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A Guide to Selecting the Best 3D Modeling Software

A Guide to Selecting the Best 3D Modeling Software | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone


January 12, 2023

With the rapid advancement of 3D printing technology, the demand for powerful 3D modeling software has also skyrocketed.

As the technology has grown, we are seeing more and more developments in building compatible software applications. Now 3D modeling software offers unique functions that cater specifically to certain sectors or users. However, the sheer number of options has left users in a dilemma over which modeling software is best for their purposes.

It can be difficult for all types of users to select a 3D modeling software that meets their needs, particularly newcomers. But to assist our patrons, we've designed a simple four-step checklist to help you choose the ideal modeling software for your project.

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Table of Contents

Selecting the Ideal 3D Modeling Software


Before you decide on the software to use, ask yourself:  What is the primary objective of using 3D modeling software?


The popularity of 3D printing is ever increasing. As a result, students are aware of the technology and so are eager to learn how to design, and schools are emphasizing the importance of teaching this software. Whether you're a student or a teacher, you'll want to choose software that meets your specific requirements. Users in this category are most likely to use Tinkercad, SelfCAD, and 3DSlash.

(Note: For students, universities, and colleges, most corporations offer free or low-cost subscription packages.)

Modeling (Visual art) (Artistic Modeling)

Another frequent application for modeling software is the character or 3D modeling. Artists, game developers, and animators all benefit from the use of modeling software, as it provides new approaches to producing accurate, realistic, and complex landscapes or figures. Specific modeling software applications like ZBrush, Mudbox, and Blender are employed for such aesthetic demands. 

Architectural Design

Modeling is an important aspect of architectural design. With specific software applications, structures like residential complexes, towers, bridges, theaters, workspaces, and other structures can be efficiently designed. Throughout an infrastructure project, these highly realistic 3D reality models can be used to provide a precise real-world context for design, construction, and operation decisions. The most popular 3D modeling software options available to users include Autodesk Revit, 3DS Max, and SketchUp.

Product Engineering

Manufacturers and designers can use 3D models as a versatile tool to design, create, visualize, simulate and analyze their products. For manufacturing automation, 3D models are most effective since they can be transmitted directly to the machines, allowing production to begin instantly and with laser precision. Product engineering is a vast field and has applications in all industries. Every product that you see in and around your home, office space, outdoors, and elsewhere has to be designed. Each product should perfectly and efficiently work for the application it is being designed. So, depending upon the application, a product engineer needs to select the modeling software carefully. The specific needs necessitate the employment of a specific set of modeling software.

The popular 3D modeling software in this category includes Catia, NX, and Creo.

3D Modeling Type

To efficiently choose the ideal 3D modeling software, you must first determine what type of modeling you will be undertaking.

As the technology matured over the past several decades, diverse techniques of making 3D models have evolved. However, when it comes to 3D modeling, there are four primary ways to choose from, regardless of the industry.

Solid Modeling

Solid Modeling entails the use of simple primitive shapes, such as cubes, spheres, cones, n-sided prisms, etc. This 3D modeling type generally caters to new learners, kids and students who may not have a technical background in designing products. As a result, this type of modeling is easy to learn, and is quite user-friendly.

However, it is not just limited to simpler designs. It can also aid in creating complex designs to build sophisticated products but it is not perfectly ideal for such applications. Popular software like Tinkercad makes use of such a modeling technique.

Polygon mesh modeling

A polygon mesh is a collection of polygons or "faces" that form the surface or "skin" of the object. Whether it's for 3D animated films, advertising, or video games, it defines the shape and contour of every 3D character and object.

If you've ever watched anything animated in 3D, you've seen a lot of them. It is a no-brainer that the animation seems pretty complex and with new advancements the modeling software is getting better and better and the output is able to create more and more complex designs.

Since, this type of modeling technique requires a sound knowledge of polygonal mesh theory, it may be too difficult for beginners.  Blender is a popular choice in this category.

Surface Modeling

Surface modeling involves working with surfaces to create a 3D model. Instead of the solid, dense item beneath the surface, it focuses on the curvatures and contours of an object. Visual representations that are difficult in the real world can be created using surface modeling. Modeling complicated surfaces makes it a popular choice for aerospace and thermodynamics applications where surface appearance is crucial. In addition to creating surfaces, it can also create complete 3D models, much like any other modeling software. 

Surface modeling software such as Catia, NX, and Rhino are among the most widely used.

Parametric Modeling

The term "parametric" refers to a dimension's ability to modify the shape of a model's geometry when the dimension value is changed. To create parametric models, a collection of mathematical equations is used. Equations are made up of pre-programmed algorithms called "parameters." Manual manipulation is replaced with internal logic arguments that generate the digital model automatically.

Let’s understand this with an example. 

If a designer has to alter a 3D shape, he or she has to edit the length, breadth, and height individually. All elements in the design are linked with each other and so even a small change in any individual element has an effect on the entire model and they are altered accordingly to the new change. And all these modifications are recorded so that the whole design can be traced back to its original form, if the need be. The use of parametric modeling saves time by eliminating the need for a design engineer to redesign when one of its dimension’s changes.

Popular parametric modeling software includes Solidworks, Fusion 360, and Creo.


Cost is unquestionably an important consideration when selecting a 3D modeling software be it for your personal or business requirements.


Paid software is out-of-reach for the majority of users, especially individuals, whose income does not warrant the expenses. As a result, they rely on efficient, yet free, software to get the job done. Tinkercad, SelfCAD, and FreeCAD are modeling software that gives free plans while being sophisticated enough to deliver quality models.

Free trials are also available for some more advanced software like OnShape and Rhino. While some provide free subscriptions (for students or Startups) for a limited time (like Fusion 360). However, the cost of some software, such as SelfCAD, is small enough for most amateurs to afford it.


For those ready to pay, there are a lot of wonderful options available. From budget and economical to outright pricey, there is something for everyone. It's entirely dependent on the user's ability to pay.

A professional freelance designer/individual can afford to purchase an Onshape, Rhino, or Fusion360 license. For an institutional user, Catia, Creo, Solidworks, and Autodesk Revit are some professional-quality alternatives to consider.

3D Printing Compatibility

Finally, ensure that the 3D modeling software you're using to create 3D printable models is 3D printing compatible. Without this feature, the model will be of no use. This small but significant issue can be resolved by using third-party applications. But this is not recommended as the conversion process often results in loss of data. So, a 3D modeling software should be able to export the 3D model in a compatible format such as STL, OBJ, or STEP.

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A Guide to Selecting the Best 3D Modeling Software


William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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