Used in industries like 3D printing, animation, gaming, architecture, and industrial design, 3D models are crucial components of digital production. That’s why choosing the right 3D modeling software is important; it helps to realize your creative ideas with a minimum of fuss.
But finding the right 3D modeling software is often difficult. That’s because of various aspects and the wide range of features available in these applications. To help you with making the right choice, we have included 3D modeling software suites pitched at every stage of learning, whether you’re a complete 3D modeling beginner or an experienced professional.
However, to keep our list nice and short, we have excluded some 3D modeling software that is usually employed mainly for 3D animation and gaming. So don’t be alarmed if you don’t find Lightwave, Maya and the like on this list. Also, the ranking of the tools is purely alphabetical within their category.
Autodesk 123D Design is a hobbyist 3D CAD and 3D modeling software created by Autodesk. It is similar in scope to SketchUp and based on Autodesk’s Inventor.
Being part of its free of Autodesk’s charge 123D Apps collection, it is a powerful yet relatively simple to use 3D creation and editing tool that can work seamlessly with most 3D printer models in the market.
123D Design uses a simple and intuitive graphical user interface that places your toolbox on the top and the view tools right beneath it, with the design area taking the rest of the space. Meshes are designed by placing primitive shapes in the design area. These shape’s properties can be refined with an array of tools, including more advanced techniques like sweep and loft. As well as the more basic drawing and modeling capabilities, it also has assembly and constraint support and STL export. There is also a library of premade blocks and objects, which can be valuable timesavers.
123D Design can be used like a 3D CAD software, in case you prefer a technical 3D design approach. In addition, the capability of importing SVG files makes 123D Design a handy 3D modeling software tool to create mechanical parts from drawings stored in that format.
Relevant to 3D printing are the grid presets for the table size of your 3D printer which will give you an impression of the dimensions of your 3D design.
A powerful, yet relatively simple to use tool. Beyond any doubt, one of the best 3D modeling software for beginners who want to get a solid foundation in the art.
UPDATE: As of spring 2017, Autodesk has discontinued its popular 123D software line of free 3D modeling and scanning tools. However, the programs are still running on many computers worldwide. For this reason, All3DP will keep its tutorials and reviews accessible for as long as these programs can be run.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Beginners who want to get a solid foundation
Formats: 123x, step, STL, x3d, VRML
OS: Windows, Mac and iOS
3D Slash is a free and easy to use 3D modeling software that lets you create models using a simple building-block concept similar to Minecraft.
Working with 3D Slash will be a bit of a shock for modeling veterans since conventional features like extrusion, revolution or sweeps are not part of the program. Instead, modeling is centered around the cuboid, a solid block that can be subdivided into smaller blocks of identical size. Users create their 3D designs by working the cuboid with an array of tools that will not be familiar from most other 3D modeling software: hammer, trowel, chisel, pulpwood, and drill. Thus, you use the hammer tool to remove individual cubes, while the trowel adds cubes. And so forth.
3D designing with these tools is easy, even for beginners. With only a little training you can achieve impressive results, like a light saber (see our tutorial). It is also noteworthy that you can import and modify existing 3D designs. By default, the tools will result in pixelated prints – if you prefer crisp edges and smooth surfaces, simply choose tool sizes below the resolution of your printer.
For your convenience, this 3D modeling software ties in with a range of online printing services and model repositories. Or you can simply export your 3D design to STL and print it on your 3D desktop printer.
The playful, hands-on approach will be especially gratifying for hobbyists who occasionally want to create their 3D designs without having to master the mysterious lore of conventional 3D modeling software. We also recommend it to seasoned 3D modelers who want to explore a different take on their craft. If you are a beginner with aspirations of going pro one day, you will be better off with a tool that will introduce you to the fundamentals of conventional modeling like TinkerCAD or 123D Design.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Hobbyists with an eye on quick results
Formats: 3dslash, obj, STL
Price: Free, Premium functionality from 24€/year
OS: Windows, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi or Browser
Though not a known as 3D modeling software, the famous graphics editor has included limited functionality for some time. 3D printing, however, is only supported since version 14.1.
The Adobe developers are aware that they cannot beat industry leaders like Autodesk at their game. So, it does not come as a surprise that Photoshop only half-heartedly ventures into three-dimensional space. For instance, it does not include any real modeling capabilities. Instead, it requires the user to import external files that you can adapt for rendering images or 3D printing. The only modest ways of modeling in Photoshop are the extrusion and repoussé options.
However, it does provide some help for 3D printing. It can generate support structures and scale the mesh to fit the selected printer. Also of value are the mesh repair tools that will help generate a watertight STL file.
Like its competitors in the 3D modeling software sphere, Photoshop is connected to various online marketplaces and printing services. This allows you to prepare your meshes from the toolbar to the requirements of your printing service.
Photoshop and 3D printing may not be love at first sight. But if you are curious about 3D printing and have Photoshop installed already, you’re good to go.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Anyone who has Photoshop installed anyway and needs a 3D print
Formats: 3ds, dae, kmz, obj, STL, u3d
Price: 142 €/year
OS: Windows and Mac
An alternative approach to traditional 3D modeling is the concept of sculpting within a 3D modeling software. There are some commercial options on the market, most of which have pretty steep learning curves. These will be introduced below among the intermediate and professional tools. SculptGL, on the other hand, includes only the basic tools necessary and allows you to give you a sense of the sculpting workflow – All in the comfort of your web browser.
As in more advanced sculpting tools, you don’t try to create a high-resolution mesh right from the start, but build up levels of detail step by step. In practice, you will either start out with a primitive that you mold into your 3D design from scratch or load a template (a generic human body, etc.) from 3D modeling software as a basis. The groundwork is always to define the silhouette (arms, heads, limbs) in very broad brushes. From there you can switch to smaller brushes and sculpt large details, pronounced muscles, fingers and the like. Only then you can add intricate details like wrinkles or scars using finer brushes.
This being a free tool, the number and complexity of objects are limited to the minimum. For anyone just curious about 3D sculpting, this is the best 3D modeling software, to begin with. If you want to level up, you should give Sculptris a try – if you want to go pro, try ZBrush or Mudbox.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Beginners who want to dabble in 3D sculpting
Formats: obj, ply, sql, STL
The self-proclaimed “leader in online 3D modeling and slicing software”, SelfCAD packages the complete design-to-print workflow in one neatly presented bundle. At its core SelfCAD features a robust 3D modeling application that allows for the design of complex and 3D printable objects.
An intuitive GUI and TinkerCAD-level of simplicity in the way tools work and manipulate your designs mean that virtually anyone can dive in and start creating. And you can also load in a flat image to serve as a template to your workings, so a reference is always at hand.
But perhaps the defining proficiency of SelfCAD as 3D modeling software is its ability to prepare models for 3D printing, even taking the job as far as slicing and piping the g-code directly to your computer. A host of predefined RepRap 3D printers are available from a drop down, but you can enter the specifications for any not included.
All this from any web-browser you point at the SelfCAD website. Not too shabby.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: 3D printing makers looking to get up to speed with 3D design quickly
Formats: STL, MTL, PLY, DAE, SVG
Price: 30 day free trial, $9.99 monthly
OS: Web Application
Don’t be fooled, TinkerCAD is not some 3D modeling kindergarten. It is true, TinkerCAD allows you to combine primitive shapes like toddlers do. Using basic modeling operations, TinkerCAD allows you to join these primitives complex objects. But there is more to TinkerCAD, the functionality extends to joining and subtracting shapes. After mastering these basic techniques, even newbies to 3D modeling software can produce impressive results like Raspberry Pi cases in no time.
If you are looking for a tool to get your feet wet, you will love TinkerCAD’s intuitive approach to common concepts and tools in 3D modeling software.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Beginners trying to grasp the basic concepts of 3D modeling
Formats: 123dx, 3ds, c4d, mb, obj, svg, stl
OS: Web Application
Clara.io is an impressive browser-based 3D modeling software. It includes all the common modeling tools for polygon modeling, like extrusion, beveling, slicing, cutting, and looping. In terms of texture maps, you get UV mapping. Pretty much everything you need for basic 3D modeling purposes.
But Clara.io goes beyond the functionality you would expect from a browser 3D modeling software. For instance, the rendering does not need to shy away from many desktop programs. It includes V-Ray, that allows you to light your meshes using an HDR image and many other nifty tricks. In case you want to create computer animated movies, Clara.io is even the right tool for that. As it supports basic keyframe animation.
One of the many useful features of this 3D modeling software is collaboratively working on projects. Similarly to Google Docs, you can add other Clara.io users to the scene that can then modify the file. Every change made is automatically synched between the accounts, this means other users get to see the scene transforming before their eyes instantaniously. This allows for a truly collaborative experience.
The free version of Clara.io gives you 5GB cloud storage. The commercial options include more storage, unlimited private scene, and unlimited personal rendering. We have no doubt in our mind that this is one of the best 3D modeling software for browsers.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: ambitious Intermediate users
Formats: 3dm, 3ds, cd, dae, dgn, gf, gdf, gts, igs, kmz, lwo, rws, obj, off, ply, pm, sat, scn, skp, slc, sldprt, stp, stl, x3dv, xaml, vda, vrml, x_t, x, xgl, zpr
Price: Free, Premium features from $100/year
FreeCAD is a parametric 3D modeler. It is made primarily to 3D design real-life objects of any size. Parametric modeling allows you to easily modify your 3D design by going back into your model history and changing its parameters.
FreeCAD is open-source and highly customizable, scriptable and extensible.
Being an open source software, its feature set is oriented towards the CAD community. So be prepared that FreeCAD can be a bit overwhelming at first. But if you dig deeper into the 3D modeling software, you will be rewarded with an awesome set of features.
It offers a modular architecture that allows plugins to be mounted to the core application. It also offers a Sketcher with constraint-solver, allowing you to sketch 2D shapes; a robot simulation to study robot movements, and a Path module dedicated to mechanical machining like milling (CAM), and is able to output, display and adjust G code.
Tutorial: FreeCAD Tutorial for 3D Printing
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Enthusiasts which are willing to dig in a mighy feature set.
Formats: step, iges, obj, stl, dxf, svg, dae, ifc, off, nastran, vrml and FreeCAD’s native Fcstd file format.
OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Though not a classic 3D modeling software, like Poser it is a character creation tool. MakeHuman is the only free character creation tool that we know of. It started out as a plugin for Blender and has since become an independent application.
With MakeHuman it really is child’s play to generate 3D files of humans. As this 3D modeling software allows you to manipulate what is called a “base mesh” – an ageless, genderless humanoid 3D file. You rapidly flesh out a distinctive and convincing character by sliding thoughtfully organized bars (gender, face, torso, arms, and legs). The customizations are truly comprehensive, you can literally manipulate your character down to the tips of the hair.
Luckily, your creations don’t have to stay nude. There are many different options of clothing available, from casual to chic. But we are only scratching at the surface. As this 3D modeling software includes extensive rigging options for game development and computer animation alike. Even the face is set up with enough controls to achieve decent facial expressions. This wealth of features enables you to generate convincing 3D models in a breeze.
MakeHuman is also a great tool to create a mesh that you then refine in 3D sculpting tools like ZBrush. For Blender users, MakeHuman offers a dedicated tool that facilitates the exchange between the two. It should be apparent, that this is one of the best 3D modeling software of its kind.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Intermediate users with an eye on quick results
Formats: dae, fbx, obj, STL
OS: Windows, Mac, Linux
The self-described “Swiss Army Knife” for 3D meshes is Meshmixer is a fully fledged 3D modeling software. It has a clear emphasis on the mechanical functionality of the 3D designs.
Meshmixer is designed to prepare meshes for 3D printing. The benchmark for its success high – for instance, Meshmixer is used to model solid prosthetics with mechanical parts. 3D scans are the basis for custom-fit devices. Moreover, this 3D modeling software provides some optimization techniques usually found in industrial grade programs. You can slim down unwanted mass from a 3D design and thereby reduce the cost of printing significantly. It also allows you to automatically generate joints connecting different parts into one single device.
In addition, this 3D modeling software tool has repair capabilities like hollowing, scaling and mesh simplification making it invaluable for 3D printing.
Meshmixer is not a beginner’s tool, but if you are looking for one of the best intermediate 3D modeling software tools that seamlessly blends into the Autodesk product family, look no further.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Intermediate Users who want to quickly realize their 3D designs
Formats: amf, mix, obj, off, STL
OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux
MoI (short for “Moment of Inspiration”) is a 3D modeling software that has been specifically developed for artists and designers. The explicit goal of the developer was to create a program that has the full functionality of a 3D CAD software, such as NURBS surfaces or filleting, but without the technical complexities that go along with that. Instead, the mathematical aspects are processed under the hood, leaving users the freedom to focus on their 3D designs.
Whereas conventional 3D CAD software tend to be quite right-click heavy, MoI sports a simple user interface. One of the distinctive features of MoI is the user interface that is completely compatible with pen tablets – in fact, this 3D modeling software can be operated without typing the keyboard at all.
On the right-hand side, you can choose between drawing lines or solids. The 3D designs can be worked with essential tools that are focused on the essentials like extrusion, fillet, offset loft and a handful others. Transformations: rotate, scale, array, align, deform and a few others. For precise work, there are windows to enter exact measurements. For additional tools, you can take a look at the scripts developed by the MoI community.
The developers pride themselves on the low learning curve of their product. This allows artists without any background in 3D modeling or CAD to quickly create mechanical or organic meshes ready for 3D printing.
If you need a tool that MoI emphasizes the creative process over technical gimmicks, MoI is the best 3D modeling software for you. For a more technical NURBS tool, we suggest Rhino3D.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: 3D designers who like NURBS, but shy away from its technical complexities
Formats: 3ds, 3dm, dxf, fbx, igs, lwo, obj, skp, STL, stp and sat
Price: 266 €
OS: Windows and Mac
Yet another approach to 3D modeling software is OpenSCAD, a free software application for creating solid CAD objects. It is not an interactive modeler, but rather a 3D compiler based on a textual description language.
An OpenSCAD document specifies geometric primitives and defines how they are modified and manipulated to render a 3D model. This allows you to create 3D designs, that are defined by configurable parameters or reuse code for other projects. OpenSCAD is centered around constructive solid geometry (CSG) and extrusion of 2D outlines.
Admittedly, OpenSCAD is not for everyone. This may well be the best 3D modeling software is for die hard modeling enthusiasts, who relish in seeing in their code come to life in the 3D printer.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Die Hard Coders
Formats: dxf, off, STL
OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux
Sculptris is a free 3D modeling software by the same developers as ZBrush. It has similar, though fewer features than ZBrush. Even beginners can grasp the basic techniques of Sculptris quickly and produce printable models.
As in more advanced sculpting tools, the main concept is that you don’t try to create a high-resolution mesh right from the start. But build up levels of detail step by step. In practice, you will either start out with a primitive that you mold into your 3D design from scratch or load template (a generic human body etc.) as a basis. The groundwork is always to define the silhouette (arms, heads, limbs) in very broad brushes. From there you can switch to smaller brushes and sculpt large details, pronounced muscles, fingers and the like. Only then you can add intricate details like wrinkles or scars using finer brushes.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Intermediate 3D Sculptors who don’t want to commit yet to Zbrush or Mudbox
Formats: obj, goz
OS: Windows and Mac
SketchUp is mostly known for being the tool architectural landmarks are modeled with Google Earth’s and not 3D printing. And although its present owner specializes in geoinformation SketchUp is used for visualization and planning in a variety of industries spanning architecture, interior design, urban planning, engineering, and construction.
What strikes the first time user of SketchUp at once is the neat and tidy interface. There are not many buttons that can boggle beginners trying to understand the 3D modeling software. It is easy to grasp the basic principles behind SketchUp, making it possible to create simple 3D printable models from scratch within the first few hours of learning. This is thanks to some intuitive tools that allow navigating and sculpting accurately in 3D view.
Which is not say that SketchUp is only capable of simple 3D modeling. Since SketchUp encourages users and third party companies to contribute extensions – many of them free of charge – there is virtually no limit to its potential capabilities. One case in point is Curviloft, bringing to SketchUp a set of tools that allow modeling complex organic structures. The 3D modeling software also includes drawing layout functionality and allows surface rendering in a variety of “styles”.
SketchUp comes with its own exchange repository integrated into the program itself: 3D Warehouse – a library where approximately 2.2 million SketchUp models can be downloaded directly into the program. Files are limited to a size of 50 MB. 3D Warehouse is connected to the online printing service Materialise.Cloud. By the push of one button Materialise. Cloud claims to automatically repair any glitches the model might have and produce a watertight STL file, that can be downloaded from 3D Warehouse.
This 3D modeling software does not support STL files out of the box. Instead, importing and exporting STL files are enabled by the extension “SketchUp STL” that can be downloaded and installed from within the program.
In addition, this 3D modeling software supports a handful of handy free extensions to prepare your SketchUp files for 3D printing:
We also want to point out several extensions that connect SketchUp to external services. These provide important functionality such as cleaning up meshes, getting an estimate for the cost of printing and ordering a print (i.materialise, Makeprintable) – be aware that these services may require you to subscribe in order to work.
SketchUp is strong for designing visualizations – it may well be considered the best 3D modeling software for the job. The support for 3D printing is already impressive and growing every minute.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Graphic designers, PreViz designers, and 3D printing hobbyists
Formats: dwg, dxf, 3ds, dae, dem, def, ifc, kmz, stl
Price: Free for non-commercial use. 657 €, additional features, educational licenses are available
OS: Windows and Mac
The classic among 3D modeling software suites by Autodesk. It is particularly popular among video game developers, visual effects artists, and architectural visualization studios. Sophisticated particle and light simulation, cloth-simulation engine and its own scripting language (MAXScript) are just a few key features besides its 3D modeling capabilities. If that is not sufficient for you, 3ds Max comes with a plugin architecture that is continuously fed by a vibrant community of developers. Up until the current version (2017) this 3D modeling software was split into a version for engineers and designers (3ds Max Design) and a version for visual artists (3ds Max), which shared only the core functionalities.
In terms of 3D modeling itself, 3ds Max is capable of creating parametric and organic objects with polygon, subdivision surface, and spline-based modeling features. Features interesting (for designers in particular) are the NURBS-based modeling tools in this 3D modeling software that allows for both organic and mathematically precise meshes. Among the more other techniques is the ability to create models from point cloud data.
3ds Max it is one the best 3D modeling software solutions out there. This being said, the animation and engineering features require long training in order to fully master them.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Professional 3D Designers and 3D Modelers in many fields
Formats: stl, 3ds, ai, abc, ase, asm, catproduct, catpart, dem, dwg, dxf, dwf, flt, iges, ipt, jt, nx, obj, prj, prt, rvt, sat, skp, sldprt, sldasm, stp, vrml, w3d xml,
Price: 2.141,70 € / year
The big granddaddy of the 3D modeling software, AutoCAD is a commercial software application for 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) and drafting. It is available since 1982 as a desktop application and since 2010 as a mobile, web- and cloud-based app marketed as AutoCAD 360.
AutoCAD’s wide array of features makes it a versatile tool that is used across a wide range of industries: by architects, project managers, engineers, graphic designers, and other professionals.
Depending on the version of AutoCAD you are using and the demands of your project, AutoCAD can produce satisfying results for beginners, to unlock its full potential requires extensive training.
As most 3D modeling software from Autodesk, AutoCAD is connected to Print Studio, allowing you ease of access to your 3D printer.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Architects, Engineers, Graphic Designers in a plethora of sectors
Formats: dwg, dxf, pdf
Price: 1400 € per year. Student licenses available
OS: Windows and Mac
Blender is a professional free and open-source 3D modeling software for creating animated films, visual effects, art, interactive applications, video games – and 3D printed models. Blender’s dizzying array of features includes 3D modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, raster graphics editing, rigging, and skinning, fluid and smoke simulation, particle simulation, soft body simulation, sculpting, animating, match moving, camera tracking, rendering, video editing, and compositing. In addition, this 3D modeling software features an integrated game engine.
It is clear that such wealth of functionality comes at a price. Although this 3D modeling software is free, it is by no means easy to master.
In terms of modeling, it is noteworthy that 3D design software Blender includes sculpting capabilities similar to Mudbox or ZBrush. This 3D modeling software provides a number of tools and modifiers that ease the creation of meshes intended for 3D printing – including a solution to repair meshes.
Blender is not suited for beginners, but if you are not turned off by a steep learning curve and search for one of the best open-source 3D modeling software that is a jack of all trades, you have found it.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Professional 3D Modelers and 3D Designers, Game Developers
Formats: 3ds, dae, fbx, dxf, obj, x, lwo, svg, ply, stl, vrml, vrml97, x3d
OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux
The first professional sculpting tool in our list, is the direct competitor to ZBrush, Autodesk’s Mudbox. Like ZBrush, it incorporated concepts known from clay sculpting into the realm of 3D modeling software.
The main concept to grasp is often called »progressive detailing«. That means you don’t try to create a high-resolution mesh right from the start. But build up levels of detail step by step. In practice, you will load a template (a generic human body etc.) as a basis. The groundwork is always to define the silhouette (arms, heads, limbs) in very broad brushes. From there you can switch to smaller brushes and sculpt large details, pronounced muscles, fingers and the like. Only then you can gear up the level of subdivision and progressively add intricate details like wrinkles or scars using finer brushes.
Though both ZBrush and Mudbox draw on the same concept, they implement it slightly differently. With many critics calling Mudbox somewhat friendlier for beginners in 3D sculpting, since it builds on the user experience of the other Autodesk products. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that ZBrush beats Mudbox in the broad array of its tools and brushes. However, the main drawback of Mudbox is its reliance on conventional 3D modeling software (Maya or 3ds Max) to create and manipulate base geometry, whereas ZBrush is completely self-sufficient in this regard. Thus it’s mostly a matter of your own workflow if you consider Mudbox superior to ZBrush.
In order to print your 3D design, you will have to process it in Maya or 3ds Max, as Mudbox does not export to stl.
Mudbox is interesting for anyone who wants to integrate his sculpting tool with the other 3D modeling software suites of the Autodesk family.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Professional 3D Sculptors used to the AutoDesk workflow
Formats: fbx, mud, obj
Price: 85 € /year. Free licenses for students available
OS: Windows and Mac
Onshape is a mighty enterprise-grade 3D CAD software suite. It is aimed at professional level users, who want version control and collaboration built. Onshape is delivered over the cloud as Software as a Service. It works on pretty much every system you can imagine – even on iOS and Android phones.
One of the most interesting features is its ability for the use in teams. Unlike installed CAD and PDM, Onshape gives everyone on the team instant access to the same CAD system and same CAD data in one central place in the cloud.
It also has the ability to manage a master design without the need to save copies or keep track of numerous different file versions.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Professional and industrial users, especially if they work in teams.
Formats: sat, step, igs, iges, sldprt, stl, 3dm, dae, dfx, dwg, dwt, pdf, x_t, x_b, xxm_txt, ssm_bin
Price: Free public version. $100 per month (Professional Edition), $200 (Enterprise Edition)
OS: Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook and mobile devices (iOS & Android)
Poser is the second character creation tool on this list of 3D modeling software that has a few aces up its sleeve.
Unlike traditional 3D modeling programs, you create 3D models of humans and animals quickly and intuitively by manipulating a “base figure” – an ageless, genderless humanoid 3D file. You flesh out a distinctive and convincing character by sliding bars that control the features of the face, the torso, the arms and legs etc. The customizations extend to the finest details of the human body and, with enough practice, it is possible to create photorealistic 3D models.
Not only can you cloth your Poser character, you can even place objects from a large library pre-built characters, animals and props that alone is 5GB in size. This way, it is easy to equip and arrange entire scenes. But not only that, Poser even has some decent rendering capabilities that included caustics, you get volumetric materials – so by purchasing Poser you are independent from any other programs. Exporting your work to 3ds Max or some other general purpose 3D modeling software is optional.
As in MakeHuman, the character is pre-rigged and ready for animation in movies and games. However, the pro version of Poser even allows you to record motion capture data using a Microsoft Kinect. Poser has an additional edge over MakeHuman by its integration of a physics engine, that lends greater realism to your work.
If you’re unsure if this approach to 3D modeling software is down your alley, check out the free alternative MakeHuman.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Advanced users with an eye on quick results
Formats: cr2, obj, pz2
Price: Standard $129.99, Pro $349.99
OS: Windows, Mac
Rhino3D is a 3D modeling software used in processes of computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and reverse engineering in industries including architecture, industrial design (e.g. automotive design, watercraft design), product design (e.g. jewelry design), as well as for multimedia and graphic design.
The geometry of this 3D modeling software is based on the NURBS mathematical model, which focuses on producing a mathematically precise representation of curves and freeform surfaces in computer graphics (as opposed to polygon mesh-based applications). You will recognize many tools from MoI, which is in fact based on the same principles as Rhino3D. In comparison, during the 3D design process, you will often enter numbers in order to exactly place and shape models. On the one hand, this makes Rhino3D the perfect tool for mechanical designs, on the other, it also slows down the workflow a bit.
While Rhino3D has no dedicated tools for 3D printing the built in features are more than sufficient. For instance, your model to be printable, great care has to be given to the meshing of the NURBS model. Which can be minutely controlled from within Rhino3D itself. In addition, some online printing services offer plugins that facilitate the necessary preparations for printing and the upload from within the 3D modeling software.
If your heart is bent on NURBS modeling, Rhino3D is probably the best 3D modeling software for you. In case you prefer a more intuitive approach, try MoI.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Professional Designers who appreciate mathematically sound designs
Formats: 3dm, 3ds, cd, dae, dgn, dwg, emf, fbx, gf, gdf, gts, igs, kmz, lwo, rws, obj, off, ply, pm, sat, scn, skp, slc, sldprt, stp, stl, x3dv, xaml, vda, vrml, x_t, x, xgl, zpr
Price: 1695 € commercial, 495 € educational.
OS: Windows and Mac
A new take on the process of modeling was introduced by tools like ZBrush, which incorporates concepts known from clay sculpting into the realm of 3D modeling software.
The developers at Pixologic have made their name with a series of handy techniques that simplify the modeling workflow. For instance, ZBrush is capable of creating a new model with a higher, uniform polygon distribution to counter the effects of polygon stretching.
The main concept to grasp is often called »progressive detailing«. That means you don’t try to create a high-resolution mesh right from the start. But build up levels of detail step by step. In practice, you will either start out with a primitive that you mold into your 3D design from scratch or load template (a generic human body etc.) as a basis. The groundwork is always to define the silhouette (arms, heads, limbs) in very broad brushes. From there you can switch to smaller brushes and sculpt large details, pronounced muscles, fingers and the like. Only then you can add intricate details like wrinkles or scars using finer brushes.
Though the idea of sculpting in 3D space may sound appealing to beginners, ZBrush is by no means a 3D modeling software you can master intuitively. ZBrush has a steep learning curve, it takes many hours of practice to master its many brushes and tools – only then will you produce satisfying results.
Although ZBrush and its competitor Mudbox both draw on the same concept, they implement it slightly differently. With many critics calling Mudbox somewhat friendlier for beginners in 3D sculpting. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that ZBrush beats Mudbox in the broad array of its tools and brushes. However, the main drawback of Mudbox is its reliance on either Maya or 3ds Max to create base geometry, whereas ZBrush is completely self-sufficient in this regard. You can block out your silhouette very quickly in ZBrush, in addition, it lets you create additional geometry easily and intuitively. Whether you consider Mudox superior to ZBrush, is ultimately a matter of your own workflow.
Printing your three-dimensional sculptures is facilitated by the plugin “3D Print Exporter” – here you can decide on the scale of your model and the format. Check your printer or printing service if they are able to print your model at the same resolution as ZBrush!
If you want to print natural shapes and you’re not scared to take the effort to delve into this technique – this 3D modeling software may be the way to go. Those who are not sure if the investment is worth it, can get their feet wet with Sculptris, a free program by the same developers, that has similar though fewer features than ZBrush.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Professional 3D Sculptors who don’t like the hassle that comes with Mudbox
Formats: dxf, goz, ma, obj, stl, vrml, x3d
Price: 720€ single user license. 400€ academic and educational license.
OS: Windows and Macintosh
CATIA is an acronym for Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application. The multi-platform application wears three hats; firstly as 3D CAD software, secondly as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software, and thirdly as a computer-aided engineering (CAE) software suite. The 3D modeling software is written in the C++ programming language and developed by the French company Dassault Systèmes. It is applied in fields like industrial design and mechanical engineering; specifically automotive, shipbuilding, industrial equipment, and architecture.
Similar to its competitor Autodesk Inventor, CATIA not only requires extensive training to make the most its potential, but also advanced knowledge in engineering. Still, it is a highly advanced engineering tool and definitely one of the best 3D modeling software on the market.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Industrial Users in automotive, shipbuilding, industrial equipment, and architecture engineering
Formats: 3dxml, catpart, igs, pdf, stp, stl, vrml
Price: 7.180 €, student licenses available.
Fusion 360 is a 3D CAD/CAM software tool with professional capabilities but is far more user-friendly than other professional solid-body 3D modeling software. The program encompasses the whole process of planning, testing and executing a 3D design. It has powerful parametric tools and analytic mesh tools that are well-suited to most challenges in industrial design. Moreover, it is able to simulate both the construction of the components designed as well as the stresses they will face once they are put to their use. Fusion 360 is also set apart by its collaborative features. It supports cloud-based file sharing, version control and import/export of common CAD file types.
Of course, Fusion 360 has excellent support for 3D printing. Models are directly imported into the Autodesk Printing Studio, that guides the user comfortably to a 3D printable file. Here you find the necessary tools to repair your mesh, if need be, and a preview of the printing process.
Though one of the best 3D modeling software tools for 3D design and engineering specialists, Fusion 360 requires extensive training to make the most its potential and advanced knowledge in engineering.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Industrial Users with an eye on simulating everyday use
Formats: catpart, dwg, dxf, f3d, igs, obj, pdf, sat, sldprt, stp
Price: 499.80 €/year, student licenses available
OS: Windows and Mac
Autodesk Inventor is a 3D modeling software developed by Autodesk to create digital mechanical solid prototypes. It is used for 3D mechanical design, design communication, tooling creation and product simulation. It enables users to produce accurate 3D models to aid in designing, visualizing and simulating products before they are built.
Like its competitors Solidworks and CATIA, Inventor is a highly advanced piece of 3D modeling software that not only requires extensive training to make the most its potential, but also advanced knowledge in engineering.
Autodesk Inventor is among the best 3D modeling software for the industrial sector. A possible user we can imagine is someone who is unsatisfied with the 3D printers presently on the market, decides to develop his own machine.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Industrial Users that require 3D design, visualization and simulation capabilities
Formats: 3dm, igs, ipt, nx, obj, prt, rvt, sldprt, stl, stp, x_b, xgl
OS: Windows and Mac
SolidWorks, is a solid modeling computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) 3D modeling software that runs on Microsoft Windows. SolidWorks is developed and published by Dassault Systèmes. According to the publisher, over 2 million engineers and designers at more than 165,000 companies used SolidWorks as of 2013.
In contrast to 3DS’s other product CATIA, Solidworks was designed with a broader of industries in mind: It is applied in fields like industrial design and mechanical engineering; specifically aerospace, automotive, shipbuilding, industrial equipment, architecture as well as the medical and energy sector.
Like its competitor Autodesk Inventor, this 3D CAD software has its place among the best industrial 3D modeling software. However, not only does it require extensive training to make the most its potential, but also advanced knowledge in engineering.
A possible scenario we can imagine is someone who is unsatisfied with the 3D printers presently on the market, decides to develop his machine.
Best 3D modeling software (3D Design/3D CAD software) for: Industrial Users in a broad spectrum of fields
Formats: 3dxml, 3dm, 3ds, 3mf, amf, dwg, dxf, idf, ifc, obj, pdf, sldprt, stp, stl, vrml
Price: 9.950 €. Student licenses available.
License: The text of "26 Best 3D Design/3D Modeling Software Tools (12 are Free)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.