3D Modelling Software.
A review of the best 3D modelling software: paid-for options
3D modelling software has been used worldwide in many industries for over two decades. With the advancement of 3D technology, and the expansion of the web this software is now more accessible than ever before. Some professionals will only use these programmes to create 3D models, some will use architecture CAD program-specific, while others may use the same software or similar for animation. From beginners, through to advanced Autodesk users with developed skills, there are a range of resources available from free and open-source to subscription access. Whatever your goal is, below we will discuss what you should look for in these programmes and some of the best 3D modelling software available to date. A good starting point for anyone wanting to break into the industry.
Read on to find out more.
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1. Autodesk Maya – 3D modelling
The 3D modelling software industry is an ever-changing one and the developers and their coding will continue to raise the bar. Programmers constantly release new updates to their program, and the best 3D modelling software changes over time and with every update. The Maya software is a highly respected program by many 3D artists and designers and is considered an industry standard. It has more flexibility, and a huge list of features, visual effects and utilities that make it a great choice for anyone choosing 3D modelling software. It has been widely used in movies like Star Wars: Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story as well as TV shows like Game of Thrones and films such as Avatar.
This software has a huge amount of tools for graphics as well as support for major packages like Photoshop, which makes it easy to transition from 2D to 3D. The program also allows multiple users to work on the same project without clogging up the computer’s processing power.
It has functions that allow lighting and to render in a few simple steps. The 3D modeling software allows you to produce photo-realistic art with just a few clicks, which is something that many other 3D software packages cannot do. It is extremely popular within the VFX industry as it can be used rapidly for multiple tasks like animation, modelling, and rendering.
Maya is an extremely fast 3D modeling software package that packs a huge list of functions into its packages. Although it isn’t as easy to use as some other 3D apps for beginners, it is still highly recommended by many 3D artists who use it on a regular basis (mostly professional models or people working in industries like VFX, archviz or animation).
Maya has a huge amount of utilities and functions that make it stand out from the crowd in terms of what you can do with this program. It is one of the most impressive 3D modelling software and comes highly recommended by many pros and advanced users working within the 3d creating industry. Whether you’re starting out in 3D or just looking to try something new, this is a great place to start.
Cost: £246/$215 per month, £1,968/$4590 per year
Pricing model: Subscription
OS: Windows 10; Apple mac OS 10.13.x and above; Linux Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.3 and 7.5; Linux CentOS 7.3 and 7.5
1. Maya is a pro 3D modelling software and one of the most powerful products on the market
2. It was originally developed by Alias Systems Corporation, which was acquired by Autodesk in 2005
3. It has been used for many high-profile animated films and video games
4. The latest version of the software is available to download as a beta from the company’s website
5. It is available in three different packages, the standard package, Maya Unlimited and Maya Complete. A free trial version of all three packages can be downloaded from Autodesk’s website.
2. ZBrush – 3D illustration software
ZBrush is a standalone sculpting and modelling app that is best suited to the creation of organic shapes and forms – although recent updates have gradually improved its hard-surface abilities. It works in a non-standard fashion, with a workflow and user interface that’s initially very hard to learn, so you really need to use it every day to become proficient.
However, ZBrush isn’t only for sculpting and modelling: its advanced programs can also be used to produce UV maps and paint textures, enabling seasoned artists to craft entire figures, with clothing and props, ready to render. ZBrush is a popular choice among artists wanting to 3D print toys and action figures, too, with powerful tools specifically aimed at 3D printing.
ZBrush is not a tool for 3D printing beginners, but it has gained popularity with artists who need to design miniatures and scaled-down replicas of toys. It offers functionality that can help you with this process, including the Polypaint toolset (for painting skin on your models) and Project Gizmo (a toolset for making mini figures).
It’s also capable of generating printable 3D files, although you need an additional plug-in called ZPlugin to do this.
ZBrush is a sculpting and modelling tool that works primarily with organic forms, but it can be used to craft characters ready for rendering too using its virtual clay capabilities.
The ZBrush interface is like nothing else you’ve ever experienced: it looks a bit like a 3D game, and the toolboxes are displayed on top of the 3D view, so things can get messy. It takes time to learn this workflow, but when mastered it has the potential to free your imagination in ways that are impossible with other 3D illustration software.
A ZBrush interface shows a sculpt in progress. The toolboxes are on top of the screen, and elements of the sculpt can be seen behind them. ZBrush also has a traditional 2D interface that looks more like Photoshop.
You have complete control over how your model is displayed in the view, and you can also turn on various specialities that are designed to make it easier to work with certain shapes and forms. The Transpose tool, for example, enables you to essentially cut a section of your model out of the view but retain control over how this is done – handy if your object is hollow or covered in spines or other protrusions. The Display Order option enables you to control which objects are drawn on top of others, and the layering system can be used to organise your models.
Unlike most 3D illustration software, ZBrush doesn’t use one main viewport but several. You arrange spaces for these using ‘Viewports’ in the 3D workspace. You can use these to arrange different views of a model, and also keep important tools on separate layers.
ZBrush is used by artists with a wide variety of skill levels, from beginners to seasoned professionals. It’s best suited to people who want to create finished models but not entire 3D scenes (although recent updates have given it a better interface for creating scenes), and those who need to create models that are designed to be scaled down or 3D printed.
ZBrush is not the easiest application to learn, but it has a thriving community of users who are eager to share tips and advice online – check out ZBrushCentral (www.lucasforums.com) for more details, and check out the ZBrush Discussion Group on Facebook to ask questions and find inspiration.
Cost: £769.20/$895 for perpetual licence or $39.95 a month
Pricing model: Perpetual and subscription
OS: Windows Vista and above; mac OS: 10.10 and above
1. Zbrush is a 3D illustration program that has been around for over 20 years. It’s used by professionals in the fields of architectural design, engineering, and more!
2. Zbrush is available on Mac or PC, so you can bring your ideas to life no matter what type of computer you have. You can also use ZBrush on Adobe CC programs like Photoshop without any problems.
3. You don’t need to be an expert artist or product design guru to get started with ZBrush – there are tons of tutorials online if you want help getting started with the basics. Plus, there’s a ton of user-generated content that will give you even more insight into how other people develop their designs in order to inspire your own creativity!
4. The best part is that ZBrush comes with a ton of brushes and textures, so even if you don’t want to buy more content, you can still get tons of use out of the program.
5. This product is mainly used for 3D illustration, digital sculpting and painting. ZBrush displays a range of brushes that allow you to get started right away with creating your own artwork. You can start from scratch or import your pre-existing models and ideas into the program via photos or other specifically designed image files.
3. Houdini – 3D modeling software
Houdini is a 3D illustration software that has been used in the industry for creating a range of 3D imagery. Houdini’s node-based procedural approach provides digital artists with an unprecedented level of power, flexibility and control. This nodal workflow isn’t to everyone’s liking, but Houdini also has more traditional utilities for directly interacting with polygons on screen.
Like Maya, this level of power and non-standard workflow can be tricky to get to grips with. Fortunately, SideFX offers Houdini Apprentice, a free version of Houdini FX, which can be used by students, artists and hobbyists for personal non-commercial projects. The free version gives you access to virtually all of the functions of the award-winning Houdini to develop your skills and for work on personal projects.
Houdini 15, released in early 2017, introduced a new range of physically-based render (PBR) utilities like PxrDirt and PxrAO that can be used alongside an extensive array of other node-based features. Houdini is also the go-to choice for 3D animated feature films, and its effects team was behind some of the stunning imagery in recent movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Martian.
And then there’s Houdini Indie, a free 3d modelling software version of Houdini FX that’s available to students and indie artists (and small studios), which matches the core node-based procedural tools from Houdini. The free 3d modelling version of Houdini Indie is well worth a look if you want to do 3D modelling work on a budget, and it’s ideal inspiration for game developers.
Cost: $4,495/yr (Houdini FX), $1,995/yr (Core), $269/yr (Indie), Free 3d modeling software learning edition
Pricing model: Perpetual and rental
OS: Windows 8 SP1 and above; mac OS 10.13 and above; Linux Ubuntu 16.04+; Linux Debian 9.0+; Linux CentOS 7+; Linux Open SUSE 15.0+; Linux mint 17.3+; Linux Fedora 25+
1. Houdini is a 3D modeling program that offers tools for digital artists
2. It’s used by pro illustrators and animators to produce stunning art
3. The app has been around since 1993, but it continues to be developed with new features and other tools being added all the time
4. With Houdini, you can model any object imaginable in high detail without having to learn complex modelling programs like Maya or 3ds Max
5. It’s fun to use and can be quite addictive
4. Cinema 4D – 3D software
Easy learning curve
The Cinema 4D is a 3D modelling application that has been around for many years and is highly regarded in the world of motion graphics, visualisation and illustration. It is professional, complex and known for its overall stability as well as being the 3D modeling software with the easiest learning curve.
It benefits from having parametric modelling capabilities where you are able to add more functionality with various plugins. The volumetric modelling is perfect if you don’t have the time or skillset to produce smooth solid forms.
Cinema 4D enjoys a thriving community with a huge online library of tutorials and how-tos – not to mention training site Cineversity, to which you get free membership when you buy the app or pay for the annual Maxon service agreement (MSA).
All versions include an amazing array of features, including reformersines, smoothing spl, procedural textures and materials, logic bricks (known as Peppers), particle emitters, Houdini-style Python scripting tools for rigging/animation/rendering/etc. And because Cinema is based on a hybrid of polygons and NURBS (“Non-Uniform Rational B-splines”), you have more than one choice of modeling tools.
Cost: £3,300/$3495 (perpetual licence) or £55.99-£94.80/$59.81-$94 per month
Pricing model: Perpetual and rental
OS: Windows 10; mac OS 10.12.6 or 10.14.6 and above
1. Cinema 4D is a prol 3D modelling software
2. It’s used by designers, animators, and architects to produce stunning graphics
3. The user friendly interface is designed for professionals with many advanced functions that make it easy to work on projects of any size or complexity
4. There are plenty of tutorials available online to help you move in the right direction and learn how to use it quickly and efficiently
5. Cinema 4D is a very popular 3d modelling software used by people all over the world to generate stunning designs for TV adverts, magazines, movies and many other uses.
5. Autodesk 3ds Max – 3D modelling software
Autodesk 3ds Max is a PC-only 3D computer graphics program that is used for TV vfx and feature film production and for architectural and product visualisation purposes. It provides a robust toolset for 3D modelling, as well as fluid simulations, hair and fur options, character rigging, industrial design and animation. 3ds Max offers an advanced level of features and can be quite expensive to purchase. However, it is available to students for free and also comes with a 30 day trial period.
Autodesk 3D Studio Max is a 3D modelling application for the PC. It supports polygon and subdivision surface modeling, image mapping, texture mapping, particle systems and soft body dynamics. Users can model from scratch or load models created in other programs such as Wavefront’s Advanced Visualizer(TM). 3D Studio Max includes built-in animation utilities and has the ability to import models from MotionBuilder(TM), Maya, LightWave 3D, SoftImage(R) and other file formats.
The Editor is the core module of the 3D Studio Max package. It provides a complete, integrated environment for modelling and animation creation. The Editor offers an intuitive interface with many workspace options to suit all users. Both direct manipulation and procedural modelling techniques are supported by a huge library of different modifiers that make the modelling process easier for new or intermediate 3D artists.
There are many other modules that come with the package, such as: 3ds Max has a large following in the 3D industry and is used by professionals in all areas of modelling and motion. There are also a number of plugins you can install into the software to extend its capabilities even further. A range of tutorials for this version of 3ds Max are also available to help you learn the software faster.
Autodesk 3DS Max is a professional tool and comes with a high end price tag, so it’s not very economical for beginners or hobbyists. However, students can use the software free of charge and there is also an extensive range of tutorials on offer online.
Cost: £1968/$1700 per year £246/$215 per month
Pricing model: Subscription
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 (SP1), Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 Professional operating systems
1. Autodesk 3ds Max is a pro 3D illustration software
2. It can be used for many purposes, such as game development, product design and architecture visualization
3. Users can produce both realistic product design and abstract models with it
4. The interface is easy to use with a manageable learning curve so even beginners will find success in using this software
5. It is powerful and has a wide range of functions, giving you the ability to create any model imaginable
6. Modo – 3D modelling software
Modo is a 3D illustration software that has been in the market for a number of years. This program has grown considerably over the time that it was released. It started off as just a basic subdivision surface modeller but now it is fully featured with tools that make the work user-friendly. The latest addition of its productive Boolean system only adds to this versatility. Modo might not have an extensive range of dynamics and simulations systems, but there is no denying its ability to produce some amazing graphics and renders like other packages in the industry.
The functions that make this product stand out from the rest include; its simplicity, ease of use and a great improvement in the tool kit. Modo allows you to do some complex modelling by using the options available such as extrude, anchor & inset, add and subtract mesh, booleans operations, bridges etc. Modo allows you to render your work in real-time and allows you to use the same tools that are available on-screen for modelling your objects as you go.
Some of the top functions of Modo include: modelling, painting, sculpting, animation, unlimited cameras and lights, subdivision surfaces & booleans operations with polygonal modelling. Modo is also design-friendly and integrates well with most DCC apps such as MotionBuilder, Maya etc.
Modo has grown from a basic subdivision surface modeller to the fully-featured digital content creation app we know today. Its tool options have been really well thought through and implemented over years of development making it a familiar and comfortable environment for anyone who has used other 3D products in the industry. It is a very fast software to use and you will be able to produce results that are at par with any other package out there.
Cost: £1,596/$1,596 permanent license, £377/$377 per year
Pricing model: Perpetual and subscription
OS: mac OS 10.13.x and above; Windows 10 and above; Linux RHEL and CentOS 7.6+
1. Modo is a professional 3D modelling, texturing and rendering package
2. It offers an integrated solution for creating high-quality 3D content from concept to final render
3. The user interface of the application is easy to learn with intuitive functions
4. Modo’s latest version has been designed with an emphasis on artist workflow and creative freedom
5. The product supports a wide variety of third party rendering engines with its own internal renderer which allows you to create photorealistic images using physically-based light and material properties
7. Lightwave 3D – 3D software
Lightwave is one of the most popular 3D modelling programs that has been around for a while. It started off as an upcoming program but then had something of a fallow period, which was a few years, but it’s now back with an updated version. It operates as two parts: Modeler where you model the asset and layout where you do texturing, lighting and animation, rendering and more. The app contains lots of functions that are not outdated like many other ones on the market. There is a 30-day free 3d modelling software trial offered to let people try it out if they are interested in learning about how LightWave works. Students can also enjoy this opportunity by receiving a copy for just $195.
In terms of rating based on affordability and features, this one is a total winner. This tool is mainly designed for 3D modeling but also can be used for animated graphics. This 3D app focuses more on illustration than the entertainment industry as well as architectural work. The interface has been updated to make it easier to use which is great because it was quite complicated in the past. You can send your design to 3D printing services and get an actual prototype of whatever you have created with this tool.
In terms of learning how to use it, there are numerous videos on YouTube that provide tutorials that go through every step needed to create a certain object within the software. This is really helpful for newbies since it allows them to see what the process looks like and how simple it really is.
If you want an app that doesn’t cost much, this one may be suitable for you. Compared to other 3D modelling applications in this price range, it has many more functions and is easier to use as well.
Pricing model: Perpetual
OS: Windows 7 and above; mac OS 10.12 and above
1. Lightwave 3D is a top-grade illustration software that can be used in many industries and applications, including video games, movies, commercials, and print design
2. The program offers an interactive environment with tools for modelling objects in three dimensions from scratch or by using models created by others
3. It also has powerful rendering capabilities to create photorealistic images of the final product
4. LightWave’s interface includes 2D drawing so users can draw on surfaces like paper or canvas to sketch out ideas before bringing them into the 3D space
5. It also has the ability to help users rig, animate, and simulate 3D objects
8. Unreal Engine – 3D illustration software
Unreal Engine is a 3D modelling software that has photorealistic rendering, dynamic physics and effects, lifelike animation, robust data translation. With over 160 hours of free self-paced online tutorials, instructor-led training, and regular global events, Unreal Engine has a range of options to suit your learning style.
This software runs on all major operating systems and a wide array of hardware configurations, including consoles. Unreal Engine is a complete suite of development tools for anyone working with real-time technology. It gives creators across industries the freedom and control to deliver cutting-edge entertainment, compelling visualizations, and immersive virtual worlds.
It has lots of advantages such as it is very convenient to use; it has a visual programming system; its object-oriented technology lets you concentrate on creating more content rather than fixing bugs or trying to decipher source code, and many other important things.
The Unreal Engine is a professional tool, but beginners, do not worry, you can learn it step by step and in the end, you’ll understand how powerful it is!
Even if you are an amateur, learning this 3d modelling software will help a lot!
Pricing model: Creators License / Publishing License / Other Options:
[The Unreal Engine End User License Agreement for Publishing is a legal document that you’re agreeing to when you choose one of two standard ways to sign up for Unreal Engine. It governs your use of Unreal Engine, and also describes your rights and obligations when you build games or other interactive off-the-shelf products using the engine.
This license is free to use; for work created a 5% royalty is due only when you monetize your game or other interactive off-the-shelf product and your gross revenues from that product exceed $1,000,000 USD. The 5% royalty is calculated on the amount over and above the first $1M in gross revenue. You can find out more about royalties in the Releasing products section of this FAQ.]
OS: Windows 7 and above
1. Unreal Engine is a pro 3D illustration software that was designed to help you create and share your ideas in real-time
2. It has been used by many big companies, such as EA, Disney, Ubisoft, and Square Enix
3. The program is very versatile – it can be used by pros and beginners and also for 2D games or 3D games
4. You can also use the 3d modelling software to create product design, design environments, props, characters and vehicles
5. The software is also used to make architectural walkthroughs and visualizations
9. SelfCAD- Easy to Use Professional 3D Modeling Software
SelfCAD is one of the best 3D modeling software created for beginners, hobbyists, and professionals of all skill levels. It has a set of powerful technical and artistic tools to help you bring your ideas to life. If you wish to 3D print your designs, SelfCAD is a great tool as all the models created in the app are printable. There is also an in-built slicer to help you slice your models and generate the G-code right inside the software without having to switch to other programs.
What sets SelfCAD apart from the best 3D modeling software listed in this article is the presence of the interactive tutorial feature.
Cost: There is a free version though it’s limited in functionality. To access all the features you will need to pay only $14.99/m after a 10-day free pro account. You can also get a lifetime license to all features and future updates for a one-time payment of $599.
Interactive tutorial feature of SelfCAD
Unlike the other programs that one learns through watching videos and reading books, the interactive tutorial feature allows you to replicate different designs created by other talented designers without requiring any reference as you are guided in the entire process.
The interactive tutorial also allows educators to record their 3D design process and even add instructions without requiring any additional software to record their screen. The tutorials can then be shared easily with the beginners to follow. There are also a good number of video tutorials on their Youtube channel that are helpful when learning.
Do you want to create realistic renders? Then SelfCAD should be your go-to software. It has a powerful rendering engine that makes it easier to create renders of your designs with much ease.
There is also an Environment feature that allows you to add scenery as well as lighting on your models to make them more realistic.
You can choose from the type of environment to use from the environment map section and you can adjust the settings to suit your requirements.
There are powerful sculpting tools to help you modify the meshes as per your requirements which is difficult to achieve when you are using traditional programs.
With that said, be sure to check it out yourself today and I bet you will love it!
What is rendering software?
When you are working on a 3D modeling project, the last stage before creating your final product design (a rendered image) is called “rendering”. In this stage, the artist creates an image that will be shown to everybody. But it’s not easy! You may have seen many images with fire, water and other effects… but how did the artist create them? It’s done with rendering software that provides you with many tools to produce such kinds of images. Using this 3d modelling software, an artist can easily produce highly detailed 3D models which can be used in many different forms (still or animated images).
What is the definition of digital art?
Digital art is a type of art or graphic design that uses digital technology as part of creating the artwork. It can be used to mean any type of art in which a computer is involved, such as using a computer to create images or 3D models.
Benefits of using a free version:
There are various types of these free 3D modeling software, with a great range of modelling tools that you can use for your benefit which can be easily found on the web. These versions may have fewer features than the premium ones but they will still do the task quite decently, so free 3d modeling software versions can be a great option for you to try before you buy. Make sure you take the time to check out resources on any reputable website to see both free and open source program options (no strings attached) which might well be the best steps, especially for beginners.
What is meant by engineering and entertainment software?
Conglomerates such as Autodesk, Inc. and Dassault Systemes hold annual conferences which feature various software products for entertainment and engineering. As their names suggest, the definitions of “engineering” and “entertainment” are broad enough to justify entry at these conventions.
However, where is the line between these two definitions?
Based on the current state of 3D modelling software, it would seem that there really is no line and both engineers and designers.
I hope you’ll find at least one tool in my list that will suit your needs.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to ask! Also, I would love to hear about your experience – did these 3d modeling programmes help you with your work and shape your career or hobby path? Did you find other great software that’s not listed here?
If you liked this post, please share it with your friends on social media! It means a lot to me. You can also follow Big Red on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. Thank you very much for reading and see you soon!
You may also want to check out the Best Free 3D Software Packages
(Great for trials and also to help shape beginners not quite ready to invest)
Blender 3D Illustration & Video Editing Software
Hexagon 3D Software
Fusion 3D Modeling Software
Houdini Apprentice 3D Modeling Software
Wings3D Illustration Software
Rocket 3F 3D Illustration Software
Other future brands & different software will be added as they become available.
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Adam has made a name for himself in the illustration industry and is a passionate blogger and writer on the subject of art, illustration and graphic design.
His artwork has been featured in countless publications and used for very well-known media projects. As a professional illustrator for over 20 years, Adams media outlets, a wealth of knowledge, and experience enable him to consult and advise artists and illustrators in this country (from York and Manchester to Southampton and London) and all over the world.