For 3D modelers and visualization artists, the software you use is as important as anything for the success of your career or business. You’ve spent years mastering these tools, and with enough experience, they become a natural extension of your creative mind.
But, for newcomers and career-shifters, the list of 3D modeling software is as long as it is impossible to dissect by yourself. Depending on the visualization sub-industry you’re looking to break into, you should carefully consider which programs to learn first. With some guidance, and a bit of concentrated thought, you’ll be able to more forward confidently knowing you’re diving into the best, most well-suited modeling software available.
And, for you experienced visualizers looking to expand your tool set, the modeling programs on this list are the best place to start. These programs will not only make you more skilled, they will make you a better designer in the process.
Ten years ago I would have never considered to throw SketchUp on any ‘best of’ list in the visualization world. However, after using the program almost daily as an architect, I can confidently say that, for what it does, there are few modelers that offer more in terms of usability, speed, and design.
And it’s that last thing - design - where SketchUp truly shines. Being able to quickly model early concept designs, and change them within a few seconds, is a huge opportunity to streamline and solidify the design process. And, with a number of great plugins available, you can seamlessly translate those designs into real-world renderings.
While not quite as user-friendly as SketchUp, Rhino offers an infinitely more robust toolset for experienced modelers to sink their digital teeth into. Rhino has been a modeling mainstay in the architecture and design business for years, giving more complex design language the voice it needs to be heard by clients and the general public.
Rhino forces designers and artists to think critically about how the model will be expressed once rendered for final visualization. The powerful tools can be used to generate complicated curvilinear forms, and respond well to geometric constraints and inputs. Rhino is used by architects and designers because it can do much more than boxes and extrusions.
For architects and construction professionals, few 3D modeling programs offer more usability, precision, and informational context than Revit. And while many designers have criticized the program for its inability to wear both the designer and drafter hats, I’d argue that Revit can be used to make any architectural design better. The trick is in understanding what the software wants to do and how to use that to your advantage.
Revit is all about building and construction information. When you’re designing a space with real-world materials, that information can be directly translated to visualization. The rendering capabilities aren’t the best, but it can interface with a number of capable renderers that help transform Revit into a design loop magic wand.
Blender’s unique user-interface make it a difficult program to approach for newcomers and industry professionals alike. However, once you take the time to crack the code (it only takes a few hours of pointed study), Blender operates as well as any other high-end 3D modeler on the market. And...it’s entirely free to download and use!
Blender is a great tool for game designers and animators. It has many sculpting, vector, and mesh options that allow 3D designers to translate their concept art into the digital sphere without compromising the original idea. It also allows for refinement, development, and polish that will give your finished work the attention it deserves.
If you’ve managed to carve out a few months of your life to learn the ins and outs of Maya, then you are a better person than I am! Learning Maya is one of those bucket list items for me because I know just how powerful and useful it can be for all areas of 3D design. It makes you a better designer because it requires a kind of steady rigor and discipline that will then be impressed onto everything you do within it.
Maya is not for the half-assers of faint of heart. It is as a professional tool as their is, and only for artists who are dedicated to being the best at their job. It is a right of passage that this designer/writer has yet to tackle, but will as soon as he has the guts to take it on. Be better than me an learn Maya today.