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Jewelry Photography vs Renders for E-Commerce

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With major improvements to CAD in the last two decades, many jewelers are replacing jewelry photography with renders for their e-commerce store.

Will CAD rendering replace jewelry photography for e-commerce or will jewelry photography still reign king? We’ve analyzed and compared the advantages and disadvantages of each in this post.

Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts? Let us know in the comments below. We’ll also be updating this post as we gain more insights into this emerging debate.


A camera is specifically designed to capture the details and accuracy of an object. This is even more important with jewelry photography as customers would like to see the fine details in the craftsmanship and specific characteristics of gemstones. After a piece of jewelry has been captured, the image undergoes post-production to remove any imperfections ready for e-commerce.

jewelry photography vs renders

With a CAD rendering, we are simulating the details of the piece of jewelry. This means the CAD artist will need to recreate the details including textures, gradients, and reflections in the metals and gemstones. The final output will vary depending on the software used and the amount of effort put in by the CAD artist.


Jewelry Photography vs Renders for E-Commerce

Your Jewelry photography can be used anywhere and can be repurposed for any situation beyond e-commerce.

CAD renders, on the other hand, are not accepted as e-commerce photos on most online marketplaces such as 1stdibs, eBay, Amazon, and Etsy. However, the CAD files itself can be sold to some of these marketplaces.


For jewelry photography, we recently wrote a blog article on how much jewelry photography was costing your business. To summarise, the average monetary cost for your camera, lens, lighting, other equipment, and photo editing software is $2,000. This doesn’t factor in any additional photography courses undertaken.

If you are outsourcing your photography, you could pay anywhere from $25-$50 per image.

Jewelry Photography vs Renders for E-Commerce

For jewelry rendering, most CAD software already has inbuilt functions that allow users to render their 3D models. If you have not yet implemented CAD to your operational process, the licensing fees can average above $6,000. This does not factor in any additional training courses undertaken. Also required to process large CAD files is a high-performance computer. The cost of a high-performance computer can start from the $2,000 price range. In total, CAD software can cost around $10,000.

While purchasing CAD software is significantly more expensive than purchasing photography equipment, most jewelers seeking to improve their design and manufacturing process would find the investment in CAD software much more beneficial than photography given the additional functionality to create renders at no additional cost. However, jewelers may want to outsource a jewelry retouching company to add a sense of realism for the rendered design.


Both jewelry photography and CAD have tremendous learning curves. However, learning photography is easier given the fewer barriers to entry and more resources available due to a large online photography community. The techniques used in jewelry photography can apply to any piece of photography equipment, making it very versatile. There is also a huge learning curve for photo editing software, however, this can be completely disregarded if the jeweler decides to outsource this process.

For CAD, it’s almost essential that you take the training courses to use the software. After the training course, many hours are required to become proficient at using the CAD software. However, many jewelers would agree though that learning the CAD software would add more value to their business compared to learning jewelry photography.


Jewelry Photography vs Renders for E-Commerce

For jewelry photography, it is very difficult to replicate a shot. The exact same lighting environment is required. Further, the photography equipment and the jewelry must be at the exact same position. This can be very annoying if you need to reshoot a particular piece of jewelry. As for different metal tones, the colors can be manipulated in third-party software.

When using CAD, you can save the exact same settings so that you’ll have consistency in renders. The files can be sent off to a render farm, and the renders will come out exactly how you’ve set them.


Jewelry photography requires that you set up your lighting and photography equipment every single time you need to take a photo. This may not be practical especially if you have just one or two new pieces that you want to put onto your website.

Some lightboxes such as the GemLightbox removes the need to fiddle with lighting and other cluttery photography equipment. Simply turn on the power, position your jewelry and capture straight from your smartphone! Anyone with a smartphone will be able to use GemLightbox without any training.

The images can then be uploaded to Picup Media’s website for retouching with a 72-hour turnover. You can read more about speeding up your photography process here.

If you are outsourcing your photography, a photographer would be required to turn your store into a makeshift studio for a few days. If you live in an area where there are no jewelry photographers, you would need to ship your stock to the photographer’s premises. Having a day where your business is effectively out of business is a huge cost. There is also the risk of damaged or stolen goods when shipping to and from the premises.

With CAD, you can manipulate the positioning of your jewelry and lighting without having to leave your desk. There are unlimited possibilities with angles you can render your images in as there no distractions or gravity in the CAD environment. The downside is that each individual render may take minutes at a time to process. CAD renders are not practical for old and existing stock. For the render to be created, you would need to model it from scratch. This is probably more cost and time-efficient to have them photographed.


Both 360 jewelry photography and 3d modeling are extremely difficult. The chart below summaries the time and costs associated with each.

jewelry photography vs renders - videos

Did you know that you can create 360 videos with GemLightbox and your smartphone? What would normally require a professional can be shot by anyone with a smartphone. Check out the video below to find out how.

Our conclusion

While there have been major improvements to jewelry CAD rendering, there have also been innovations in the jewelry photography sector. With GemLightbox, jewelry photography has become simplified, making it a much more practical option compared to outsourcing the photography or using CAD renders. We still believe CAD renders can be used to supplement jewelry photography, to show the journey of conceptualization to the final product. Combining both creates a compelling story that can boost your brand.

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1 Comment
  • This is a very reasoned argument but, If like my self your intention is to fabricate entirely from scratch most of the time, then it has to be photography for me.

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