Tips to Improve Your Renderings

by Ashley Lapin Olian

For as long as people have been designing kitchens and trying to explain them to their clients, there has usually been some sort of rendering involved. A rendering means different things to many different people. For some it’s a beer-stained cocktail napkin drawn at a dimly lit bar (followed, of course, by a huge check). For other designers, it’s a full-on photorealistic rendering with intricate detailing. For the rest of us, there’s the in between, which can range from hand drawings to whatever we can get out of the CAD program we’re using.

Let’s talk about the different kinds of renderings and how you, as the designer, can use digital and analog tools to make better ones.


I remember doing these in high school drafting – 2D technical drawings and 3D perspectives with the vanishing points oh-so-carefully plotted out. When I learned that, we were just getting to the end of the hand drafting age. Or were we?

With the advent of powerful computers, hand drafting seems to have gone away. However, many things that were old are becoming new again. Vinyl records are selling like crazy again. Flannel is a thing again.

So how – in this cutting edge, get-it-all-done-right-away world – can a designer do a hand drawing in a reasonable amount of time? You can by using computer generated 3D line drawings as the basis of your hand drawings.

My friend, Jim Leggit, over at, is a master at this. He uses SketchUp and other 3D programs to print out basic black-and-white perspectives. From there, he has a wonderful system of layering vellum and coloring in the details. I’ve watched him and the students he teaches turn out masterpieces in a fraction of the time I ever thought possible. Jim teaches classes and has some wonderful video and written tutorials that are worth checking out if you still love hand drafting.


Just about any CAD program you use these days has some sort of basic rendering available in it. SketchUp can output drawings like the examples above (see images, top left and right).

What’s nice about this kind of rendering is that you don’t have to wait for it. This is actually how you draw in SketchUp. This is a compelling way to share a design and explore color and finish combinations easily with your client.

You can even add a little hand-drawn effect easily (see image, top right). I’ve always thought this method of rendering is a good compromise between hand drafting and photorealistic rendering. For me, hand drawings outside of spaceships that I drew as a kid looked pretty terrible.

For years I’ve been saying that photorealistic renderings are awesome, but dangerous for designers. The SketchUp style renderings are effective and easy to pull off. No client could ever reasonably say their countertops or other finishes didn’t exactly match a rendering like that.

Times are changing, though. In 2012, IKEA had about 12 percent of its catalog as a 3D rendering. That’s right, 12 percent of what you saw in an IKEA catalog in 2012 was all computer generated. Fast forward to 2014 and the company was at over 75 percent rendered. At the rate IKEA is going, it will hit 100 percent very soon.

Even aside from IKEA, consumers are seeing renderings everywhere. As a result, they’re becoming more and more comfortable buying computer-generated product.

So how do we, as designers, deal with this? It’s time to start thinking about doing photorealistic renderings of our own.

There are a lot of ways this can be done. Nearly every CAD software for kitchen designers has some sort of rendering ability. SketchUp has a plethora of rendering add-ons. Chief Architect and 2020 also have built-in solutions for rendering. Each option has varying levels of complexity and photorealism.

Rendering software is a lot like a paintbrush: Powerful in the hands of a professional and useless in the hands of a novice.

As someone who’s used several photorealistic rendering packages over the years, I can tell you that this isn’t just a push-button solution. On top of learning CAD, you have to learn all of the technical aspects of your render. After that, you need to become a photography and lighting expert, too.

I’m not trying to scare anyone away from doing this, but know that it’s time-consuming and difficult. Once mastered, though, the results can be amazing. There are many perks to doing photo-
realistic rendering in-house.

For those of us who don’t want to do this in-house, outsourcing is the way to go. There are probably hundreds and thousands of people you could look up online to do renderings for you. You can’t just hire the lowest bidder, though. You need to find someone who actually understands your work. Just as you wouldn’t hire a professional photographer who specializes in puppy photos (this is real, I know someone who has this specialty) to shoot a kitchen, you wouldn’t hire someone who renders the M&Ms commercials to do your kitchens.

When interviewing a potential renderer, make sure they understand kitchens. This is a huge first step.

After you find them, you need to establish a good rapport with them. Ask them to show you what other clients send along for information. Do they need CAD drawings? Photographs? Detailed notes? Finish samples? These are all important details that they will need to complete your rendering right the first time. In my experience, the best amount of information is too much information. Even though you’re hiring a renderer who knows kitchens, assume they know nothing about your design and give them all of the details.

If you can do all of this, and find a skilled person, you’ll get great results. And speaking of great results, did you see the November cover of KBDN? Did you look closely? It was a rendering.

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