I've been practicing the art of rendering 3D models to 2D images for a few years. It's time for some cost analysis.
I've used Poser and Bryce before, but for the past few years I've only been using DAZ Studio. I'm a Platinum+ Club member at DAZ, which gives me access to many models at great prices. I take advantage of the sales, sometimes buying models I won't be using immediately, but that catch my eye and are offered at a low price or for free. So, yeah, I'm a bargain hunter. But I'm not such a bargain hunter that I go searching all over the web for low-cost or free stuff. I don't have time for that. And when I've wanted some model that wasn't available on the DAZ site, there's only been one time when I found something suitable on some other site.
Anyway, I created the following image using DAZ Studio, and when I finished, I thought about the costs involved with producing the image. So I ran some figures, and thought I'd share my findings.
This is a basic image. It contains a subject (the girl), hair, clothing, some props (the stump and trees), and a background HDRI image. It doesn't include any lighting other than that provided by the HDRI image. Now you can find models for such things on the web for very low cost, some even for free. The quality of what you can find varies.
When you install DAZ Studio, you get some free starter stuff with it. You can put together a basic scene from the free starter stuff. So, really, the cost for producing a basic image could be zero.
There's a lot of customization that can be done even with free stuff. The images you produce using the free stuff doesn't have to look like the images created by others using only the free stuff. The question becomes one of time and expertise then, to customize the free stuff and morph it into something unique. Some people create their own models too. So theoretically, you could produce numerous, unique images for very little monetary cost.
But as the saying goes, time is money. You can spend a lot of time doing your own customization and creation, or pay someone else to do it. Or you can be like me, falling somewhere in the middle. I purchase morph packages that allow me to tweak the models. That's another topic.
For the above image, I didn't do any customization or creation. I purchased all the models used, and I used them as they came out of the box. Let's look at the numbers.
The following products were used in creating the above image. The prices listed are the full regular prices for these models as of this writing.
Willow Creek - $36.95 UltraHD Iray HDRI With DOF - Out Of This World - $14.95
Teen Josie 8 - $44.95 FWSA Willa HD for Teen Josie 8 - $18.95 Goth Outfit for Genesis 8 Female(s) - $19.95 Jocelyn Hair for Genesis 3 & 8 Female(s) - $22.95 Capsces Poses and Expressions for Teen Josie 8 - $15.95
The last five items in the list were obtained by purchasing the Teen Josie 8 Pro Bundle, which includes not only those five items but six other items too. The regular price for the bundle is $134.95. That's slightly more than the sum of the individual costs for the five items used from the bundle. As of this writing, the bundle is on sale for $80.97, for Platinum+ Club members. I don't know if there are sale prices currently for non-Platinum+ Club members.
I bought all of the above on sale, and paid substantially less than the above prices. I don't remember exactly what I paid, but I can tell you that at the current sale prices for Platinum+ Club members, the individual items used in the image could be purchased for a total of just over $100. I didn't even pay that much. I acquired at least one of the items as a bonus free item when I bought a new, featured item. I'm sure I got a discount off the regular sale price too. I just can't say what the discount amounted to. I do a lot of sales where the discount is 50-80%.
I did bear the cost of the Platinum+ Club membership, which allowed me access to the better sales, but I wouldn't count the full cost of membership towards the cost of the above image. I'm not counting the cost of my computer either, and I spent over $1000 for it a couple years back. On top of that, I use a graphics editor similar to Photoshop for postwork. You can get Gimp for free, but I find it cumbersome to use. I prefer the Serif PhotoPlus program. Some people never do postwork on their rendered images.
If you want to add text to your images, you're likely to do it in postwork. You'll need to license the fonts you use. Some are free. Some aren't.
The listed full regular prices give an idea of the top-end cost of producing the above image. I'm a 3D art hobbyist and an aspiring author. I've toyed with the idea of creating my own book covers, if I decide to self publish. I think many other people who might be interested in producing their own book covers would balk at paying full price for the models they want to use in their cover art, especially when you can find decent pre-made cover art for under $100. It might be worth paying full price for models if you're a professional artist. I know some professionals will only buy a model if they need it in a project and don't have it already.
Even after you pay to license 3D models, there's still an art to rendering high-quality images from them. I've been at this for a while, and still have much to learn. Some learned techniques come not from reading or watching training videos, but from experimentation and intuition. Creating 3D digital art is not strictly a science, despite what some people think.
What's the take-away from all this? You can download DAZ Studio for free. You can acquire 3D models for free. You can render a lot of images with DAZ Studio for free. If you have time to invest, you can customize and create models to produce unique images for free. You can also run up a hefty bill producing some basic images of questionable quality. If you're considering making your own book cover art using DAZ Studio or some other 3D digital art tool, I'd only recommend it if you're also interested in producing 3D art for other reasons, even if it's just as a hobby. Doing it just for book covers will probably not be cost effective, unless you're a natural, or have a lot of time to devote to learning how to do it well. As for me, I'm stuck with the hobby because it has become an important creative outlet for me, but I'll always keep an eye out for the great sales.