3D Design
Jun 2023
Gregory Markov

The Best Software for 3D Modeling

Artwork by Damien Guimoneau

Starting a modeling artist career might be daunting, especially when it comes to selecting the design software you want to specialize in. What’s the difference between 3ds Max and Maya? Is it easy to design a character in ZBrush? Which software is used in the movie industry?

In this article, Gamedev Punks will provide a guide to nine major 3D suites. You will learn their distinctions, unique features, and fields of application, helping you decide on the best software for your needs.


Blender is a free and open-source 3D creation suite. It can handle everything from modeling and rigging to compositing and even video editing. Such functionality provides a seamless workflow for studios and a comprehensive learning platform for beginners. It is an exceptional tool for both professionals and newbies.

Blender's open-source nature has built a vast developer community that consistently extends its functionality to compete with paid alternatives. Free distribution and a user-friendly interface have made it easy to find numerous online tutorials and resources, providing relevant training for many 3D modeling tasks.

Unique Feature

Blender's Grease Pencil allows artists to create and edit 2D animations within the 3D space. It offers an intuitive bridge between 2D and 3D design, enabling artists to incorporate 2D sketches into 3D projects. It's a fantastic tool for storyboarding, 2D animation, or even roughing out 3D components.

Application Fields: Video Game Development, Animated Film Production, Visual Effects Creation, Architectural Visualization, 3D Printed Model Design

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux

Price: Free

Autodesk 3ds Max

Autodesk 3ds Max is a favorite among game developers, interior designers, and architects. It goes beyond basic modeling to include features like skeletal rigging, cloth simulation, and character controls for bipedal motion. A wide range of what are known as modifiers makes the creation process faster than in other Autodesk products.

Users can generate high-quality images using its extensive range of rendering systems. Should a user require additional functionality or a specific visualization mode, 3ds Max's plugin system allows the integration of third-party solutions. However, users should exercise caution because too many plugins can occasionally cause instability.

Unique Feature

3ds Max's Slate Material Editor offers a node-based workflow for creating complex materials. It allows users to visualize the structure of a material in a clear, logical way, which can be especially beneficial for beginners learning to create their own materials.

Application Fields: Video Game Development, Architectural Design, Industrial Design, TV Commercial Production, Visual Effects Creation

Platforms: Windows

Price: $235/month

Autodesk Maya

Autodesk Maya is an industry-standard 3D software heavily used in film, TV, and gaming industries. It excels in character design, offering artists and animators robust features for modeling, movement, and the simulation of natural elements like water, fire, sandstorms, and explosions. The Maya Embedded Language (MEL) is another crucial feature providing users with advanced computer skills to automate their workflows.

Maya is a highly advanced tool for professionals seeking high-quality results, but its complex interface may prove challenging for beginners. Still, once you master Maya, transitioning to other modeling software becomes significantly easier.

Unique Feature

Bifrost Graph Editor allows Maya users to create stunning effects procedurally. It's a potent tool for creating complex simulations, like water, smoke, and explosions, allowing users to understand particle systems in-depth.

Application Fields: Video Game Development, Feature Film Animation, Commercial Advertising Production, Design Visualization, Visual Effects Creation.

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux

Price: $235/month


ZBrush provides a unique approach to 3D modeling. Artists can use its innovative brush system to sculpt digital clay in real-time. This modeling method is highly favored by concept art designers, filmmakers, and game developers, as it allows for the use of pressure-sensitive pens and graphics tablets, leading to an organic and intuitive workflow.

ZBrush requires a steep learning curve due to its unconventional modeling approach. However, those with experience in physical sculpting might find it easier to adapt to ZBrush than to any other software.

Unique Feature

ZSpheres tool offers an intuitive way to create base mesh quickly. Users can manipulate a series of connected spheres to form a rough shape, then convert this into a mesh for detailed sculpting. This feature is excellent for beginners, as it allows the quick creation of complex organic shapes with a relatively simple interface.

Application Fields: Video Game Development, Film/TV Effects Creation, Toy/Product Design, Scientific Illustration, Educational Content Creation

Platforms: Windows, macOS

Price: $39/month

Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D is a complete 3D modeling, animation, motion graphic design, and rendering application. Known for its seamless integration with other professional software like Adobe Photoshop and After Effects, Cinema 4D enables artists to work fluidly across different applications. Its standout feature, the MoGraph toolset, provides a powerful procedural modeling and animation solution that motion graphics artists find invaluable.

A significant feature of Cinema 4D is its intuitive and user-friendly interface, making navigation easy for beginners. This is one of the reasons it's often the go-to choice for artists new to 3D, along with many modeling courses available online.

Unique Feature

With BodyPaint 3D, artists can paint directly onto their 3D models. This feature brings the intuitive nature of painting in 2D to the 3D space, allowing for detailed texturing and refinement of models. It's a great feature for beginners transitioning from 2D to 3D design.

Application Fields: Broadcast Graphics Production, Motion Design, Product Visualization, Architectural Visualization, Video Game Development

Platforms: Windows, macOS

Price: $60/month

Rhinoceros 3D: Rhino

Rhino shines when precise modeling of curved surfaces is critical, such as when designing vehicle bodies, aircrafts or capturing the intricacies of a human face. Users can sculpt objects, adapt LIDAR scans, and work with meshes imported from other systems.

Rhino supports plugins, providing a robust platform for creating custom extensions. However, Rhino's rendering and animation capabilities are less sophisticated than some other specialist software.

Unique Feature

Grasshopper is a visual programming language environment that allows you to create complex parametric models. It's a powerful tool for design automation and generative design, which can be incredibly useful for those interested in architectural and industrial design.

Application Fields: Industrial Design, Product Design, Architectural Visualization, Jewelry Design, Automotive Design

Platforms: Windows, macOS

Price: $195 for Student Edition

Autodesk Fusion 360

Fusion360 is a cloud-based 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE tool in one compact package. It integrates design, mechanical engineering, and machining into a single platform, making it an excellent choice for product development. As a cloud-based tool, it allows real-time collaboration among team members.

While beginners might find Fusion 360 complex, they can ease the steep learning curve and achieve the necessary technical proficiency with numerous online tutorials and the support of an active user community.

Unique Feature

Fusion 360 integrates Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) into its toolset. This feature allows users to plan, simulate, and execute machining operations from within the same software the model was designed, streamlining the process from design to production.

Application Fields: Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering, Product Development, Fabrication, Collaborative Design Projects

Platforms: Windows, macOS

Price: $70/month


Houdini, a high-end 3D animation software, is known for its procedural approach to modeling, which offers tremendous flexibility in creating complex scenes. Its primary strength is in creating sophisticated visual effects.

The application also offers a range of specialized modeling tools for specific tasks. For example, it includes tools for creating and editing digital terrain and landscapes, such as heightfield modeling. These tools enable artists to generate realistic terrains with detailed control over elevation, erosion, and other landscape features.

Unique Feature

Houdini's DOPs let you build complex simulations such as fluids, cloth, and rigid body dynamics. It's a unique feature allows you to layer effects and simulations in a procedural, non-destructive way, providing flexibility and control over your creations.

Application Fields: Film and TV Production, Video Game Development, Motion Graphics Production, VR Content Creation, Architectural Visualization

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux

Price: $269/year for Indie Edition


Modo is a versatile 3D modeling, rendering, and animation software known for its excellent polygon and subdivision surface modeling, a responsive and customizable user interface, and advanced sculpting tools. Modo also supports a wide range of file formats, allowing easy integration into any workflow. It's a comprehensive tool suitable for artists of all levels.

Unique Feature

Replicators in Modo allow you to efficiently generate large amounts of geometry, like a forest of trees or a crowd of people, without consuming massive amounts of memory. This feature allows environment artists to populate their scenes with complex, detailed elements without slowing their professional workflow.

Application Fields: Advertising and Marketing Content Creation, Video Game Development, Film and TV Production, Design Visualization, Virtual Reality Content Creation

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux

Price: $71/month

The world of 3D modeling software offers multiple options for aspiring and experienced artists. From Blender's comprehensive, open-source offerings to the precise capabilities of Rhinoceros 3D: Rhino, there's a tool for every art project. You can specialize in a particular software or develop diverse skills across multiple platforms, enhancing your artist's resume and increasing job opportunities in a related field.

With many 3D modeling tools offering unique features suitable for a variety of projects, from a medieval scene to a futuristic cityscape, an artist's choice of software can be as eclectic as their artistic talent.

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