3D modeling software provides the necessary tools to create in the digital space. From graphic design to 3D printing, there is an increasing need for this type of application.
Designing on a computer without needing any prior knowledge or experience has become fairly easy. But with so much 3D modeling software on the market, it can be hard to choose between them.
The most important thing you need to know is that there are several types of 3D modeling software targeting different uses. For instance, some applications are tailored for product design, while others cater to artists.
All of them offer important feature sets, so it’s important to choose one with the features you need. Best of all, many of the applications listed below have a free version you can test out.
#1: Best 3D Modeling Software for Product Design — Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is often considered the best 3D modeling software because of its wide range of features and capabilities. But it also has a nice interface that is very simple for beginners to use.
What makes it good for beginners is the fact that it’s free for personal use. Fusion 360 is made by Autodesk, which you may be familiar with as the company behind AutoCAD and Maya.
While there are some limitations on the personal version, it still has an insane amount of features. The first game-changing feature is Fusion 360’s parametric modeling.
This technology allows you to name parts and change all of the dimensions or angles of that part in a single edit. This makes modifying a part significantly easier since you can add in formulas to fill in other dimensions.
Another great feature of Fusion 360 is that you can simulate moving parts. For instance, it is possible to model a nut and bolt, then simulate the two pieces coming together.
Obviously, this is a pretty basic use, but it allows for some incredible product designs. Once you are done designing, Fusion 360 can create tool paths for CNC machining and even 3D printing. However, Fusion 360 isn’t perfect because it does have some limitations. Primarily, it is tailored for designing products rather than art.
With that in mind, there is certainly a time and a place for Fusion 360, especially for those who do a lot of 3D printing. But even sculptors and artists may be able to take advantage of the software, especially by adding some plug-ins for extra functionality.
#2: Best 3D Modeling Software for Artists — Blender
Blender is one of the best and most popular tools for 3D modeling characters and other designs. It is a free, open-source program that also supports plenty of plugins and add-ons.
Unlike Fusion 360, it isn’t centered around product design and fabrication. Instead, it caters to artists. However, many still use Blender for product design, particularly those who intend to 3D print the models later.
The reason that it is used by artists is that it supports functions like animations and visual effects. It also allows video creation, and the program’s workflow options make it a breeze for new users to learn.
Blender’s sculpting aspect is what really lets users bring their creations to life. With a myriad of tools, anyone can take an abstract idea from their mind and recreate it in the virtual world.
#3: Best 3D Modeling Software for Builders — SketchUp
SketchUp is a popular tool that is used by commercial and personal designers alike. The 3D modeling software offers a decent range of capabilities that stand apart from some of the competition.
SketchUp does have a free version with limited features but, otherwise, it is paid software. The free edition is enough for basic needs, such as those just getting into 3D modeling.
The program itself looks a little dated, but it feels easier to use than some of the more advanced programs. The reason for that is that SketchUp sticks to some pretty simple abilities.
The best way to describe it is by saying that the program feels two-dimensional. Meaning that all of the surfaces feel very boxy and flat, even when they have corners and rounded edges.
It is hard to explain the way SketchUp works without using it yourself. However, its biggest drawback is that you won’t be doing any sculpting or video work with it.
In reality, SketchUp is a great tool for DIY builders, like carpenters, because they can construct their projects virtually for proof of concept. Despite SketchUp’s limitations, it still offers plug-ins and even has real objects to drop into your design.
#4: Best 3D Modeling Software for Woodworkers — Vectric
Vectric exists in a weird space between Fusion 360 and SketchUp. While nearly any 3D object could be modeled in Fusion 360 and woodworkers can create mockups of their projects in SketchUp, neither is the best solution for milling and machining.
Vectric is a simple yet powerful tool that features everything a user needs to create, and even sculpt. Its ability to sculpt lets users create advanced carvings that are three-dimensional. The software’s focus is on 3D subtractive machining, like CNC Routing and Milling.
Therefore, it also works great for creating designs to mill out of aluminum. Additionally, Vectric has a built-in CAM program that lets users create code that a CNC machine can run without having to export to another software.
The CAM features are very important because users can quickly make changes to the model and recreate the toolpath. The downside of the software is that it is very expensive at $1,995 and only has a 30-day free trial. Alternatively, you can get VCarve Pro for $699 or VCarve Desktop for $349.
#5: Best 3D Modeling Software for Animators — Maya
Maya is another program from Autodesk, but it is made for 3D modeling and animation. Unlike the other options we’ve covered so far, Maya doesn’t have a free version, and it costs $215 per month.
While the price is high for beginners, it offers a massive set of features that are really targeted toward professional artists and animators. Sculpting and designing 3D models is a major part of Maya.
You can create advanced characters, as well as the world around them. Maya is very different from other node-based modeling programs that center around creating objects. Its feature set is more centered around putting objects and environments together than creating movement for use in movies and video games.
#6: Best 3D Modeling Software for Sculptors — ZBrush
ZBrush is another sculpting tool that is a favorite among professionals. It has vast capabilities that make creating advanced designs a breeze. Many of its features are similar to Maya, like the focus on modeling and animation.
However, it is significantly cheaper than Maya, coming in at $40 per month for the full version or $10 per month for only core features. There is also a very limited free version to try out.
One of ZBrush’s key features is its array of brush tools which offer some impressive options to mold and sculpt a model. But if ZBrush doesn’t have a brush tool that fits your needs, you can always create a custom one.
While ZBrush provides some great sculpting tools which are great for 3D printable models. But it is not the best all-in-one option for rendering animation.
#7: Best 3D Modeling Software for Game Designers — Unity
Unity is a major departure from the types of 3D modeling software we’ve covered so far. Instead of a program specifically designed for creating sculptures or models, it is actually a video game engine. Popular titles like Beat Saber, Pokemon Go, Cities: Skylines, and Firewatch all run on the Unity game engine and were designed using the software.
As you can tell, the engine doesn’t run many graphically intense games, but it is the perfect option for beginners. What makes it great is that anyone can download the full version for free.
You only need to pay if you make a game that earns over $1 million in sales. Otherwise, Unreal Engine is a great alternative for more intense needs, and it also has a free version.
But getting back to 3D modeling, Unity has a system called ProBuilder that you can add to the base engine. This provides some pretty good tools for designing different types of objects directly in the video game world.
While Unity isn’t the best option for sculpting, it is great for modeling 3D worlds. You can use another sculpting program to create characters or detailed objects and import them into Unity.
#8: Best 3D Modeling Software for Beginners — Tinkercad
Tinkercad is a modeling software, but it’s not like Fusion 360 or SketchUp. While it does share some commonalities with these programs, it is much more rudimentary. Rather than having a wide array of features, Tinkercad keeps things simple. Surprisingly, Tinkercad is actually made by Autodesk, just like Fusion 360 and Maya.
However, Tinkercad is a free program designed for students to learn the basics of 3D modeling at a young age. Anyone can use the program, and it is entirely online, so you don’t have to worry about needing a special computer to run it.
Where Tinkercad really shines is in creating basic objects and shapes, which are perfect for beginner 3D prints. In fact, it’s oftentimes easier to launch Tinkercad and throw together a basic creation than waiting for Fusion 360 to load and then navigating its menus.
Additionally, Tinkercad has some great tools for learning about electronics. You can add different components and even put together lines of code. Then, you can simulate how all of the pieces work together and even export them for 3D printing.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com.