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NewTek ships LightWave 2018

Monday, January 1st, 2018 | Posted by Jim Thacker

Originally posted on 13 December 2017. Scroll down for news of the final release.

NewTek has announced that LightWave 2018, the long-awaited new version of its 3D modelling and animation software, will ship on 1 January 2018.

The update adds a new PBR and volumetric rendering system, a 3ds Max-style modifier stack, and greater synchronisation between the software’s component applications, Modeler and Layout.

Although the release itself has been over three years in the making, the announcement still comes as something of a surprise, following ten months of silence on NewTek’s development blog.

The release formerly codenamed ‘LightWave Next’
We first started writing about LightWave 2018 over two years ago, when NewTek originally launched its development blog, at which point it was still just codenamed ‘LightWave Next’.

The blog posts are still the best source of information on the new features, so for more detail, check out our original stories: one on the features announced in 2015 and 2016 and one on those announced in 2017.


The headline feature of LightWave 2018 is the new render engine, which supports both physically based shading and improved handling of volumetrics. Demo by NewTek UX/product design manager Matt Gorner.

New in LightWave 2018: PBR rendering and better volumetrics
Of the new features, the most obvious is the physically based rendering system.

On the development blog, the new engine was described as removing the distinction between the Viewport Preview Renderer and final-quality rendering “because those are now the same thing entirely”.

In addition to improving visual fidelity, the engine introduces new functionality for rendering volumetrics, with the option to assign physically based properties like scattering, absorption and emission.

As well as its own native volumetric render primitive, LightWave 2018 can also now read data exported from other DCC applications in OpenVDB format.

Updates to shading, lighting and FiberFX
The new render engine brings corresponding updates to LightWave’s Surface Editor and lighting system.

The latter include new physical lights, which can be made visible or invisible to the camera; the option to covert any geometry into a mesh light; and better handling of real-world IES lighting data.

Updated 27 December 2017: NewTek has posted a blog update showing some of these features in more detail, along with the new node-based shading system for lights.

FiberFX, LightWave’s hair system, has been integrated more closely with the new features: fibers are now true raytraced primitives, and can be reflected, refracted, and affected by volumetrics, DoF and motion blur.

LightWave 2018 also improves handling of render buffers, including the option to preview individual render passes in the VPR; and the option to define presets for custom combinations of buffers exported.

There is also one other new feature not covered in the original blog posts: a denoise filter for cleaning up fast, low-sample renders, along the lines of those now standard in renderers like RenderMan and V-Ray.


LightWave 2018’s new non-photorealistic rendering features in action: an animated tribute to Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, created by LightWave 3D content and character technology lead Lino Grandi.

New cel-shading options, plus better OpenGL previews of render effects
As well as photorealistic output, the changes to the render architecture extend to non-photorealistic rendering, with the addition of a new Cel Shader Integrator.

The new product website describes it as “[enabling] gradient-based cel shading, while Edge Rendering can now use any material available in the Surface Editor to shade any line”.


The new PBROpenGL mode in the LightWave 2018 viewport (left) vs the VPR display (right).

Cel shading is also accurately represented in the OpenGL preview – considerably improved in LightWave 2018, to judge from the test images above – speeding up look development.

New unified mesh system marks the start of under-the-hood changes to Modeler and Layout
Under the hood, the release introduces a new unified mesh system across the two separate applications that make up LightWave: Modeler and Layout.

Although LightWave 2018 preserves that same love-it-or-loathe it split, workflow between the two apps has been streamlined a bit, including the option to show the current Layout camera view within Modeler.

Perhaps more significantly, the unified mesh system – based on that of sister app ChronoSculpt – promises performance improvements when working with dense meshes.

NewTek hasn’t put any figures on that speed boost, but forum posts from beta testers suggest that it can be significant in production.

The update also introduces a new 3ds Max-style modifier stack, enabling users to add, reorder or disable modifiers to a mesh non-destructively.

Unlike the existing Deform tab, it works with any deformer, and enables users to control the order of execution precisely: for example, meshes can be deformed before or after subdivision.

Other changes: new VR camera, UDIM support, UI updates
Other new features in LightWave 2018 include a new virtual reality camera for rendering 360-degree footage in spherical or cylindrical formats; and support for parametric shapes in Layout.

For users who need to get data into other DCC tools, LightWave now supports the UDIM UV layout format used in tools like Mari; and, according to forum posts, it is possible to export FBX files directly from Modeler.

The interface has also been partially overhauled: according to UX and product design manager Matt Gorner, parts of the GUI now use industry-standard programming framework Qt, “but the rest … needs to updated”.

We don’t have a detailed run-down of the changes, but the product website lists support for floating viewports as one of the new workflow features.


Although not part of the core application, LightWave 2018 will be able to read procedural materials in Allegorithmic’s Substance format, via third-party developer Origami Digital’s upcoming add-on tools.

Support for key third-party plugins from day one
According to posts in the announcement thread on NewTek’s forum, many of the key third-party plugins should be available for LightWave 2018 from day one.

Those confirmed to work in 2018 include cloth simulator SyFlex, GPU renderer OctaneRender and modelling toolset LWCAD, while fluid simulator TurbulenceFD “mostly works”.

Updated 27 December 2017: db&w also confirms that most of its shading and rendering plugins will be available for LightWave 2018 on is release.

There is also one significant new plugin: as well as making its existing tools ready for LightWave 2018, Origami Digital is working on an importer for materials in Allegorithmic’s widely used Substance format.

Mixed reactions from long-term LightWave users
Reactions to the announcement of LightWave 2018’s feature set and release date could broadly be summarised as either ‘at long last’ or ‘too little, too late’.

In the former camp, more common on NewTek’s own forum, users have welcomed the new physically based renderer, more streamlined shading workflow, and better interactive performance.

In the latter, users point out that the release comes over three years after LightWave 2015, which itself was felt to be more of an iterative improvement than a real game-changer.

In particular, the lack of major updates to the modelling tools comes under fire, as does the continued separation of Modeler and Layout.

A change of leadership for LightWave?
The release may also mark a change of product leadership: according to this thread on Foundry’s forum, Rob Powers – president of NewTek’s LightWave group, and the man responsible for steering development for the past seven years – has announced in a now-removed Facebook post that he has left the company.

We’ll update if we confirm that, but it seems to be borne out by the fact that the shipping date for LightWave 2018 was announced not by Powers himself but by NewTek VP of marketing Donetta Colboch.

In her forum post, Colboch writes: “I realise you may have a lot of questions about why things have unfolded the way they have over the last couple of years, but in all honesty, I do not know.”

In a nod to the slow development process and lack of status updates over the past year, Colboch comments:

“I have read the discussions and completely understand your pain and frustration. Believe me… no company sets out to disappoint their loyal fans. I hope you’ll give us the opportunity to earn your trust again.”

Updated 1 January 2018: LightWave 2018 is now officially shipping. As well as the links below, you can find the full online documentation here.

Pricing and availability
LightWave 2018 is available for 64-bit Windows 7+ and Mac OS X 10.7.5+. New licences cost $995, and users of any previous version of LightWave can update for $295 until 31 March 2018.

Read NewTek’s forum post announcing the release date for LightWave 2018

Read an overview of the new features in LightWave 2018 on NewTek’s new product website

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18 responses to “NewTek ships LightWave 2018”

  1. Rob said:

    It’s a wonder people still use this stuff…..
    And after all those years, couldn’t they merge the two apps into one?
    Like err…… the rest of the 3D apps??

    Like a lot of others say.. too little too late. Moved on long ago.

    4:45 am on Thursday, December 14, 2017

  2. erikals said:

    we’ve complained about the split for 10 years,
    some of us old folks hope that the new Mesh Engine they created Finally will allow for this.
    totally agree. merge the two apps in the next version, or discontinue.
    however, too late for some of us old generalists to change app.

    6:22 am on Thursday, December 14, 2017

  3. RandAlThor said:

    I still like it that it comes in two parts.
    Can focus more on what i want to do more that way.
    Modeling or animate.
    The update prize on the other side seems to be to high for the features i read.
    Maybe they should show more of what they are.

    2:24 pm on Thursday, December 14, 2017

  4. PTurner Studios said:

    I’m quite happy to see Newtek’s announcement of a new version of Lightwave. While I have used Maya, Electric Image Universe(!), Rhino and Blender as well as a number of others that work on a Mac, I am about 3 times faster in production using Lightwave as I’ve been using it since version 6. Since getting into the industry about 20 years ago, I’ve found that having experience in a package, far outweights having a new button both for creativity and speed. I usually have both apps open at the same time when creating scenes, and it’s nice to be able to conserve resources by shutting down the modelor side, when it comes to rendering some of the poster sized renderings I need to crank out. I’m happy to see Newtek back in the fray.

    6:23 pm on Friday, December 15, 2017

  5. Julian said:

    I liked it being two apps.

    With Zbrush, Keyshot, Marvelous Designer and others..people are using two application solutions anyway to
    create content. As log as they solve anu inherit difference liek the Camera View in Modeler…who cares.

    9:53 pm on Friday, December 15, 2017

  6. Kat said:

    Erikals, you know as well as anyone that unification is a dead horse until someone comes to grips with what that would really look like for LightWave from a LightWave user stand point. To simply bash the two apps together is stupid as fuck as is the suggestion that it cant compete with other apps until its done. Please explain then 3D-Coat and zbrush? They exist. Separately, with bridges similar to LWs hub, serving other applications much like what we have known for 2 decades with modeler to layout and back via the hub and i don’t see those users complaining going from those apps to say maya or max or C4D or whatever. It’s a dead horse because the reality is people don’t really want to work in the confined environment that is a single app to begin with and have come to realize it industry wide. The other “apps” that are unified can keep their unified messes. I don’t want that in LightWave until we get other things dealt with which are more important and frankly have to get sorted to start with before you even consider the ‘mash together’ or well thought out approach to unification or it will always be ‘mash together’ as a result and there is no going back once done. It could become a massive cluster screw. Like core. No thank you. Not going there.
    As for this review, thanks for the press, it is certainly needed >>> but one thing people need to understand about this release which is evidenced by the production of the number of tools Oliver Hotz at Origami Digital has cranked out, is that much of what has been done won’t be immediately understood by the average joe user, long time or newcomer. I have been using LW since 1991. I am only coming to grips now with what has been done in this release that was absolutely impossible in previous releases and I am seeing that in oliver tools. The LW SDK is accessible to Python. In full. Third party C/C++ developers writing .p plugins have for years taken what limited access they had via the SDK and made LightWave not only sing, but run circles around other apps while reciting bohemian rhapsody. The SDK has been expanded. Full support for python to that SDK.
    Watch what happens next.

    11:16 pm on Friday, December 15, 2017

  7. Marc Hermitte said:

    This software is (at least until the 2015 version, can’t say for the 2018 yet) rock solid, never let me down on a project unlike some other piece of well known 3d program. It’s the first serious 3d software that I used in my life (back to version 5), gone away from It sometimes but I still get back to It with the same pleasure. I also beta test some other 3D app and I’ve seen in the last 2 years the beta stage becoming shorter and shorter to pull out a new version and cashing some money for It when nothing is ready or stable enough and there are not even enough new features to justify anything else than a bug fix release.
    Hell yes, Lightwave 2018 took time to get out of the wood but I hope It will be as stable and reliable as the previous versions and if this is the case, the time taken will be fully justified for me.

    6:56 am on Tuesday, December 19, 2017

  8. Earl Hinson said:

    The tool set in Lightwave 2018 is promising. New feature’s are a welcome addition. I’ve use’d all industry software packages, in the past. Maya, Softimage xsi, Max, cinema 4d and one thing is clear. Lightwave still has the best built-in rendering environment. The modeling tool’s with all of the plug-ins from 3dpower, lwcad, and ahost of others make this the package to have. In production it’s about the artist getting the project done. Lightwave has always been extremely strong at this. True Pioneer’s Always Move Forward.

    2:08 am on Thursday, December 21, 2017

  9. Jeff said:

    True Pioneers? LW? Joke of the century. LW is so much behind in every aspect, there is nothing that is not done better in other 3d apps. The new renderer looks nice (but still behind most other PBR renderes out there), that’s it. Modeling tools (all of them destructive) even with all plugins use technology from from the 90s

    8:52 am on Monday, December 25, 2017

  10. Gern said:

    It’s no longer about *what* a software can do (well, it is a little). It’s more about how easy it is do it. While LW lacks a number of tools, this new release seems to pave the way toward them.

    12:11 pm on Monday, December 25, 2017

  11. Blendernation said:

    Lightwavers are endangered species soon to be extinct. And this what they post about? How superior it is to work in the 90’s workflow? People are laughing at you guys. Good luck getting new customers next year.

    5:53 pm on Monday, December 25, 2017

  12. Marc Hermitte said:

    Quote: “True Pioneers? LW? Joke of the century.”
    You seem to forget that Ligtwvave had the BEST and the first interactive sub-D modeler for a very long time, they invented the endomorph, one mesh containing all the morphs without the need to have several objects (handy if you add polygons to the the base mesh, no need to redo all the morphs) , The BEST and fastest render engine for a very long time (people used to animate in Maya and export in Lightwave to render with the beaver project for instance) and is still very much used on TV shows.

    5:22 pm on Wednesday, December 27, 2017

  13. SteveWhite said:

    They have done great work on the rendering features but for one, they still lag behind features of other renderers and two, thats about all they ever update with LightWave. Modeler is a joke and even all the third party tools you can buy for it still dont make up for the fact its a dying turd. And that is no modifier stack like Max has, that has to be the biggest joke here.

    2:00 pm on Thursday, December 28, 2017

  14. SteveWhite said:

    If it weren’t for the amazing contributions from LWCAD and 3rd powers modeling tools, people couldn’t justify why they still use Modeler at all.

    2:10 pm on Thursday, December 28, 2017

  15. Igor Posavec said:

    Well, let me express it this way: today there are many new 3d applications which still need many years to live and survive in order to achieve the complexity, feature-set, stability and quality of Lightwave.

    9:59 am on Friday, December 29, 2017

  16. Alex said:

    Looks like a solid release and a foundation to continue the modernisation of Lightwave. A lot still needs to be done and I am confident that the programmers/developers care. We use it for it’s strengths alongside Cinema4D and Blender.

    9:23 am on Thursday, January 4, 2018

  17. SILENCER said:

    I’ve been in the game a long time.
    You want to look nice and get it done on time, especially on a TV schedule, hire experienced LightWave guys.
    I’ll agree NewTek lagged and ALLOWED their market share to dissipate.
    The new 2018 build is bad ass, it deserves a second look.
    Streaming services and all other net based content creators are going to pump absurd money into the system over the next few years. They’ll need VFX and they can’t wait around for green Gnomon guys to build a needlessly complex Maya scene.
    Strike while the iron is hot, LW guys, and get some of that pie.

    12:12 pm on Monday, January 8, 2018

  18. Moosecat said:

    Had modo dropped it when they went bananas.

    Have Lightwave actually I have nothing more to say on that.

    Had 3DS MAX 2018 about err 2 hours ago, asked for a refund after two days of (wtf am I looking at?) on a one month sub.

    Have ZBrush, if you don’t have ZBrush you should get ZBrush and just grab Blender 3D to go with it or whatever app.

    1:16 am on Friday, January 12, 2018

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