Is Blender 3D Really Free For Everyone?


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There are a host of options these days for what software you want to use to begin creating 3D assets and scenes. For some of these options, you can pay outright and have lifetime access, while others are available on a subscription-based model. There are even those where you can get a free educational license if you are a part of a recognized school or institution.

Blender 3D is free, open-source software that is available to anyone and everyone. It can be downloaded and used for either personal or professional use and falls under the GNU General Public License. It also requires no log-in information or product keys to activate.

So how does Blender differ from the likes of Maya, 3Ds Max, Modo, and Cinema 4D when it comes to its accessibility to a global base of 3D artists?

The History Of Blender

The early history of Blender is a rocky one, to say the least, but was pivotal in not only what Blender has become but also how it is distributed. It was initially created as an in-house tool for a company called NeoGeo by Ton Roosendaal. The first mention of Blender as a source file goes back to 2nd January 1994. It was launched as an official software a year later in January 1995.

At this point, though it was not free or open-source. It was simply a tool being developed to help alleviate workflow issues within the company. When NeoGeo folded Roosendaal would found NaN (Not a Number technology) in 1998, where the software itself became the focal point of the company.

NaN would use a distribution model not unlike what we see from many companies today. They would allow free download of the core software, but you would require to purchase product keys to access the more premium features.

Fast forward to 2002 and NaN would fold due in part to investment issues. The main focus was to ensure that Blender 3D had a future. A new approach was required and so Roosendaal decided to take the nonprofit approach and found the Blender Foundation in May 2002.

A crowdfunding effort in July of that year allowed the Blender Foundation to require the software from the NaN investors and promote it under the GNU General Public License. It would be released under this license in October 2002.

Ever since then Blender has always been free to download from anywhere in the world, so long that you have an internet connection. It has received consistent updates with new versions of the software released at regular intervals. Each version is bigger and better than the last one.

Not only are you able to get the current stable release for Blender 3D, but you also have the freedom of accessing future alpha and beta releases before they are completed, experimental branches where new tools are being tested, and there is even a library of every single officially released version of Blender going all the way back to 1.0 in the Blender library.

What Is The GNU General Public License?

The GNU GPL (General public license) is a license specific to the distribution of computer software. It is considered as a copyleft license, which is not a term that is used often as copyright is more commonly used. While copyright is a term often used to protect an asset from being taken, plagiarized, or redistributed by a third party, copyleft is in fact, the complete opposite.

It is the core purpose of a copyleft license to promote the free sharing of an asset, in this case, a 3D modeling program. A person can download not only the software but also the source code. They can make changes to that source code and then redistribute that software themselves.

But this comes with restrictions as much as it does freedoms. The whole idea is for the asset to be freely distributable, meaning it cannot be sold under any circumstance, by Blender or by a third party, even if they make changes to the source code. This is what the GNU GPL is for, and is the main legal reason why Blender is free.

There is one thing to note here, as even though the source code cannot be redistributed for financial gain, there is no prevention for artists to sell and distribute assets created using Blender. these can include 3D assets, animation short films, high-quality renders, and even add ons that programmers build to improve Blenders’ functionality.

Will Blender Always Be Free?

Yes. Blender 3D will always be free and readily available to download for anyone that has an internet connection. It will never be sold as a product in any form. The founder and CEO of the blender Foundation, Ton Roosendaal, had this to say on Blenders availability back in 2019.

Blender is free software. It’s free to use for everyone. Free to use for any purpose, also commercially. Blender is free to share with others, free to study its sources and free to make new versions.

Ton Roosendaal, Blender Ceo, 2019

Alongside the intent of the Blender Foundation to keep Blender 3D available as free software, there is also the legal implication of the GNU GPL. As stated above, the source code itself is protected from being distributed for any financial gain.

A Comparison Of Blender And Alternative Options

So Blender 3D is free software, but how much of an advantage is this compared to the alternative options for 3D artists. Below is a table of some of these options and how you can gain access to them. Note that some have different functions to each other but all can be compared to Blender in some way. For example substance painter for texturing, or cinema 4D for animation.

SoftwareFreeFree TrialSubscription/License Key ($)Subscription/License Key (£)
Blender 3DY
MayaY$1700 (Per year)£1968 (Per Year)
3DS MaxY$1700£1968
Cinema 4DY$719£661.20
HoudiniY*$269£196.76
Adobe Creative CloudY$599.88£596.33
Adobe Substance$439.88£351.60
Sketch UpY**Y£235
Comparison Of Blender 3D Value Vs Main Competitors

As you can see, companies much prefer a subscription model rather than a one-time payment.

For subscription fees, there are different options available. For the sake of comparison, the annual fee for independent artists is used where applicable. Monthly payments are a more expensive option over the course of a one-year period.

Note: Houdini* offers a full access path to their software. Access to the software is free, but it cannot be used for commercial purposes when choosing the free license.

Note: SketchUp** allows users to access their web-based software for free to learn about the software and create 3D models.

If Blender Is Free, Then How Is It Funded?

The funding of free software requires at least one of two factors to be in place. Either crowdfunding from the community that uses the software, or sponsors that have a vested interest in the software development. In Blenders’ case, both of these factors can be applied.

Crowdfunding And Community Support

Blender became what it is today thanks to that initial Free Blender campaign back in 2002. With that initial campaign, 110,000 euros were raised to allow the Blender foundation to acquire the software and bring it into the open-source realm. Today Blender relies on its much larger global community to invest in the blender development fund, which is used to finance the wages of the developers who work at the Blender Foundation making Blender better with each update.

Some may argue the point that crowdfunding and community support still involve artists paying Blender for the software, but this is an invalid point as anyone who chooses to help fund Blender’s development does so by their choice alone. You are never inclined to invest if you don’t want to and are free to keep using the software however you wish.

Sponsors And Relationships With Other Industries

What makes it truly special is not only its accessibility but also its versatility. Because it can be used in multiple industries from game design to architecture, it attracts a lot of support from other companies in different fields. These companies have a vested interest in Blenders’ progression and have become a part of the development fund to support its development as software.

Examples of companies involved range from pc hardware manufacturers like AMD, Nvidia, and Intel to search engines and game publishers like Google and Ubisoft.

Blender 3D is free and open-source, and it always will be. That is the goal of the Blender Foundation, to create the best 3D modeling solution and make sure that everyone has access to it. It remains a community-inspired project, where its developers don’t just use the software, they love it.

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