As Blender is a jack of all trades kind of tool it often gets compared with many different products from other companies that focus in some way on the field of computer graphics. The one software that receives the most comparisons though is the industry standard of game design and game animation, Maya. So which of these two is the better option.
Maya is better than Blender when it comes to creating rigs to animate 3D models and has a more robust animation pipeline overall. Maya also has better compatibility with other programs that may be a part of the same project. Blender is better in a general usage capacity where it has a more simplistic-looking interface (version 3.0 ex) and is ideal as a learning resource.
The thing is though, is that whichever of Blender or Maya you decide is better, will be determined by what you want to use the software for. So let’s dive into more detail the pros and cons of using both.
How We Will Be Comparing The Two?
For an accurate comparison of the two tools, we will be comparing them on factors that are relevant to someone who is looking to pick up a 3D modeling software so that they can learn to use the software to a high or even professional standard. The following factors will be listed directly below…
- The Accessibility Of The Tool – How easy is it for the end-user to begin using the software
- The learning Library And Resources – How much learning material is there on the software
- The General Layout Of The User Interface – Is the user experience good and is it easy to understand
- 3D Modeling And Animation Toolsets – How good are the tools that relate to the task of creating and animating 3D models
- Use In The Industry By The Professionals – Is the tool being used in the animation and video game industries
- Additional Features And Plugins – What about other tools and extended functionality
- Compatibility With Other Software – How well does it work with other programs
After comparing the two tools on these seven factors we will get a good indication of which option is right for you as the end-user.
Disclaimer: The comparison between the two is based on the experience of the writer with both software, your experience with either may differ.
The Accessibility Of The Tool
Before we look at how good the tool is, can we even access it. In Blender, we have an open-source software available under the GNU General Public License and in Maya, we have a commercial tool that is a part of the much larger Autodesk ecosystem.
So how easy is this to acquire either of these? For Blender the process involves going to the blender website and clicking on the big blue button on the top of the home page, then clicking on the big blue download button on the next page, making sure that the correct operating system is selected. And that’s it, you would have successfully downloading Blender, and provided that you go through the traditional process of installing new software you will be good to go.
Maya on the other hand is a single product by a much larger company, so you have to look for it amongst their library of programs that have available but it’s not that difficult to find. Then choose the license that you want whether that be month by month, a single year, or a three-year period. Then download the software onto your computer and activate the product key on installation.
So Blender is the easier of the tools to acquire but it’s a fairly straightforward process either way. The winning point though comes down to price. Blender is 100% to all users even for commercial purposes whereas Maya costs a pretty penny regardless of the license you choose. If you leave in the UK for example, a one-year’s license costs £1968.
You do have the cheaper alternative of Maya LT, which offers the same 3D modeling tools as Maya but is stripped down in other areas like rendering and physics effects. At £306 a year, it’s a much more viable option than the full version of Maya but still doesn’t beat free software in Blender 3D.
Winner Of The Category: Blender 3D
The Learning Library And Resources
Whether you are just starting out or if you have been using 3D modeling programs for years there will always be something new to learn, such as a new tool, a new workflow, or even a new version of your chosen software. It is therefore important for any good software to have plenty of documentation and learning resources.
Blender 3D has built up a huge online community over the past couple of decades and is built from the ground up as free, open-source software. The first resource that you will have access to is the Blender manual, which is linked from the splash screen of Blender itself. The manual has key descriptions of each and every tool used in the respective version of Blender. The manual is itself updated as regularly as the software and is the first stop for anyone who wants to know what a specific tool is used for.
This is quite literally the tip of the iceberg, however, as the number of learning resources for Blender 3D is increased substantially when you take into account community forums like blenderartists.org, the blender stack exchange, and the dozen-plus Facebook communities dedicated to artists that use Blender.
Then you have youtube, where you will find as many video tutorials on Blender as you will the entire adobe cloud library. Blender’s accessibility to students is also demonstrated by the number of potential online teachers that submit tutorials on just about every tool used in Blender.
If you want more professionally built resources then you can also search platforms like Udemy and Skillshare along with other websites for the latest courses on 3D modeling with Blender. Many of these courses will have their own resource packs to aid learning like cheat sheets and PDF guides.
Youtube is a wonderful thing for 3D modelers and animators as you will find countless videos and tutorials on the topics of 3D modeling and animations. Maya is certainly no exception to this rule as you will find all the content that you need to learn the fundamentals of the software just with Youtube alone.
Now there is certainly no shortage when it comes to Youtube tutorials for learning Maya but Blender almost certainly gets more content uploaded daily due to its much larger user base and online community.
When it comes to course content, you will find more content for Blender on the mass course platforms like Skillshare and Udemy while Maya is more dominant on the professional learning platforms such as Linkedin learning (Formely Lynda.com) and Pluralsight.
Having taken a few courses, the content itself tends to be of a slightly more professional standard compared to Blender. Two reasons for this are the higher requirements for quality course content on some platforms and the fact that tutors for Maya are simply more likely to come from a professional background in the industry and will not only teach you about the tools but their core workflows as well.
Resources are again common with Maya and you can often get access to resources and plugins through some of the higher quality course content and youtube channels.
Both do extremely well in this area thanks to the dominance of youtube as a video based search engine as well as the ever increasing number of online courses and course platforms. However this is a case where whatever Maya can do, Blender can do slightly better. While through my experience course content is slightly better with Maya, Blender wins on Youtube in terms of both quality and quantity with its larger online community of artists and learners and some terrific youtube channels such as BlenderGuru and CGGeek.
Winner Of The Category: Blender 3D
General Layout Of The User Interface
If you have never used a 3D program before then you will be working with something that is likely to be unfamiliar to you. The 3D design process is very different compared to 2D design, Maya is very different compared to Photoshop, and so on. The first impression of new software rests with the user interface, and how the software looks on screen. Is the software easy to understand, can you locate the necessary tools for a project, and how intuitive is the software.
The layout of Blender 3D has improved a considerable amount since it was upgraded to the 2.8 version. The design ensures that tools are kept in what are known as editors based on their primary use case. For example, tools used for controlling the animation overall, like markers, keyframes, and play controls, are all found in the timeline.
Depending on the situation, Blender may have so many tools for one area that it needs to further divide up an editor into various modes for more specific tasks. For example, the 3D viewport has tools that allow you to alter the object positioning in a 3D scene, tools that allow you to edit the base shape of that object, and even tools that allow for high detail sculpts.
To keep things simple, a selected object will have various selectable modes like object mode (Specific to object positioning), edit mode (Specific to object shape), and sculpt mode (Specific to object detail). In theory, this makes it easier to locate the tools that you need for a specific task.
If you need tools not found in the same editor or mode, then you may be able to use the appropriate workspace, which is a reconstructed layout of the Blender interface. For example, you want to create keyframes for an object and preview the animation through your active camera, then change the positioning of those keyframes to get the right result.
This would require the timeline to play the animation, the dope sheet to edit keyframe positioning, and the viewport with a preview of the camera’s view. All of these can be found just by going to the animation workspace by clicking on the animation tab at the top of the interface.
The interface itself is very customizable, allowing the user to edit existing workspaces or even create one from scratch.
If you were to cross over from one software to another, you find that the toolsets and general workflows are very similar, but the way the software is laid out is what creates that steep learning curve for the new software. Immediately on opening, the way the tools are set out is very different in Maya compared to Blender.
Like Blender you will find a series of tabs that grant you access to different tools, however, the difference comes when selecting these tabs. When you select a tab in Blender, it takes you to an entirely new workspace built for a specific task. Click on a tab in Maya, and you get a row of tools for that specific category. For example, clicking on animation gets you access to the animation toolset. These tools each have their own unique icon to become easily identifiable.
You will find icons for different tools all across the user interface in Maya. This makes it easy for experienced artists to locate and use any of the tools that they might need. On the other hand, it creates an overwhelming first impression for a beginner.
This is a battle between intuitiveness and comfort of use. For Maya, I would say that the interface makes modeling a slightly easier process overall with so many tools readily available. However, you benefit from this approach more so if you are a professional artist as that’s who the software is designed for.
On that note, you can really tell who the core audience is for each application by looking at the respective UI. Blender had a cleaner look that makes it more comfortable for beginners and general users. It’s not a case of one being better than the over because they are built for different audiences. However, Blender gets the edge here as its design is more universal.
Winner Of The Category: Blender 3D
3D Modelling And Animation Toolsets
Blender, in particular, is considered a jack of all trades type of software, and its capabilities go far beyond the process of 3D modeling. As this comparison is mainly to compare Maya and Blender as 3D modeling and animation tools, we need to focus on the tools dedicated for these tasks.
Blender makes it very easy to access its core set of modeling tools, but not so easy for the move situation-specific tools. For example, the extrude tool, which is the standard modeling tool for any software to create new shapes, is easily accessed on the tool shelf of the 3D viewport, right in front of the user. It’s also accessible from the mesh menu at the top of the viewport and by pressing the ‘E’ key on your keyboard.
On the other hand, you have the wireframe tool, which converts the edges of an object into a wired mesh with thickness, which can only be accessed by going to the face menu at the top of the viewport. It has no hotkey and is not found on the tool shelf.
The basic animation tools are also relatively simple to use. Pressing the ‘I’ key on just about any alterable element in Blender, such as object positioning or material roughness, can be animated with keyframes. you can then use the dope sheet and the graph editor to change the positioning and behavior of those keyframes. You can also work on motion capture video editing within Blender as well to work on animations and rendered clips.
While rigging has improved over the years in Blender for me it is still one of the key sticking points. It’s easy to create a rig and then forget to apply the scale of a character model (Important for rigging!) and then run into issues when you do apply it like the rig appearing half the size as it did before.
Because of these potential issues, there are several addons that will improve rigging in Blender specifically, for example, you can use the rigify addon to automate much of the process or the Mixamo control rig which allows you full control over a character that you import from Mixamo.
I would put this simply, you can’t beat Maya when it comes to 3D modeling tools, and very few can match it for animation, apart from Pixar’s Renderman. The array of tools here is incredible and encourages different modeling workflows depending on the artists’ requirements. Retopology is easy in Maya and all the modeling tools are well labeled and clearly visible.
The one area of modeling where Maya has always been lacking is sculpting. Many Maya users will prefer to use dedicated software like z brush to add high poly detail to their assets and then bring them back into Maya for a bit of retopology.
Like Blender, though it has all the basic modeling tools like bevels, extrude and transforms, etc but the less used tools like bridging, extract and detach tools are really easy to access and use.
On the modeling side of things, it’s closer than it first appears. I still prefer the way that Blender organizes its tools but that’s more a UI thing, whereas Maya gets you access to those tools really fast and it is intuitive to use. Animation and rigging are where Maya wins this one. There just seem to be viewer pain points in the process, especially on the rigging side. Certain add ons do help Blender here but I still give the win to Maya.
Winner Of The Category: Maya
Use In The Industry By The Professionals
When comparing two platforms with professional-grade toolsets, we need to assess the usage of each software by professionals in the appropriate industries which in this case are the video game and animation industries. How popular are these programs in the industry? Are either considered industry standard? Will learning the software land you professional job roles?
What is considered to be the greatest disadvantage for Blender 3D is the lack of consideration for it as an industry-standard application. While Blender is fully capable of hanging with the big boys in terms of its toolsets and general functionality, it has not been developed for the pros, it has been developed for the community. It is true that the origins of Blender in the mid-’90s were that of an in-house solution for professionals at NatGeo, but since becoming open source in 2002 Blender 3D has always been community-driven software.
It’s upbringing as an in house turned community software means that it has developed many quirks over the years like its infamous right-click select behavior for its 3D viewport (Now left click thankfully), as well as generally being on the outside looking in on the game and animation industries mean it is not often used by the major players of those industries
For animation, Maya is the primary choice for many top companies including the Disney Animation Studio, although it is not used by the king of animation Pixar who has its own software like Renderman. Maya is considered to be an industry-standard software and has been for much of the 21st century.
The sheer volume of tools made it an attractive option for professionals working both in animation and in-game design. But its the behind the scenes support structure is what really sets it apart from a free option like Blender. While Blender 3D does now offer long-term support for some of its versions Maya offers companies the security of knowing that any substantial issues with the software that may result in loss of work will be addressed by the Autodesk support team.
A no-brainer this time around, as while Blender is making inroads as a learning tool in the educational and training industries and is gradually being adopted by smaller game design companies, it can’t compare to Maya’s prestige and support structure.
Winner Of The Category: Maya
Additional Features And Plugins
Like many creative tools, the base functionality of these programs can be expanded upon with the help of additional plugins that can improve the artists’ workflow when performing a task that can be benefitted from that plugin. Does the software also possess additional features not specific to 3D modeling or animation, and do these features benefit a 3D artist in any way.
One of the greatest traits Blender 3D has is its incredible versatility. It goes far beyond just being a 3D modeling and animation suite. It also has tools for realistic texture and material creation, allowing you to create any material that you want within Blender itself. You can also sculpt highly detailed models with the sculpting toolkit, using a wide variety of tools and brushes with high levels of control and precision.
However, what is considered to be one of Blender’s greatest strengths can also be considered to be a weakness. Blender does not have the same depth as options from larger commercial companies for its development base. Many of the tasks that Blender can perform have better options elsewhere with software applications dedicated to those tasks. Z brush for example is used for sculpting, Substance is a better option for texture and material creation, Photoshop is better for editing rendered images, and so on.
If you want to go beyond that though Blender has a frankly ridiculous array of plugins that can be used to improve functionality in almost any task when using Blender. Another quirk of the Blender ecosystem is that these additional tools are not referred to as plugins but as add-ons.
A core advantage that Blender has is that addons can be created and distributed by anyone. Blender developers can create addons that might not make the base build of a new version, or anyone in the Blender community can design their own add-on and share it on their own website, Gumroad, etc.
The sheer size of the community itself is a big plus for Blender and the ability to create the python scripts and test them within Blender itself means that there will be no shortage of add-ons in the coming years to take Blender above and beyond what its already capable of.
In addition to the incredible array of 3D modeling and animation tools, Maya also has tools for production quality scene creation. It is compatible with numerous render engines, such as Arnold and Octane, for creating renders and animations of the highest quality. It also has excellent tools for lighting and particle simulations as well as materials.
It also has a wide variety of plugins, and these can range from crowd generators to workflow simplifiers. many of the best ones, as expected, will be paid. the commercial nature of Maya is also inherited by its plugins, as some will have trails and subscriptions. the most expensive plugin I have seen so far costs a staggering $3500.
Both have evolved over the years and have adopted an impressive array of features. Blender has features that Maya does not such as the video sequence editor although some of these additional features are not strictly related to modeling and animation.
Both have terrific libraries for plugins/addons to improve their base functionality. It is easier to create a plugin for Maya than it is for Blender but once again the size of the Blender community plays a role here, as anyone can create and share add-ons and there are simply more users of Blender to create these addons.
Winner Of The Category: Blender 3D
Compatibility With Other Software
If working as an individual, modeling purely as a hobby, the user will likely only need to use either Blender or Maya if all they want to do is create their own renders and animations and share their work on social media. However if working on a more substantial project, like creating a video game, then the 3D modeling tool becomes a single part of a much larger pipeline.
Therefore we need to assess the compatibility of the tool with others for the purpose of importing and exporting assets from concept art to low poly character models.
Blender is a single, stand-alone product from the Blender foundation that does not have any other products in its direct ecosystem. It is compatible with an array of file formats both for importing and exporting though and you can use the models you create in Blender in nearly all of the other known 3D applications whether that be Adobe Substance for 3D texturing or Unreal Engine for game development.
The fact that it is not considered industry standard means that in some cases additional work needs to be done to successfully export models. For example, Blender uses a left-hand coordinate system when determining the direction of the X, Y, and Z-axis. Unity by contrast is a game engine that has a right-hand coordinate system which can create issues with rotation when importing a model from Blender.
There are of course settings built into the export process that will help to correct this but it is an example of Blender needing a little bit more work when you are looking at larger projects.
Considered as industry standard software Maya has had a long time to become a seamless part of the animation and gaming pipelines. The fact that it is used by so many major players in both industries has shaped its development over the past two decades.
Maya has to be compatible with other applications by necessity rather than choice. As such there are plugins for seamless exporting of models created in Maya over to game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine 4.
Once again going back to the history of these two software, Maya needs to be better here almost as a requirement, with professional artists far more likely to use the software as a part of a much larger pipeline, with work also needing to be shared amongst a team of artists rather than an individual.
Winner Of The Category: Maya
Final Score: Blender 4-3 Maya
So in the categories covered Blender has a small advantage over Maya. From a pure 3D animation perspective Maya certainly does have the advantage over Blender 3D with its array of tools but the accessibility and versatility of Blender make it the better choice for the much larger audience of community and independent artists. It does still depend on whether you want to use the software professionally or not, but both will do the job regardless.
Regardless of the score, Blender is the much better option for beginners, hobbyists, and freelancers because of its cleaner interface, versatility and accessibility. It does everything you need it to do. Maya on the other hand is the comfortable winner in the professional landscape, with more refined tools and seamless integration into any project and with most other software applications.