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Best Software to Learn 3D Modelling / 3D Design

Hey everyone,

I’d love your input into what software I should be looking at to start learning how to design for 3d printing. I’d like to think that I’ll eventually be doing character modelling, but realistically that looks super hard and I don’t have that much free time. I’d mostly be using it to make small useful things like car mounts for my phone, or little grinders and things like that. Any suggestions based on your experience would be greatly appreciated!


Hi Dario,

While SketchUp isn’t the best tool for modelling printable models it’s a pretty good place to start for those kinds of things. It’s also free which is nice. There are a ton of video tutorials on youtube. The first thing you’ll need to do though is to go into the plugin directory and install the STL plugin.

TinkerCAD, is also pretty good…in fact the whole 123dapp suite ( ) is pretty good and all free.

If you do want to try your hand at character modelling, try Skulptris.

Have Fun!


Blender is free. It may take awhile to get use to the interface but it has all the tools you would need to do any sort of modeling, texturing, and rigging.

If you want to create engineering designs (‘useful things’), you should look into parametric CAD tools. These are tools like OnShape, Solidworks, and Autodesk Inventor. Onshape has a free tier and I believe Inventor does as well if you’re a student. In these tools, you describe parts piece by piece (eg 10"x3" rectangle -> extrude 4" -> cut out this square -> round edges by 0.5"), which leads to a workflow well suited to creating engineering designs.

If you want to create basically any other design (‘pretty things’), look into any of the mesh based CAD tools. These tools let you manipulate the raw polygons or curves that make up your model, allowing for a lot more creative freedom. The downside is that they’re not as well suited to creating functional designs. These are the tools like Blender, Rhino, 3ds Max, and Maya.

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Hey Dario!

If you’re aiming to be doing character modeling at some point then you need start working with ZBrush. Sooner rather than later. For character modeling that is hands down the best tool so don’t be afraid to jump right into it.

For simpler things like car mounts you can go either Maya/3DSMax or, as suggested, a CAD software which is more mechanical.

If you feel like you might need help to learn ZBrush/Maya (the software I use and can help with) you can also message me and I’ll help out as much as I can.
Good luck!


Wow, thanks for all the replies everyone! There are some great suggestions here. I’ll take a look at both sides of the design tools (parametric like solidworks, and more sculpting like Zbrush). I think I can get a good deal on a couple programs through my job but I’ll probably just start with something like Blender or 123D to get my feet wet and keep downloading stuff to print for the more advanced things.

I’m sure I’ll have more questions soon, thanks!

If you are interested in learning zbrush the core modeling component is available as a free standalone here:

Also I recommend watch a bunch of getting started with Blender tutorials before you even open the program, the amount of buttons and options can be completely overwhelming, especially if you’ve never done any modeling before.


I use Autodesk Fusion 360 and it is really good software.

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Found this list of 3d software on Link

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3D Coat is free and supposed to be on-par with Zbrush.

Onshape is a free cloudbased CAD, that is quickly becoming very popular with hobbyist and printers-for-hire. And is being developed by the makers of Solidworks.


It’s really cool to see all these lists of software @tanya_Wiesner that’s a solid list, and there are a few there I wasn’t aware of. @Gene_Crady I hadn’t heard of either of those two. I pretty much use Geomagic Design exclusively these days for everything. It’s definitely got a learning curve, and it’s not cheap, but at the end of the day I’m about 10 times faster modeling pieces and for the complex assemblies with moving parts I haven’t found anything free that comes close to working as well. Though I have to say I’m tempted by RhinoCAD. They have a 2 month free trial which should be enough time to get a feel for it and I’ve seen beautiful work done in it.

Yes, that is a great list. (I’ll probably print it and hang it on the wall, as a toolbox check list).
Good website too, has an article about architectural elements that is relevant to my interest in learning CAD design.
I’ve spent 1yr sampling lots of “free” CAD and Modeling programs, and it’s time to get serious about picking dedicated programs to become proficient with. Onshape and Blender seem like good entry-level programs for me, that this moment, you never know what is coming out next week, lol.

The list was also missing a new Gcode slicer/controller program, “Ideamaker”. Has built-in “model free-cut”, and “file repair”. Helps to cut the print-workflow down substantially.

Hey everyone,

This is such a frequently asked questions, and the community input has been wonderful!

In the future, we’re hoping to release a blog post with a deeper look on the free softwares available to 3D designers. That includes scanning and file checking. While it’s not comprehensive on ALL the softwares out there, hopefully it covers enough that a new designer can find a software that’s to his style (mesh/solid, hardware considerations, etc.)!

Keep an eye out, and I’ll add a link to the post when it’s released :slight_smile:

Cool, don’t forget photogrammetry. (a la: 123dCatch)
I think photogammetry could easily become a good starting point for design beginners(me).
Whitney Potter, aka: “Shapespeare” on thingiverse, and co-host of the podcast “3dprintingtoday”, uses it to reproduce objects from: hand-size, to building-size. There will still be some post-editing required, but he shares all of the free programs and techniques he uses.

Of course, taking 60 photos @6degree increments, OR 120photos @3, may not sound like fun, and then having to crop-out everything around it, but after that, just letting the software do all the hard-work (hats-off to the real mesh designers), can reproduce some pretty impressive results.
(^^^facto: that is what scanning software, and equipment, does for you automatically)

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A topic I get asked all the time as well, and some great responses on here. Just thought I’d post the article @Karen mentioned, which I wrote for Pinshape all about free software to not only model your design ideas, but also move between different file types or 3D scan - all without paying a cent!

Obviously you can only do so much with a free program, and once you’ve sampled a few and found what works for you, most will have more advanced software that you’ll be able to move into quite easily if you’re enjoying it.

Happy designing :smile:

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I know this is an older topic, but Orchard is a new platform for crowdsourced design ( ). It’s essentially Pinshape with an “Edit” button.
It has:

  • free 3D modeling tools (more like engineering CAD w/ parametric sketches)
  • a library of editable 3D objects
  • fabrication tools (order a 3D print, or download the STL of the 3D objects)
  • it’s all built into the browser

It’s currently in Beta. You should give it a try!

I recently found another free software SelfCAD (SelfCAD) which is similar to TinkerCAD and Blender, but was very easy to learn. Usually in TinkerCAD when I went to perform something, I have to go through many clicks to accomplish what I want, which i found, when teaching, students would often get lost in the process. SelfCAD has fixed this for those students.

Also, SelfCAD has sculpting which is a bonus.:sunglasses:

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I know this post is old, but…

I second the use of Rhino 3D. I’ve used it for 10+ years, and love it. It has limitations, but most software types do.

You can download it free, and use it as much as you want. It will only save 25 times, then you have to buy it, but you can at least practice with it forever. It costs about 1000 US dollars, but if you are a student, the price is about 250.

You can use it to render your model and make photo-realistic images (with an add-on program like “Brazil,” another 250 dollars for students). You can work with meshes and cut them into pieces. you can export your CAD model as an stl, and you can communicate well with SpaceClaim, a fairly new and powerful software that is good for direct modeling and reverse engineering. Plus, I found Rhino fairly intuitive to learn.


i suggest rhino 3d since ive been using it too

For those more interested in editing and repairing stl files, I read this nice article about how to make your 3D print file ready for successful printing: It’s quite interesting