What’s the difference between ©, ®, and ™?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

We’ve all seen the symbols representing Copyright©, Registered Trademark® and boring, old regular Trademark™. But how many of us really know how to use them?

  • Copyright© is what protects tangible works like writings, songs, and artwork. It gives the creator the right to reproduce those works as they see fit. It prevents others from doing so.
  • Trademark™ protects things like slogans and logos used to identify the source of goods.

Here’s an example that may help. Sally writes a series of books called Sally’s Simple Guides. She writes guides on cooking, spelunking, brain surgery and several other topics. The content of her books—the words and images—can be protected by copyright. But, the phrase, Sally’s Simple Guide, and any logos associated with her brand fall under trademark.


Anything you produce is automatically under copyright as soon as it is created. Sally’s book covers can bear the phrase © 2014 Sally Smith. While copyright is automatic, it’s a good idea to register claims with the US Copyright Office. This enters the copyright into the public record and allows it to be used as evidence in a court of law. 1

Copyrights do not protect ideas, products, methods, systems or information. Those kinds of protections generally fall under patent law.

Trademark and Registered Trademark

Anyone can trademark something that distinguishes a brand. Sally can add ™ to her logo, tag line and anything she wants, without filing any paperwork. It is simply a claim. The next step is getting that claim registered with the U.S. Trademark Office. This will allow her to use the registered trademark ® symbol. More importantly, this is what allows her to bring legal action against someone who infringes on her trademark.

Other Protections

There are also other less used symbols and types of protection. Sound recordings have a special kind of copyright called phonorecord.

Most people do not realize that trademarks are only for products, while service marks are for services. This doesn’t really matter because like trademarks, unregistered service marks provide little legal protection. To make it even more confusing, once a service mark is registered, it is represented with the ® symbol.

There is also a legal term called trade dress. Trade dress is what protects the visual appearance of things that identify a brand. It can apply to the aesthetics of products, packaging, or even buildings. For example, the large, golden arches McDonalds incorporates into some of their buildings can be considered trade dress because it helps to identify its brand.


There are areas where protections overlap. For example, Dr. Peter Venkman is a character in the movie Ghost Busters. Characters are part of the movie content and could fall under copyright. However, the image of Dr. Peter Venkman is also a way by which the Ghost Busters brand is identified. So, it could also fall under trademark.

How long do protections last?

Another distinction between trademark and copyright is how long they last. Copyrighted material created after 1977 is protected for 70 years after the death of the creator. After the time is up, the work enters the public domain. 3

An interesting aside—longer periods of time now apply to corporations, largely due to lobbying from Walt Disney. The earliest Mickey Mouse movies would have fallen into public domain if U.S. copyright laws hadn’t changed in 1998. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, became known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act by critics of the law.

Trademarks last as long as they are used and defended. That brings up another important aspect of rights protection.

How are rights actually protected?

You are the one who must defend your copyrighted and trademarked material. Nothing magic happens when you add symbols to your products and packaging. The symbols are just ways of putting the public on notice that you intend to fight for your rights.

Registering your claims with the government isn’t magic either. Registering only provides you with more tools to defend yourself. If someone infringes on your copyrighted or trademarked material, you will have to take them to court and fight it out!

I’m not a lawyer. Heck, I’m barely a marketing professional. So here are some sources for the legal information in this article.

1 http://copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#automatic

2 http://www.uspto.gov/faq/trademarks.jsp#_Toc275426681

3 http://www.stopfakes.gov/faqs/how-long-does-patent-trademark-or-copyright-protection-last

3 Reasons B to B Companies Need Social Media

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

It’s easy to see why businesses that market directly to consumers need social media. It’s a direct way to get timely promotions in front of a target audience. But why would a manufacturer, paper converter or construction company spend time and effort posting on social sites? B to B companies don’t see a lot of value in social media, especially when most of Facebook is filled with posts like, “I’m eating a taco!” But there are good reasons for B to B businesses to have a healthy social presence.

1. Brand Awareness

B to B companies can fall into the trap of thinking they have nothing to offer on social media since they don’t run promotions like B to C companies. But the majority of advertising isn’t about promotions; it’s about brand awareness. Imagine seeing a red and white billboard with the Coca Cola logo and nothing else. Why would the soda giant pay for a billboard with no message? They do it simply to reinforce their brand.

Social media can be used to put your logo, colors, tag line and other branding in front of a ton of eyeballs. Tell them what you do. Then tell them again. Tell people so much that when they think of your industry they immediately imagine your business. The key is having something to say that people will care about. How do you do that without promotions? Read on.

2. Public Relations

A lot of companies are proud of the fact that they are involved in the community. Many businesses sponsor events and donate hefty amounts to charity. You can try to get noticed for your efforts through traditional means like newspaper articles. But why not tell your community directly through social media?

If you sponsor a Little League team, don’t just hang a team picture in your lobby. Use your Facebook page to become the team’s cheerleader! If you donate money to a local shelter, turn it into a community event. Use social media to tell your community you’ll match donations. Or, post on the social pages of other businesses challenging them to donate with you. If your business sponsors a new performing arts center, don’t just settle for a mention at the ribbon cutting. Post regular articles and reviews about the performances to your social outlets.

3. Recruiting

Every company wants good employees. Many companies brag about their benefits to attract the best applicants. And many companies claim to be a “fun” place to work. Don’t just claim it. Show people!

If you have fun events at your business take photos and show the world! If you recognize outstanding employees on your team, don’t just hang an employee-of-the-month picture on the wall. Post it on online. If outstanding employees have LinkedIn accounts, ask the CEO to publicly endorse them. Do you have a kick-butt employee lounge? Post photos of your amenities online.

The new generation of workers grew up online. They are used to forming opinions about companies through social media. If you want the best team, a simple job posting won’t cut it.

All three of these reasons to participate in social media are connected by a fact. They are things you already do offline. Every successful business understands it needs to build a brand, handle public relations and attract a quality team. Many businesses have been doing these things in traditional ways, but struggle to make the transition to social media. However, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. You just need a plan.

Directions Marketing can help you create a content calendar for your social outlets. We can teach you how to get in the habit of documenting all the good things about your business so they can be presented online. We can even help you create custom content such as YouTube videos. Let us help you become a social company.

3D Technology for Package Visualization

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

During the recent Best of Food Packaging show in Minneapolis, Wynn Wiksell from General Mills showed an interesting example of consumers moving to online purchasing. South Korean commuters, too busy to go grocery shopping, are able to examine life-size prints of store shelves and purchase items with their smart phones while waiting for trains. While new technology and novel ideas like this provide a clear benefit to consumers, it creates a huge challenge for manufacturers, retailers and package designers.

Part of the shopping experience in a real store is picking up a product to examine it from different angles. While the front of a package is most important, the other sides factor into a shopper’s decision too. Because of this, the package engineering and artwork is done with every angle in mind. Package design has always been a three dimensional concept. But how does an online consumer pick up and examine a virtual product?

The most visually appealing and widest available method for displaying something from multiple viewpoints is video. All browsers and smart phone platforms have several ways to display video. Video graphics can be as crisp as your bandwidth can handle. But there is a huge drawback. While flashy, video content isn’t very interactive. You can play and stop an animation but that’s it. Consumers can’t choose their own camera angles.

What is needed is a way for consumers to interactively spin 3D models around at will. While several options exist for package designers to create 3D content, there is no standard way for everyday consumers to view it online.

Every computer, and even many phones, have graphics cards with the ability to display 3D content. But after decades of trying, there is still no standard for harnessing that ability. Several different 3D technologies have tried and failed to gain wide acceptance online. One of the most promising 3D viewers of the last decade was Papervision3D. Unfortunately, it runs inside Flash and is experiencing the same slow death.

Currently, one of the most common methods for viewing 3D content is through PDF files. Adobe added rudimentary 3D capabilities to Acrobat Reader years ago. Since Acrobat is so ubiquitous, it has proven a popular way to show off products in three dimensions among professionals. You can download a 3D PDF created by Directions Marketing here. For the 3D content to work properly you’ll need to download the PDF to your computer and open it with a newer version of Adobe Acrobat.

As great as PDF’s are, they have drawbacks. Acrobat still can’t view 3D files on most mobile devices. On computers, Acrobat is limited to the power of the users graphics card. 3D models usually have to be dummed-down so they work smoothly. Even on a powerful computer the graphics still don’t compete with a low-end video game. 3D PDF’s won’t work in a browser so they have to be downloaded to your computer.

So, where does this leave manufacturers, retailers and product designers? We’re all waiting for technology to catch up with itself and a clear 3D standard to be established. The means to create and view 3D content has existed for decades. The problem is that the internet is still in its infancy. While amazing things happen online, the web is still a soup of different technologies that don’t always cooperate with each other. Just getting major browsers to agree on how they display regular old text is an ongoing issue.

When the technology is available to consumers, Directions Marketing will be ready. Over its 60 year history, Directions has quickly adopted new technology and recruited experts to deliver top quality package design. We regularly use 3D illustration, animation and 3D PDFs to communicate with large CPG clients. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

You Will Own a 3D Printer

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

Recently there has been hype surrounding 3D printed guns. 3D printing is going to change the world but not because of weapons. The revolution is going to happen with everyday, mundane household items.

For those who don’t know, 3D printing is a form of rapid prototyping. A digital 3D model tells a machine how to lay down layers of thin material. The layers build up, and up until a physical 3D object takes form. (In the image above, the white gear under the clear yellow plastic is being printed onto the flat surface.) Most 3D printers work with plastic, but there are several that can use other materials like metals and ceramics.

In the very near future when you want a new coffee mug you won’t buy it at the store. You’ll download plans for a mug and print one yourself. Even now, there are 3D printers capable of making everyday objects marketed to home users for around $1,000. This is going to drastically change the way we buy household items. Lose the battery cover for your TV remote? You won’t have to order a new one from the manufacturer. You’ll just download a file and print it yourself. Interested in a piece of jewelry? Download the plans, insert metal powder and print it.

What about more complicated objects? Commercial 3D printers can already create things like circuit boards from multiple materials at the same time. It won’t be long until this technology is available for the home user as well. How long will it be before you can print something like a smart phone? That raises another issue. Companies are going to have to protect engineering plans for their parts even more vigorously. What if plans for the next iPhone were leaked onto the Internet and consumers could print them on their own?

The next hurdle in the 3D printing revolution is being jumped right now. Until now you’ve needed digital 3D files created by an industrial designer to print objects. You can use a separate 3D scanner to create these files but that’s a bit cumbersome. Which is why AIO Robotics created the first 3D fax machine, an all-in-one unit that can scan, copy and print 3D objects.

Right now, we’re used to sharing digital files like photos and MP3’s. But very soon you’ll be able to share actual objects. Like your friend’s earrings? No need to go to the store. Just copy them. Need a new key for the front door? Don’t run to the hardware store. Just copy it. Does your child want the latest action figure? He won’t have to beg his parents for it; he can copy his friend’s. How will manufacturers deal with this? Once something is digitized and uploaded to the Internet there is no way to protect it. It seems that soon, anyone will be able to reproduce almost any object at will.

How will this affect us as humans? Will the ability to create things right in our home make us lazier? Will we care less about design since anything can just be copied? Or will the ability to realize design so quickly make us appreciate good design even more? Time will tell.


The Power of Artwork: Garbage Pail Kids

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

If you grew up in the 1980’s, chances are you immediately recognize a Garbage Pail Kids card when you see one. For those uninitiated in this fine art form, Garbage Pail Kids were a spoof on Cabbage Patch Kids and released as trading cards in 1985. The cards, which doubled as stickers, featured disgusting cartoons of children with exaggerated problems. Each card had a humorous title with the child’s name such as Itchy Richie, a child covered in spiders. Or, there’s the popular Adam bomb, a kid holding a detonator with a mushroom cloud erupting from his skull. Those are tame examples. If you’re not easily offended by potty humor, do an image search for Garbage Pail Kids and you can see how gross it gets.

So why am I blogging about these nauseating trading cards? Is this just a blatant use of 80’s nostalgia to gain readers? Well… maybe. But I think there is a lesson we can learn about the power of artwork if we think about why Garbage Pail Kids became so popular.

Unlike many toys from the 80’s, Garbage Pail Kids did not rely on a popular cartoon to market them. Unlike baseball cards, they did not need the fame of sports heroes either. And you really didn’t play with them. They were not part of a card game. Sure, sometimes the backs were puzzle pieces, but most of the cards were simply released as collectors items. So if you really didn’t do anything with them, why did kids want them? Because they were works of art.

Think about that. The Topps trading card company made millions, and millions of dollars selling art for art’s sake. They targeted an audience and gave them what they wanted. Garbage Pail Kids became so popular Hollywood decided to invest $30 million in a live action movie. Sure, it’s a horrible film, but does the Mona Lisa have a movie?

The lesson is that artwork is powerful and used correctly it can become profitable. Does your company harness the power of artwork? Maybe you need new imagery to propel your brand. Or, maybe your existing artwork isn’t being used to it’s full potential. Directions Marketing has an experienced team of artists and designers ready to take your image to the next level. Whether you need graphic design, photo manipulation, illustration, or 3D rendering, contact us today to see how artwork can help your company profit

What can we learn from Beer Tapper Handles?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

It’s not often sculpture is used as an advertising medium. The one huge exception is beer tapper handles. All you need for a tapper handle is something sturdy to grasp while you pour a beer. But tapper handles have become one of the most elaborate forms of artwork in the world today.

According to Collectors Weekly when Prohibition ended in 1933, government regulations required that beer brands be clearly labeled on taps. Instead of simply adding text to the handles, breweries decided to add logo artwork. As decades passed handles became fancier. But the real golden age of tapper handles came in the 1990s when craft breweries became popular.

If you’re a small brewery, how in the world do you compete with giants like Bud, Miller, or Coors? Running a Super Bowl commercial or sponsoring a NASCAR team is probably out of the question. But micro brews recognized at least one place where there was an equal playing field; the beer tap. Every beer on tap obviously gets its own handle so this is the one place where everyone can compete.

If you’re someone who likes draught beer, you know plenty of decisions are made staring at the tappers. A handle’s appearance can tell you much about the beer. Marketers know this, and a lot of money is spent creating wonderful little sculptures for bar-goers.

If you want to see fine artwork don’t go to a gallery. Go to the pub. Tapper handles have become tremendously ornate. One of the largest manufacturers in the world, AJS Tap Handles in Random Lake, Wis. has a Flicker gallery featuring fully sculpted animals, plants, mascots, people, buildings and everything you can imagine. If not for the beer logos you’d think it was a gallery for a special effects studio!

These tiny works of art are made through a variety of means. Laser cutting, CNC routing, screen-printing, and injection molding are just some of the mechanized processes used. But much of the work, like detail painting, is still done by hand.

The next time you’re at the pub pay attention to the tapper handles. Imagine a designer sketching the idea for the first time. Imagine an artisan hand-painting the handles in batches as small as one hundred. Think about the brewery, fighting in a super competitive market and hoping the little sculpture they commissioned catches your eye. Happy hour may never be the same.

Is your business competing against giant advertising budgets? Are you searching for a way to stand out in a super competitive environment? Maybe there is an equal playing field where your marketing dollars have a better chance of reaching the consumer. Directions Marketing specializes in research and strategic planning. Let us help you gain a better understanding of your industry and find new ways to succeed.


What can the lobster teach us about marketing?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

Perception is all that matters when it comes to branding. Even though lobsters look like giant cockroaches, people think of them as luxury food. But it may surprise you to learn the perception of lobster has fluctuated drastically over the decades.

There was no master plan by Big Lobster to market the crustacean as luxury food. As we will learn, public perception changed due to world events and lots of small players in the food industry trying new things over the decades. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two about product presentation and market reception by studying the lobster’s history in American cuisine.

Lobster started out as a poor man’s food. According to How Lobster Got Fancy by Daniel Luzer, eating lobster was thought of as a sign of poverty in colonial times. In the 1600s, lobster was used as prison food. But things began to change in the 1800s as canned lobster was served to unknowing train passengers. If you didn’t grow up on the coast, it was unlikely you knew about lobster. Since it was canned and didn’t resemble a giant spider, inland train passengers ate it like a new exotic food.

This all happened by accident but there are some important lessons here. First, if you have bad PR in one area, try to find a new market without preconceived notions about your product. Next, visuals matter. Fluffy white meat from a can looks more appetizing than an overgrown red bug. If there are ugly aspects to your product or brand, give it a makeover!

The story continues. As the preparation of lobster was perfected, it got even tastier. By the 1920s, the perception of lobster was riding high. But things were about to change again.

When the depression hit, people could no longer afford chef-prepared lobster and it was demoted back to a canned food. By World War II, it was being shipped to soldiers as a cheap form of protein. But lobster would become popular again very quickly because of a simple advantage. Unlike other foods, lobster wasn’t rationed during the war so many Americans had access to it. The more they ate, the less there was and prices went up. Over the course of a decade, lobster was back to luxury status in restaurants. But this time, since it was so widely available during the war, everyone had a taste for it!

Here’s the lesson. Many products go through cycles where the price rises and falls. The low points in the price cycle are an opportunity to get your product in front of as many people as possible! If you have a quality product, the price will rise again and when it does, you’ll have an even larger customer base than before.

Next time you see lobster on the menu, remember the lessons it teaches us about perception. How is your brand perceived? Are you looking for ways to find new markets where your product or service can have a blank slate? Is your product or service being presented in the most attractive way possible? Call Directions today to talk about how we can improve the perception of your brand.

What Can Album Covers Teach Us About Marketing?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

It’s easy to take packaging for granted, until it’s gone. Album covers were so much a part of purchasing music in past decades that you almost didn’t think about them. The same way humans don’t think about air, or fish don’t think about water, album covers were just a part of the music lover’s life. There are great lessons to be learned from this gone, but not forgotten form of packaging.

The cover for Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out For Summer” was an actual desk with graffiti carved on the outside. When you opened the cover you saw the inside of the desk filled with homework and other items naughty schoolboys would need. A simple piece of cardboard will hold a record, but this packaging became a complex environment that extended the music’s story.

Packaging can sometimes become better known than the product. While a model covered in whipped cream may be tame by modern standards, the cover for Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” caused quite a stir at the time. One could argue the cover concept made a good jazz album into an icon. The cover was so esteemed that at concerts Alpert famously remarked, “Sorry, we can’t play the cover for you!”

Of all the iconic covers we cherish there is probably nothing that compares to the art for “Abbey Road” by The Beatles. And, there may be no other album cover so often parodied. If you run an image search for Abbey Road you will find The Simpsons, Lego figures, storm troupers, mascots and random tourists recreating the classic scene. There are lots of examples of branding that helps to make a product more well know. But this image was so iconic it made the actual background of the photograph famous!

Today, physical media like vinyl records and CDs are all but forgotten, and MP3 files don’t need covers. But artwork is still closely associated with modern music and marketers do their best to channel the timeworn experience of real packaging we all miss. Browse the download section of Amazon or iTunes and you’ll find square icons for MP3s and tall rectangles for movies.

Why is there a difference in the shape of the icons when they are both just digital downloads? The answer is digital retailers are trying to mimic the packaging of older media. Artwork associated with MP3s is square because album covers were square. Movie downloads are tall rectangles because VHS tapes and DVDs were packaged that way. These obsolete forms of packaging are so ingrained in our cultural experience that they are still having an impact on the way electronic media is marketed to us today.

The future of album artwork without physical packaging is uncertain. Major record companies and online retailers are fighting over a standardized format for imbedding artwork, lyrics and other information into digital music files. Even though this extra information isn’t technically needed, consumers want all the superfluous goodies that came with real packaging. As a result, companies like Sony, Warner, Apple and Amazon have all spent millions of dollars trying to rekindle that old album cover experience.

Even if everyone agrees on a digital standard there will never be anything like holding a real record in your hands again. The age of classic album covers has sadly come to an end.

There is a great lesson in this for consumers. Don’t take packaging for granted! Packaging isn’t just glitz competing for your attention on the store shelf. Album covers show us that consumers can come to know and even love packaging. Would you be sad if some of the packaging you see every day disappeared? There is also a great lesson for manufacturers. Album covers teach us that packaging can transcend its basic function. It can become part of the consumer experience. It can create an environment and a story for your product. What does your packaging do? Does your packaging simply shelter and display a product? Or, could it be much, much more? Work with Directions Marketing to find out.


Is everything flat enough yet?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

Welcome to design in 2014. Everything is flat. I’ve read several blogs documenting the current trend towards “flat” design, but not many explaining how we got here and whether or not it’s a good thing. Before we get too far, flat design is the absence of things like drop shadows, highlights and gradients. It is, well… flat. While I like much of the flatness out there, I think the movement is an overreaction and a lesson in how designers can depend too much on their software for inspiration.

When computers took over the design world only the simplest features were available. But when software like Photoshop began to mature, several extra features were added and subsequently abused by designers. In the late 90s, Photoshop made it very easy to add things like drop shadows with a single click. Now there’s nothing wrong with a drop shadow in itself – but drop shadows, bevels and gradients started to show up in logos for no other reason than they were easy to add. For a while nothing was flat. But the pendulum was going to swing even further with the iPhone!

The golden age of non-flat design happened with the rise of the iPhone. The icons for iOS and other Mac products were super, duper glossy and semi-3D looking. These kinds of effects took a bit of talent to reproduce. It couldn’t be achieved with a single mouse click in Photoshop. Until very recently, this uber-glossy look was all the rage. But the pendulum had swung too far.

Microsoft has never really been considered a thought leader in design, but as their mobile products developed, the design community took note of the radically minimalistic design. No gloss. No shadows. Even round corners were too much! Just the bare minimum was needed to convey the message. Others followed and when Mac released i0S 7, the flat design movement was in full swing. But have things gone a little too far?

The flat movement has been a good kick in the pants for several brands that needed to simplify their look. But what if your logo was already simple? Visa recently changed their already simple logo by removing the only color differentiation it had.

Was that really necessary? While we must pay attention to current design movements, a brand’s image shouldn’t be changed just to make it trendy. A look should be carefully evaluated to remove outdated elements, which may or may not require a radical change. You should try design beyond the current trend. Don’t aim for flat or any other style. Aim for timeless. Because before you know it, the pendulum will swing in the other direction.

Linux’s Place in The Film Industry

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Rayvision.

In 1991, a student named Linus Torvalds began developing a new operating system as a hobby. That hobby, which would later be called Linux, forever changed the world of computers. Since Linux is open source, anyone can license it for free and modify the source code to their liking. This has made Linux one of the most popular operating systems in the world.

Linux is everywhere. The web server maintaining this page is very likely Linux based. You may have a version of Linux in your pocket right now. Google’s Android operating system is a modified version of Linux. Several world governments use Linux extensively for day to day operations. And, many would be surprised to learn that Linux has become the standard for major FX studios.

In the early 90s, Hollywood studios relied on SGI and its Irix operating system to run animation and FX software. At the time, Irix was one of the best systems available for handling intense graphics. But a change was about to sweep through the computer industry. Windows began to dominate the business world, and Intel began making powerful chips at a lower price point. These market forces made expensive SGI systems hard to justify.

When studios began looking for a system to replace Irix, Windows wasn’t an option due to its architecture. The proprietary software in place at many studios was written for Irix. Since Irix and Linux were both Unix based, porting that software to Linux was easier than porting to Windows.

Render farms were the first to be converted. In 1996, Digital Domain was the first production studio to render a major motion picture on a Linux farm with Titanic. DreamWorks, ILM, Pixar and others quickly followed. Workstations were next for Linux once artists realized the performance boost in the new operating system. Under pressure from studios, commercial software vendors got on board and started releasing Linux compatible versions. Maya, Houdini, Softimage and other popular 3D applications quickly became available for Linux.

By the early 2000s, most major studios were dominated by Linux. While Windows and Mac environments are still used for television and small independent films, practically all blockbuster movies are now rendered on Linux farms.

Linux has many advantages for render farms. The obvious benefits are cost and customization. Since Linux is free to license, startup costs are greatly reduced compared to commercial systems. And, since Linux is open source, completely customized versions of the operating system are possible.

There are other advantages. Linux machines can multitask well and are easy to network. But the single greatest advantage is stability. Unlike other operating systems, Linux doesn’t slow down over time. It is common for Linux machines to run for months, yes months, without needing a reboot.

With all these advantages, it’s surprising to learn many online render farms still haven’t embraced Linux. While a handful of farms like Rebus, Rendersolve and Rayvision support Linux, Windows is still the most common environment for cloud render services.

It’s not likely anything will replace Linux’s role in the film industry soon. Studios are heavily invested in Linux with millions of lines of custom code. While anything is possible, it would take another industry change akin to the PC revolution to shake Linux from its place in Hollywood.

The story of Linux is almost like a Hollywood movie itself. It shows us that anything is possible. It’s hard to believe that a simple student project forever changed the world of computers and became the backbone of the film industry.

Is Building Your Own Render Farm The Best Option?

Thanks to growing high-speed internet access, production studios now have new options for rendering their animations in the cloud. Online render farms, like Rayvision, offer studios enormous rendering power at low costs. This has many production studios asking a question for the first time. Should a studio build and maintain its own render farm, or pay for a cloud solution?

Before high-speed internet was a reality, a studio’s only option was to build an on-site render farm. Sure, a small shop could render on unused workstations at night. But, that wouldn’t do the job for most studios. So, owning racks of dedicated rendering equipment became standard.

Owning an on-site render farm has its advantages. The system can be custom built for whatever a studio needs. It is always available. Since the studio staff built it, they can fix it when it goes down. And, since it’s on the premises, there are no security concerns.

But, owning a farm is costly. An average render slave can cost several thousand dollars. Multiply that by the amount of slave machines needed. Then, all those nodes need to be loaded with rendering software. Some software companies offer unlimited slave licenses for free. But, most charge a fee based on the amount of slaves. If the render farm is large enough, power consumption and climate control become concerns. If the farm operates non-stop, and multiple teams need access to it for different projects, one or more render wranglers must be hired to manage it.

Owning an on-site render farm is a good choice if a studio has a large budget, an IT staff, and needs a customized solution. But, not all studios fit that description.

Thankfully, there are now online options for rendering. At one end of the spectrum is collaborative rendering. In this model, users join an online network of fellow 3D animators who volunteer their computing power to be used by everyone in the collective. This is a great option for students and very small production houses since it’s usually free. But there are obvious downsides. Support for the latest renderers and plug-ins may be limited. Your equipment must be made available for other users to render their projects. The availability of, and quality of rendering equipment at any given time is unpredictable. Not to mention the security risks. It is hard to keep track of exactly who will see your files.

A collaborative solution may work for a studio when the budget is very tight, when security is not a concern, and when deadlines are flexible. The biggest challenge may be finding a collaborative network that supports the studio’s choice of rendering software.

On the other end of the spectrum there are professional, online rendering services. Cloud render farms charge you only for the time it takes to render. You can use them as much, or as little as you need. A good online render farm will have hundreds of top-notch machines with the latest software available to customers 24 hours a day. A good rendering service will also make security one of its top goals, so confidentiality is assured. All the IT troubles associated with maintaining the farm are handled by the render service, not the customer. Some online farms will even work with customers to load custom plug-ins if needed.

Since online rendering offers so much, several studios are choosing to forgo the expense of building, and maintaining their own farms. Even studios that already have a small render farm in place can benefit from cloud rendering when overflow work comes in. As internet speeds become even faster, and demand for rendering power grows, cloud rendering makes more and more sense for 3D studios.

Choosing the Best Rendering Solution

Choosing the right 3D rendering software is an involved task. There are tons of renderers on the market. In order to compare renderers fairly, you need to understand the broad categories they fall into and how they approach goals differently. Every type of renderer has its strengths and weaknesses. One must know what they need from a rendering solution, and what they are willing to sacrifice before making a fair decision.

Simplicity vs Complexity

When people compare renderers, they often think in terms of the final output. Will it look nice? And, of course, how quickly will it render? But, what people shouldn’t overlook is how taxing a render solution will be to their workflow. The time they save rendering may not be worth the hours spent setting up a complicated shader system.

Some renderers aim to make rendering as simple as possible. They have minimal controls to mess with. If all you need is quick photo-realistic shots of shiny products, a renderer like Keyshot may be the your solution. But, if you need to tweak things like complex skin shaders, or the precise amount of color bleed in a GI solution, you’ll need to look at something more advanced like V-Ray or Mental Ray.

Accuracy vs Speed

How real does your render need to be? Unbiased raytracers, like Maxwell, Indigo and fryrender, use physically accurate rules for lighting. There are no compromises when it comes to calculating reflections, refractions, caustics and so on. As you can imagine, this comes with a huge time hit. But, some projects call for perfect, real-world lighting.

Beyond accuracy, unbiased renderers have another big advantage. As long as you follow the rules of nature they are very predictable. Many real-world materials have measurable attributes that can be entered into the renderer. For example, light bulb manufacturers often provide the intensity (in lumens) for each of their products. The refractive index of water is 1.33. If you use real-world attributes like these as a guide, there is little guesswork in setting up your scenes.

On the other hand, biased raytracers like V-Ray and Mental Ray, bend the rules of nature to get faster render times. Photo-realism is relative and rendering doesn’t usually need to be 100% accurate. It just needs to convince the human eye. While real-world attributes are a starting point, they often have to be tweaked in a biased renderer to get the desired results.

Specialty Rendering

Sometimes photo-realism isn’t appropriate for a project. Cartoons, technical illustrations and architectural renderings often call for a 2D look. Some renderers, like Mental Ray, have special materials for cell shading that work inside the standard renderer alongside other materials. Other systems, like Blender’s Freestyle, operate on the entire scene. So, the 2D look is applied to everything on screen.


As outlined in a previous blog, GPU renderers like Octane, Redshift, Furryball and iRay make use of the graphics card instead of the central processor. This often results in very fast render times for certain types of scenes. But, the best advantage could be the way real-time rendering speeds up workflow.

The downside to GPU renderers is they often lack advanced more tools like displacement and sub-surface scattering. But, if those features aren’t important for your project, and you have the proper hardware, GPU rendering could be the solution you need.

Putting it all Together

The categories for comparison listed above are only starting points in your search for a renderer. Several renderers fall into more than one category. For example, Furryball is a GPU renderer with both biased and un-biased modes. Blender’s Cycles allows you to switch between CPU and GPU rendering based on your setup. Each 3D artist must decide which approach to rendering best suits their needs and make apples-to-apples comparisons.

When you finally decide which renderers you want to compare, you will have to test them with one of your own 3D scenes. Testing scenes this way can take a lot of time. But, with an online render farm like Rayvision, you can run your scene through several renderers at the same time. Rayvision is offering a free trial to new customers. They support several popular renderers and plug-ins, and have a huge farm waiting for your work. Sign up today!

Will GPU Rendering Dominate the 3D Industry?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Rayvision.

When 3D animators use the phrase “CPU verses GPU,” they aren’t talking about college football rivals. These are acronyms for the Central Processing Unit on a motherboard and the Graphics Processing Unit, usually located on a video card. For years, most 3D rendering software utilized the CPU exclusively. The speed and number of cores in a processor made all the difference for render times. But, a new breed of renderers that utilize GPUs are changing the 3D industry. Continue reading