A license to use the most popular 3D modelling software currently on the market doesn't come cheap these days. Thankfully, there's a bunch of generous creatives around the world who like to share the tools they've created, as well as some canny companies offering free versions of paid-for tools.
To save you time and effort, we've rounded up the best free 3D software around for you to download today. So if you're a 3D artist, bookmark this page now.
If you're serious about 3D but struggling to afford software, then you're in luck. Blender is a free, open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems.
Started by Blender Foundation founder Ton Roosendaal back in 2002, Blender is now largest open source tool for 3D creation. Its makers are constantly working on its development, but you can pretty much do anything 3D related with this software, from modelling, texturing and animation to rendering and compositing. It even includes tools for creating hand drawn 2D animation.
02. Daz Studio
Normally retailing at $249, 3D software Daz Studio is currently available to download completely free of charge. It’s a 3D figure customisation, posing and animation tool that enables artists of all skill levels to create digital art using virtual people, animals, props, vehicles, accessories and environments.
With Daz Studio, you can create custom 3D characters and avatars, design virtual environments, produce graphic design elements and much more. The latest version, Daz Studio 4.5, normally retails at $249 but is currently available to download free of charge.
While you’re on Daz 3D’s site, you may as well download the free modelling app, Hexagon. Developed by Eovia back in around 2001, it was acquired by Daz in 2006 and has been – very sporadically – updated ever since. Hexagon is simple subdivision surface modeller, and while Daz promotes it as a way of building clothes and props for its figure, you can use Hexagon to make anything you like.
04. Fusion 360
Autodesk’s cloud-based modelling app is a professional piece of software for the CAD/CAM crowd, but can be used to create any solid form, from teapots to tanks. Ordinarily it cost £438 per year, but there’s a free version for Windows and Mac that you can use for non-commercial projects.
The app features all sorts of modelling techniques, with freeform sculpting, polygon manipulation and parametric modelling so you can work they that suits you best.
05. Houdini Apprentice
Houdini is a 3D animation and visual effects tool used widely throughout the media industry for film, broadcast, entertainment and visualisation. Its cheapest version costs just a little under $2,000, but the maker of the programme – SideFX – offers an ‘Apprentice’ version for free. With this you can access all of the features of the full version in order to develop your skills in the software and work on personal projects. The program is purely for non-commercial use and learning purposes.
A pure modelling app, Wings 3D is an open source project available for Windows, macOS and Linux, which has been in development since 2001. Like all subdivision modellers, it enables you build an underlying form made of polygons and then generate a smoothed shape by subdividing the mesh.
It’s pretty basic as modellers go, and the interface is a bit unusual, but it’s fairly user-friendly and an ideal way to get a feel for poly modelling, and to see if 3D might be something you could get into.
07. Rocket 3F
This Windows-only polygonal modeller promotes itself as fast, fun and friendly. The professional-looking interface is fully customisable and it boasts an extensive modelling toolset that wouldn’t look out of place in apps costing hundreds of pounds. Indeed, with sculpting, retopology tools and non-linear subdivision edge creasing, it’s a very well equipped program.
The free version doesn’t allow you to change the UI or assign your own hotkeys – for that you need to buy the €79 Pro version – but whether you’re making models for illustration, VFX or games, Rocket 3F is a class act.
If you're interested in the art of digital sculpting, check out 3D software Sculptris. It has been depreciated by Pixelogic, so won't be developed further, but is still available at the moment. The software is a great starting point for users new to the discipline, and more experienced CG artists will find the software a quick and easy way to realise concepts.
Sculptris is based on Pixologic's ZBrush, the most widely-used digital sculpting application in today's market. So, when you're ready to move on to the next level of detailing, skills learned in Sculptris can be directly translated into ZBrush.