It is mind-boggling to witness that the skip from 2D to 3D is opening up so many new arenas and possibilities in the digital world. After all, recreating the world on a computer, just the way we see it is a big deal. 3D modeling software makes this task easier. If you are a 2D designer looking to venture into the new realm of 3D or an already established 3D designer who is searching for more fuel for his creative engines, this list of the best 3D modeling software will definitely help you. Before jumping to that though, here is a gist of what a basic 3D modeling program is.
What is 3D Modeling Software?
3D modeling is a mathematical method of creating designs in the virtual three dimensions (height/depth, length, and breadth) and a 3D modeling program helps one do that in an efficient and user-friendly way. 3D modeling attempts to recreate some real-world entity, or a blueprint for a future structure, or even a work of art. With 3D software, the possibilities are infinite. Nowadays, 3D modeling is used in diverse fields like medicine, architecture, entertainment, etc.
Like any trending product or service, the internet offers a vast variety of 3D modeling programs, both free and paid. Selecting the right 3D software can be a little challenging, but we’ll give it our best shot. Let’s go.
Best Free 3D Modeling Softwares
Blender is an open source (free, and anyone can contribute to its code to make it better) 3D modeling software which is an excellent alternative to its paid brethren. Like any open source software, Blender has a large community of developers, artists, and designers who are always willing to help. Blender, a free 3D modeling software for Mac, works on Windows and Linux as well. If you are looking to enter the amazing world of 3D modeling, Blender is a great choice; it has impressive toolset capabilities, and the support is strong. However, this free 3D program is a little non-conventional, and jumping from Blender to other paid 3D design programs might take a little getting used to.
Another one picked ripe from the basket of the best free 3D modeling software, MakeHuman targets a particular use case; character design (as the name suggests). Just like Blender, MakeHuman is one of the best 3D modeling software for beginners. Its simple UI/UX is easy to grasp, and the tools are also not very complicated to use. You can use MakeHuman to create beginner projects and small modules as a precursor to future, more complex endeavors. It's a great community of developers backing it up and a very responsive forum portal where getting support is quick and fruitful.
The Autodesk Maya is a strong, robust, and versatile 3D program which offers a 30 day free trial (hence in the free section). If you are looking for 3D modeling software for beginners, Autodesk Maya presents an excellent opportunity to work on an actual professional platform. You cannot publish any of the projects commercially that you create in these 30 days, but you can sharpen your skills. It also has a student’s license for learners and enthusiasts who are just beginning to take an interest in the world of 3D designing.
It’s free, says the title; this 3D modeling program is one of the most versatile free software on the internet, compatible with almost all the operating systems (great for both windows and mac users, even Chromebook). It is simple to understand and easy to use. SketchupFree is ideal for interior designers and home furnishers. This 3D software avoids the shenanigans of rigging and UV maps, which is terrific if you are just focused on completing your job quickly and correctly. It has paid versions (shop, pro, and studio) as well, which bulk up the functionalities of the toolkit that comes with it. Check for this 3D modeling software online to know more.
Houdini Apprentice is the free version of the popular and award-winning program, Houdini FX. Ideal for people who practice 3D designer as a hobby or are learning this wonderful art. Also, what is great is that the free version has all the features of the paid version, except the capability of publishing your designs on a commercial platform. One of the most powerful tools on this list, the Houdini Apprentice is an amazing program to learn the tricks of the trade without shelling the big bucks. Thanks to the generous developers!
There is no denying that digital 3D modeling requires a lot of creative prowess, but the fact that it is based on mathematical algorithms cannot be neglected. OpenSCAD is one such free 3D modeling software that focuses more on the technical area of 3D modeling rather than the creative portion. It is an ideal designing tool for creating digital models which are meant to be 3D printed later; toys, small gadgets, handy utilities, etc. can all be created using this 3D modeling program. OpenSCAD is also versatile and runs on all major operating systems like Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Another open source 3D modeling software, which is still in its development phase is the FreeCAD. However, the features that it currently has is enough to develop stunning 3D designs and models. The primary arena where FreeCAD dominates over its competitors is its ability to create elaborate and complex shapes with ease, based on properties and relations to other shapes. If you are familiar with Object Oriented Programming, FreeCAD has a lot of relatability with it. It is a visual representation of objects and their attributes and how these objects interact with other objects. This may all sound a little technical, but it all takes a little getting used to.
It is amazing that all there are so many 3D modeling programs available in the market, both paid and free, an all of them have some advantage over the other. Vue is miles ahead of the other 3D modeling program when it comes to designing landscapes. With tons of features to give your designs a glamorous look, Vue comes with a paid version as well. With the free version, all your designs will have a watermark, and these designs won’t be used commercially. However, Vue is a software for those who are interested in creating beautiful sceneries, which look almost as good as the real world.
Like we mentioned before, each of these 3D software has some cutting edge features, which makes them better than the rest in some area of expertise. Sculptris, as its name suggests, is ideal for developing digital sculptures. It is easy to learn and use. After a few minutes of tutorial and practice, you can start designing faces and characters. Sculptris is one of the best free 3D modeling software for beginners that are out there. After learning this tool, you can start using ZBrush, the paid 3D modeling program by the same developers to create some mind-blowing sculptures and character prototypes.
Daz Studio is one such free 3D program that has a huge pool of tools and functionalities. The software is free for all, but some of the utilities are paid. The marketplace is full of content which you can use free of cost. With Daz Studio, 3D modeling, animating, and rendering becomes a lot easier. For software which is so rich in capabilities, it has a reasonably easy UI. Whatever you create with this easy 3D modeling software is owned only by you, royalty free! It is a highly robust program which requires only 1 GB of RAM to run. However, a RAM of more than 2 GB is recommended for optimum performance.
TinkerCAD is one of the most versatile free 3D software; it is a browser-based tool, which makes it highly accessible. Developed by the giants in 3D modeling, Autodesk, it is a beginners’ software which is ideal for learning the tricks of the trade. Many 3D designing teachers prefer using TinkerCAD because of its versatility and its simple UI. It also has an excellent support team and generous contributors who make it better to use every day. If you want to create designs quickly and efficiently, TinkerCAD is a great choice.
Leopoly is a 3D modeling software engineered by Hungarian developers keeping in mind ease of use and robustness. It offers various plans, both paid and unpaid, and has a vast client base to show off. The free version is ideal for students and newbies who are just gaining interest in the enormous realm of 3D designing. Just like TinkerCAD, Leopoly is an online 3D modeling program that runs on browsers. It makes VR modeling and texture designing very simple and uncomplicated.
NanoCAD is a Windows-only free 3D modeling program for users who are looking for a free counterpart of AutoCAD. It also has a paid version which bolsters the functionalities offered by the free version. One of the best features of this free program is that it allows you to view your previous changes and work on them to create other projects (much like branching in Github). NanoCAD is ideal for designers who pursue this art as a hobby or a side interest. Also, it is great for students who can’t afford AutoCAD; the only downside is that this drawing program is not available for Mac users.
Meshmixer is another software belonging to the Autodesk lineage. Unlike most of the software on this list, this free 3D modeling software is used over pre-designed projects. MeshMixer offers incredible flexibility in working with animations, texture designing, hollowing, etc. It makes your designs better and improves its quality. Available for both Mac and Windows, the MeshMixer requires a low system configuration to run. It has an almost negligible learning curve and has a great responsive UI. Excels in designing 3D meshes (the skeleton for 3D designs). You can check their website for the different use cases where this 3D drawing program is applicable.
Best Paid 3D Modeling Softwares
ZBrush appears first in the list of paid 3D modeling software only because of its capability of creating a stunning quality of 3D designs which are ideal for 3D printing. As you will go down the list, you will find many software which matches or are better than ZBrush in terms of toolsets and ease of use; however, the fact mentioned above makes it a prevalent choice among artists who want to print their designs in high-quality materials. It is a bit on the expensive side and is more robust to learn that many software that appears on this list, but most of the times if the output is good, it is worth spending the money and the effort.
This 3D modeling software is one of the best choices for Windows operating system. It boasts of a vast pool of tools and is comparatively easy to learn than its counterparts. The 3ds Max is moderate in price with a subscription model backing its payment structure. Since its free version offers a 30 day trial period, it is easier for amateurs to jump to this paid version, making it very popular amongst new paying users. The Achilles heel of this 3D modeling tool is that it is only available for Windows. A huge loss for Mac users, since it is one of the best tools in this list.
The Modo developed by Foundry is a versatile and powerful 3D modeling program that makes texturing and rendering very easy. Modo is developed around the idea that speed and efficiency are paramount while creating 3D designs. Therefore, Foundry has made considerable efforts to reduce technical glitches and obstacles as much as possible. As mentioned before, it is very easy to learn as compared to Maya and ZBrush. Modo is excellent at creating medium level designs, but working with extensive projects becomes complicated. Also, the toolset needs a little work if it needs to reach the level of the giants in the 3D modeling software business.
The paid version of the same software that you saw in the free section of this blog, Autodesk Maya, is the best 3D modeling software hands down. It has an immense brand value attached to it, and it boasts of a stellar user base. Yes. Pixar uses this 3D modeling program. However, the price tag is a bit hefty, which does cut down on some potential users. Autodesk Maya has been added with amazing functionalities over the past few years, making it cross its competitors in terms of revenue and clientele. If you are serious about making 3D designing into a career, or if you are already a professional and want to add that X factor to your resume, Autodesk Maya should be your first choice, hands down!
Mudbox is another fantastic product by Autodesk. It is simple to use when compared to Maya and is ideal for 3D editing and sculpting. To add animations and other features, you will need additional software. It is a great add on tool to learn though. It is a versatile tool that runs on Linux based operating systems, Mac systems, as well as on Windows. It is a heavy software requiring 4GB RAM and runs smoothly on 8GB of RAM. Use Mudbox as a complementary tool to other 3D modeling software, and you will not regret it.
Houdini is another excellent 3D program that is in the market at the moment. Many established corporate designers use Houdini to serve their clients. Just like other industry giants, Houdini is hard to learn and is a little harsh on the wallet. But the designs created are on another level. You can visit their official website to view their glistening portfolio. It offers more flexibility of controls than the Autodesk Maya and uses different algorithms for animations and rendering (node-based procedural). With a little bit of patience and a strong will, Houdini won’t take long to be mastered and staying true to its name, after learning Houdini, you will become a magician in the field of 3D designing.
With you are more inclined toward 3D motion graphics, Cinema 4D is the software for you. It has a huge price attached to it though, so make sure your requirements match the capabilities this 3D modeling software offers. They do offer a free trial of around 40 days that will help you in making this decision. Once you start using the Cinema 4D, you will find that the learning curve attached to it is pretty undemanding and simplistic. It requires 4GB of RAM and a graphics card for smooth running and is available for Mac, Linux, and Windows operating systems.
Strength and robustness radiate from the name of this 3D modeling program, which is also very versatile when it comes to operating systems and CPU specifications. Rhinoceros focuses on creating unhindered designing with its easy to learn tools and add-ons. As mentioned before, the rendering is smooth and does not slow down the system, which ideal for complex animations and morphing 3D designs. It comes with a 90 days trial version, after which you have to pay some bucks to continue using the software. The price is a bit high, but this 3D modeling platform deserves a tryout.
One of the cheapest paid 3D modeling software in the list, Substance Designer focuses on creating realistic textures. All its gadgets are engineered, keeping texturing and skinning in mind. You can use this software as a precursor to the other software in this list because indeed, the capabilities as mentioned above offered by Substance Designer are beyond par. It is one of those 3D modeling programs which are easy to learn and that create outputs quickly. Another strong point of Substance Designer is material authoring (creating different materials with a variety of textures, attributes, and properties; used as a base for other 3D models).
Revit is paid 3D modeling software developed by Autodesk. It specializes in 3D architectural design and structural engineering. It is priced a little higher than the other architectural tools but is worth it. The technical support is impressive, and the software comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. There are a lot of online tutorials and educational content available with Revit, which is great for architectural students. It is easy to share your work with team members, and the rendering features are also very efficient. Like all Autodesk products, Revit radiates quality and robustness in its operations and results. A fantastic pick for both students and industry professionals, this epitome of 3D software runs smoothly on both Mac and Windows.
One of the most widely used 3D modeling software in both institutions and corporates, AutoCAD, is a versatile and powerful tool for creating blueprints for buildings and architectural designs. AutoCAD has a plethora of online tutorials and walkthroughs, which makes it a students’ favorite. With its state of the art toolset and efficient rendering algorithms, AutoCAD is the best of its kind. It works great on both Mac and Windows and guarantees a glitch-free user experience. AutoCAD skills are considered as a prerequisite for many civil engineers who are applying for construction and architecture firms.
Related: You may check out open source alternatives to AutoCAD
OnShape offers a central workspace where different team members can collaborate to create stunning 3D models. Professionals and corporate employees prefer using OnShape for their fantastic project management capabilities. Apart from this, OnShape is a 3D modeling software that works on a cloud-based SaaS model. It has a central repository which can have branches, very similar to the programming repositories like Github. It works on both Mac and Windows and is not so harsh on the budget. It has a free version too, but it does not offer many features.
Poser revolves around designing human faces and characters using algorithms that help in rapid designing via changing a ‘base figure.’ Not only can you create human characters, but you can also design backgrounds importing huge materials. A poser is an independent tool that is enough to cater to all your requirements from A to Z. Like the other software in this list, you can work with cr2, pz2, and obj formats with ease. Renderosity is Poser's official marketplace.
We know that picking just the right software is a tough decision, especially when the prices are so high. But trust us, the money is worth the results. 3D modeling is an art on its own, which requires a highly creative approach from the artist. Along with this, a sound technical mind is also necessary. Some of the 3D modeling software (mostly the free ones) in this list will help you start this incredible journey. Once you get the hang of it, you can judge on your own and choose which software is compatible with your working style, which satiates all your requirements, and most importantly, gives the best results. Happy designing!
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Disclaimer: The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the final product. All images are copyright to their respective owners.
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