3D Modelers


There’s a variety of 3D modeling software offering many types of approaches for creating three-dimensional forms. Deciding which one to use will depend primarily on the style of work, the steepness of the learning curve, and how much the software costs.

Optimizing the 3D modeling experience

3D modeling software can be divided into two kinds of modelers, hard and soft modeling. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, yet by combining the software a workflow can be created that will optimize the 3D modeling experience.starfish1

For example, the concept is hard modeled as a geometric form with Sketchup Make. And then imported into a soft modeler (such as Meshmixer) for further working as an organic form. By using these two approaches, virtually anything can be modeled.




Soft modeling

Soft modeling works best for creating organic forms. By using an assortment of tools, such as flatten, pinch and smooth, the surface of a model can be shaped into realistic forms and textures. The following soft modeling software is recommended for its functionality and modest learning curve.



Meshmixer has a good variety of sculpting tools that can be adjusted for different characteristics, such as strength, size, and depth. It also utilizes a stencil feature which allows for the application of physical textures on the surface of the model. One of the most significant features of Meshmixer is its collection of parts. meshmixerA variety of primitives, shapes, and human and animal parts can be added together and transformed in countless configurations. These parts can be utilized to create base forms that can be reshaped later with the sculpting tools.

Meshmixer is provided free by Autodesk and it can be downloaded at their site http://meshmixer.com/download.html.



3D-Coat is a professional digital sculpting program that works more like real clay than most other programs. Using a voxel (volumetric) system, it actually carves into the model as a solid, rather than displacing the topological surface. This allows for digging into the actual form (creating negative space and holes) with much better results than other soft modelers.  3dcoat4

3D-Coat also has a powerful layers system called a voxtree. This allows modeling of complicated forms that have many parts. Individual parts of the model can then be isolated for specific modeling or they can be exported as individual parts for 3D printing. This creates the possibility of creating sculptural assemblages larger than the build volume of a 3D printer.

3D-Coat incorporates a 3D painting system as well. The model can be rotated and digitally painted with tools that work very similar as the tools in photo editing software. If your sculpture is to be painted with traditional materials, this can be a very quick means for pre-visualization.

3D-Coat is a commercial program offered by Pilgway and it can be downloaded at http://3dcoat.com/download/. A 30 day trial is available with all features intact. An amateur version with less features is available for 99 USD. Full professional version is 379 USD.


Hard Modelers

Hard modelers work more like CAD drafting programs. They create straight lines and curves with the precision of real world measurements. Because of these traits, they can be useful for creating parts that need to be precisely integrated with objects. They also model complex geometric forms with far greater ease than a soft modeler. The following hard modeling software is recommended for its functionality and low cost.

Sketchup Make

Sketchup Make has one of the lowest learning curves for a hard modeler. It works by drawing lines and basic shapes (such as rectangles and circles) and then extrudes these drawn shapes into a 3D model. sketch

It has an intuitive approach to modeling that makes it easy to build complex mechanical parts or geometric constructions that can be exported into other programs for soft modeling.

Sketchup Make is a free program offered by Trimble and it can be downloaded at http://www.sketchup.com/download. It begins with a 30 day trial as the Sketchup Pro version. The pro version costs 695 USD and adds more functionality, such as solid modeling tools.


Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is a powerful tool for creating industrial and mechanical designs. It models with a system of T-splines, which are mathematical representations of curves and surfaces. The learning curve for this software is moderately difficult due its many features.fusion3


One of it’s most significant features is its ability to create a shape around an imported mesh (such as a 3D scanned model) and copy the contour of the form. This provides the artist with a means for creating precise parts that can be attached to real world objects.

For an artist who works with hard edged forms that rely on geometric precision, Fusion 360 will provide the best tools for creating a 3D model.

Fusion 360 is a commercial cloud based program offered by Autodesk. It has a 30 day free trial with all features intact. Professional usage has a 30 USD cost per month or 300 USD cost per year. Hobbyist and startup companies can register for free use.


Up Next: Interfaces. Working with a 3D modeler is more enjoyable if it becomes more accessible as a tool in an artist’s hands. We’ll look at some affordable human interface devices.






Copyright 2016 Richard Salinas. All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.