Will we one day be able to design and build all objects around us just at the touch of a button? With one machine, one software and a lot of imagination we can design and build almost any objects, the only drawback are the materials used.
The potential of 3D printers is very high at the level of industrial and commercial use while 3D modeling software are used to transform any idea into a virtual model.
Choosing a 3D modeling software could be an easy task or a hard one. In this article, I make an overview of free modeling software from simple to complex in order to give for both beginners and advanced users the opportunity to build 3D models.
Having a 3D printer connected to a computer is not the final step to build physical objects. The next step starts with CAD software and finished with a 3D model designed to create real objects from plastic or other materials.
Software companies start the race to build friendly, precise and cheaper 3D modeling software. From software that runs on a computer, smart devices like iPad’s, or modeling tools that run in the browser, in the following are available a series of free tools with different features and ways of working.
Autodesk releases a series of free 3D modeling software for computers and iPad.
A series of free 3D modeling software was released by Autodesk company specialized in developing CAD, 3D animation, or architecture programs. The professional level of software was kept in the free version of modeling tools that can be used to design 3D models for 3D printers.
123D Design is one of the 3D modeling software that allows users to design and send the file directly to a connected 3D printer. The software has an intuitive interface and can be used for entry-level to advanced 3D CAD users.
123D Creature and 123D Sculpt are iPad software for modeling and printing custom objects. 123D Catch was designed for people who want to create an identical 3D model of an object seen in the environment. The user has to take a picture of the desired object from various angles and convert the object into a 3D model.
Tool for beginners with possibility to use free 3D models uploaded by a large community of designers.
Easy to use, simple interface and free – this is Google SketchUp. SketchUp is based on simple tools for drawing and can transform any 2D object in 3D model ready to be printed. With intuitive interface the tool is ideal for beginners to start modeling 3D objects or to use models from a very large library uploaded by a large community of designers.
Ideal 3D modeling software compatible with a series of 3d printers.
Simple, with support for Windows and Mac, ReplicatorG is ideal for building 3D models compatible with a series of 3D printers including here MakerBot Replicator, Thing-O-Matic, CupCake CNC, or RepRap self-replicating manufacturing machine.
Advanced modeling and animation software for professional CAD users.
Blender is a well-known name in the 3D modeling industry and comes in a free open-source version with support for almost all operating systems. Blender is developed by the Dutch animation studio and is used in different areas including here visual effects, animated films, 3D printed models, or interactive 3D.
Selecting its features, the Blender is one of the most professional and advanced modeling software with powerful characteristics and a detailed interface for advanced CAD users.
A combination of CAD software and programming.
OpenSCAD was added in this article for a special feature that makes from this tool a CAD software for programmers. Available in versions for Linux, UNIX, Windows and Mac OS X operating systems, OpenSCAD is designed to turn the text into a 3D model. In other words, the tool has the ability to create 3D models using a 3D compiler and in the same time the user has the control step by step in the process of modeling.
Simple program for designers and engineers.
Open-source simple program with support for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. The software was built for designers and engineers, and even so, it is one of the easy to learn program for modeling.
TinkerCad run in browser and can be used from anywhere having available the saved models.
TinkerCad is a free software designed to run in browsers like Firefox or Chrome. It has a simple interface with drag-and-drop building method, a powerful tool for students and hobbyists. An advantage compared with installed software is the ability to work from anywhere where is available a web browser connected to the Internet. The printing process is as easier like any other modeling software. Connect the 3D printer and print the object.
Web browser tool for modeling with intuitive interface and a series of tutorials available to start working in minutes.
Like TinkerCad, the 3DTin is another modeling tool designed to run in browsers. The users have the support to load existing models and change them. A series of tutorials are available to learn as quickly as possible the tool and start building 3D models. The printing process is simple: connect the printer and print the model.
Born in the labs of MIT, the program was designed to be used for complex modeling.
OpenFab is not yet released and was designed in the labs of MIT. The program was inspired by animation programs like Pixar’s RenderMan in order to build complex 3D models with support for modifying the surface and composition of the projects using commands instead update the design.