Creating 3D, manipulatable models without the need to get arms-deep in clay is an attractive idea. Forking over $1,500 every year for a subscription to Autodesk Maya, however, is not.
Given that the price range for professional-grade modeling suites can be eye watering, many amateurs, and even professionals, find themselves looking for free 3D modeling software alternatives. Luckily, there are more than a few free and open source options available. Even with the lack of a price tag, many of these are up there with the best.
Free 3D Modeling Software: 10 of the Best
A mercifully stripped-back, no-nonse piece of software that doesn’t skimp on features. K-3D is centered around a plug-in driven procedural engine for handling polygonal modeling and animation, with one of the most brilliant and unique benefits being the ability to mirror the object you’re working on; add curves and NURBS to one half, and the other half with follow suit with a seamless join in the middle, creating a fully manipulable subdivision surface.
Also comes with support for RenderMan.
One of the most recognizable names on this list, Blender is incredibly popular due to its versatility. Everything from animation and video games modeling to 3D applications can be created, and graphic designers will love the simulated visual effects that can be implemented to a project effortlessly. It’s free and very much open source, with much of the development being driven by the lively Blender community.
Features within Blender include 3D modeling, texturing, particle simulation, UV unwrapping, skinning and rigging, animation, liquid and smoke simulation.
Vision Raytracer, more popularly referred to as POV-Ray, is an entirely free and open source ray tracing software available for pretty much any platform you can name. It has been in development, in one form or another, for over thirty years and has even been used on the International Space Station. To boot, it’s longevity as a program means that there is a huge amount of 3rd party support for the software.
Features Turing-complete scene description language (SDL), a library of ready-made objects, textures and scenes, several kinds of light sources and atmospheric effects, surface patterns and radiosity. This one is highly recommended for graphic designers in particular given the impressive results that can be achieved with it.
Quickly becoming common place within the modeling and graphic design community, Google’s SketchUp is geared towards open-ended sharing. Either working from scratch or by using a ton of free, pre-built objects, it’s a great tool for projects that will be worked on and shared between multiple team members. While it has something of a learning curve for beginners, the amount of support and tutorials available is unparalleled, and it also boasts an incredibly large and active community base around the globe.
Highly recommended for beginners or traditional graphic designers who only want to model occasionally, Art of Illusion offers an intuitive user interface and is stripped back of any distractions. At the same time, it does offer a few bells and whistles that aren’t prevalent in the other software listed on this page; the free access to online repositories, a live chat function which lets you tap straight into the fantastic AoI support community and an array of view modes.
Other features which come as standard include: Boolean operating; wireframe animation (complete with weight systems, constraints and reversed kinetics), texture mapping by face or vertex, fully customizable light refraction and scattering.
Know of any other free 3D Modeling Software we should be checking out? Don’t hesitate to share with the group via the comments below!