The IKEA Catalog’s Rendering Secret

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, 12% of the images Swedish retailer IKEA uses for marketing purposes are not photographs, but rather, 3D renderings. And by next year, the company hopes to up that to 25%. The reason? Cost savings.

Before beginning its foray into rendering and 3D modeling, IKEA spent two-thirds of its annual marketing budget on building display rooms for its products, and due to differences in regional taste, instead of one kitchen, they would build several, each showcasing slightly different shades of wood or alternate upholstery on couches. Now, these sorts of details are easily changeable within the same 3D model, reducing the time and effort spent building and demolishing set pieces; this also saves material, as old sets would be thrown away after photo-shoots.

Of course, digital modeling has drawbacks—it is still extremely difficult to render food and people, for example—but the method is catching on, and the percentage of rendered images used in IKEA’s catalogs will continue to climb. IKEA’s first rendered product image took a team of three an entire year to complete, but even with the clumsier software of that era, no one noticed that the furniture depicted wasn’t real.

A wire-frame screenshot of one of IKEA’s digital models