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IKEA’s Hyper-Renders Could Be the End of Product Photography

By Justin Heyes on August 30th 2014

When you flip though an IKEA catalog, can you spot the difference between what is a photograph and what is a high-res rendering? Well it might surprise you to find out that nearly 75% of an IKEA catalog is computer generated.



IKEA has been using CG rendering since the summer of 2004 and released its first digital product, the “Bertil,” in the Fall two years later. There were skeptics in house that didn’t think CGI would be as good as real photographs. Martin Enthed, the IT Manager for the in-house communication agency of IKEA, stated, “The real turning point for us was when, in 2009, they called us and said, ‘You have to stop using CG. I’ve got 200 product images and they’re just terrible. You guys need to practice more.’ So we looked at all the images they said weren’t good enough and the two or three they said were great, and the ones they didn’t like were photography and the good ones were all CG! Now, we only talk about a good or a bad image – not what technique created it.”

[REWIND:A Beautiful Blend of Photography and CGI | Shooting For the 2014 World Cup Calendar]


The rendering must have a “shelf life” of up to six years. While most of the images will only appear on their website or on the catalog pages, each production is rendered at 4K by 4K for that one instance when they need to print them on the walls of the store.


Same kitchen was rendered three times for different countries.

Cross-training was used to produce the highest quality “photographs.” The 3D artists had to learn how real light and shadow behaved, whilst the staff photographer had to learn Autodesk 3ds Max, the program behind such films as Avatar and 2012.


Looking at media today, you can see that there has been a shift from physical to digital for years now. Notable starters Toy Story and ReBoot showed that movies and television could survive without any physical actors on screen. Nowadays, advanced rendering engines (like KeyShot and V-Ray) show that not only can they be used for entertainment, but can be used to create everything from car interiors, Louis Vuitton handbags, you name it! All without a physical prototype ever being produced.


Complex liquid and caustic effects can be rendered without the bulk of gear, sets, lights, and a crew. The overall cost to create an image goes down, but at what price? At what point is a photo actually a photo? Hyper-realistic renderings have surpassed photographs to the point that not even magazine editors can tell the difference. If/when IKEA fills in the remaining 25% of their catalog with digital renderings, consumers might not even notice a difference. From a business stand point, when does this become false advertising, if none of the products showcased are even real?

[Via CGSociety]

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Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Very interesting!

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  2. Michael Moe

    very interesting!

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  3. Hannes Nitzsche

    This is just mind blowing… I would have never guessed that!

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  4. Clark Linehan

    It might work for Ikea, but I’ve had any number of manufacturing clients who have had Solidworks renderings hurt them. They’re actually too perfect, too clean and absolutely no keystoning. Clients suspect that the real item won’t really exist until they get their first order and no one wants to be their first order. I tend to think Ikea wouldn’t put something into a rendering that didn’t exist, but if they were ever proven to have done that I wouldn’t be surprised by some amount of backlash.

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  5. Jens Melgaard

    I think there are some things to consider.

    If we consider what pictures are in catalogs like IKEA (and similar dealers) consider the time it would take to build up all those “sets”, here it seems that using the time it takes to build those up virtually instead has a fair trade-off.

    But there are allot of other types of product photography where I don’t think it’s economically feasible yet.

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    • Adrian Petrica

      Plus they already have the 3d models of the products from the design stage, before they throw them in manufacturing process. So they just put those models in a scene and render them.

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  6. Austin Swenson

    I would have to say that these images look pretty good, but I think that even most of the “photos” that appear in magazines are dumbed down at a pixel level where they don’t even look human from close up enough. Print ad photos are crazy low-res…

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  7. Rafael Steffen

    I think it is kind of sad to see that good product photography is dissapearing!

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  8. Herm Tjioe

    Something like this I never knew before// gotta love their chosen strategy of cross training the image makers.

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  9. Greg Faulkner

    Not as bad as the images McDonald’s use on the overhead menus. I can still remember the disappointment when I ordered my first ever Big Mac and then opened the plastic box it was in lol

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