The Best 3D Modeling Apps& Software
The best 3D modeling apps are often hard to use but can model anything the user can dream of. For comprehensive abilities and industry standards, many of the best 3D modeling apps cost a premium, often reaching close to $2,000 per year in licensing.
Depending on your specialty and what you will use the app for most, great options exist at lower price points. SketchUp is one of the best tools for architects and is much cheaper than other 3D modeling tools, and Blender is incredibly powerful while staying free. However, to meet industry standards and create 3D art for films, television, and games, or produce high-fidelity product mockups, there are a select few programs worth looking at. These include:
- Cinema 4D
Each of these has a specialty and focus, although they are comprehensive enough to complete almost any 3D task. Deciding which is the best for you will require thought about your workflow and budget.
Maya is the industry standard for 3D artists, providing an incredible tool set for modeling, effects, texturing, and rendering. Essentially, this program does it all incredibly well. However, it is also one of the most expensive options available, with a cost of £222 per month.
Maya is really only for those who are seeking to break into the animation industry, as it is an essential skill. Most 3D effects you have seen, were produced in Maya, and the large range of features makes that possible.
If you are not trying to get a job in the animation industry, Maya is most likely overkill for your needs. Even for professionals, there will most likely be functionality that they may never touch.
Finally, Maya can be incredibly difficult to learn, given its vast feature set. This program is certainly not for beginners, though it is the most powerful on the market. The largest 3D companies in the world utilize Maya during their creation process, including the likes of Pixar and Framestore.
Houdini was mentioned earlier in the best free software, as its Apprentice software is phenomenal. The normal Houdini program is even better, used at the industry level across companies that need its fine control and flexibility.
Houdini has a vast feature set as well, once again covering almost any facet of 3D modeling that anyone, professional or not, may need. For this, it comes with another premium price tag. Luckily, Houdini offers different levels of the program which range in price from $269 per year for indie developers to $4,495 for large companies.
Houdini is competent at every part of 3D modeling, but it is renowned for its particle effects and texturing abilities.
Those who wish to learn Houdini to break into the industry should start with Houdini Apprentice, which is free and provides a glimpse into the program’s complicated workflow.
Cinema 4D has been around for quite some time but is still an incredibly powerful piece of 3D modeling software. Professionally, it is used less than other options like Maya or Houdini but still more than capable, and still found within some companies' workflow.
A large appeal of Cinema4D is the easier learning curve it provides. While still not the best for beginners, it is easier to learn than other incredibly powerful options and documentation about the whole program is very clear.
Once again Cinema4D comes with an incredible price tag, although there are many levels. The cheapest starts at £670, ranging up to £2,850 for the full studio version. In addition, Cinema4D comes with a lengthy trial period that should allow users to figure out whether this is the software for them or not.
ZBrush stands almost alone in the sphere of 3D modeling, as it is almost exclusively used for artists and sculptors who produce organic works. Rather than the classic shapes method of 3D modeling, ZBrush allows the creator to essentially paint the sculpture. While all other premium software listed also allows this, ZBrush does it exceptionally well.
Character and creature artists for games and film will find ZBrush can support them the best if given enough time, although it is notorious for having a difficult workflow at first. ZBrush also includes powerful tools for textures and UV maps, which allows for artists to really bring the models to life.
ZBrush is$795 for a full license and well worth the price for any character artists or people who plan on focusing on creatures and the artistic side of 3D modeling. The software should be used with a drawing tablet as well, as sculpting with a mouse will almost certainly feel clunky.
What Is the Cheapest 3D Modeling Software?
The cheapest 3D modeling software is Blender, which is actually a free, open-source software that boasts a significant amount of professional features. If you are looking to get the most bang for your buck, Blender simply will not be beaten.
Blender has a long history in the 3D modeling space, with many users over its long tenure. That, combined with the open-source platform that allows anyone to get access to the source code, means that Blender has a significant amount of tutorials and teachers available to help anyone learn the ropes.
However, if Blender is not for you or you want other, cheap options, a few exist. Some of the best of these include:
- Fusion 360
- Daz Studio / Hexagon
- Houdini Apprentice
Many of these other options are limited versions of the full, expensive programs that make up the top of the 3D modeling landscape. While great to learn on or create personal projects, they almost all are not allowed to be used for any commercial use.
As stated, Blender is the best free or cheap 3D modeling software available. Early in its lifespan, it was considered clunky and broke many of the common user flows, making it difficult to transition into other programs. Luckily, that has all been fixed and Blender is now a commonly used and powerful program.
Blender is one of the few free 3D modeling apps that allow for all of the work done to be used in commercial projects. This means, for instance, that games, videos, sculptures, and artwork created in Blender are all free for the creator to sell and use to their heart’s content.
In addition, Blender has an enormous set of tutorials and tips available online, both from the company and from friendly, experienced users. While it can be clunky to learn at first, utilizing the tools available should smooth the process significantly.
Fusion 360 is from the company that creates both Maya and 3DS Max, two of the most well respected 3D modeling programs available. Fusion 360 is great for use in product designing and engineering, with tools specifically tailored to more mechanical designs.
Fusion 360 is cheaper than most software traditionally available, with a price of£438/year. However, if you are a student or educator, you can get the whole product for free. In addition, there is a free trial available for everyone to test it out and work with almost the whole product available. If you are using the free trial, you cannot use anything for commercial projects.
Fusion 360 excels with mechanical designs that integrate electronics or that will support weight or other factors. In addition, it incorporates collaboration tools so that teams of designers can work together at once. Finally, it includes great documentation services for exporting 2D drawings and information for presentation.
Fusion360 is less popular than Blender or other, expensive software, so less documentation and help are available. Still, the program should be easy to use and there are helpful tips out there.
DazStudio and Hexagon
While Fusion 360 is meant for mechanical 3D mockups, Daz Studio is specifically created with artists and sculptors in mind. Hexagon is a sort of sister program that is meant for modeling clothes and other props for creations in Daz Studio.
DazStudio is available for free and is a great tool for artists that do not want to be bothered with unnecessary tools. Even Blender, which can do much of the same work, can be cumbersome to use for a new artist due to its inclusion of mechanical tools.
DazStudio is largely meant for character modeling and assists in the creation of many 3D models seen in video games and animated films. Still, it can be used for landscape and most other forms of modeling as well.
To help sculptors along, there is a massive library of both free and premium packs that artists can integrate into their work and scenes, improving workflow and helping learn to create beautiful effects.
Houdini Apprentice is a great option for anyone who wants to learn the full Houdini without the price tag. Specifically designed for students and hobbyists, Houdini Apprentice is almost the full Houdini program with one caveat; it cannot be used for commercial projects. Those who are learning Houdini for the first time will almost certainly not notice any differences between the two programs, making it a fantastic choice.
While this version has some limitations such as render size and the occasional word mark, Houdini Apprentice is most valuable for those looking to work with Houdini professionally. If you are interested in learning 3D software as a whole or even want it for any personal project, Blender is most likely the better choice.
Utilizing Houdini Apprentice can also be a great option for testing out the visual effects side of 3D modeling. While other programs tend to include options for this as well, Houdini is known for its workflow with effects and lightning.
What Are 3D Scanning Apps?
3D scanning apps are incredible pieces of technology that, essentially, allow for a physical object to be scanned and imported into a 3D model. The uses for 3D scanning are quite numerous, ranging from architecture to doctors to artists.
The different levels of technology involved with 3D scanning apps are vast. Apps are available on almost any smartphone now, allowing for simple models to be formed. For professionals who need more detail, cameras can be set up to scan the object in high-fidelity from every angle.
Most 3D scan apps use a process called photogrammetry to map out the whole object through a series of photos and then scan those into the model. To do this, pictures need to be taken from all angles and often in good lightning. For dedicated 3D scanning software, two other methods exist. These are laser 3D scanning and structured light scanning. These methods tend to be more precise but are much more expensive and not intended for the average user.
3D scanner apps for smartphones are the easiest introduction to this facet of 3D modeling, but they do come with a fair share of warnings and explanations. 3D scanning apps for phones are relatively new and often do not produce high-quality scans. For hobbyists, this should be fine. Professionals in need of 3D scans should turn to other, more advanced methods.
With that said, some of the most important things to keep in mind when looking at 3D scanning apps include:
- Increased Effort
- Increased Barrier of Entry and Time Cost
- Commonly Poor Results
Due to the lower quality of smartphone cameras and the reduced power of the technology in the phone, the 3D scans will inevitably not be perfect. Cleaning up and retouching these scans almost certainly needs to happen, and that directly increases the effort needed by the user.
For scanning small things or the occasional one-off object, retouching in a dedicated 3D modeling software is a paltry task. Most often, the errors found in a 3D scanning app should be fairly minimal unless the object is particularly tricky. However, when retouching needs to happen on every object for a project, or on a massive scan, it becomes time-consuming and frustrating.
Keep this in mind if you are considering just using a 3D scanning app for your 3D scans rather than full, dedicated software and hardware. If there is a lot to scan, it might be worth it to skip these apps altogether.
Increased Barrier of Entry and Time Cost
While many of the 3D scanning apps are free or available for a mere few dollars, they can be difficult to set up and get working properly. Especially if you rotate away from some of the more popular options, instructions can become unclear and the scanning of a simple object can stretch into a long process.
Thankfully, once a 3D scanning app is set up for common conditions, it should be fairly smooth sailing. By this point, it’s simply figuring out how and where to export the scan to, which will largely depend on how you will use the model. Be warned some 3D scan apps charge you per exported scan. This can rack up quickly, as they can commonly charge 99 cents per export. If you plan on scanning many objects through a 3D scanner app, consider finding a solution that only charges a one-time price.
Commonly Poor Results
This can change depending on what app you are using for 3D scans, but it is very possible to get poor model quality from the scans. This is thankfully becoming less common as cameras get better and phones become more powerful, but every so often a poor quality scan will pop up.
These poor results can be frustrating for users, increasing the time spent on the scan and requiring lots of touch-ups once the model has been exported. Unfortunately, this is a difficult problem to fix if your phone is older or sluggish. The largest factor in poor 3D scans from an app is weak hardware. If you are planning on doing any significant 3D scanning from your phone, be sure to grab one with a high-quality camera and a fast processor.
As phones become more powerful and apps more efficient, this problem will hopefully fade into the past. For now, consider this strongly. In addition, Apple products seem to generally have more support for 3D scans. Android apps are harder to come by and often more sluggish, resulting in poor quality.
What Is the Easiest 3D Software to Learn?
Learning 3D software is often seen as a difficult procedure, especially for beginners who may not have much technical experience at all. Diving into the deep end of 3D modeling software is a great way to become overwhelmed and lose hope in ever gaining the skill due to how many options the software has.
Luckily, there are a few 3D modeling programs that are great for beginners to learn on. Some of them can even help the user grow into future programs as their needs and understanding grows, allowing for a natural transition into more complex and powerful modeling software.
There are some tools that are great for simply learning how to sculpt in a 3D, digital space, and others that have a slow learning curve that can grow with the user. Each of these methods has their own pros and cons, so it is important to research each option and decide.
Many of the easiest 3D modeling programs are available online and for free, allowing you to switch between them until you figure out one that clicks best. While learning, remember to take your time and watch tutorials. You should have your first 3D models in no time!
Tinkercad is an online-based software which is great for learning how to 3D model. It was developed by Autodesk, who has been previously mentioned as the creators of two of the most powerful 3D design tools, Maya and 3DS Max. This is great, as it recommends that the software will follow general industry guidelines while introducing the very basics of shape manipulation and primitive building.
Tinkercad can be useful for adults just getting used to operating in a digital 3D space, and even for children to start creating their own models. The tools and layout are easy to understand and the setup time is almost nonexistent, as the entire program is online and does not even require an account.
Tinkercad also has the added benefit of including basic code tutorials and assembly for electronics, allowing anyone to learn those skills, as well. What’s more, Tinkercad allows users to easily test and see how each part of a project can come together to create a full product.
Vectary is an online, collaborative 3D modeling program that is easy to learn and includes some more powerful tools for beginners to play with. As such, Vectary can be great for learning the ropes and messing about with some more intermediate skills.
Vectary includes an online library of models that can be used as reference, or even dragged and dropped into a scene. Less mechanical than Tinkercad, Vectary is great for artists or general users who are more interested in designing cool things than early mechanical devices.
Also included with Vectary is a surprisingly powerful render system that allows for easy changes in the scene or image. This can help showcase your 3D models much easier than exporting to a separate program and rendering there.
The design of Vectary is clearly more marketed toward adults looking to lightly use 3D modeling software, although children could also learn. There is a free option that allows 3 free projects at a time, perfect for learning on. If you like the product, they offer a variety of monthly subscriptions that allow more projects and exporting in more files.
Vectary is great to learn the basics on and then quickly expand without needing to learn entirely new software.
Morphi could be a fantastic option for learning 3D modeling skills on a tablet or with touch controls. This can make the process of operating in 3D much easier for beginners to understand, as controls and navigation are intuitive and easy to read.
The UI is fantastic for figuring out directions and movement of shapes, meaning that even the most novice users should not struggle much to achieve good results. Perhaps as part of this, however, Morphi does not include any advanced features, so users may quickly outgrow the software. Morphi is one of the best 3D modeling programs available on tablets, meaning that it can almost always find a place in a user’s workflow. Even as advanced programs become necessary, Morphi can be used for quick prototyping on the go.
Morphi is almost entirely free, though some tools and importable models must be bought. To unlock everything, the app is $9.99, though schools or educators get a discount, reducing the price to $4.99. This is very cheap when compared to other 3D modeling software and it can achieve great results.
FreeCAD is an entirely free software that is perfect for learning the ropes of 3D modeling. Focusing more on the technical, CAD side of 3D modeling, anyone interested in industrial or product design can begin to learn the process here.
A large draw of FreeCAD is its use of parametric modeling, which allows for designs to easily be changed at any point by simply changing design parameters. This allows for beginners to easily see what certain changes could cause, while easily allowing mistakes to be reverted.
FreeCAD is often recommended to learn the workflow of more advanced programs and is a good starting point for anyone who may need to use 3D modeling in a professional setting down the line. Due to this, it could be complicated for non-technical users.
FreeCAD is also an open-source project, allowing for contributors to see all source code and help make the program even better. As it stands, the software lacks some necessary components for professional use but that could change.
SketchUp was originally designed for use in architectural design, where it is still commonly used at a professional level. SketchUp is available across devices, price points, and uses, but the basic, browser-based SketchUp is perfect for people just getting started with 3D modeling.
Anybody who is interested in architecture, interior design, or product design would be hard pressed to find a program as easy to start in as SketchUp. The UI is easy to parse even for beginners, and the free program provides just enough options for users to feel like they can do exactly what they want to.
One of the areas where SketchUp falters is in artistic 3D modeling. Any creation of people, landscapes, or general creatures will be difficult to learn in this software. For everything else, however, SketchUp is fantastic.
Due to its popularity, SketchUp also has a wide variety of tutorials, both professional and from enthusiasts, available online. This makes it easy to quickly lookup and solve problems as they arise, a great boon for beginners learning a program.