What Render or Export Settings Should I Use?

While messing with some effects for the upcoming Poor Kitty recently, I began to consider all the various render settings that were on offer within Adobe After Effects. There are tonnes of presets that are on offer and if you’re not sure what you’re doing you may be exporting your footage at it’s worst potential!

So there are a few questions that you need to ask yourself before you ask “well what’s the best render settings?” Are you rendering on a single computer or on a network? If you’re a lone soldier that’s rendering on the one computer then a single file render if fine. However, if you are on a network a single file won’t work because each computer will need to render a section (which cannot be done for single files), so your best option would be an image sequence through TIFF or PNG files as they are uncompressed opposed to JPEG (a very popular image type).

Rendering in Adobe After Effects

If you are a usual After Effects user, and render on a solo computer then follow these tips to get the best quality for your footage! Always render to the queue NEVER File > Export > QuickTime [this can be found in Window > Render Queue].

  1. Drag the composition(s) you want to render into the Render Queue tab.
  2. Under the Output To field, select the file name, and when prompted select the destination of the output file.
  3. Next under the Output Module, click on the default name to bring up the render settings.
  4. Under Format select QuickTime and select Format Options…
  5. Under the Video Codec drop down, select one of the following three (3) codecs depending on your situation:
[All compositions were 1 minute in length @ 1920×1080 25fps]

PhotoJPG (95% quality)
  • Smaller file size
  • Fast compression rate
  • Render took 1:26 to process
  • Output file can be used around 3 to 4 times before noticeable quality loss
Portable Network Graphics (PNG)
  • Medium file size
  • Slow (like really slow!) compression rate
  • Render took 5:34 to process
  • PNG file is uncompressed so can be used over and over without any quality loss
  • Humongous file size
  • Fast compression rate [writing to external HD will slow render, but recommended]
  • Render took 1:43 to process
  • Animation file is uncompressed so can be used over and over without any quality loss

When satisfied, select OK, and again to return to the Render Queue tab. Hit Render and relax a while until your file is completed. It is recommended not to use your computer while the render is occurring as it will slow down the render time, as well as increase the risk of crashing as the render directly links to your RAM usage.

So if you have the space on your hard drive (internal or external) used the Animation codec, but if memory is scarce then PhotoJPG is a good export format too. If you’re short of time, and can sacrifice quality in future duplicates of the file then use PhotoJPG. For most average people the PhotoJPG is fine, and only evident to the real nit-picky people (you know what we mean!), for those high quality clients, there is animation.

Don’t use a delivery format unless you need to – these files include H.264, MPEGs (any), or sorenson. These file types are exactly for what the name suggests – Delivery! If the video is going online then use these formats – H.264 or sorenson – while DVD files are great if made into MPEG2 files. These files are not good is you’re looking for the best quality (i.e. theatre screenings).

Final Cut Pro

If you are using a high end video editor (Final Cut, Avid, etc.) then use the same settings as above. For FCP it is File > Export > Using QuickTime Compression. Then under the Format line select options. For the video box click on Settings, and select one of the above Compression Types, setting the Compressor at BEST. Last step is to untick Prepare for Internet Streaming (unless you are using the footage specifically for that). It is similar for Avid with different setting names.. Remember each video editor is exactly the same in its basic tools, and the high end ones are just there to help you process more (sometimes more than what you need to).