A Complete Comparison Of What The Best Applications Are For 3D Modeling


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With each passing year, more people try their hand at 3D art and end up looking for good 3D modeling applications that they can learn, practice with, and in some cases even make money creating art from. But there are many choices out there, so which ones are going to be best suited for you?

Blender 3D is the most popular choice in the world right now because it is free, open-source software that can go toe to toe with even the industry standard modeling applications like Maya in many aspects. It is also one of the most versatile as it goes far beyond simple 3D modeling techniques, including the ability to animate in both 2D and 3D, edit videos, and create realistic materials and textures.

But if you are unwilling or unsure about laying all of your eggs in the blender basket, then you’re going to want to look at some of the alternatives for 3D modeling workflows, and there are plenty out there.

What Are The Best Applications To Use For Creating 3D Models?

If you are a beginner then now at number one pick for the best modeling application to learn is going to be blender 3D. Of course, that should be no surprise since this is a blender-based website, but it may not always be the case for you.

Many companies, for example, still look for 3D artists that are capable of using Maya as their tool for 3D modeling, as these companies already use the Autodesk software in their workflows and production.

In other words, we can’t tell you what the very best 3D modeling application is going to be for you. You can only decide that yourself, and we are going to help you come to that conclusion by breaking down the separate criteria that we believe are required for a good 3D modeling application. Below is a list of the criteria that we used when testing out the different 3D modeling applications…

  • Price Of Software
  • Usability
  • Learning Curve
  • Industrial Setting

Which 3D Modeling Software Is Easiest To Learn?

If you’re not sure about what you want to use a 3D modeling application for, but you still want to try, then perhaps the most important criteria are going to be how easy that software is going to be to learn.

It used to be that many modeling applications, such as older versions of Blender 3D, were not intuitive in their approach and lacked documentation for learning. They were also restricted in their capabilities, so learning software applications in 2010 was an arduous process.

Fast forward 12 years, however, and things have changed significantly. Most new 3D modeling applications are built to be easy to learn, with plenty of documentation and tutorials and even older applications have been modernized in terms of their look, feel, and appearance and also have far more learning resources than what they used two years ago.

Overall, there is never been an easier time to learn how to create 3D models, but which software makes it easier than the rest?

Let’s take a look at our top three pics of 3D modeling applications that we believe are the easiest to learn.

1. TinkerCAD

The easiest The easiest 3D modeling applications to learn are going to be the ones with the simplest interface and perhaps the least number of features. They are effectively going to be barebones applications compared to some of the competitors, but that can work in favor of these applications when it comes to the learning process. The less there is to learn, the easier it tends to be.

Tinkercad is simple in just about every way. From its modeling workflows to its interface. It is one of the few applications that we have tested that literally took us 5 minutes to reach a level of competency, even without having to look at any sort of tutorial documentation.

As a result, using software like TINKERCAD is a fantastic starting point. If you know nothing about 3D modeling and are looking for something simple to get started with.

2. Blender

At first glance, Blender might not appear to be that easy to learn. When you first look at the blender interface, she will see that there is a lot going on even outside of the 3D viewport.

However, for us, Blender is much easier to learn than it first appears. If nothing else than for the sheer documentation and resources available to learn it.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there is perhaps more documentation and more tutorial content out there to learn blender than all of the other 3D modeling applications combined.

If there isn’t, then it’s probably pretty close. If you compare blender with any other 3D modeling application in Google Trends, you will find that there are more searches for blender than pretty much anything else, even the likes of Maya and 3DS Max which are used across the industry don’t get as much search volume on Google from artists who are looking up troubleshooting, how to use tools, etc.

This very website is a prime example of the resources that you can find if you want to learn Blender 3D, and there are many different ways in which you can go about your learning journey. On top of that, Blender itself is an easier interface to work with and therefore easier to learn than it was five years ago.

3. SketchUp

Another form of computer-aided design, SketchUp is one of the more popular choices for Fredi modeling. There were two iterations of this SketchUp software, the free Web-based version and then the professional software application.

Of these two iterations, we are referring to the free version, which is a web-based 3D modeling application that is extremely easy to access and get started with. It actually has a lot of functionality, though of course not as much as the professional version. However, the features that the professional version has are more suited to larger studios anyway, and so if you are a single user, SketchUp will meet most of your modeling needs.

It actually works out as a decent balance between the simplicity of TinkerCad, and the depth of resources of Blender. There are a lot of learning resources out there for an application like SketchUp and it’s relatively simple to get started and begin learning.

And Which Software Is Easiest To Use?

This may seem to be a similar question to which software is easiest to learn, and in some aspects it is, but the difference between the two lies more in the approach of the software rather than the documentation available to it.

A software application might be easy to learn due to the number of learning resources attributed to it, such as Blender 3D, but admittedly there are several more appropriate options when it comes to ease of use down blender.

Make no mistake that Blender is much easier to use now than it was just a few years ago thanks to changes made to the interface and typical workflows. However, some can still find aspects of Blender to be unintuitive, and many of the tools are hidden within its menus.

Below are three alternatives to this software that may be easier to use on a regular basis.

1. TinkerCAD

Not only is it the easiest software, in our opinion to learn, but it’s also probably the easiest software to use for similar reasons. Tinkercad is basic CAD software that has a simple interface making it very easy to pick up and begin using right out of the box.

2. BlocksCAD

This one is a very different approach to 3D modeling in that it uses a block or node-based system. You add in blocks of code in a visual programming set up to begin making adjustments to your 3D models.

While learning resources on BlocksCad are relatively scarce compared to the alternatives. The workflow itself is easier to pick up than it first seems.

Once you understand the basic concepts behind the coding block system that blocks catch uses, it becomes a lot easier to create basic models with the software.

3. SketchUp

SketchUp is one of our favorite 3D modeling applications of all because it offers a little bit of everything for the beginner 3D artist.

It also offers, in our opinion, the best combination of features, while still being easy to pick up, learn and use.

What you will notice about this list is that they are all forms of CAD software that focused more on product design rather than creative applications like rendered images, video game assets, and animations.

If you are looking for an alternative application that is more suited to these scenarios, then we also recommend taking a look at the browser-based application VECTARY. This one has a little bit more of a learning curve compared to the ones listed above, but it offers a great feature set even in its Free State and is an easier-to-use alternative to Blender.

Which 3D Applications Are Free And Which Are Paid?

Another important criterion to note is going to be the cost. Some of the 3D modeling applications will be free. Some of them will be paid and some of them will have both free and paid options.

But for the applications that offer both free and paid plans, the paid version is often going to have either additional features, or it’s going to be licensed for commercial use. Sometimes the free version of an application can be exactly the same as the paid version, and all you’re paying for is the ability to use the projects created from that software for financial gain.

However, it may be surprising to know that some 3D modeling applications are every bit as good as their costly competitors. So below we have broken things down into two lists. The first is our selection of free applications that are free to use, while the second list is our recommended trio of paid applications.

Free Applications

1. Blender 3D

There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that the best free choice for 3D modeling is Blender 3D. Despite being free open source software, the number of features accessible with Blender is simply staggering. In fact, it has more features and can be used in more situations than almost any other software.

You not only have the ability to create 3D models in Blender but unlike the simple CAD software, applications like TinkerCad and sketcher, you are not limited to certain workflows.

In Blender, you can choose to model your scenes using polygonum techniques. You could also choose to use curves to generate your objects and even take on a procedural modeling approach with geometry nodes.

2. Sketch Up Free

Some applications will offer free trials so that you can test out the full feature set. But since these are timed trials we don’t include them on our list of free applications. Other modeling suites, such as SketchUp, have entirely free versions that you can begin using.

SketchUp Free is a fantastic suite of tools considering it is free to use as it says in the name. Unlike the full version of SketchUp which is a downloadable application, the free version is a web-based platform, which requires an internet connection to use.

You still get access to many of the core features of the software, and the interface is designed in a way that makes it easy for beginners to understand. It is all set up so that you can try the free version to prepare for when you want to upgrade to the full software, but there is no obligation, and sometimes no reason, to do so.

3. TinkerCad

Many of the other options are all great choices for 3D software but the 3rd on our list is going to be TinkerCad again as it is such a strong starting point for beginners to 3D modeling.

Like the free version of SketchUp, this is a web-based platform that is more common for free software applications than it is for paid ones.

TinkerCad has an easy to work with interface and basic tutorial videos that cover the tools and interface to a fundamental level.

Paid Applications

We also have a library of paid applications that you can use depending on what you require those applications for. Not all platforms are the same and your choice of software will depend on what you plan to use it for.

Our three paid choices below are for different use cases as you don’t want to pay for software that is not going to do what you want it to.

1. Maya (Animation And Game Design)

You can split your use case for 3D software into creating either physical products or digital assets, and in the case of creating digital assets, Maya offers the ideal workflow for creating models and environments to be used in professional renders, animations, and video games.

Maya has a suite dedicated to animation toolsets that include rigging, PBR texturing, and render engines like Arnold to prep any model for use either as an animation created directly in Maya or to be exported along the pipeline in a game design project.

2. SolidWorks (Manufacturing And Design)

The alternative use case for a 3D modeling application is to design models for manufacturing either in the form of industrial parts or scaling up to the architectural design of full-size buildings.

Our top pick here is Solidworks which for us is the definition of what a professional modeling application should look like and used for manufacturing design in multiple industries.

Its approach to modeling in the viewport is focused on using a method known as dimensional sketching, rather than traditional polygonal models, making the learning curve different but not necessarily more difficult, as Solidworks approach makes resizing models to the correct dimensions a sinch.

3. Fusion 360 (3D Printing And Accessibility)

This option is a great alternative to Solidworks for those who want software for 3D printing at home. Fusion 360 is professional-grade CAD software that has everything you need to design models for printing and manufacturing.

We prefer as a choice for 3D printing because you can use it for free permitting that it will not be used for any commercial projects.

While to tools used in Fusion 360 can initially seem complex to understand, the strong interface at least ensures that those tools are easy to locate, making the software usable for beginners to CAD modeling.

Which Software Should I Learn First Then?

Different 3D modeling applications are used for different tasks. But if you have plans on learning multiple 3D modeling applications, then the next question is going to be which should be your first one.

If you plan on learning multiple 3D modeling applications, then the one that we recommend starting with is going to be blender 3D.

While Blender may not be the easiest to use. It is one of the easiest to learn. As we previously noted, its combination of incredible educational resources as well as the fact that it has more features than some of the other applications when combined makes it the perfect starting point so that you can over time branch out to other applications.

For example, there are tools in blender that allow you to follow a similar workflow to that of basic CAD applications such as Tinkercad.

You can learn how to use specific tools in Blender and then easily transition over to Tinkercad and gain a level of competency very quickly.

However, it’s not true in reverse. Yes, Tinkercad is very easy to learn within itself. However, it doesn’t even come close to touching the level of functionality within Blender. Making this kind of transition will make you question whether or not it was worth learning something like Tinkercad in the first place, as there are many more workflows to learn in Blender.

What Are The Different Reasons For Creating 3D Models?

Beyond determining which of the 3D modeling applications is the best, you also need to consider your own reasons for wanting to create 3D models and scenes in the first place. For example, if you’re looking to create scenes built around realism, creating a wide range of hard surface and soft body objects, then using a CAD application such as SketchUp can be a limited option as there is only so much that you can do with that kind of workflow.

On the other hand, if you are looking at architectural design and focusing on constructing buildings or manufacturing parts, then CAD or computer-aided design software becomes a much more viable option.

Ultimately, we can split our various 3D modeling applications into one of two categories. We can either go with CAD software or computer-aided design to focus on industries such as manufacturing. Alternatively, if we are looking at more creative industries such as animation and video game design, then we’re going to want to look more towards the likes of Maya, 3DS Max, and Blender for creating those 3D models.

So what we’ll do now is break things down a little bit further, going beyond the simple advantages and disadvantages of using each software in a general sense. Let’s also take a look at using the best software applications for specific scenarios.

The Best Software For Modeling Scenes

The most likely scenario for a new 3D artist to use Blender is to create simple objects and scenes. I scene is where we create an environment and then we create objects that we place within that environment.

The best freely modeling applications for creating entire scenes, therefore, will be ones where we can control entire environments rather than simple objects, and it will also be an application that has the flexibility for creating objects of any size and any kind.

The following applications are best suited for creating entire scenes…

  1. Blender
  2. Maya
  3. Houdini FX

The Top Choice For Modeling Animation Assets

Some 3D modeling applications will also have their own built-in animation toolsets, allowing you to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional animations within the software.

A good modeling application for animation needs to not only be able to create assets that are suitable for animation. But it also needs toolsets that will allow you to animate the models themselves.

This includes full rigging toolsets for the more complicated objects as well as animation based tools that allow you to control exactly how the different objects in your scene can interact with each other.

These are our three top choices for modeling animation assets.

  1. Maya
  2. Cinema 4D
  3. Blender

Which Software Is Best For Game Design?

One of the most common reasons for using 3D modeling software is to design assets to be used in video games.

The general workflow here is to create base models of your assets in a modeling application and then export them to a video game engine such as Unity and Unreal Engine.

The software itself not only needs to be able to design these freely modeling assets, but it also needs to be able to edit those assets so that they follow some of the industry-standard rules of good video game asset creation, such as clean topology and correct normals.

Again, these modern applications also need to have their own animation suites built in so that you can test animations with the assets that you create. The asset also needs to be easily exportable, allowing for a smooth transition between creating the object in the 3D application and then bringing it in for use in the game engine.

These are the modeling applications that tick all of these boxes.

  1. Maya
  2. Blender
  3. 3DS Max

The Best Option For Creating 3D Printable Options

Another reason for learning 3D modelling is to create 3D principle objects. To do this you require software for modeling your assets as well as a slicing software to prep them for 3D modeling, and then finally a 3D printer for the physical stage of the process.

Not only is the choice of freely modeling software going to require the ability to create models to accurate sizing levels, but you’re also going to need tools that can analyze your model.

They won’t move restrictions for 3D printing as with most other uses or 3D modeling software, and so you will need to be able to analyze your individual models so that they are usable and ready for 3D printing.

We, therefore, have our selection of 3D applications that not only allow us to create 3D principle models but allow us to analyze their structure as well.

  1. Fusion 360
  2. TinkerCad
  3. Blender

The Top Choices For Designing Buildings And Architectural Projects

Finally, you may also be looking at a 3D modeling application to begin designing buildings or architecture. Or you may even be looking to learn how to create 3D models for manufacturing pipelines.

These tasks are better suited to CAD software or computer-aided design and so we have the list of best choices for 3D modeling applications If you are looking at designing buildings, architecture, or parts for manufacturing.

  1. Solidworks
  2. Fusion 360
  3. SketchUp

Thanks For Reading The Article

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