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2D and 3D Visualization Software, What’s the Difference?

2D vs 3D Visualization Software

Visualization has many different topics. Recently we’ve covered Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for manufacturers. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into 2D vs 3D visualization product configurator software. When talking about digital visualization, different types and their advantages and disadvantages, you can, in general, differentiate between 2D and 3D visualization tools

2D Visualization  

When referring to visualization as 2D, you are typically stating that the result of the visualization is a static two-dimensional image (width and height). The “2D” reference does not say anything about what that result image is displaying. It could be a simple line drawing, a computer-generated image (CGI) showing a product in a three-dimensional perspective or  real-life photography made with a camera.  

Very common examples of line drawings are technical drawings derived from CAD providing relevant construction and manufacturing data like all necessary parts and dimensions. They typically show a product from pre-defined viewpoints looking straight to the front, side and top with an orthographic projection of the product, so all relevant information is extractable and non-ambiguous.  

CAD drawings are often generated after the actual configuration process and provided together with the proposal and potentially the corresponding CAD for further verification and usage in subsequent processes.


(Image of a technical CAD drawing)

CGI 3D visualizations are typically showing products in a photorealistic and real-life looking way mimicking real-world photography. Those images are generated with the virtual equivalent to a real-world photo studio and therefore often referred to as virtual photography. Like in the real-world, the product, in the form of 3D models, is placed in a “virtual” photo studio, defining background, lighting, and cameras to produce a single and specifically designed shot of the product.

It is a static setup for a picture from one precisely pre-defined angle and distance. For a different viewpoint, typically many parts of the studio are rearranged, like the background or the lights. Creating those photorealistic images can take up to several hours for one picture depending on the desired fidelity and resolution. The result is often an image that is hardly distinguishable from a real photo and therefore perfectly suitable for design and aesthetical oriented products and presentations.

(Image of CGI 3D visualization)

Since everything in an image is static, the background, the lights, the viewpoint and of course the product and its configuration, every variation needs to get their own image. Depending on the product and its configuration complexity this approach can very quickly lead to thousands of individual images necessary to cover everything wanted. Quality assurance gets very cumbersome and time-consuming and changes of a few settings can easily lead to re-producing many pictures all over again.

There are techniques available to reduce the number of individual pictures by not producing complete product visualization but only parts of the products and assembling those part images at runtime, but those techniques have their own restrictions and problems making the whole system and delivery setup much more complicated. The flexibility at runtime is typically paid with many more pictures to produce up-front and to manage over the lifetime.

Mercedes Configurator

(Images generated with a real-time compositing technique)

CGI modeling is not very suited to visualize products with high configuration complexity and many parametric variants. Additionally, since a single image only covers a certain view on the product, interactivity needs to be bought with even more individual images.

Best use cases are either for simple, well-known products where it is possible to cover/showcase the few variants of the product from a few different viewpoints or for special key shots of any kind of products to highlight certain features or to present the product in an attractive and real-world looking way.

(Image of a simple product with focus on design)

3D Visualization

In contrast to 2D visualization, 3D visualization is referring to real-time and interactive 3D visualization. At first glance, the results can look quite similar, but the main difference is that the resulting visualization is produced in real-time in the moment of viewing it and not up-front and that it is possible to freely explore and interact with the created 3D world. Therefore, all necessary data and information for the visualization need to be transferred to the device rendering the visualization.

That device needs the capabilities and functionalities to process those and render the resulting image several times per second to produce a smooth running and highlight interactive real-time visualization. This technique brings certain advantages compared to a 2D visualization but constraints as well with it.

Since everything is rendered right in the moment of usage, the visualization is highly reactive and flexible. It is possible to view everything from every possible viewpoint and angle. It is possible to rotate, move and zoom individually for every user. And it is also possible to interact with the model in a natural way like dragging and dropping objects around and adjusting them as an inherent functionality of 3D real-time visualization.

(Image of dragging objects in the 3D visualization)

It is also unnecessary to pre-calculate and generate all possible variants and combinations possible which enables showing the full complexity and parametric variance of a product without pre-producing them. This enables a much more flexible and adaptive creation and maintenance process supporting the most complex products and their updates and changes over their lifetime.

(Image of parametric product visualized with 3D real-time visualization)

Virtual Fidelity

Visual fidelity is in most cases not an issue anymore since modern graphic cards and hardware capabilities allow high visual fidelity in real-time for most use cases. And it is also possible to render technical drawing style visualizations with 3D real-time visualization as well, which means it is possible to completely mimic a 2D visualization with a 3D visualization.

(Image of a real-time 3D visualization software with focus on high visual fidelity)

Depending on where the 3D real-time visualization is running, on the client/user side or on a server as a streaming solution, specific requirements on hardware and internet connection of the displaying device need to be met to enable and support a smooth and adequate visual experience. This also adds additional constraints and requirements on the data being produced and later used for the 3D visualization software in contrast to a pre-rendered 2D visualization only sending over individual pre-rendered images to the displaying device.

But the gotten flexibility and agility of the output of 3D data visualization software compared to the static 2D visualization allows supporting high complex variant products, parametric configurations, and more engaging and immersive experience.

What is CPQ? and How does 3D Visualization help CPQ?

Configure Price Quote (CPQ) software platforms help manufacturers use self-service, guided (and remote) selling to accurately configure complex products and services for prospective customers. CPQ solutions help manufacturers ensure correct pricing, deliver personalized and highly customized quotes, and massively accelerate the time it takes a salesperson to create a proposal using spreadsheets. Time-consuming back and forth approval sessions between the customer, the engineering team and the sales team are also minimized.

Utilizing 3D visualization software enables your buyers to see the real-time virtual image of their products. Enabling them to see their products creates an emotional connection while also eliminating costly design errors, down to the smallest detail. Customers can also use Self-Service to build the products on their own time, adding to a multichannel approach for your manufacturing operation.

How can I use product visualization software remotely?

With the outbreak of COVID-19 sales teams across industries have been thrown into uncharted territories, manufacturing is no exception. Selling in-person is out of the question for the foreseeable future. Like many other businesses, your company must find new ways to succeed in the market while working from home.

The smallest details count when it comes to selling manufacturing products. It can be difficult during a demo to explain just how one small part can affect the entire setup of any particular product. That being said, it is possible to provide users with the optimal solution and an accurate visual representation of the product using visual configuration.

With 3D visuals software, it’s easier than ever to create photo-realistic visuals of customized products in realtime. Lack of product knowledge, misunderstandings, and different expectations cut into revenue, margin and customer experience.

Now that you’ve got a quick lesson on 2D and 3D visualization:

It’s time to learn more about how visualizations can change how you sell your manufacturing products. Please access some of our resources for a deeper look: 

Check out more of our topics in visualization and design visualization software:

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality for Manufacturers

Tacton Visualization Product Sheet 

[Expert Series] The Current State of 3D Product Configuration

Seeing is Believing: Envisioning the Future of Manufacturing Sales 

Or check out our video on visual configuration!

Author: Michael Brassea