How to Choose the Best 3D Software for You

Hey everyone. So I’ve been doing a lot of stuff lately in the education space IRL, and I see this all the time online as well - people want to know what software they should use to make a 3D printable model, or prototype, or game model - whatever.

Usually the answer they get is “use X or Y package”, because the actual answer is really in depth and requires the user to have a larger understanding of the mechanisms behind creating 3D geometry than just what tools to use.

To address this, I wrote this article as something to help both newbies getting into the world of 3d modeling, and for professionals looking to learn more about other modeling techniques that they might not encounter in their day to day.

I hope people find it at least as informative and fun to read as I found it to write!

Here’s the link!

EDIT: Based on feedback from around the net, several updates have been added, with details about the sculpting process and different sculpting packages.

There’s also an article that explains polygons and 3D printing, that should be read before this one. Some people have expressed confusion at terms used in this article that were explained in the previous one, so here it is.

Nice overview. The only critique I’d lend is that the software section gets a bit anecdotal. I know you state that they’re only your thoughts on software, but to an impressionable young mind you might be making overly bold claims in some cases.

My nitpicks:

  • 3DSMax is indeed old but it’s far from deprecated. Close to 100% of the architects I know use 3DS in their workplaces, including people at RMA, BIG, et al.
  • Maybe add that Alias is extremely popular in transport design
  • Since you touch on 3D printing in the post, might as well mention MeshLab and netfabb for their mesh cleanup and repair tools, since that is inevitably a part of producing physical objects from polygonal data

Hey hatts, thanks for the feedback. I’ve changed the description of 3DS Max to be more fair and less dismissive.

Good point about Alias.

I’ll also mention MeshLab and netfabb, which is a great point as well.

New article up; “Modeling for Industrial Design

Strictly speaking from my own experience in the POP (Point of Purchase) industry, two programs that I think warrant at least a mention are:

  • FormZ
  • Strata 3D

Industrial Designers can tackle problems as diverse as how an aircraft cockpit looks and feels, to how the touchscreen interface works on their phone.

The look, feel, and > interface > of your latest smartphone are all part of the industrial designer’s responsibility

That’s a UI/UX Designer’s job.

I disagree Playdo. From my personal experience, having an industrial design background added to my already existing UI/UX designer background. I found both to be complimentary in many respects. My graphic design background also helps me to lay out both interfaces and graphics on industrial design products. I see them all as very interlinked.

skyarrow; I have no experience in the POP industry. I will be writing several articles. The ones I already have planned are modeling for video games, computer graphic animations, and 3D Printing. I would like to collaborate with an engineer on writing an article about modeling for engineering. Do you think POP would merit its own article?


I don’t know that POP warrants it’s own article, I just wanted to mention those other two programs as I’ve run into both of them multiple times at multiple companies. I myself have an ID background as do many of the POP designers I’ve worked with in my career - POP is more of an often overlooked little corner of the general industrial design profession.

Both FormZ and Strata have fairly low price points and have some pretty powerful features that should be useful to just about anybody looking to get into 3D Modelling / Rendering. Obviously not the biggest names out there, but certainly worth a look (and I think more widely used than some of the other software that did make it to the list).

I like the idea behind what you’re doing here - with so many choices on the market it can be daunting to try and pick one to jump in with.

By interface, you’re referring to the user interface of the software, right?

It is strange many of you are missing the big boys 3D CAD packages. They are much more powerful and is used by many product development companies. I am talking about Creo, Catia, Siemens NX.

@Playdo: Yes - do you feel that the the industrial designer’s job on the iPhone ended with the physical form alone?

@Monkeey: I have no experience with those packages, and they’re all engineering grade packages from what I understand. I’ve been thinking of doing a separate article on modeling for engineering, I might put it there.

You’re saying that UI/UX design is an Industrial Designer’s responsibility. It isn’t. It’s a UI/UX Designer’s role. In cases where an IDer is involved in it, as per the case with Jony Ive running Apple’s software team (which I presume you’re referring to), he is acting as a UI/UX Designer. Alongside a bunch of UI/UX Designers and developers.

You wouldn’t search for UI/UX Designer jobs under ‘Industrial Designer’. And it would be hard to find any UI/UX Designer jobs advertising for Industrial Designers. Although there are similarities between the two fields, there are also big differences in requirements.

You’re getting mixed up with what an Industrial Designer may be capable of, and may occasionally be involved with, with what the job titles actually mean.

Probably getting off topic, but while some UI/UX designers have come from ID backgrounds, they are typically different jobs held by different people. Even though ID may work with the UI/UX teams, it’s similar to saying ID is not ME. Even though we may dabble and some of us may design enclosures full time, they are generally different people.

We have an ID team and a UX team, and while many of our UX members come from ID backgrounds (Especially when you are working with hardware) they have a dedicated skill set that is different from ID.


I went to school for both UX and ID. I understand that they’re separate fields and the requirments of each. All I’m saying is that there’s a lot of crossover, where it was my impression that you were/are saying they’re totally exclusive - but it sounds like this maybe isn’t the case?


Yea I get that. :slight_smile:

InvertedVantage, you wrote that the Industrial Designer is responsible for the look and feel of the smartphone, and for its UI. I just pointed out that that is not entirely correct, in case you wanted to correct your article.

It’s cool that you’re creating these resources. You’re covering several fields, so it’s not easy to get everything spot on - But don’t be to blame for those kids turning up at ID school wanting to design the next iOS :wink:

Ah, I see what you’re saying. While it’s true that an industrial designer is not responsible for the UX in many cases, they (we) have skills that are applicable to their design.

For instance, one example I always like to use is shortcut keys. A programmer or digital-only UX designer may choose to do the logical thing and assign shortcut keys on a first-letter basis. M is for Move.

An industrial designer would think about the human factors, and from that logic, they might choose to place the keys centered around a single key, so W is Move but then every other key is centered around W. The program is made more efficient to use through shortening the travel time for a person’s hand.

There are other factors, such as how easy you want to make the program to pick up without a tutorial video, but this is certainly a UX problem where the solution can be found to have roots in ID.

That being said, I agree that people shouldn’t go to an ID school expecting how to build a GUI. But they could expect to go to ID and learn the skills that are necessary to design a UX experience - even if it’s not directly taught.

At this point what I’m trying to do is list general skills that are considered “special” to one branch of design (video game, industrial, etc), and talking about how they can be applied elsewhere. I suppose I’m trying to break these multiple specialized branches down into a few common elements.

Am I making sense?

A Designer’s aim, in any field, is to create the best solution to the brief. The human factors, efficiency, and ease of use, as in your examples, are problems that a good UX Designer would solve. I’m not sure why you view them solely as ID skills.

And UI/UX Designers would have developed many skills that an IDer typically wouldn’t. Coding, information architecture, wireframing, graphic design, platform requirements, etc.

Sure, you can use the skills learnt in ID as a basis for UI/UX design, and then learn the extra skills neccessary to be a UI/UX Designer, and then put together a UI/UX portfolio and apply for those positions. But it doesn’t make your original statement correct.

Interesting to know maybe that Alias is only 4200$ for the standard Alias Design, which in my opinion doesn’t offer much more than Rhino at a still 4x price point. If you want to use Alias for its main market (automotive surfacing) then you’re running closer to the 20000$ mark. It’s a high end, niche product and it is priced to match!

They actually restructured the functionality 4-5 years back and moved the key surfacing functionality into Alias Surface (which used to lack commonly used and important surfacing tools). You lose the sketching functionality but not much else in Surface. It’s more expensive (~$8-10k?) but cheaper than the $60k we used to pay for a seat of Auto Studio.