People often ask me what software I use for 3D modeling. This is usually followed by asking how much it costs and how hard is it to learn. While these exchanges are usually short—Autodesk Fusion 360, it’s free, and it depends on what you want to do with it—I wanted to elaborate on the topic of 3D modeling and where to start, specifically with an emphasis on this program.
Before we start talking about software, remember that learning to 3D model isn’t something that will happen overnight. It is like learning any new language or art medium. As you gain experience, the knowledge, understanding, and complexity will follow with it. Find your motivation, take breaks as necessary, and have fun!
So, we have established that you’re ready to dive into the world of 3D modeling and are ready to get your hands dirty. The first step is deciding what software you want to try. 3D-modeling software comes in many shapes and sizes, and not all are created equal. My personal program of choice is Autodesk Fusion 360, which has been gaining traction in the maker and cosplay communities due to having powerful features despite being free for hobbyists and makers. It is a cloud-based computer-aided design (CAD) program that blends various styles of modeling together into one versatile program. It was also created with collaboration in mind, allowing multiple users to work together on a single design. Models and files are stored in the Autodesk cloud, and Fusion 360 is compatible with Mac and PC, allowing for flexibility among different computers and platforms.
Fusion 360 has a variety of different modeling tools and commands that are organized in different “workspace” environments with unique toolbars catered to the specific workspace type. The most commonly used workspaces are the Model and Sculpt environments. The standard Model workspace is for creating and editing solid 3D geometry, similar to a traditional 3D CAD environment, and Sculpt allows you to push and pull geometry from vertices and edges, similar to the act of sculpting a model, which allows for the creation of organic shapes.
Fusion also has additional workspaces that allow for patching, repairing meshes, and rendering, as well as more advanced features such as animation, simulation, and computer-aided manufacturing. The team working on Fusion 360 listens to community feedback and is constantly adding new features, including the addition of new workspaces.
Autodesk has a team of experts that puts together tutorials on how to use the program. The website has free courses that teach you everything from the absolute basics to more advanced techniques such as mechanical assemblies. Each course has multiple lessons that walk you through the process, step by step. Autodesk’s official YouTube channel also has a variety of tutorials, including this series of beginners basics. Another great resource is the Fusion 360 forums.
If you’d like to explore options other than Fusion 360, MyMiniFactory has a handy list of software that indicates which programs are free and are good for beginners. One simple and low-commitment option is TinkerCAD, a great free online app developed by Autodesk that you can use from the comfort of your own browser to get your feet wet. It has built-in tutorials and is great for beginners. You might even decide that it’s the program for you! Z-brush, Solidworks, Inventor, and Maya are popular programs found professionally, but these are expensive for individuals. Other than Fusion 360, Blender and Sculptris are free options that I would recommend if you are on a budget.
Regardless of what software you end up learning, remember your motivation and that it is a process you won’t learn in a day. Start small and work your way up. You can do it!
Have any advice for someone learning to 3D model? What’s your 3D modeling software of choice? Comment below or send me an email—I would love to hear them!