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11 Best Free and Open Source Ray Tracing Software

Ray tracing is a technique for modeling light transport for use in a wide variety of rendering algorithms for generating digital images. This allows computers to accurately render things like shadows, reflections, highlights, and bounced light. The result is a scene that looks more realistic with less work.

Shadows are softer, certain surfaces are more reflective and detailed, neon lights pop with more intensity. There are a wide variety of lighting effects ray tracing can handle: reflection, refraction, soft shadows, scattering, depth of field, motion blur, caustics, ambient occlusion, and dispersion phenomena.

On a spectrum of computational cost and visual fidelity, ray tracing-based rendering techniques from ray casting, recursive ray tracing, distribution ray tracing, photon mapping to path tracing are generally slower and higher fidelity than scanline rendering methods. Ray tracing was therefore first deployed in applications where taking a relatively long time to render could be tolerated, such as in still computer-generated images, and film and television visual effects (VFX), but was less suited to real-time applications such as video games, where speed is critical in rendering each frame. A good graphics card can use ray tracing to enhance immersion, but not all GPUs can handle this technique.

Here’s our verdict captured in a legendary LinuxLinks chart. We only include free and open source software.

Ratings chart

Let’s explore the 11 ray tracing tools. For each program we have compiled its own portal page, a full description with an in-depth analysis of its features, a screenshot of the program in action together with links to relevant resources.

Ray Tracing Software
POV-RayFull-featured ray tracer
Blender3D content creation suite with a huge range of uses
McXtraceMonte Carlo Xray Tracing for simulation X-ray beamlines and experiments
McStasSimulator for neutron scattering instruments and experiments
BRL-CADCombinatorial Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG) solid modeling system
EmbreeHigh-performance ray tracing library
LuxCoreRenderRendering system for physically correct image synthesis
VisionarayC++ ray tracing template library
MantaRayAdvanced renderer using modern rendering techniques
YafaRayMontecarlo raytracing engine
TachyonParallel / multiprocessor ray tracing system

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