We’ve compiled a list of the best 3D modeling software, both paid and free, for both beginners and experts.
Only the best 3D modeling software will enable you to improve your CG skills and create eye-catching artwork. Expertise in the most popular tools may also land you a job in this ever-changing, highly competitive industry. Fortunately, 3D modeling software is more accessible than ever, and because free software like Blender is used in more professional pipelines across the industry, learning to use it doesn’t have to be expensive. So there has never been a better time to give it a shot.
To help you, we’ve put together this helpful guide outlining the best 3D modeling software for a variety of specific needs. We’ve got something for you whether you’re an experienced modeller looking for a workflow refresh or you’re new to the world of 3D, and whether you have zero money or an infinite budget. We’ve also highlighted the strengths of each of our software choices so you can decide which is best for your approach and style.
If you’re on a tight deadline, using pre-made assets can be a quick and easy way to increase your productivity. Check out our guides to the best free textures and free 3D models for some fantastic ideas. It’s also critical that your computer has one of the best graphics cards available so that you can get the most out of your 3D tools.
The best 3D modelling software: paid-for options
Most artists will place Autodesk Maya at the top of their list of the best 3D modeling software. Maya, the industry standard for a variety of CG disciplines, provides artists with an unrivaled set of features and tools. This powerful app is not for inexperienced users; however, its tool set is complex and requires time to master. When we tested it in our Maya review, we discovered that Autodesk had included a slew of useful features. And now, with Maya 2022, there’s even more to look forward to.
Maya is ideal for modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering, with tools for particles, hair, solid body physics, cloth, fluid simulations, and character animation. However, you should consider whether Maya’s extensive functionality is too much for your needs, as this power comes at a cost. Maya has some of the best 3D tools available right now and is a good investment for those who have the time, skill, and patience to master it.
ZBrush is a standalone sculpting and modeling app that is best for creating organic forms – though when we tested the latest version for our ZBrush review, we discovered that its hard-surface capabilities had greatly improved. It operates in an unconventional manner, with a workflow and user interface that can be difficult for newcomers to grasp, so it’s worth practicing every day if you want to become proficient.
ZBrush isn’t just for sculpting and modeling; it can also be used to create UV maps and paint textures, allowing experienced artists to create entire figures, complete with clothing and props, ready for rendering. This software is a popular choice for artists who want to 3D print toys and action figures using 3D printing tools.
Houdini from SideFX is responsible for a wide range of 3D imagery in the CG industry. Its procedural node-based approach gives artists unprecedented power, flexibility, and control. This nodal workflow isn’t for everyone, but Houdini also has some more traditional tools that let you interact with the polygons on the screen directly. During testing, we discovered that its problem-solving capabilities were light years ahead of other 3D software, with the ability to rewire feeling incredibly natural, which is a significant plus for the software. More reasons why we love Houdini can be found in our Houdini review.
Houdini’s power and non-standard workflow, like Maya’s, can be difficult to grasp. Fortunately, SideFX provides Houdini Apprentice, a free version of Houdini FX that can be used on personal non-commercial projects by students, artists, and hobbyists. The free version gives you access to nearly all of the features of the award-winning Houdini FX, allowing you to hone your skills. There’s also the full-featured Houdini Indie, which offers a low-cost commercial option for smaller studios.
04. Cinema 4D
Cinema 4D by Maxon has been around for a long time and is well-known in the worlds of motion graphics, visualisation, and illustration. It has a vibrant creative community and a massive online tutorial library, not to mention the training site Cineversity, which you get free membership to when you buy the app or pay for the annual Maxon service agreement (MSA). The parametric modeling toolset in Cinema 4D is generally very good, and you can extend its functionality with a variety of reasonably priced plugins. Volumetric modeling is also an option if you don’t have the time or skills to create smooth solid forms.
Permanent licenses aren’t cheap, but you can always start with Prime and gradually upgrade. There is also a trial version that allows you to try Cinema 4D for 14 days for free, as well as a free education version for students and teachers.
05. Autodesk 3ds Max
Autodesk’s 3ds Max is a PC-only 3D computer graphics program. It is primarily used in the production of television and feature films, as well as architectural and product visualization. 3ds Max, like its sister software Maya, has a robust tool set for 3D modeling, as well as fluid simulations, hair and fur, and character rigging and animation.
3ds Max employs both direct manipulation and procedural modeling techniques, with a large library of different modifiers to help new and intermediate artists with the modeling process. This software provides a comprehensive professional toolkit and, predictably, comes at a professional price. Students, on the other hand, can obtain the software for free, and a trial version is also available for 30 days if you want to try it out before purchasing.
Modo(opens in new tab) has evolved from a simple subdivision surface modeller to a full-featured digital content creation app over the years. The toolset is well thought out and implemented, making it very user-friendly. Combine that with an impressive rendering system, and it’s easy to see why Modo has remained popular. We thoroughly tested Modo (see our Modo 12 review), and while we liked its toolset and UI, we found it to be somewhat limited in its capabilities. Foundry has received a number of updates since then, and it now takes advantage of modern graphics cards to make it significantly more powerful.
Modo, with modeling at its core, is one of the best apps for creating polygonal forms, using both direct tools and procedural techniques. The addition of the best-in-class MeshFusion Boolean system simply expands its modeling repertoire. Modo lacks the high-end dynamics and simulation tools found in programs like Maya, but it holds its own when it comes to creating stunning artwork, producing as good a 3D render as any other package currently available.
07. Lightwave 3D
LightWave (opens in new tab) was once the go-to app for sci-fi TV shows, but after a failed attempt to create a modernized version, NewTek’s app sat dormant for several years. However, it has recently experienced a revival, with an updated version released at the start of 2020.
Lightwave is divided into two apps: Modeler (for creating assets) and Layout (for texturing, lighting, animation, and rendering). Although much of the underlying toolset is quite old (although many new features have been added in the last few years), it remains a solid digital content creation suite with many features and a fast interactive PBR renderer.
So disregard LightWave’s reputation: it’s a fantastic 3D modeling app for learning the fundamentals. You can try it out for free for 30 days, and students can get a copy for $195.
The best free 3D modelling software
A license to use the best 3D modeling software is not always inexpensive. Fortunately, there is a wealth of powerful software available for free these days, as well as some businesses that generously provide free versions of their paid-for tools.
To assist you in finding the best one for you, we’ve compiled a list of the best free 3D modeling software available for download right now. So, if you’re a 3D artist, bookmark this page right now.
Blender(opens in new tab), the free modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering app, is unrivaled in terms of free 3D modeling software. This open-source program has been around for a while, and during that time it has amassed an army of artists, teachers, and enthusiasts who are dedicated to its continued development.
Blender has an impressive set of 3D modeling and sculpting tools and is regarded as a completely viable alternative to paid modeling programs. It’s become increasingly common in major studio pipelines in recent years. Blender was once known for its unconventional working style, but many of these issues have been addressed, so it will feel more familiar if you’re switching from another app.
Blender is a great place to start if you want to see if 3D art is for you, and we have a ton of great Blender tutorials to help you get started.
02. Daz Studio
Previously priced at $249, the 3D software Daz 3D(opens in new tab) is now completely free to download. It’s a 3D figure customization, posing, and animation tool that lets artists of all skill levels create digital art with virtual people, animals, props, vehicles, accessories, and environments.
SketchUp Free (opens in new tab) bills itself as “the simplest free 3D modeling software on the web — no strings attached,” and it is. Its core 3D modeller runs in your web browser and has 10GB of storage space, plus there are free user-generated and manufacturer-produced 3D models to import into your projects. All of this, plus a free app for viewing your 3D models on mobile, adds up to a fantastic deal at no cost. Also, don’t forget to look through our collection of the best SketchUp textures.
If you have a Daz 3D Studio account, you should also download the free modeling app Hexagon (opens in new tab). It was created by Eovia around 2001, was acquired by Daz in 2006, and has been sporadically updated ever since. Hexagon is a simple subdivision surface modeller, and while Daz promotes it as a way to create clothes and props for its figure, you can use it to create anything you want.
05. Fusion 360 (education version)
Fusion 360(opens in new tab) by Autodesk is a professional piece of software for the CAD/CAM crowd, but it can be used to create any solid form, from teapots to tanks. It normally costs £438 per year, but there is a free education version available for Windows and Mac that can be used for non-commercial projects. The app includes a wide range of modeling techniques, such as freeform sculpting, polygon manipulation, and parametric modeling.
06. Houdini Apprentice
As previously stated, Houdini is a 3D animation and visual effects tool that is widely used in the media industry for film, broadcast, entertainment, and visualization. The cheapest version costs just under $2,000, but SideFX also provides a free ‘Apprentice’ version. Houdini Apprentice (opens in new tab) gives you access to all of the full version’s features so you can practice and work on personal projects. Just keep in mind that this version is only for non-commercial use and learning.
Wings 3D(opens in new tab) is a pure modeling app that has been in development since 2001 and is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. It, like all subdivision modellers, allows you to create an underlying polygonal form and then generate a smoothed shape by subdividing the mesh.
It’s fairly basic in terms of modellers, and the interface is a little unusual, but it’s fairly user-friendly and an excellent way to get a feel for poly modeling and see if 3D art is for you.
08. Rocket 3F
Rocket 3F (opens in new tab) is a polygonal modeller for Windows that bills itself as fast, fun, and user-friendly. Its professional-looking interface is fully customizable, and it includes a robust modeling toolset that would be at home in apps costing hundreds of dollars. It is a very well-equipped program, with sculpting, retopology tools, and non-linear subdivision edge creasing.
The free version does not allow you to change the UI or assign your own hotkeys – for that, you must purchase the €99 Pro version – but Rocket 3F is an excellent tool for creating models for illustration, VFX, or games.