Rendering can be expensive. Whether you're used to investing in your own rendering hardware or buying render credits for your favorite render farm, the appeal of a free way to render projects is an irresistible prospect. Even though most studios and freelancers budget in rendering costs for projects, saving some of your rendering budget can still be a great way to cut costs.
Throughout the years, many alternatives have appeared for low-cost or free rendering, including free render farms. In this article, we'll go over some of those alternatives and discuss the advantages and caveats free render farms can bring.
Using a crowdsourced render farm is one of the best ways to render for free. Crowdsourced render farms rely on people donating their computer resources for others to use while they are not using their computers. These sorts of free render farms usually work using a points system that awards render resources whenever you donate your own computer’s processing power. Contributing your hardware resources over time at night or when your computer is idle, you can build up points to render your own projects quickly when the time comes.
SheepIt is one of the most popular and long-standing crowdsourced and free render farms available. Unlike many free services, SheepIt has stood the test of time, rendering over 250 million frames for its users. The render farm is a testament to the best that free rendering can be, offering almost 24/7 uptime and relatively fast rendering considering the nature of the platform.
The downside, however, is the limited support the farm provides. Not only does the farm only support Blender projects rendering with Eevee or Cycles renderers, but it also lacks any formalized professional support if something goes wrong. For personal projects, this might not be a big deal, but for projects with deadlines, a lack of any real customer support can turn into a significant problem if it delays your client's deliverables.
Alongside crowdsourced rendering, there are some other less-straightforward ways to render projects for free. Sponsored rendering or free rendering programs for artists are relatively common if you keep your eye out. Be it an organization offering to cover the rendering costs for your project, grants, or a render farm offering free credits to those creating meaningful animations, having a sponsor for your project is a great way to render cheaply without sacrificing the speed and support of commercial render farms. This is especially true for fine artists or those working on social activism projects.
For example, we will often sponsor interesting projects here on our own online render farm, artists, and animations in exchange for citing our services in the project’s credits or participating in a case study for our blog. Additionally, we always offer $50 of free render credit for artists new to our platform. These sorts of marketing trades are fairly common, so it’s always worth reaching out to your favorite render farm about a potential collaboration.
Another example is Renderfarm.ro, while not a free render farm, they are known for offering free credit to non-profit projects organizations and offering unlimited test renders at 1024px resolution for other users. During the covid-19 pandemic, the farm started the #FREERENDER program that offered ample amounts of free render credit to the 3D community to allow artists to create without worrying about render costs.
Supporting most major render engines, including Arnold, Corona, Cycles, Redshift, and V-Ray, the program is a great example of how free, well-supported rendering is possible but can take some effort to put into action. However, while these perks are great for NGOs, non-profits, and artists looking to render their own work, the truth is, for professional artists, the advantages of such offers are limited. Free test rendering can save some costs when preparing a project for online rendering, but the perk isn't a silver bullet.
One of the largest caveats of free render farms is the inconsistency of their speed. Crowdsourced distributed rendering, for example, relies entirely on the number of clients connected to the service. Meaning render speeds can change not only by the day but by the hour or minute, causing unpredictable delays. For many, this can be a deal breaker, as one of the key benefits of rendering on a farm is being able to render quicker than you might be able to on your own computer.
Another caveat is that free render farms tend to come and go quickly, meaning you can never fully rely on services being available year-by-year. For example, renderfarm.fi was a major free render farm for years until it suddenly shut down. Sadly, this appears to be a status quo for free render services due to the complexity and costs of keeping render services online.
Security is another major consideration. An inherent aspect of crowdsourced render farms, especially, is a lack of security for files uploaded to the farms. Most professional work in the industry is typically covered under a non-disclosure agreement which prevents releasing any project data to the public. However, with crowdsourcing, it's tough to comply with an NDA because render files are sent directly to other users' computers. While some crowdsourced render farms hide rendered images from render hosts, it can be difficult to hide all aspects of a project 100%.
Lastly, most free render farms lack strong customer support options, mostly relying on volunteers or part-time developers to support the systems required for rendering. This means that should something go wrong during rendering, there are few options for recourse.
Free render farms can be a godsend for those who don't have a budget at the moment, but the many caveats of using free services need to be considered. In many cases, a lack of support and speed can translate to hidden costs in terms of time and additional work monitoring renders and manually setting up projects to render on those farms. That being said, it's good to know what paid options are available and how these implicit costs can be reduced.
Many render farms offer professional support and quick render times without being overly expensive for even small freelance projects. Render farms like RenderStreet or RenderPool offer subscription-based plans that allow unlimited rendering for artists on a budget. Furthermore, services like Chaos Cloud for V-Ray, Fox Render Farm, or our render farm here at GarageFarm.NET provide generous amounts of free render credit to get started on projects while offering top-of-the-line customer support. Paid render farms also tend to support a wider range of software and render engines.
If you're interested in using our render services for anything from After Effects animations to Maya projects, you can visit us at GarageFarm.NET for up to $50 of free render credit to get you started rendering in a pinch.