3d concept design software?

I’m looking for recommendations on 3d software for form+surface concept design of homeware products (mainly). I’m aware of sketching for ideation but this thread is specifically for 3d. I see there are already some threads but my needs are quite specific:

  1. Allows for quick, form concept modeling.
  2. Allows me to easily make variations and alterations.
  3. Can produce complex surfaces.
  4. Concepts only. Not going to be used for manufacture.
  5. Not too complex to learn and use - artist friendly.
  6. Allows me to learn it on my own, through the help of the internet.
  7. The software has a strong future.
  8. Not bothered about rendering ability or animation (can be done in other software)

I’d appreciate hearing from those who have experience in multiple packages.


Either Alias Studio or Rhino 3D but SoildWorks is parametric so it is easier to make changes and alterations in SolidWorks once you have the associations set up.

^— This.

Rhino or Alias both sound ideal. Rhino being the cheapest and easier to learn. Alias has some more powerful functionality for Class-A surfacing, but if you are mostly looking to pull some surfaces around Rhino is probably worth a shot first.

Both have free trials you can download to test.

The parametric ability of Solidworks seems very useful. Some people say it’s restrictive though. Would it hinder exploring freeform surfaces compared to the other two? And if I needed to straight model a complex form without making variations would either type be better?

Has anyone got experience with MoI or T-splines for Rhino?

I use Solidworks for soup-to-nuts design work. After rendering a bunch of variations the 3D model is available for all downstream activities (SLA, machining, tool making, quoting (part weights), etc.). Nice work flow.

Rhino is my choice for 3d “sketching.” I find it much more in line with trying to think through 3d forms than a parametric modeler like SolidWorks. You have the ability to make a surface, make another one, swap them out, move them around and basically think through your form. SolidWorks is useful for a final, manufacturable model, but it is difficult to create a model if your don’t have a set form in mind.

Deleted: posting problem

Direct modelling - enough said.

In fact - I would almost say that if you want 3D purely for the sake of experimenting with form and not actually manufacturing or 3D prototyping, that a more traditional package like Maya, Modo, or T-Splines for Rhino would also be valuable. Polygon/Sub D modelling allows you to get very complex forms MUCH quicker than many other means:

Case in point - this car (Polygon mesh on left and resultant Sub D mesh on right) was generated in probably less than 4-5 hours while still learning the tool.

To get the same result in NURBS or Solidworks would be a day or week long affair even for most seasoned pros.

Of course this all depends on what you really want to get out of the machine when you are done.

If you’re going to manufacturing starting in Solidworks will be faster than jumping between programs, but it sounds like that isn’t the case here.

Mmm, my posts haven’t been showing up in this thread.

I’ve heard a few people say that Solidworks is restrictive for concept modeling and that seems to be echoed here. To recap; when modeling a final form then either modelers are as good, but when concept modeling then it seems better to go with a non-parametric modeler.

Has anyone got any experience with any of the other smaller programs? And is T-Splines for Rhino the only avilable software for subd modeling with nurbs?

Probably the easiest of them all is actually Google Sketchup.

I know I know, it doesn’t allow for very complex shapes, and it’s a nightmare to deal with very curvy forms. But as far as fast concepts are concerned, it has never let me down. Once you learn the most complex tricks (which only require a bit of practice) you’ll be able to sketch (hence the name!) whatever you want in no time, and if you’re showing your work to clients, then 50% of your work is already done.

It allows you to present your models with your animations and annotations without the need for a render, and you can switch between very different display styles in a jiffy. There are even some good plugins that allow you to render your work with awesome results.

Best of all, it’s completely free :slight_smile:

Maya can convert Sub-D’s to NURBS patches.

Never a very pretty result - at least not one I’d want to use for anything other than rapid prototyping but it’s doable. Maya also has a small subset of NURBS tools for some functionality similar to what Alias will do.

Thanks guys. I’ve been looking into NPower’s new SubDNURBS tools and I can’t see any benefits over T-Splines. Are there any?

http://www.integrityware.com/tutorials/SubDNURBS.mp4 (video may take a while to load)

FYI - Modo Sub-d objects into SolidWorks http://files.solidworks.com/special-videos/tsElements-modo-demo.zip



hmmm. Maybe I’m the only one… I can’t seem to get away from 3ds max for concept stuff. I can work up just about anything in no time. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rhino, but I just “think” in 3ds max. So I go from 3ds to Solidworks.

The nice thing about using NURBS during the concept phase is that it gives you a good starting point, not to mention good practice, for creating final surfaces. Sub-d and polys may be faster in the beginning, but you’ll have to start almost completely over if you want accurate, manufacturable surfaces that you have complete control over.

Absolutely…Sub D’s may be very good for extremely complex forms as well, but given the types of products I design I can usually resolve all of my details in NURBS very quickly. It also never brings into the question of “can you actually make this?” since I have a good idea while I’m building things which direction I could pull parts from, where I am going to have challenges, etc.

With good history or a combination with a parametric tool as well it allows for a lot of flexibility down the line. I can make a bunch of prototype parts using different base forms with the same details, or change the details on the same forms, etc.

But I can see polys having a benefit in certain areas of ID without a doubt.