(Updated) VRay Lighting Guide: Tips and Tricks

If you’re looking for the VRay 2.0 Guide, go here.

You simply cannot render without lights. Nothing will show; it’ll be pitch black.

You can’t render with bad lighting either. Your materials and objects will look weird; not to mention all the weird shadows and highlight burns your final image will suffer from.

In order to produce a good design render, one of the main skills you need is being able to add good lighting to your space.

So, in this guide we’ll be focusing on how to light up a model with every single lighting object VRay has to offer.


VRay Lights Toolbar Preview

Let’s get to know this handy little toolbar first.

You can find it by going to View > Toolbars… > VRay Lights

Starting from Left to Right, these are the available Light options with links to their Chaos Group information pages:

All Lights can be edited in the VRay Asset Editor under the Lightbulb Icon, you can click the small arrow on the right (middle of the edge) to see all the advanced options.


Settings Used in the Light Preview Renders

  • Exposure Value for all renders is 10.
  • Light Color values are set at RGB 247 – 239 – 225 (More realistic White).
  • All renders are raw; unedited with no exposure modifications or filters (only a Highlight Burn value of 0).
  • All materials used are generic VRay materials.
  • All lights are either set at the Intensity of a 100 Watts (Radiant Power) or a similar equivelant.

VRay Rectangle Light (Plane Light)

Rendered Preview of the Rectangle (Plane) Light

The first one on the toolbar is the Rectangle Light (Plane Light) and it is not really one of my favorites. You can add this light to your scene by clicking its icon and then clicking the area/plane in the model you want to place it in/on.

General Purpose:

  • Strengthen the light coming through a window by placing the plane infront of the window (Light Portal > Portal Light).
  • The light of a screen (Intensity: 5 – Texture: Screen Image of Choice).
Preview of the Rectangle (Plane) Light in Sketchup

Make sure the light is also facing the direction you want it to illuminate, and that the size is right; bigger size = more light. You can always resize your Rectangle (Plane) Light using the Scale Tool & move it around/rotate using the Move Tool.

You can also hide the object itself by checking the Invisible option (so you only get the light without the glowing plane) and you can also change the shape of it to an Ellipse.

Rctangle (Plane) Light Settings for the Render

VRay Sphere Light

Rendered Preview of the Sphere Light

Next we have the Sphere Light, it comes in handy if I want to simulate the light of a bulb. I just click the icon and place the sphere on top of an existing buld with an emissive material. The shadows it casts are decent, and they’re even more realsitic when placed correctly and sized to the relative size of the bulb you’re simulating.

General Purpose:

  • Create a light bulb “effect” in chadeliers.
  • Create a light bulb “effect” in shaded lamps & pendandt lights.
  • Create a lit candle “effect” in lanterns (Color: depends on flame color – Intensity: from 5 to 15 depending on the size).
Preview of the Sphere Light in Sketchup

Like the Rectangle (Plane) Light, the size affects the intensity. But since it’s a sphere shape and doesn’t really have a single direction, the placement isn’t really an issue. You can also resize and move around using the Scale & Move tools. You can hide the Speher Light by checking the Invisible option to only get the light without the glowing orb.

Sphere Light Settings for the Render

VRay Spot Light

Rendered Preview of the Spot Light

This light my favorite, because it’s so versatile; it also casts a softer and more muted light than the Sphere light with softer shadows (softness degree depends on your settings. The Light Object is Invisible by default, so this makes it very convenient.

Preview of the Spot Light in Sketchup

The direction of the light is important, but the size doesn’t change the intensity; you can move it around and chage the rotation by using the Move Tool.

General Purpose:

  • All types of Spot Lights.
  • Desk Lights and non-shaded Pendant lamps.
  • Any single direction light source.
Spot Light Settings for the Render

You can control how wide the ‘light cone’ is from the Cone Angle, and how harsh the transition from Light to Shadow is from the Penumbra Angle. You can also control how harsh a shadow is created by this light from the Shadow Radius. All these settings depend on the type of light source you’re using, so start with the settings shown above and work from there.


VRay IES Light

Rendered Preview of the IES Light

The IES Light works the same way a Spot Light does (it even has a similar shape) but for this light to work, you’ll need an IES (Illuminating Engineering Society) file. What an IES file does is basically tell VRay the texture or pattern this light will cast, as well as its intensity.

Preview of the IES Light in Sketchup

IES is not a strong enough illumination source, it’s basically a decorative light; you may need to override the IES intensity for it to even show up in a well lit render. Similar to the Spot Light, IES light is direction oriented but the size won’t affect the intensity or size of pattern. The Light Object is also invisible by default.

General Purpose:

  • Decorative Ceiling Lights (Spot Lights).
  • Decorative Spotlights in Crevices or Shelving units.
  • Jewelry/Clothing Displays.
  • Car Headlights along with the correct IES file & Emissive material combo.
  • Pool Lights, Fountain Lights, and Outdoor Decorative Lights.
IES Light Settings for the Render

As you can see, I’ve overridden the Intensity of the IES to 500,000 to make this single light illuminate the scene alone.


VRay Omni Light

Rendered Preview of the IES Light

The Omni Light is not much different than the Sphere Light, other than it casts a softer glow & creates better shadows. It’s also invisible by default so I don’t have to hide it.

General Purpose:

Same purpose as the Sphere Light but in scenes/spaces where the Sphere Light would be too harsh.

Preview of the Omni Light in Sketchup

So far, I haven’t seen a change in intensity when resizing the object and since it’s multi-dimensional the orientation is not going to affect the direction.

Omni Light Settings for the Render

You can change the harshness of the shadows the objects cast when illuminated by the Omni light by adjusting the Shadow Radius.


VRay Dome Light

Rendered Preview of the Dome Light

Dome Light acts as an Environment Background and as a Light Filter; it’s mainly for outdoor uses when rendering the Exterior Facade of a building or a Landscape design. It’s not so great when rendering interiors under regular conditions; because I think the effect is too weak compared to using Environment Background.

General Purpose:

  • Creating an “outdoor environment” with the appropriate light filters.
  • I like using it only when I want the outdoors to look like it’s Snowing, Overcast, or Dusk/Night.
Preview of the Dome Light in Sketchup

In order to use Dome Light correctly, you need to use an HDRI texture as the Dome Light’s Texture. You can control your HDRI orientation by enabling Lock Dome Light & then rotating your Dome Light object. You also need to disable Sunlight (Light Menu) for this to work properly.

Dome Light Settings for the Render
HDRI Texture Settings for the Render

VRay Mesh Light

Rendered Preview of the Mesh Light

Mesh Light is not really an actual light source more than it is a “decorative item”, basically like Emissive Materials. In order to use Mesh Light, you need to have a Group or Component selected and then click Mesh Light.

General Purpose:

  • LED Strips or any other Light Strips.
  • LED Light Bulbs.
  • All Screen types (add screen texture).
  • Pin Lights, Christmas Lights and any other small decorative Lights (eg: TV Power Light) + add appropriate Color value.

It’s so versatile; you can literaly turn any shape into a light emitting source. Just keep in mind, this may prolong your render time. It’s also a pretty powerful light source, but it I’m not fond of the shadows.


General Tips for Beginners

  • To make your render more realistic, play around with your Camera’s Exposure value for a brighter image instead of amping up your light’s Intensity value.
  • If you’re using more than one light source in a single scene, use one of them as your main light source with a higher Intensity than the rest (usually this will be the biggest one in size).
  • If the Camera’s Exposure is making the scene too bright, use the Override Exposure settings in the Frame Buffer to adjust the scene to your liking.
  • NEVER use a pure white color as your light Color, instead use the value I provided at the beginning of this post or something even warmer.
  • Test all your lights first before rendering to save time; render a smaller resolution image with Material Override enabled and the Material Color set to Light Grey (the image may seem brighter, keep it that way because when you render with all you materials the scene may get darker).
  • Interactive Render is your best friend, use it to test light placements and intensity.

That’s it for this article! Hope you learned something new 🙂 If you have any questions or ideas, leave a comment below. I reply fast 😉

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