Best AI Diffusion Models: A Comprehensive Comparison and Guide [2024]

Allan Kouidri
Woman in train station generated with diffusion models

In this article we will test the most popular Diffusion Models available, compare them, and evaluate the best models for your projects. 

  • Best Overall: Stable Cascade
  • Best SDXL variant:  Juggernaut XL v9
  • Best Realistic model: RealVisXL V4.0
  • Best Anime model: AAM XL AnimeMix
  • Best Art model: Pixel Art Diffusion XL
  • Best Fantasy model: DreamShaper XL

1. Stable Diffusion XL [SDXL] 

One of the downloaded model in the Stable Diffusion arsenal is the SDXL, the official Stable Diffusion XL iteration crafted by Stability AI. This model is meticulously trained on 1024×1024 pixel images, enabling it to produce visuals with unparalleled detail and clarity.

Image example generated with SDXL

SDXL shines in rendering lifelike images but doesn't stop there; it possesses the versatility to spawn an expansive range of artistic styles. Structured in two pivotal parts—the base model and the refiner model—SDXL's design ensures a robust and comprehensive approach to image generation.

Positioning itself as a versatile powerhouse, SDXL emerges as an ideal candidate for a multitude of creative endeavors. It's crucial, however, to acknowledge its limitation in generating coherent text within images.

To date, SDXL no longer holds the top spot in our rankings, as several models have emerged with enhancements that surpass its capabilities. However, due to its widespread popularity and its foundational role in further fine-tuning processes, we believe it merits to be mentioned first.

Key Highlights

  • Facilitates a broad spectrum of artistic styles.
  • Excellently suited for producing images with a high degree of realism.
  • Does not support the creation of legible text within visuals.
  • struggles with image sizes significantly different from the recommended 1024x1024 dimensions.

2. Stable Cascade

Stable Cascade represents the latest advancement in text-to-image diffusion models, developed by Stability AI, the minds behind Stable Diffusion. This model sets a new benchmark by offering faster performance, more cost-efficiency, and user-friendly operation compared to its predecessor, Stable Diffusion XL (SDXL).

What truly sets Stable Cascade apart within the Stable Diffusion portfolio is its innovative architecture, consisting of three interconnected models—Stages A, B, and C. Built on the foundational Würstchen architecture, Stable Cascade adopts a tiered strategy to image generation. This approach significantly enhances image quality and detail through efficient compression in a compact latent space, showcasing its unique capability to produce superior visual content with remarkable efficiency.

Image example generated with Stable Cascade.

As of this writing, Stable Cascade has taken the lead as our preferred model for image generation. Based on our comparative analysis, it surpasses SDXL across all evaluated dimensions, including aesthetic quality, prompt responsiveness, and processing speed. 

What sets Stable Cascade apart is its capability to generate legible text within images, marking a significant advancement over previous models. This feature enhances its utility for a wider range of creative and practical applications, establishing Stable Cascade as a standout choice in the current landscape of generative AI technologies.

Here are some instances where I experimented with generating images that include text.

Key Highlights

  • Covers a broad spectrum of artistic styles.
  • Produced images with a high degree of realism.
  • Does support the creation of legible text within visuals.
  • Released under a non-commercial license.
  • Does not generate NSFW content

3. Juggernaut XL v9

Juggernaut XL v9, an evolution of the SDXL model, stands out for its focus on creating photography-style images. This model has been enriched with training on cinematic images, enhancing the natural and cinematic essence of the output images. For those aiming to generate images that mirror the authenticity of real photos, Juggernaut XL offers an immersive experience.

It excels in capturing intricate details, capable of creating a wide array of subjects, from humans to objects. A notable feature of Juggernaut XL is its ability to produce comprehensive full-body shots—a capability not commonly found in models typically trained on upper body images only.

Image example generated with Juggernaut XL

The advent of Juggernaut XL v9 reflects a growing demand among AI artwork generator enthusiasts for more specialized models. These users seek advancements that push the boundaries of technology, enabling the creation of more complex and detailed artworks of landscapes, people, and objects.

Juggernaut XL v9 has quickly become our top pick among SDXL fine-tuned models, distinguishing itself as a leading choice for ongoing AI model development. It shines in generating images with remarkable clarity, suited especially for vintage aesthetic applications. This makes it exceptionally useful for creating photorealistic portraits or fashion illustrations that require a unique, distinct finish.

Key Features

  • Ideal for photorealistic still photos and shots
  • Handles variations in image size with ease
  • Capable of generating high quality images of humans, animals, logos, and landscapes

4. RealVisXL V4.0

RealVisXL V4.0 stands as the top Stable Diffusion model for crafting lifelike human images. Its proficiency in generating faces and eyes is so refined that distinguishing the images from real-life photographs becomes a challenge.Beyond human figures, RealVisXL V4.0 is also capable of generating animals, objects, and landscapes, albeit with a focus on real-world imagery. Fantasy environments or elements fall outside its training scope, ensuring the outputs remain grounded in reality.

A particular aspect of this model that impresses me is its accuracy in depicting clothing. The generated garments are not only highly detailed but also strikingly realistic, showcasing the model's attention to texture and form.

Image example generated with RealVisXL.

For those looking to generate human images within Stable Diffusion, Realistic Vision is a top-tier choice. Additionally, its inpainting version, RealVisXL V4.0, harnesses the SDXL framework to deliver hyper-realistic images. This variant excels at creating human figures with an extraordinary level of detail, achieving near-perfect lifelikeness in skin, hair textures, and body proportions.

Key Features

  • Hyper-Realistic Outputs: RealVis SDXL excels in producing visuals so authentic they're almost indistinguishable from actual photos.
  • Detailed Human Figures: Specialized in rendering human subjects with remarkable precision, covering everything from skin textures to correct anatomical details.
  • Robust Foundation: Leveraging the reliable SDXL framework, RealVis SDXL combines trustworthiness with realism.

5. Playground v2.5

Playground 2.5 is an advanced open-source model known for its exceptional aesthetic quality, particularly in enhancing colors, contrast. Playground 2.5 has been meticulously trained with a diverse selection of image formats, unlike typical diffusion models that start with square images and struggle with other dimensions.

This attention to data selection and format grouping strategy, more refined than SDXL's approach, allows Playground 2.5 to effortlessly generate high-quality images in any format, showcasing its versatility and superior image generation capability.

Image example generated with Playground v2.5.

We are impressed by the vivid colors and strong contrast in the images generated by Playground v2.5. However, it falls short in generating lifelike photos. The model lacks detail in skin textures, and the hair appears unrealistic.

Key Features

  • Improved Color and Contrast: Playground v2.5 excels in enhancing color vibrancy and contrast, significantly elevating the aesthetic quality of its generated images.
  • Versatile High-Quality Image Output: Capable of producing high-quality images across a variety of subjects, including portraits and landscapes, Playground v2.5 operates efficiently at a resolution of 1024x1024 pixels.
  • Not suitable for generating real-life photos

6. ThinkDiffusion XL

Think Diffusion XL (TDXL) distinguishes itself from the majority of models by utilizing a dataset designed for 4K resolution, rather than the standard 1024 x 1024 datasets. This elevated resolution significantly enhances the detail and sharpness of images, positioning TDXL as the superior choice for professional projects where quality is paramount. The use of a more extensive dataset ensures a broad spectrum of high-resolution imagery is available, enriching the user's visual experience.

Image example generated with ThinkDiffusion XL.

Although ThinkDiffusion XL was considered one of the premier diffusion models upon its release, in our opinion it no longer secures as high a position in our rankings when compared to RealVisXL V4.0 and Juggernaut XL v9. 

This shift in ranking underscores the rapid advancements within the field of AI image generation, where models like RealVisXL V4.0 and Juggernaut XL v9 have set new standards in terms of realism, detail, and the application of advanced AI techniques. 

Key Features

  • 4K Resolution Dataset: Offers unparalleled detail and sharpness in images, ideal for high-quality professional work.
  • Reduced Bias: ThinkDiffusion XL ensures an equal representation of styles, genders, and more, avoiding the biases toward portrait shots, gender, or ethnicity observed in other models.

7. AAM XL AnimeMix

If you're aiming to create anime images with diffusion models, AAM_XL_AnimeMix stands out as an exceptional choice.

Image example generated with AnimeMix XL.

This model excels at crafting breathtaking anime-style characters and landscapes, producing visuals that are simply enchanting. Its Turbo version further enhances its appeal by enabling the creation of stunning anime images in just eight steps, streamlining the process without compromising on quality.

Key Features

  • Ideal for anime and illustration styles.
  • Capable of generating both characters and landscapes.

8. Pixel Art Diffusion XL

Pixel Diffusion specializes in generating pixel art style images, offering a wide range of possibilities from character to landscape art. Focusing on Retro Video Game Art, this model excels at crafting pixel art that brings back the charm of vintage video games. It adeptly turns inputs such as characters, landscapes, or personal images into detailed pixel art.

Image example generated with Pixel Art Diffusion XL.

A standout feature is its unique approach to lighting in pixel art, which is notably superior compared to similar models.

Key Features

  • Accommodates various image resolutions with ease.
  • Perfect for those looking to create pixel or retro video game style art.

9. DreamShaper XL

DreamShaper XL is a must-try SDXL variant. As an enhanced SDXL variant of the DreamShaper, it simplifies the process by eliminating the need for a refiner model, enabling the creation of superior humans, animals, objects, landscapes, and more.

DreamShaper XL is versatile, allowing you to craft images across a spectrum of themes, from photorealistic to fantastical. It's particularly adept at producing sci-fi imagery, capturing the essence of science fiction environments with impressive accuracy.

DreamShaper XL.

This model is great to sci-fi scenes that are not only precise but also rich in detail. It's also highly effective for creating images that can be upscaled with exceptional quality, maintaining their stunning appearance.

Key Features

  • Produces extremely detailed outputs.
  • Excellently suited for sci-fi and cyberpunk themes.
  • Ideal for both photorealism and anime styles.
  • Capable of generating humans, animals, objects, and landscapes.

10. Realistic stock photo v2

If you're just starting out with SDXL models or prefer a more straightforward approach to prompts, Realistic Stock Photo v2 might be right up your alley. This model shines when it comes to working with concise and simple prompts, offering a friendly gateway for beginners into the world of image generation.

Realistic Stock Photo v2 is adept at producing images that bear the hallmark of professional stock photos. Whether your interest lies in capturing scenes from nature, cityscapes, business settings, or snapshots of daily life, this model delivers images that are both clear and lifelike.

Image example generated with Realistic stock photo v2

One of the great advantages of using Realistic Stock Photo v2 is its ease of use. You won't need to craft complex prompts to get quality outcomes, making it a great choice for anyone seeking simplicity in their creative process.

This model is also quite versatile, ready to tackle a wide array of subjects with an emphasis on photorealistic results. It’s particularly handy for creating images that have the look and feel of stock photography, without the need to sift through actual stock photo libraries.

Key Features

  • Ideal for simple, straightforward prompting.
  • Capable of producing high-quality realistic images.
  • Versatile in covering a variety of themes, from natural to urban settings.
  • User-friendly, especially suitable for those new to image generation.

How to use the diffusion models?

All the models featured in their checkpoint can be found on the Hugging Face model hub. For added convenience, we've integrated some of these models into the Ikomia API. This integration eliminates the need for package installation and facilitates the chaining of algorithms from various frameworks.

Navigating the Best Diffusion Models 

In our journey through the landscape of diffusion models, we've compared and evaluated various options to find the best fit for both creative and professional needs. Each model we've explored, from Stable Cascade's broad capabilities to DreamShaper XL's niche excellence, has its own special qualities.

  • Stable Cascade impressed us greatly, earning the title of Best Overall due to its cutting-edge design and its knack for creating text within images.
  • Juggernaut XL v9 stood out as the premier SDXL variant, capturing our attention with its true-to-life photographic quality.
  • RealVisXL V4.0 claimed the spot as the Best Realistic model, thanks to its strikingly realistic depictions of human figures.
  • AAM XL AnimeMix was celebrated as the Best Anime model, captivating with its richly detailed anime characters and scenes.
  • Pixel Art Diffusion XL brought a sense of nostalgia as the Best Art model, reminding us of the charm of retro video games.
  • DreamShaper XL was recognized for its fantasy renditions, especially in the realms of sci-fi and cyberpunk, making it the Best Fantasy model.

We've highlighted these models for their unique strengths, whether it be in rendering life-like images, embracing specific artistic styles, or laying down a versatile foundation for creative work.

For those new to diffusion models or preferring straightforwardness, Realistic Stock Photo v2 serves as an inviting starting point. It's shown us that generating professional-looking, stock photo-esque images can be straightforward and approachable.

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