The Best Free 3D Software to Download

No-cost modeling, animation, and rendering software

3D image on tablet
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The number and variety of 3D software packages on the market is pretty staggering, but unfortunately, many of the top applications in use by commercial film, games, and effects studios cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

It's true that most commercial applications offer time-limited free trials, or even abbreviated learning additions for students and hobbyists—if you're looking to one day work in the computer graphics industry these are well worth exploring even if you can't afford a full license, simply because skills in the commercial packages is what will ultimately land you a job.

However, there is also a number of free 3D software suites out there for hobbyists, independent filmmakers who don't have the budget for expensive software or budget conscious freelance professionals who have found all the tools and power they need in cost-free solutions like Blender or SketchUp.

Just because the following software is free doesn't necessarily make it any less valuable. This list isn't necessarily exhaustive—there are dozens of other free 3D tools available beyond what is mentioned here. However, these are the strongest of the bunch, and therefore the most worthwhile.

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Blender is easily the most versatile and entry on this list, and in many regards, it compares favorably to top digital content creation tools like Cinema 4D, Maya, and 3Ds Max. To this day it stands as one of the greatest open-source development projects ever conceived.

Blender is fully featured, offering a complete range of modeling, surfacing, sculpting, painting, animation, and rendering tools.

The software is good enough to have produced numerous impressive short films and is in use by several professional studios.

Blender was criticized early on for having a confusing interface, but don't let outdated complaints steer you away. The software was given a thorough overhaul about a year ago and emerged with a fresh interface and a feature set that aims for parity with the best.

While you don't really see Blender in any Hollywood effects pipelines where Autodesk and Houdini are deeply ingrained, Blender has steadily carved out a niche in motion graphics and visualization, similar to where Cinema 4D excels.

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Pixologic Sculptris

Sculptris is a digital sculpting application similar to Zbrush or Mudbox, but with less learning overhead. Because Sculptris uses dynamic tessellation, it is essentially geometry-independent, meaning it is an ideal learning package for someone with few or no modeling skills who wants to try his hand at sculpting. Sculptris was originally developed independently by Tomas Pettersson, but is now owned and maintained by Pixologic as a free counterpart to Zbrush.

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SketchUp is an intuitive and accessible modeler, originally developed by Google, and now owned by Trimble. SketchUp excels at practical and architectural design and probably has more in common with a CAD package than traditional surface modelers like Maya and Max.

Like Blender, SketchUp has been amazingly well received and has gradually carved out a niche with professionals in the visualization field due to its ease of use and speed.

The software has very little in the way of organic modeling tools, but if your primary interest is in architectural modeling, SketchUp is a very, very good starting point.

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Wings 3D

Wings is a straightforward open-source subdivision surface modeler, which means it has similar modeling capabilities to Maya and Max, but none of their other functions.

Because Wings uses traditional (standard) polygon modeling techniques, everything you learn here will be applicable in other content creation packages, making this an ideal starting point for anyone looking to learn how to model for animation, film, and games.

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Tinkercad is an impressive suite of lightweight 3D tools offered by Autodesk as a free, easy entry point into the world of 3D. Autodesk actually develops five different applications under the Tinkercad banner, including modeling & sculpting apps, an iPad based "creature designer", and a tool to assist with fabrication and 3D printing.

In a way, Tinkercad is AutoDesk's answer to Sculptris and Sketchup and is meant to get beginners interested in 3D without the tremendous learning curve of their flagship applications (CAD, Maya, Max, Mudbox).

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Daz Studio

Daz Studio is an image creation tool that comes with a wealth of characters, props, creatures, and buildings that you can arrange and animate to create still images or short films. The software is primarily meant for users who want to create 3D images or films without the overhead of creating all their models and textures by hand.

The software's animation and rendering tool-set are fairly robust, and in the right hands, users can create impressive shots. However, without a full range of modeling, surfacing, or sculpting tools built in, your content can become limited unless you're willing to buy 3D assets in the Daz marketplace or create them yourself with a 3rd party modeling package.

Still, it's a great piece of software for people who just want to jump in and create a 3D image or film without a whole lot of overhead.

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Mandelbulb 3D

If you're interested in fractals, this should be right up your alley! The application certainly takes some getting used to, but the end result is stellar if you know what you're doing.

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Autodesk Software (Free but Limited)

Autodesk offers virtually their entire software line free for non-commercial use to "students and community members," however you don't actually need to be enrolled in a school to download them. If you want to eventually work in the industry, learning Autodesk software is a very strong bet, so this is a highly recommended path. The only limitation is that you can't use any of the software in commercial projects.