the competitive landscape, we develop a tailored strategy to drive optimal results. This strategy sets the stage for asset development planning, where we work closely with you to define project expectations and establish standards for asset creation. What is the look and feel that makes your brand your brand? This meticulous approach ensures that every deliverable accurately reflects your brand identity and supports your marketing objectives.

Asset evaluation: Existing 3D CAD files are evaluated and audited against a physical material reference to ensure consistency. If CAD files are not available we can create them from 2D drawings, or by scanning and measuring physical samples.

First-in-series renderings: A FIS render for each product line is developed to confirm the materials, lighting, and camera angle matches the desired style guide.

Revisions & refinement: Directed by client feedback, we dial in the desired material, finish, and lighting. In our experience, one or two revisions at most are needed with a strongly defined strategy.

Final renderings: Once all revisions have been approved, high-volume image production begins and we turn hundreds of products into thousands of images by routing assets through our online proofing system.

File hand-off: At file hand-off, all files are properly compressed and optimized for convenience and efficient use in various applications. We offer group or individual training (in person or remotely) to equip your team to seamlessly infuse these visual assets into your digital ecosystem, marketing materials, and other internal channels.

Cost of CGI Versus Photography

In evaluating the cost of switching to CGI, it is crucial to recognize the upfront investment, yet the long-term value surpasses traditional photography. Unlike one-time use photography, CGI offers indefinite reuse. With our clients, we have seen reuse range from 5% to over 50% depending on how CGI was integrated into their product and marketing teams. 

A rate card is developed for each project which can be compared against traditional photography costs to determine the most cost-effective approach for your needs.

Cost Drivers:

  • The quality of existing files and/or CAD and if CAD needs to be repaired or created will largely dictate initial project costs.
  • The complexity of the product and its materials contribute to the overall amount of time required to visualize each product, impacting the cost per product.
  • The number of products to be rendered, the number of views for each, and whether interactive views or animations are requested will also directly impact the cost per product.
  • The ability to automate the process can lower costs. Sprout specializes in customizing CGI workflows and streamlining digital processes to fit the needs of each project. To achieve high volume output (and remove human error), we develop code that scripts parts of a visualization workflow where possible. We use this programming in a variety of ways from importing a model, applying materials, queuing camera views, and even formatting and transferring files.

Instances Favoring Traditional Imaging

CGI shouldn’t be seen as a rival to traditional photography, but rather as complementary tools that serve different purposes in different situations. While CGI offers numerous benefits, it’s important to recognize that traditional photography still has its place in certain situations.

Capturing organic matter such as food, plants, and animals can be challenging to replicate with CGI, making photography a preferred option to showcase the natural beauty and detail. The unique interaction between organic matter and light is difficult to simulate perfectly. 

The authenticity of human presence is also often best conveyed through photography. The ability to produce emotional expression, body language, and individual characteristics, such as freckles and laugh lines, presents unique challenges for CGI. These nuanced elements of human experience are often best represented and preserved through the lens of traditional photography. 

Similarly, photography excels at portraying human interaction with a product, as it allows the simulation of natural physics involved when items are touched, held, or used. The complex and time-consuming task of accurately simulating these physical interactions to appear authentic in CGI can be streamlined through the use of photography. 

In some instances, our team may recommend that photography be used in conjunction with CGI. Our in-house teams and network of imaging partners work seamlessly in collaboration with one another, leveraging the strengths of each tool to achieve the most compelling visual results. By recognizing the distinctive advantages of both CGI and traditional photography, we ensure the optimal presentation of any subject matter, catering to the unique demands of each individual project.

In today’s highly visual online landscape, e-commerce retailers cannot afford to overlook the importance of high-quality visuals. Photorealistic 3D product rendering and visualization can significantly impact your online conversion rate and average sales prices. By making the switch to CGI, you can save time, money, and resources while maintaining creative control. With our expertise, we can help you navigate the challenges, optimize your costs, and maximize the long-term value of your visual content.

To learn more about how 3D rendering can benefit your organization or get a quote for your next project, reach out to our rendering experts via our website.

[mc4wp_form id=”8931″]