For the purposes of CGI and 3D modelling, an HDRI is a 360-degree panoramic image which contains brightness data. HDRI stands for High Dynamic Range Imaging which refers to the amount of light a particular scene can emmit.
This is extremely useful to the 3D artist, as instead of setting up a complicated set of lights to emulate for example a sunny, summers day, all that would be needed would be a free HDRI Environment Map of a sunny, summers day, as this would contain all the necessary information to light your scene and allow your objects to cast shadows and show reflections.
Creating quality HDRI’s from scratch is a very challenging and time-consuming task but fortunately, there are a number of high definition HDRI’s out there that can be downloaded free of charge to emulate practically every lighting scenario you could possibly think of.
100% Free HDRIs, for Everyone.
HDRI Haven is the premier website for free HDRI downloads and officially linked with two sites we have mentioned before, Texture Haven and 3D Model Haven both of which are a magnificent resource for the digital artist.
HDRI Haven is the home of a vast collection of panoramic images available at resolutions starting at 1k rising to an enormous 24k and all available under the CC0 license, which means they are free to use for any purpose even commercially.
You don’t even need to give up your email address to start downloading high-quality HDRI’s, just pick the ones you require and hit the download button and you’re done.
360° hdri maps for lighting 3D scenes
Boasting almost as many free HDRI’s as HDRI Haven, Grzegorz Wronkowski has put in an enormous amount of effort into bringing you this quality collection of HDRI images.
However, please be aware that most of the high-resolution images are behind a paywall and the free HDRI’s also require you to sign up in order to download, fortunately, all HDRI’s are available as a free, instant 2k download, which is probably good enough for most amateur and hobbyist digital artists.
free HDRI environment maps
Textures.com is one of the leading websites for downloadable textures but they also have an evergrowing collection of high-quality HDRI’s available.
As with their textures, the HDRI’s available are free at the lower resolutions but a subscription is required to purchase the higher resolution images.
Upon signing up with textures.com you will be rewarded with 15 free credits a day, which is an ample amount of free textures and hdri maps and should be suitable for most needs
lighting for creatives
iHDRI is a relatively new resource of quality HDRI’S, the brainchild of 3D Hard Surface Artist Elvis Posa. The site features some excellent outdoor and indoor HDRI’s that you won’t find anywhere else and all are available in very useable 4k and 16k resolutions.
No sign up is required as all the panoramic HDRI’s are located on Google Drive servers and can be used privately or commercially once downloaded, an excellent evergrowing library of free HDRI images.
free HDRI bundles
Wouldn’t it be nice, instead of downloading HDRI images one at a time as and when you need them if you could just download a bundle of images all at once and have your own personal library of HDRI’s available on your hard drive?
Well, thanks to 3D Motion Designer Noah Witchell, you can. Noah has made available seven free HDRI bundles containing HDRI images and preview images in jpg format so you can easily see what the file contains.
A great way to kickstart your HDRI collection.
Render your own 360 HDRI in Blender
Blender Tutorial by Ducky 3D
If you simply can’t find the environment HDRI you need for your next 3D scene, then why not make your own, the easy way using Blender.
Let Nathan Duck or Ducky 3D as he is known to his legion of loyal YouTube followers guide you through this surprisingly simple method of creating panoramic 360 HDRI’s directly within Blender itself.
Follow Nathan on Instagram to see his amazing collection of 3D artwork and his latest Blender tutorials.
Using HDRI's in Blender
Instant Realistic Lighting
Learn how to use HDRI images to light up your next Blender scene with all-natural lighting, in this fully featured tutorial by the guys at Flipped Normals.
From setting up your world shader nodes to your final renders, no stone is left unturned in this thorough HDRI Blender tutorial.
A simple technique that will dramatically affect the quality of your 3D renders, natural HDRI lighting will save you hours of trial and error setting up complicated lighting rigs.
Well that completes our roundup of the best websites for free HDRI downloads, we have included some sites that do charge for high-resolution images but to be perfectly honest you really don’t need high-resolution HDRI’s to illuminate your 3D scenes and in fact, keeping your HDRI’s at a low resolution will speed up rendering times no end but maintain adequate lighting.
So if you are looking for an underwater HDRI, a sky HDRI or even a free space HDRI I am sure at least one of the sites listed above will have exactly what you are searching for.
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