What is the best way to generate photorealistic images of CAD data? We have CAD data of screws, plates, molds etc in different formats. Most of them in STEP.

We have read older posts saying that it is not possible to directly import STEP files to Blender. Does this still hold true? What formats does blender accept when it comes do render photorealistic images?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Import file formats have no directimpact on render quality. Setting up "realistic" renders is an art by itself, its slightly subjective and too broad to cover here $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


welcome to BlenderExchange :)

At this time of writing, STEP files aren't able to to be imported natively into Blender. You'll need to save your files in a different format: .stl, .ply, even .obj and others are available.

@Duarte is correct: photorealism has little to do with filetypes. What's more, STEP files don't (yet) contain lighting, camera or volumetric data, so you can't import previously designed photorealistic scenes from CAD programs into Blender via STEP.

Arguably the biggest problems with imported files are:

  • triangulation of mesh faces
  • disconnected edges
  • random origin points
  • odd scaling, and
  • no smoothing (perfectly smooth vector shapes are often converted to meshes, which means polygonal shapes rather than curves). This is a real headache with complex shapes.

I'm not sure if STEP files also store material data: color, gloss, emission, transparency and other properties - I don't think they do. No software is a magic bullet solution. The ability to achieve Photorealism will always be the responsibility of the artist, not the software.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ STEP, is not one format its a bunch of related formats, called Application Profiles (AP). AP 209 does not but AP 214 does contain surface rendering properties. Also the real thing with STEP is that it does not have disconnected edges like say IGES. $\endgroup$
    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 18:32

Simple in 5 steps:

1- Convert the CAD data into a format that can be imported by blender.

2- Switch to cycles render engine.

3- Create realistic materials, assign them to your objects and light the scene in a realistic way.

4- Render.

5- The most important step: Forget about magic buttons that will do all of the previous 4 steps for you, this will require you to do some work and learn how to use the software.


There was an STEP importer Addon released for Blender 2.8x in January 2020.

Details can be found here: https://blender.stackexchange.com/a/166443/15678

  • $\begingroup$ A paid add-on. I hear good things about it, although Windows only (with an unsupported and painful Linux install option). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 5:23

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