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A Review of 3D Modeling Software for 3D printing

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on Jul 22 2014 , 14:13:12
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3D printing has many applications and artistic expression is one of its finest uses today. Now, the question is what applications should one use to make art with 3D printing? CAD is not always the best choice. Here are a few good choices to utilize 3D printing for artistic expression.

Modo by The Foundry, formally known as Luxology

A polygonal modeler is one of the older forms of making 3D content. Modo is great as it has quick access tools. A quick and easy user interface that is heavily customizable and allows you to create new tools from other tools built into the software. Creating some very complex commands at a click of a key.

They also have multi-resolution sculpting which allows for clay-like modeling. Modo also has some strong mesh repair tools and tools that will make your creations to become printable instead of a model that looks great on screen, but will fail on the print bed.

Modo works with popular file formats such as OBJ and STL. If you plan on doing more modeling with other 3D applications, it supports those file formats as well.  One of the best for this purpose is zBrush which allows for one click transfer from Modo to zBrush and back again.

ZBrush by Pixologic

ZBrush is a polygonal application, but operates in a very different way from Modo. It is best described as virtual clay and you can push the modeling around just like it was real life clay, thus creating very complex organic creations, from a futuristic car design to a character of your own imagination.

It has been used in many industries even before 3D printing, from art to games and movies all the way to industrial design. Artists use it as a device for art exploration and even makeup effects artists like Rick Baker have been known to use it to design new makeups.

Now with the advent of 3D printing, ZBrush has found another great use. Here’s a great example by Marco Valenzuela. He has created some fantastic 3D printed creations using ZBrush.

The only major issue with ZBrush is its rather unconventional interface. It’s an interface that is not like the majority of other 3D printing applications currently on the market. The unorthodox interface might be off-putting for some people. Thankfully, Pixellogic offers a plethora of training videos on its website to help both the beginner and advanced 3D-modeler.

Best free modeler out their today is Blender, which is an open source project with a large community. For the price – free – it is a very powerful application. Having most of its features found on commercial applications, such as Maya, 3DS Max, Lightwave, just to name a few.

The user base is very good at creating new plugins to augment Blender and also includes plugins for 3D printing.

Blender is the 3D modeling app most favored by Reprap users, mainly due to its open source philosophy and its price point, along with its very active community development which mirrors what Reprap has been doing for a long time.

Blender’s major issue is, as with zBrush, it has an unconventional interface. Again, thanks to a very active community there are plenty of tutorials and how-to videos on the internet. All you have to do is to go on YouTube to see. If you still need help, you can peruse many user forums. The developers and users alike are more than willing to help you on your learning curve.

Minecraft is a very unconventional modeler, named after the very popular game. Thanks to a very good and active user community, there are a few 3D party applications that will output your creations within Minecraft into a 3D printable format. At that point modeling will become just like putting together an artistic master piece, almost as if you were playing with Lego bricks therefore making it extremely easy to create new things.

These are just a few great non-CAD based 3D modeling applications you can use with 3D printing, coming in a variety of prices and skill levels. Most of these programs come equipped with very good educational resources and user communities that are willing to help. Take a look a create your master piece.



Mike Grauer Jr is a Puget Sound area 3D printing consultant and evangelist for home 3D printing. He has a BFA in Animation and a MBA in marketing. He is active in all areas of 3D printing.

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