Getting started - 3D Software Recomendations


I am half way there in saving up for my Taz 4. In the mean time I wanted to start looking into 3D design software, or any thing I may need on the software end to create and print. For now I’ll just be using the printer for fun! with the kids…wanting to create tabletop miniture people and creatures for gaming and painting. But for my self I’d like a program with the capabilities of more mechanical 3D design ( I do have some technical drawing /engineering experience from college) for alot of my Home DIY projects, as well as other hobbies of mine, such as RC models, FPV drones, Ham radio, and others.

1)Is there a do all, software program? Or would it be best to have one program for the "charater 3D vs technical mechanical 3d design?

  1. I’d like to not have to get another degree to learn how to use the software…or pay for software that cost as much as a degree.

Could anyone give me some popular and proven programs that I should look into.

Thanks so much,


/3/'s sticky:

1.) “How do I get started in 3D?”

There are many ways to get started, the quickest way is to actually start
with a 3D program. There are many to choose from, such as:

-3DS Max
-Cinema 4D,
-Softimage XSI
-Blender 3D (Free!)

Once you obtain one the next step is to start with tutorials. There are many
on the net, they range from text and image tutorials to video tutorials. You
aren’t going to find a tutorial for everything out there, but most will explain
techniques that you need to adapt in order for you to achieve whatever final
result you want.

2.) “Wow! That’s a lot of programs! Which one is best? I heard ______ is best.”

You heard wrong, there is no one program that is better than the rest, it has
and always will be the skill level of the artist. Which program you choose is
solely dependent on your own personal taste and which aspect of the 3D industry
you want to be involved in.
Max and Maya are the most hyped and so therefore the most used,
they have the most available documentation online. The interfaces have
a steep learning curve, but there isn’t any 3D program you can’t learn if you take
the time to use it and follow some tutorials. Go with a generalized package, not a
specialist one.

Part 2:

3.) “Whoah, Generalized vs Specialized? How do I know?”

A generalised package like Maya, Max, Softimage are packages that let you model, render,
animate, texture, and create dynamics all within the same application. They don’t require third party plugins
or applications to add another basic feature, like a renderer or animation tools.
However you can get plugins for these apps to enhance their features.
There are several Specialized applications out there that cater to a specific skill.

Animation: Motion Builder, Messiah 3D.
Modeling: Modo, Wings3D, Silo 3D
CAD: Autocad, Sketchup, SolidWorks
Detailing: Zbrush, Mudbox, 3DCoat

4.) “Ooooo Zbrush, I see so much awesome shit from that, I’m gonna start there!”

No, you’re getting ahead of yourself. You should start learning about basic modeling and
topology before jumping into Zbrush. Zbrush is a great program for advanced users to add
detail to their existing models, or to prototype models quickly by sculpting them out. It
is not a good idea to get into Zbrush when you’re not very familiar with general 3D concepts

Part 3:
5) “Ok, I see I’m not very good at this stuff, can you model ______ for me?”

No, anybody with any decent skill on this board does this work for a living or for some kind
of gain. Some of those just starting out may pick up the project but don’t expect Miets Meier
level of work. You get what you pay for.

6.) “But it’s too haaaaaaaaard, isn’t there any easy button?”

No, like all things it takes time and effort to master a program, practice makes perfect and
playing around with the interface will get the shortcuts ingrained into your muscle memory.

7.) “So which program is the easiest to learn?”

You shouldn’t learn a program, you should learn techniques. When you master a technique the program
becomes nothing more than a tool. As said before Max and Maya have the most documentation but you
should look at learning how to model and the right techniques instead of ‘what button does X’. You
can get UI information from the program’s help files. F1 and Google are your friends.

Part 4:
8.) “So, what do studios look for when hiring if I don’t know program ______ won’t I get turned down?”

When a studio judges your demo reel and resume they have an order of priority.

1-Quality of Work
4-Program skills

9.) “So studios don’t care what program I use? Why do they care about versatility?”

Except for Animators who are pretty much exempt from most rules of 3D, most studios want people who
can perform multiple tasks instead of just a specialised one. They want modelers who can also texture,
they want riggers who can also do dynamics, they want lighters who can also texture. It’s ok to be
specialised in one area, but it doesn’t hurt to be versatile, it will always keep you employed.

When a studio looks at your program skills they do often look to see if you have experience in their
preferred in house package, but MANY times you’re going to get a studio that has added their own tools
and pipeline so it wouldn’t matter what program you know as long as your skills are good. If you know
techniques you can pretty much pickup any 3D package in a matter of days. Of course there are some that
are hard set that you know program ________ but for the most part what package you know is not that
important (yes even you Blender fags can get a job in a studio if you know good techniques.)

Part 5:
10.) “What about gaming?”
What about it?

11.) “How do I make my own game? How do I program shaders or a video game?”
This is a 3D board not a programming board! Do you want to make 3D game assets or
do you want to be a programmer?

12.) “Uhhhh…”

13.) If you want to get into game asset creating, your three primary focus of interests are:

Low poly modeling is an art in itself, trying to get as much detail with as few polys as possible
takes some practice, there is no formula for this. You create a low poly model and use techniques
such as good UV textures and normal maps to enhance the look of the model in the game engine.

Two great places to start for game asset creation:

Animating for games is pretty much the same as for movies, except that your model has a higher chance
of deforming badly and you may not have as much control over your rig. Still the basic concepts of
animation will always apply.

Part 6:
14.) “So got any links?”



Specific Starter Tutorials:

-Modeling : 3DS Max Character Modeling tutorial - Best you’ll find : Great introduction to basic game character modeling : Free Lightwave 3D training videos

-UVMapping and Texturing : Intro to texture concepts and normal mapping : Best free texture resource : Introduction to texture concepts : Brushes can be used to create textures

Part 7: : UV Unwrapping in Max : Demo of pelt unwrap feature in Max

-Game Character Creation

-Game creation resources

-Zbrush Meats Meier Intro to Zbrush, free, informative, highly recommend.

Part 8:
Free Downloads:

Blender 3D:
Softimage Mod Tool:
Houdini Apprentice:

Underage b&s and College fags who can get discount software:

Compositing: : Introduction to Matchmove with Syntheyes. : 26 great Camera tracking and Matchmove tutorials

-Free Rigs

-MoCap libraries (free and none free)

3D Communities:

Job Hunting:



Stickied :smiley:

My favorite is open OpenSCAD which is a programatic approach to modelling since I have more of a programming background.

My other favorite is Autodesk Inventor which is made specifically for 3D mechanical part creation. You can get a free copy through Autodesk’s student program (you do not need to be a college student)

I’ve tried lots of different programs and those are far and away my favorite

The main free software options are:

  • Blender

  • FreeCAD

  • OpenSCAD


Sorry but I do not consider zero’s post to be relevant here.

For one thing, of all the software he mentions, each of them but a single one (Blender) costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. For another thing, most of the post focuses on the gaming industry. :unamused:

The Reprap wiki has a very extensive list of 3D applications separated into open source or closed source licence.

For modeling figurines or creating other organic shapes, you will be best served by a polygonal modeling program such as

  • Blender (the most used open source modeling program, very complete, it has a steep learning curve and a GUI centered on keyboard shortcuts, but it has a huge community with plenty of tutorials available)
  • Sculptris is closed source, but free
  • Art of Illusion, open source (not many people use it)
  • Wings3D, open source (not many people use it)

For mechanical design, if you’re on Windows, your choices are many.

  • FreeCAD is my personal favorite, it’s open source and runs on any platform (I use Ubuntu Linux). It may not be as complete or as polished as commercial software, but it’s plenty sufficent for personal use. It has a small but very dedicated community of which I’m a part of. :wink:
  • OpenSCAD has been mentioned, it’s very popular in the Reprap community. If you have a programmer’s mindset…
  • DesignSpark Mechanical is closed-source, but free, based on pro CAD software SpaceClaim. One of its disadvantages is that saving in CAD formats (STEP, IGES) is disabled, you can only export to mesh formats such as STL. That’s one thing to keep in mind if you ever want to go beyond 3D printing with one of your designs. Personally I prefer to keep my options open.
  • 123D Design from Autodesk seems to be popular. There used to be an online version, I believe only the desktop version is available now.
  • Sketchup is also popular because of its ease of use, but it often creates models with errors that slicer programs have problems with.

Autodesk Inventor’s student version has been mentioned, but I would suggest you consider that it will probably function on a year-based, online registration (and your use will probably be monitored). For how many years will you be able to renew such a licence? After you no longer have a working copy of Inventor on your PC, how will you be able to open your files?

That’s one of the reasons that for my personal use, I’m sticking with open source software which does not try to keep me captive.

Woah, great share!

Let me be the third to mention FreeCAD and also mention that it not only runs on Windows and Linux, it runs on OS X as well. Totally OS agnostic. And free so it won’t delay you in getting a printer.

It’s also a program that you can figure out to by poking at it for a while. Blender is also free, and I’ve tried to follow some tutorials but really, I think I’d need two semesters of intensive instruction to be able to use it. At least for me, no amount of poking at it made me understand anything about it. Looks like you can make awesome stuff though.

I guess I would have named the Thread the Best 3D software for 3D Printing. That is why we are here, right?

I am a long time AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT user and the TinkerCAD and such programs drive me crazy. Even 123D is nice but lacks so many common sense at least to long time CAD users anyway features. Trim that does not always work, no Break command and etc. I finally gave up and downloaded Fusion 360 and will attempt to use it. Seems a lot of these Autodesk CAD programs are being done by people who have never used a CAD program before and all lack any kind of documentation. If you need help with the Snap command, you need to watch a video!!

So I am going to attempt to learn Fusion 360, but I keep coming back to FreeCAD.

Got my things from 123D sent over to Fusion 360 and I am doing well in the learning process. A lot of the things I learned in TinkerCAD and 123D are incorporated into 360. The program is very good, and its “free” for start ups and non profit use such as us hobbyists Not 100% ready for prime time but excellent support forum and the Help menu actually has something in it besides a video. :smiley:

Hi Chris,

I use Rhino 5 and it’s a great program and easy to use. Relatively expensive however, around $800. AutoCAD is $3,500. Solidworks is off the chart. However, if you are in school or in Academia you can get student versions of all three for not much money.

Perfect thread!

Wow, so many explanations! What strikes me most is the fact that they explain pretty everything! I mean, for now I don’t have even a simple 3D printer, I just came to the idea that it would be much fun using it and started to search for, you know, tips. And found this topic! Thanks a lot! :slight_smile:

To me it depends on the kinds of things you want to build. Are the hard/angles geometry based or more organic. Each modeling package has their strengths/weakness in those. For more geometric I use cinema 4d and for organic or soft body I use Zbrush. Both of those are expensive but there are lots of free alternatives of each style modeler too.

Has anyone tried Sculptris for organic/softbody shapes:

As I understand it, it’s a subset of Zbrush (and it’s free). I’m wondering how tough it is to learn, or is it fairly intuitive? Looking fo rsomething a few 6th grade kids might be able to learn. They are using TinkerCad right now, there are a few of them who might like to work with something that works with more organic shapes.

I have just downloaded Kodon…it is an HTC VIVE VR Sculpting program. It is something new they are still working on but is available to work with right now (I think price is $19) and you can actually sculpt like with zbrush…but with much more simplified interface…all IN VR. I am going to play in it a couple hours tonight and let you know if it is any good. I got it mainly for my 12 year old to practice sculpting.

some of them are good websites of tutorials … helping me out at some points …thanku …:smiley:

After the now gone Google Sketchup got too simple for me, I found with excellent video tutorials build in, and it is highly recommended if you are happy to stick with the free version where all your models are public.

Others I have recommended it to, got up and running the same day.

It is parametric 3D design, with sharing options, stable, and always updated as it runs in the browser - lot’s of specialty tools when it gets to that. Great with variants and history - all online.

If the free version is not enough, it would get unrealistically expensive for me. Prices changed drastically to the worse (could happen again) just after I got going with it. Honestly with the pricing today, I would not start with it for that reason, as I might need it professionally in a small company - it’s a shame.

What’s gone about Sketchup?

My 2¢ (just came across this thread, I know it has a ton of great info already and isn’t very active):


Learn the concepts of 3D modeling and you can use just about any modeling software out there. Some are more intuitive than others (some software is designed/made by programmers, some are designed and made by artists. Oversimplified: programmers make it a little more intuitive, but more technical (Maya, Modo); artists make it a little harder to navigate but focus on final product/detail (zBrush, 3Dcoat.) You can get great results regardless of software but vary in stability, ease of use/learning curve, and in cost from free to several thousands of dollars.

The long:

Modo is my go to (I’m a bit biased, it’s what I use for 3D printing work, video game production, and vfx modeling work.) It has a pretty quick learning curve and is very intuitive compared to some of the other stuff. Granted just about all the modeling software is the same with the buttons in different places with the biggest difference being different modifier workflows (3DS Max modifiers vs Maya’s history for example.) I’ve used Maya, Rhino, Cinema 4D, Blender, Sketchup, Wings3D, 3DS Max, zBrush, 123D, 3Dcoat, Mari, Motion Builder, and more for modeling/animation/texturing work + personal projects and Modo has been the easiest just to make stuff without having to fight the software interface and crashes/corrupted files. Maya’s new tools for sculpting starting with 2016 aren’t bad but Maya is a massive pain in other areas and unless you are doing tons of paid work or get it through your company it’s expensive. Autodesk likes to vacuum up companies and tools then cludge them into different software packages which can cause instability/crashes depending on what you are doing with it, it’s still industry standard though. If you’ve seen any blockbuster movie in the last 20 years you’re looking at stuff made in Maya. Pixar movies are animated in Maya for the most part and rendered with Render Man.

You can do hard surface or organic modeling pretty easily in Modo and if you are familiar with Autodesk products you can set it to Maya controls and go. It isn’t open source, but it is cheap. The full version is $$$$ but Modo Indie is $15/mo on Steam and comes with everything you need to print unless you are printing complex models with 100,001+ polygons. It’s easy to export in OBJ plus check for manifold meshes/repair holes. Plus the Mesh Fusion functionality by itself is mind-blowing (basically real-time non-destructive live boolean operations, check the overview out on youtube.) The fact that you can get a software package with something like Mesh Fusion for $15/mo is pretty wild.

If you want to get up to speed quick check out Vaughan in 60 seconds/pixel fondue on youtube, William Vaughan is a Lightwave/Modo legend and has made tons of tutorials + makes new ones almost weekly. His books are stellar too and are software agnostic so instead of focusing on specific software he teaches the concepts that can be used for 3D in any program. Some disclosure: I worked with him and had him as an instructor and can’t sing his praises enough. I’m also big into OSHW (worked at Lulzbot managing the print cluster, taught 250+ students the software and hardware pipeline + teaching about OSHW in the curriculum while managing the 3D printing lab for The Digital Animation & Visual Effects School, and currently work part-time for OSHWA.) It may not be open, but it does have open aspects and is built around OpenGl. If I could program I’d be all for helping a project to make an open version like Natron is to Nuke for compositing.