Unity trail rendering done right: Ara Trails

Please, welcome our latest Unity asset: Ara Trails!



When and Why?

It had been sitting around as part of one of our larger projects for a long time, where we used it for a variety of purposes: line rendering, object trails, and smoke. We developed it out of necessity, since Unity’s standard trail renderer was not flexible enough to fit the bill in many cases.

After learning about how people struggled with trail rendering in Unity, we realized Ara (maori for “trail” or “path“, an homage to our kiwi experience not long ago) was probably too useful to be kept in our vaults.

How does it work?

Internally, Ara has many similarities to a traditional particle system like the one used by our Obi assets. Particles have position, orientation, color, thickness, and several other attributes that can be used to control all aspects of the trail. These can also be programmatically manipulated using your own scripts.



We will try to highlight a few features here:

Easy enabling/disabling

If you ever tried to simply disable trail emission temporarily you know it is not a trivial (or even easy) thing to do in Unity: Getting the already emitted trail to stay in place instead of disappearing when you disable it requires way more effort than it should be necessary.

Ara however allows you to control emission using a simple toggle (yay!). And you can gradually reduce the trail thickness/transparency, then bring them back up using curves for best results.

We used a small custom script (included with the asset) to perform raycasts under a car’s wheels and enable/disable trail emission depending on whether they hit the floor or not. It makes for some nice, low-effort tire marks:

Smooth trails

Since games use a discrete representation of time (basically they take a snapshot of the world every few milliseconds), fast moving objects tend to leave a choppy trail behind them. Weapon trails are specially affected by this. Ara uses Catmull-Rom spline interpolation to smooth out the trails, and they look so much better.

Left, a regular trail. Right, a smooth Ara trail.

High quality corners

In low-res trails, corners tend to look squashed and just plain ugly. We call this the “drinking straw” artifact:

Ara uses a high-quality mesh generation algorithm that can deliver truly sharp, constant thickness corners as well as rounded out and blunt ones. This is invaluable both for trails and line rendering.


sharp corners

smooth corners


Since trails are essentially a list of particles, adding a simple position-based physics system was a no-brainer. You can spice up your trails using gravity, velocity damping and inertia at virtually zero performance cost.


Ara allows you to post-process the existing trail particles after every frame, or provide your own list of particles. Using this you can:

  • precisely control where and when should new trail particles be emitted.
  • destroy existing trail particles.
  • place points anywhere to render lines.
  • change trail color, thickness, orientation or any other attribute using custom logic.

Here’s a typical scenario that is not easily achieved without the ability to script trail behavior: lightcycle-like trails.

In this case, we scripted trail emission to ensure new segments were emitted only when the player moves to a new cell in the grid. Trail color was mapped to movement direction:

// emit a new point every time we move to new coordinates.
if (Input.GetKey(KeyCode.W)){
    trail.initialColor = orange;
if (Input.GetKey(KeyCode.S)){ 
    trail.initialColor = red;
if (Input.GetKey(KeyCode.A)){
    trail.initialColor = blue;
if (Input.GetKey(KeyCode.D)){
    trail.initialColor = green;

We also imposed a maximum trail length, expressed in cells:

// Remove excess points once weve reached the limit:
int excess = Mathf.Max(0,trail.points.Count-maxTrailLenght);
if (excess > 0){

Overall we feel Ara is a great alternative to Unity’s built-in trail renderer.

  • Zero-memory allocation per frame has been achieved, so performance is excellent.
  • Both local space and world space emission modes are supported.
  • It is very versatile and easy to use both for artists and coders.
  • Runs in all platforms and the full C# source is included.


If you need a flexible solution for trails in your game, we’re confident enough to say this is the one and only solution you will ever need. 🙂


If you like it, please follow our next link if you want to check it out to help us even more!



Thanks everybody for your support!


  • Awesome system!!

    Does your trail system support UI Trails at all? I really want to use trails to trace the edge of buttons and panels but amazingly getting Unity’s renderer to work above the UI seems impossible.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  • Do these trails have collides or can collides be added?

  • Hi, I just bought ARA Trails and was not able to get acceptable performance.
    My usage is special in that I want 700 trails rendering at the same time. The unity trail renderer seems to handle this in VR an allows me to keep 100 fps. When I tried the ARA Trails, in the most basic setup, I have 12fps!
    Can you demonstrate or tell me how to run many ara trails at the same time!


  • “Zero-memory allocation per frame has been achieved, so performance is excellent.” It’s awfully naive to think that memory allocation is the only thing affecting performance.

    • Nope, it’s not the only thing, and we didn’t imply that. We just wanted to pointed out that many assets in the store do not care about constant memory allocation, and that causes awful GC spikes that hinder performance. Ara does not perform any fixed allocations per frame, so performance is not terrible because of this.

      Other things to consider are arithmetic operations, memory layout, etc. We took special care to optimize all of them, so performance is still excellent for what it is. Keep in mind however, that nothing beats Unity’s standard trail renderer, as it is implemented natively, and that there are ways to get even better performance (use shaders to perform trail extrusion, for instance).

  • Hi! May I suggest you add the word “TrailRenderer” into your Asset Store description, so people can more easily find you when looking for a replacement? I only found your asset by taking some Google detours.

  • Hey,

    I am looking to use ARA for rendering missile and airplane trails at a distance. A question on texturing: can you anchor the UV (or just the U to be precise) at the end of trail instead of the texture getting dragged along by the emitter? Also, what happens when you toggle emitter on/off, will this affect texture position?

    • Hi Karl,

      You can anchor the U coord at any point in the trail (beginning, end, or any point in the middle). Set texture mode to “Tile”, and change the TileAnchor parameter.

      Toggling emitter on/off does not affect the already emitted trail in any way.

  • Jonas Tingmose

    Will these work with HDRP?

  • How does the max length work? I can’t seem to recreate what you’ve done. Is there a setting I’m missing? C# doesn’t seem to like RemoveRange.

  • I am hoping to use ARA in a particle system, is there a way I can get it to just replace the trails?

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