Ten Free 3D Imaging Programs

Written November 2nd, 2011
Categories: Articles

Sculpting life-like models without getting covered in clay is an appealing thought. Paying three and a half thousand dollars for the latest version of 3D Studio Max however, isn’t. While there will come a time when money will have to be invested, those new to the game of modeling would be better off starting with one of the many free programs available.


A popular 3D computer grahics software program, Blender 3D can be used to create anything from animated films and video games to visual effects and interactive 3D applications. Blender’s many features include 3D modeling, texturing, UV unwrapping, rigging and skinning, particle simulation, animation, fluid and smoke simulation, compositing, rendering and video editing. Blender is free, open source and, apart from a few full-time employees, is developed entirely by the community.


The Persistence of Vision Raytracer – better known as POV-Ray – is a freeware ray tracing program available for a number of computer platforms. The software was the first ray tracer to render an image in orbit. Features of the software include a Turing-complete scene description language (SDL), a library of ready-made objects, textures and scenes, several types of light sources and atmospheric effects, surface patterns and radiosity. One of the min attractions of POV-Ray lies in its vast network of third party support.


The Amabilis stable is full of well-bred things, and 3DCrafter is one of them. The program is free and allows users to create real-time 3D models and animation through an intuitive drag-and-drop approach. Eager sculptors can create complex models from simple 3D primitives to moving boxes or by using 3DCrafter’s shape-building tools. The interface is customizable so that only those items most frequently used are visible. Users who outgrow the program can upgrade – though at a cost.


As a no-frills, free animation and 3D modeling program, K-3D is a great addition to the scene. The software features a plug-in-oriented procedural engine for content and supports polygonal modeling, as well as featuring all the basic modeling and animation tools needed for patches, animation, curves and NURBS. Other fine features include RenderMan support, unlimited undo/redo and scripting. K-3D’s most notale feature is that it allows modelers to work on one side of their piece, view the mirrored other side, and then see the two wedded together as a real-time subdivision surface.


Good for newbies to the modeling scene, Art of Illusion is a free rendering and 3D modeling program. It makes use of a relatively simple interface while providing features, such as the use of online repositories, which are not found in similar proprietary software. Features include built-in ‘live help’ chat client for connecting to the free-node Art of Illusion support area; grid view and real-time display modes including wireframe, smooth and textured; Boolean modeling operations; skeletal animation with weighting, constraints and inverse kinematics; per-face, per-vertex, and per-face-per-vertex texture assignment; and adjustable index of refraction, scattering and eccentricity.


TopMod3d is a free, open-source modeling program – specifically, it’s a topological mesh modeling system for users seeking to create high genus 2-manifold meshes.


Anim8or is a freeware OpenGL-based animation and 3D modeling program. Anim8or’s interface is divided into four sections: an object editor, figure editor, sequence editor and a scene editor. Images may be rendered in any of the four editors – though lights and other graphical elements are restricted to the scene editor. Features of Anim8or include a 3D modeler with primitives such as cubes, spheres and cylinders; ray traced hard and soft shadows; environment maps and bump maps; and a character editor with joints.


Those looking for a shareware low polygon 3D modeling program can’t go far wrong with MilkShape 3D. The software boasts all the usual features such as scale, select, move, extrude, rotate, turn edge and subdivide. The program also allows low-level editing with the vertex and face tool. Although ostensibly simple, the program is popular with those creating models for video games. MilkShape 3D can export to Source, Unreal, id Tech, Lithtech and virtually every other major 3D game engines.


The otherwise costly Autodesk outfit allows would-be sculptors the chance to download its 3D modeling and animation program, Softimage Mod Tool, for free. The program is designed for all those interested in creating non-commercial games and ‘modding’ games. Softimage Mod Tool is based on the same professional toolset found in the Softimage 7.5 software. The program exports to the Microsoft XNA 3.0 framework.


Google SketchUp is an easy-to-use program designed for those who quickly want to create, share and present 3D models. Using the free program, modelers can build from scratch or download any necessary building blocks. An intuitive interface, extensive help center and a worldwide user community make SketchUp a good introduction for those new to modeling.

Special thanks to guest author Izzy for contributing her list!

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