Top Ten 3D Modelling Software – Beginner to Professional

Top ten 3d modelling software - beginner to professional

With the growth in popularity of 3D printing, the CAD software market has boomed. We explore the most popular – from free 3D software through to premium packages.

April 7, 2021

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CAD software is used in the mechanical design process, allowing users to create, modify, analyse and optimise a design. The key benefit of 3D software is that it allows us to build a component in a virtual space, enabling the visualisation of its physical geometry as well as visual aesthetics, aiding in the product development cycle and digitising steps in what used to be a largely physical prototyping process. We take a look here at some of the most popular CAD software.

#1 Tinkercad

Popular with hobbyists, this free 3D software is great as an introduction to CAD and is used in schools to provide entry-level experience.

  • Cost: Free.
  • User profile: Beginners/hobbyists.
  • PC requirements: Low.
  • Training: Great resources available on the website including online classes and videos.

Advantages:

  • Extensive library of pre-built objects.
  • Saves directly to the cloud.
  • In-built integration to some third-party 3D printing services.

Disadvantages:

  • Simplistic; complex designs are not possible.

#2 Wings3D

Developed largely for low to mid-range polygonal modelling, Wings3D is great for creating models for 3D printing if you are looking for an organic shape.

  • Cost: Free.
  • User profile: Beginners, but has scope to accommodate more complex requirements.
  • PC requirements: Very low.
  • Training: Whilst there are plenty of training materials available, they have been developed by the user community and there is nothing formal from the developers.

Advantages:

  • Full tool set subdivision modeller.
  • Many supported file types for working in existing 3D workflows.
  • Virtual mirror for extremely fast and powerful symmetrical modelling.
  • Full support for 3D printing and supports many file types.

Disadvantages:

  • Bundled documentation is limited and relies on the on-line forums.
Image: Wings3D

#3 3D Builder

3D Builder was developed by Microsoft with 3D printing in mind. Not only does it contain the essential modelling tools for a 3D product development process, but it also contains features designed specifically to prepare your finished model for 3D printing.

  • Cost: Free to Windows 10 users.
  • User profile: Beginners.
  • PC requirements: Very low.
  • Training: Limited, very simple online training aids.

Advantages:

  • Specific tools for manipulating and preparing objects for 3D printing.
  • Simple to use.
  • A large existing project library.

Disadvantages:

  • Very limited outside of basic use.
  • Poor documentation and resources.

#4 Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is intended as part of an integrated product development process, with CAD software connected directly to CAM, CAE and PCB so that the engineering, electronics and manufacturing processes are all held in their cloud-based platform. There is dedicated 3D printing support but it is not as developed as some other 3D software packages.

  • Cost: Free for hobbyists, start-ups and educational use. £430 per year for professionals.
  • User profile: Intermediate/professional.
  • PC requirements: Resource-heavy, requiring a lot of memory for larger projects.
  • Training: Great learning resources on their website.

Advantages:

  • Extremely powerful modeller.
  • The cloud platform stores the entire history of the modelling process.
  • Facilities for design teams to collaborate on projects.
  • Wide ranging support for file types.

Disadvantages:

  • Live development risks functional changes mid-project.
  • Steep learning curve for users.
Image: Formlabs

#5 Rhino 7

This CAD software package uses the NURBS mathematical model to create precise curves and freeform surfaces – an alternative to the polygonal model. This popular software option is used widely for 3D printing and computer-aided manufacturing processes.

  • Cost: €995 for a one-off commercial license, €195 for students.
  • User profile: Intermediate .
  • PC requirements: Resource heavy.
  • Training: There are a wealth of online training resources and good documentation in support.

Advantages:

  • Extremely powerful free-form modelling tools.
  • Read and repair meshes for 3D printing.
  • Good support for varying file types.

Disadvantages:

  • Steep learning curve.

#6 Blender

Blender is an open-source 3D software option. It supports a wide range of functions from 2D animation and video editing through to product development and simulation.

  • Cost: Free.
  • User profile: Intermediate/professional.
  • PC requirements: Can be run on low-end machines but higher spec configurations are recommended.
  • Training: Online documentation and tutorials, with a huge community support forum.

Advantages:

  • Extremely well featured.
  • Powerful 3D modeller.
  • Massive community and resources.
  • Good file type support.

Disadvantages:

  • Extremely complex.
  • Very steep learning curve.

#7 FreeCAD

Designed specifically for product development, this open-source CAD software uses parametric modelling to enable you to go back to previous design iterations within your model history and change its parameters.

  • Cost: Free.
  • User profile: Intermediate.
  • PC requirements: Very low, though larger projects can be demanding.
  • Training: Poor learning resources, although there is comprehensive documentation.

Advantages:

  • Excellent modelling tools including FEA and parametric modelling.
  • Good support for file types.
  • Modular design makes it infinitely extendable.

Disadvantages

  • Very steep learning curve.
  • Stability can be an issue.

#8 SOLIDWORKS

With a 25 year history of supplying CAD software into engineering businesses, SOLIDWORKS is a well-known and trusted name for product development and computer aided manufacturing processes.

  • Cost: Licences cost around £3,500 with annual maintenance of £1,500.
  • User profile: Professional.
  • PC requirements: Very heavy, with dedicated graphics accelerators required.
  • Training: Excellent support and tutorials online.

Advantages:

  • Great 3D modeller with good tools, including FEA, weight and centre of gravity analysis.
  • Intuitive user experience.
  • Excellent support and ongoing development.
  • Multiple file types supported.

Disadvantages:

  • Resource heavy with larger assemblies.
  • Stability issues.

#9 AutoCAD

Aimed at professional architects, engineers and construction professionals, AutoCAD is used for both 2D and 3D modelling. Although it does offer some 3D printing support, this isn’t its primary intended usage.

  • Cost: £1,986 per licence annually.
  • User profile: Professional.
  • PC requirements: Can be run on low-end machines but higher spec configurations are recommended.
  • Training: Excellent training with a full Academic Partners Programme. Huge on-line resource library.

Advantages:

  • Extremely accurate for 2D drafting and 3D modelling.
  • Scope for managing extremely large and complex projects.
  • Extremely mature.
  • Good support for file types.

Disadvantages:

  • Steep learning curve.
  • Time intensive design/drafting process because of its accuracy levels.

#10 CATIA

Developed with product design and experience in mind, both from a product development and manufacturing processes perspective, CATIA’s unique selling point is that it allows the designer to experience the product in its environment. It also offers unrivalled 3D printing and manufacturing support.

  • Cost: £9,700 per licence plus £1,700 maintenance annually.
  • User profile: Professional.
  • PC requirements: Very heavy resource requirements including dedicated graphics accelerators.
  • Training: Extensive support and training available, including e-learning.

Advantages:

  • Well developed 3D modeller with unparalleled functionality.
  • Excellent support for production with dedicated analysis for various manufacturing types.
  • Mature – almost industry standard.

Disadvantages:

  • A huge package that is difficult to learn.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geomiq. Examples of analysis performed within this article are only examples. They should not be utilized in real-world analytic products as they are based only on very limited and dated open source information. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of any Geomiq Employee.