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Top 10 lighting add-ons for Blender

For many beginners Blender artists lighting is postponed or neglected in favor of modeling and shading. Probably because it generally comes later in the 3D pipeline. But setting up a good base lighting for your project early on will help set the direction for your 3D project and art.

Here are the best add-ons I have found to help with lighting in Blender.

  • Pro lighting: Studio
  • Pro lighting: Skies
  • Gaffer
  • Blender light manager
  • Physical Starlight and Atmosphere
  • Real sky
  • Extra Lights - Photometric Lighting for Blender
  • Screen space global illumination for Blender Eevee
  • HDRI Maker
  • Procedural Sky System

In the rest of this article, we will cover some of the features and high points of these add-ons. You will also find links below. Let's dive in!

Pro lighting: Studio

Pro lighting: Studio is a lighting add-on from the well-known Blender guru, Andrew Price. It is less known than its bigger brother, Pro lighting: skies but in my opinion, is far more useful.

Essentially it is a preset library with lighting setups, reflection maps, backgrounds and a few simple floors to create a studio light for any 3D model. It is best used for product shots and open world shots.

For instance, if you are selling 3D models and need a lot of renders of the same model or creating a product shot for a commercial. In these kinds of scenarios Pro lighting: Studio is excellent at quickly providing quick lighting setups.

It has a simple interface and anything we add to the scene can also be changed using Blenders own tools.

You can read a full review and guide here:

Related content: Blender add-on review: Pro Lighting Studio

You can also get the add-on directly here:

External content: Blendermarket, Pro lighting: Studio

Pro lighting: Skies

Pro Lighting: Skies is a collection of hdri images. Its setup is a bit special. It features lower resolution hdri images with a corresponding higher resolution jpeg. When you choose a sky texture from the add-ons interface, it is setup in a way so that the hdri image is used for lighting the scene while the jpeg is used when viewed directly.

This way the performance is increased quite a bit compared to using only a higher resolution hdri and the lighting is more or less indistinguishable from using a higher resolution hdri alone.

There are about 100 hdri images in the pack, including all kinds of skies, mornings, evenings, overcast light and direct sunlight with varying amounts of clouds.

There are also night skies available together with some space hdri images for sci-fi shots.

Something else to note about this pack is that all of the hdri images except the space categories are cut off at the horizon, so there is no bounce light coming from the ground where the hdri was shot. instead, the bottom half is black.

External content: Blendermarket, Pro lighting: Skies

Gaffer

Gaffer is a light manager add-on. It manages both lamp objects and hdri images. The add-on itself doesn't come with any presets but as we add lights to our scene the gaffer interface picks up the setup and gives us a consolidated interface where we can find the controls we need to manage the lighting for a scene.

We can also save our own presets and hdris that can be brought back into other projects.

We can get it for free on Github but by getting it on Blendermarket we also support the creator.

External content: Blendermarket, Gaffer

Blender light manager

Blender light manager is like Gaffer in that it gives a consolidated interface where we can quickly access settings for all lamps. It is not as feature rich as gaffer and the controls is a bit different.

It uses f-stop as a measurement for controling light intensity. In reality this is not a measure for the light source, but rather how wide the lens of the camera is and therefore how much light is let into the lens. Never the less, here it is used for the light source.

Personally I prefer gaffer, but I could easily see myself using Blender camera manager instead if all I needed was the consolidated list of lights.

It is available on Gumroad for free but the creator accepts donations.

External content: Gumroad, Blender light manager

Physical Starlight and Atmosphere

There are an infinite number of ways we could light a scene. Usually, it involves some kind of hdri image for the world background. Physical Starlight and atmosphere are an alternative to that and the built-in sky textures with a lot of features included.

It is a system to create realistic outdoor lighting procedurally. This means that we can tweak and change our sky to a very granular degree as well as animating the values.

Physical starlight and atmosphere is probably THE add-on for outdoor lighting right now.

Recently clouds has been added to the mix of features and they look simply awesome.

External content: Blendermarket, Physical starlight and atmosphere

Real sky

Real sky kind of feels like a lite version of physical starlight and atmosphere but the idea is the same. A procedural way of creating skies and clouds.

In my opinion this add-on isn't a very big jump from the included tools in Blender. But it also has a lower price tag than many of the other add-ons on this list.

External content: Blendermarket, real sky

Extra Lights - Photometric Lighting for Blender

Extra lights is a collection of presets that gets added to your add-menu. Each preset has physically correct values for each lamp type. It also includes IES presets.

This can help to get more accurate light setups for your scenes.

In essence, the add-on lets you pick a light that is true to the real world and input it directly into your scene. This is most useful if you are dealing with architecture and scenes where you try to mimic the real world.

One of the key selling points is that light that is set incorrectly can make a scene look wrongly scaled thanks to the inverse square law.

External content: Blendermarket, Extra lights

Screen space global illumination for Blender Eevee

This is a free add-on that adds global illumination to Eevee based on the screen space. There is an older add-on version and a newer version that is its own Blender build.

In short, it takes the information available inside your view and use it to project global lighting. This way we fake the effect of indirect lighting, and we get a more realistic result.

I think that it is unfortunate that they opted to go with a separate build. These days there are a lot of different builds for Blender that only has a single feature added compared to the master build and we get extremely limited if we want to work with more than one such build. But sometimes the technical limitations of what can be done with an add-on just won't cut it so maybe there wasn't an option.

Anyway, you can learn more and get it here.

External content: Gumroad SSGI for Eevee

HDRI Maker

HDRI maker is an interesting add-on. It sounds like you make HDRI images with it but it is not the case. Instead, it is a system to integrate the HDRI image into your 3D objects.

For instance, we can create objects and place them on the floor seamlessly. We can also blend our objects with the HDRI, create shadow catchers etc.

There are also some other features not directly related to hdri images such as one click fog creation. The add-on also includes a whole bunch of presets and hdri images you can use directly.

External content: Blendermarket, HDRI Maker

Stylized Procedural Sky System

Procedural sky system is for those that work with various forms of stylized art and need an outdoor lighting system. It works with both Eevee and Cycles.

It comes with a handful of presets, and you can also make your own for quick access if you find yourself coming back to the same setup over and over. Parameters can be animated to change the sky over time.

You can adjust sun and moon positions and their respective sizes together with stars and clouds and the parameters are exposed in the world tab if you don't want to use the shader editor.

Small, neat and perfect for stylized art to quickly create a sky and lighting.

External content: Blendermarket, Stylized procedural sky

Final thoughts

We covered a broad range of add-ons for Blender that help with setting up the lighting. Everything from light object presets to animated procedural environments with all the bells and whistles.

Thanks for your time.

Author

Erik Selin
3D artist, writer, and owner of artisticrender.com

My top product picks for Blender artists

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