3D modeling software lets you create virtual three-dimensional objects that can be displayed in film, animation, TV, and video games, or for engineering and architectural purposes. You can even design objects that can be created in the real world using a 3D printer.
The best 3D modeling software is easy to use, compatible with multiple platforms, and integrates with other software. It should also be relatively affordable and offer features suitable for both beginners and designers with more experience.
Best Overall : Cinema 4D
Why We Chose It: Cinema 4D is 3D computer animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software with unique features and robust tools that offer both flexibility and customization.
Wide variety of industry-specific tools
Plans for individual and teams
May be too advanced for beginners
Expensive subscription-based plans
Cinema 4D is a 3D software suite designed for industry professionals. The software has a strong industry reputation even though it may not be as well known as some of the others on the list. Users are impressed by the quality of the animation, the number of tools, and that the new features are highlighted.
Cinema 4D is primarily used by filmmakers, animation experts, artists, and designers. It offers a palette of powerful tools, scene managers, asset browsers, customization options, and placement tools. It also includes real-time graphics, motion capture, and after-effects and offers multiple integrations and plug-in options.
Cinema 4D costs $94 per month or $719 annually for individuals and $999 annually for teams. This price includes the software, five team render notes, and an online library of tutorials and resources. If you need floating licenses, upgrades, or volume purchases, you’ll need to contact the company for more details.
Best for Beginners : Lightwave 3D
Why We Chose It: Lightwave 3D features powerful modeling and animation tools with an easy-to-use interface that is designed for independent artists and those with no prior experience.
30-day free trial
Easier to use than other 3D software
Includes motion systems and production tools
May be too pricey for beginners
Software is slightly outdated
Lightwave 3D is computer graphics software designed to be used by individuals and those with little design or 3D modeling experience. The software is used in films, TV, visual effects, digital painting, product design, architectural visualization, and more. Some of the top features include volumetric tools, simulated edges, specialty lights, and smoothing tools.
Beginners will like Lightwave 3D’s online tutorials, blogs, and forums that can help answer any questions about the software. You can also follow along with videos to find out all about each feature, including the newest ones.
Lightwave 3D offers a full commercial version of its software for a one-time price of $995 which includes supplemental content as well as both the Windows and Mac versions. You will need at least 4GB of available space, a 64-bit processor, and either Microsoft Windows 10 or macOS Sierra 10.12 or better. You can also try out Lightwave 3D free for 30 days before making an investment.
Best for Game Design : Autodesk 3DS Max
Why We Chose It: Autodesk 3DS Max is specifically created for animation, game design, and game visualization and is full of professional tools and features.
Industry-standard for game designers
Robust feature set
Wide range of plug-ins
Originally released in 1996, 3D Studio Max is primarily used by video game designers, architects, designers, and civil engineers who need to create realistic characters, products, and backgrounds. The software lets you complete full animation and character rigging as well as motion paths and real-life camera settings, which make this platform ideal for video game designers.
3D Studio Max is offered as a subscription for $1,700 per year, $4,590 for three years, or $215 per month. Financing plans may be available if you contact the sales team and there is also a free trial. You will need a 64-bit Microsoft Windows 10 edition to run the software, as well as a three-button mouse, 9GB of free disk space, and 8GB or more of free space.
3D Studio Max also offers strong customer support with live support, a learning center, online troubleshooting, helpful downloads, and forums. This is helpful for beginners or those without industry knowledge.
Best for 3D Printing : ZBrush
Why We Chose It: ZBrush is a visual sculpting software that offers free upgrades as they become available, easy 3D printing tools, and unique features such as controlled cloth sculpting.
Supports major 3D printing file formats
Hi-res geometry and optimized 3D scans
Subscription and perpetual licenses
Can be difficult to master
Interface not very user-friendly
Released in 1999, ZBrush offers tools for digital sculpting, 3D printing, texturing, and painting. You can print your designs and the software supports all major 3D printing file formats, saves your best versions, and can help share your work with other creators or team members. Features include rendering, environment maps, polypaint, detailed texturing, and custom digital paintbrushes and sculpting tools.
It can be a bit time-consuming to learn ZBrush if you’ve never used 3D modeling software before, but there is a huge user community with Facebook groups, community events, international summits, and seminars. The software was created by artists for artists and encourages a sense of community for creatives.
ZBrush offers a choice of subscription pricing at $39.95 per month or $179.95 for two months or a one-time cost of $895. Any option also gives you access to both Windows and Mac versions of the software. The site lists the exact system requirements and recommends a graphics tablet for better performance.
Best Value : Houdini Apprentice
Why We Chose It: Houdini Apprentice offers multiple versions of its software, including a free version with access to all of the modeling features for students and hobbyists.
Feature-rich free version
Paid plans customized by users
Tutorials created by industry professionals
Can’t make commercial projects with the free version
Difficult to learn
Houdini Apprentice is the free downloadable version of the Houdini software. It’s only available for non-commercial projects and is intended to be used by hobbyists and students who are learning about the industry and the software’s tools and features. Some unique features include lighting, procedural modeling, animation toolsets, and realistic fire and smoke simulations.
Apprentice is designed for students and hobbyists but the other versions are designed for professionals. No prior experience is necessary to use the software but you should read the tutorials so you know how to use the features. Houdini Apprentice requires a 64-bit Microsoft Windows 10 version or higher.
In addition to Houdini Apprentice, there are several other Houdini software products available for professionals including Indie, Core, and FX. Prices start at $269 per year to over $6,995 for a perpetual plan and floating licenses. The company has positive overall reviews and is well regarded in the industry for producing high-quality software full of high-performance features.
Best Features : Autodesk Maya
Why We Chose It: Autodesk Maya is a fast, creative toolkit with intuitive modeling tools and realistic effects.
Pre-built graphs to create special effects
Customizable color management tools
May be overwhelming for beginners
Autodesk Maya is 3D computer animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software used to create imaginary worlds, dazzling special effects, and complex characters. Some unique features include cloth simulation, interactive hair grooming, and a Bifrost Ocean Simulation System (BOSS) to create ripples and waves.
Maya costs $1,700 per year if pay annually, $215 per month, or $4,590 for three years. A free trial with 4GB of secure data storage is available, and you can contact the company for information on available financing plans. You will need a three-button mouse, at least 16GB plus 6GB of disk space for the install. It can be used on Windows 10, Linux, and macOS.
Maya offers a support and learning center with forums, troubleshooting, and download help, as well as live customer support. No prior experience is necessary but there may be a learning curve if you have no industry experience. The software also integrates with Arnold, 3Ds Max, and other third-party programs.
Some 3D software is easy to use and can be used by beginners and others are more complicated and require some industry experience and prior knowledge. Overall, we recommend checking out Cinema 4D. It’s loaded with features, placement tools, real-time graphics, and integrations with other popular software.
Compare the Best 3D Modeling Software
|Cinema 4D Best Overall||$719 per year||Windows 10 or macOS 10.13.6||Animation, modeling, rendering, and simulation|
|Lightwave 3D Best for Beginners||$995||Windows 10 or macOS 10.13.6||Animation tools for artists, production tools, and tone mapping|
|Autodesk 3DS Max Best for Game Design||$1,700 per year||64 bit Windows 10||Modeling, rendering, game design tools, and animation|
|ZBrush Best for 3D Printing||$39.95 per month or one-time payment of $895||Windows Vista or newer||3D sculpting tools, customize brushes, and paint virtual clay|
|Houdini Apprentice Best Value||Free to $6,995 one-time cost||64 bit Windows 10||Save to disk, render out with a word mark, modeling, character tools|
|Autodesk Maya Best Features||$215 per month or $1,700 per year||macOS 10.13.x and up or Windows 10 or higher||Animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering|
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is 3D Modeling Software?
3D modeling software is a specific type of software designed to help you create 3D objects and models. A mathematical coordinate-based formula is used to create 3D representations of surfaces of objects. This software is used in multiple industries including animation, film, television, video games, architecture, engineering, and design.
There are typically three main types of 3D modeling which include solid, wireframe, and surface. Each of these has different disadvantages and advantages and assist with different design elements.
How Does 3D Modeling Software Work?
3D modeling software is a computer graphics technique that produces a 3D representation of both objects and surfaces. The artist (software user) uses the software to manipulate vertices which are designated points in virtual space, and turn them into something called a mesh which is a collection of these vertices that when put together form an object.
The software uses faces, edges, and vertex to create an object. The software is preprogrammed with the mathematical equations and then the user designs and manipulates the objects for the desired outcome of animation or buildings, etc.
How Much Does 3D Modeling Software Cost?
3D modeling software varies vastly in its capabilities, based on whether it’s designed for amateurs or professionals, as well as its features and tools. There are a few free versions of software with limited features and the option to upgrade to a paid version with more features and tools.
Expect to pay anywhere from about $40 per month to over $5,000 per year for the more advanced software with multiple licenses.
What System Requirements Do I Need to Run 3D Modeling Software?
3D modeling software typically needs a graphics card and at least 16GB of RAM, but 32GB or more is required for some software. Keep in mind that there are apps for basic tools, but the more advanced features will require a desktop and may need more memory and certain system requirements.
What Can I Use 3D Modeling Software For?
3D modeling software can be used for a variety of things including:
- Special effects
- Character animation
- Building design and renderings
- Landscape design
- Video game characters
- Virtual reality
- Marketing campaigns
- Medical imaging
- 3D printing
We reviewed more than a dozen different 3D modeling software programs for this review. We chose companies with overall positive reputations and years of industry experience. We considered features and tools available, software integrations, operating systems, compatibility, and ease of use.