With the boom of 3D printing technology, the demand for powerful 3D modeling software has also grown exponentially. Over the past couple of decades, we have seen the rise of multitudes of modeling software that offer specific unique features that cater to a certain sector, industry, or user. But the abundance of choice has left users in a dilemma over the perfect modeling software for their needs.
Choosing a 3D modeling software is a challenge for all types of users, especially new learners. To help you with this challenge, we have come up with a simple three-step guide so you can confidently choose the right 3D modeling software for you.
When deciding which 3D modeling software is best for your needs, ask yourself the following questions.
1. What’s my intended purpose?
This is the most important question to ask yourself. The core purpose for your use of 3D modeling software will greatly affect which software you should choose.
Learning/Teaching – As the popularity of 3D printing grows, more and more students are learning how to design and schools are putting greater emphasis on teaching this software. So, if you are a student or from the teaching faculty, then you need to search for software that satisfies your needs. Tinkercad, SelfCAD, and 3D Slash are popular software used by this category of users.
(Note: Most companies offer their software for free or at cheap subscription plans for students, schools, and colleges.)
Artistic modeling – Artistic or character modeling is another popular application of modeling software. Animators, game developers, and artists regularly use specific modeling software that gives them the freedom to create complex, unnatural, and abstract shapes and curves or corners. For such artistic needs, specific software like ZBrush, Mudbox, and Blender are used.
Structural models – These are the software used for creating construction designs, like houses, towers, bridges, stadiums, office spaces and retail shops. They take specific considerations into account to help architects efficiently design and analyze structures. Autodesk Revit, 3ds Max, and SketchUp are the popular choices.
Product development – This is another purpose-specific software category that calls for a different set of modeling software. This software can perform surface and parametric modeling to create dimensionally accurate designs, and it has perfectly straight and plain walls and uniform curves. Since this software creates most of the products that we see in our homes, they have to be repeatable, predictable, and reliable in their outcome. CATIA, NX, and Creo are popular software in this category.
2. What type of modeling do I want to perform?
It’s essential to decide this early when choosing modeling software.
Solid modeling – This is the computer modeling of three-dimensional solid objects and shapes like cubes, spheres, cones, and cylinders. Popular software like Tinkercad makes use of such a modeling technique. While it is easy to understand and learn, it is difficult to model complex parts in such software.
It’s ideal for kids, school students, new learners, and in academics for teaching modeling.
Mesh modeling – Also called polygon modeling, a polygon mesh is a collection of the vertices of a three-dimensional object. For mesh-based modeling, the vertices are controlled to manipulate the design of the object. Since all vertices are independent, this type of modeling is quite difficult and is generally used for designing models required in animation, computer graphics, figurines, etc.
Blender is a popular mesh modeling software.
Surface modeling – Surface modeling involves working with surfaces to create a 3D model. It mostly deals with the curves and contours of an object rather than the solid dense object beneath the surface. Due to this, it is mostly used to design surfaces, like those of aircraft or vehicles. However, it is not limited to surfaces as it is perfectly capable of creating complete 3D models like any other modeling software.
CATIA, NX, and Rhino are some of the most popular surface modeling software.
Parametric modeling – Parametric modeling is one of the most complex ways to design an object, but it is also one of the most competent and reliable types of software. As this software is built on a set of mathematical equations, the results are always consistent.
One of the most important features of parametric modeling is that attributes that are interlinked automatically change their features.
While designing any object, every single activity you conduct in the design is recorded separately and interlinked with the complete model, so that if any feature is changed the connected features also change according to the mathematical formula applied to them through the software. This real-world behavior is not found in solid or mesh modeling software.
SolidWorks, Fusion 360, and Creo are some of the popular parametric modeling software.
Read More: Best Free CAD Software for 3D Printing
3. What’s my budget?
This is a simple but crucial deciding factor that you should certainly consider.
Free – Most users, especially individuals, cannot afford a paid software as their income does not justify the costs. So they rely on reliable but free software. Tinkercad, SelfCAD, and FreeCAD offer free plans and are still powerful enough to create decent models.
Some advanced software also provides free trials (OnShape, Rhino) or free trial subscriptions (like Fusion 360). Some software, like SelfCAD, have paid versions but the cost is quite affordable and many hobbyists can easily bear those costs.
Paid – If you are willing to pay, then the world is full of great options to choose from. They range from cheap and affordable options to downright expensive. It completely depends on how much you can spend. An individual designer whose job is to design can often afford to buy a license for Onshape, Rhino, or Fusion 360. For an institutional user, options like CATIA, Creo, SolidWorks, and Autodesk Revit are some options to explore.
4. Do I need 3D printing compatibility?
Lastly, if you are using the software to create 3D-printable models, then you must also confirm the software’s compatibility with 3D printing. This means that the software should be able to export the 3D model in a compatible format like STL, OBJ, or STEP.
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