Here’s a concise list of the current toon options for 3D-to-2D comics at 2018, sorted by price.
* Free. Blender has a Freestyle toon module. Powerful but inevitably unfinished even after a decade, and Blender has a very steep learning curve. Apparently Freestyle is easier to obtain good results from if you already know how to model and texture in Blender.
* Free. Formerly from Google, Sketchup has a small range of impressive sketch render presets suitable for things like buildings and gadgets, and a simple sketch style-mixer so you can make your own. Widely known among visualizers in architecture and product design, quick to render and fairly easy to use. But it doesn’t play nicely with Poser, DAZ etc.
* Free + modest $s for plugins and content/shader packs. Public videogame engines such as Unity and Unreal. Very steep learning curve, but well supported. Possibly the best choice if you also seriously want to get into making games.
* $40. The free DAZ Studio has the paid shader packs Manga Style Shaders and Visual Style Shaders packs ($40, together). But in my experience these are so fiendishly difficult to apply and control and combine, that I just can’t recommend them to anyone who has the easy real-time comics capabilities of Poser 11 (see below). Visual Style Shaders does however offer very nice bases for rendering colour flats of your character’s skin and hair, and these are relatively easy to apply. They would thus provide good bases for drawing ink lines on by hand, perhaps guided by a basic toon outline render. And Manga Style Shaders should still be considered and tested if you’re intent on serious comics production in the traditional ‘zip-toned b&w manga’ style.
* $50 up (when discounted). Smith Micro’s Poser 11 Standard or Pro has an excellent Comic Book Mode (aka Comic Book Preview). This is very easily applied to a vast range of content, and is rendered out in real-time using the Preview render. Interesting additional line types are obtainable via pushing Sketch Designer output into just the Comic Book Mode ink lines. Poser also has the P.A.S.S. watercolour shaders; some good toon cel shader materials (if you dig around a bit, to find them); and the older toon lines mode and some helper scripts can help you to obtain even more toon lines. Poser can also send its Sketch Designer output to Corel Painter, as a script, which can then power Painter’s brushes and pens. Professional studios should also note that the Pro version of Poser has a mature PoserFusion plugin to easily send your scene and textures to Cinema 4D, which has advanced toon capabilities built in.
* $150. DAZ Carrara and either the older and limited $40 Toon!Pro plugin or the newer (2013) free YAToon 2.0. This seems to be the best option for DAZ Studio users, as Carrara handles most DAZ files nicely and can open all Poser content. Note that 64-bit and render-passes are ‘Pro version only’ in Carrara ($285).
* $200 upwards. Reallusion’s iClone 7 has a limited Toon Effect filter, which was broken/wonky in iClone 6, but has now been fixed in iClone 7. Works in real-time, but then so does Poser’s Comic Book mode and Poser is by far the better and more fully-featured option. Cheaper too, if you can grab Poser on a discount.
* $400 upwards. The latest Vue has a fairly sophisticated toon-lines and paint module built in. I’ve spent a few hours with it and although it’s not ideal, it’s a welcome effort at this price point and could certainly be useful for those who overpaint Vue renders, such as matte painters and concept illustrators. Vue can also elegantly import Poser scenes, with auto material conversion.
* $Lots. There are strong toon capabilities in the “big guns” in 3D, such as Cinema 4D (toon is included in the Studio and Visualize versions only) and 3DS Max (toon as various plugins, last time I looked). The latest Lightwave 2018 has a basic cel shading functionality, which is new. I don’t know much about Maya, but I assume it has toon and cel-shading and plugins.