Anyone who works in construction, industrial design or has any other type of job where creativity is a prerequisite has probably experienced it: the struggle of getting your client “get” your idea.
Luckily 3D modelling software enables us to create a model of our designs, blueprints or vision. Contrary to 2D sketches, a 3D model makes it possible to rotate the design, or even walk through it. This lifelike experience is probably one of the most persuasive ways to help others understand your vision.
The problem with 3D modelling software is its pricing. Some of the more popular 3D packages charge a subscription fee which is out of this world. Luckily, you might not need to use those. There is a number of free software alternatives available, most of these easily meet your 3D modelling requirements.
Of course, free 3D modelling software does have its limitations. Most of these free 3D software modelling software options allow only one user.
#1 3D Repo
If you want to move your Building Information Modelling-activities to the cloud, you’re bound to come across this award-winning 3D modelling software. The free version of 3D Repo does not limit you to one user, like most other options. The ability to have five users collaborating at any project is definitely a major advantage of 3D Repo. However, there is another bottleneck: storage. With only 100MB of storage space, the number of projects you can take on is limited, to say the least.
This means that serious users will rapidly feel the need to upgrade to the premium version, which starts at GBP 49 per user per month.
BimX is a tool for architects and those in the building sector. It comes in two flavours: on-premise deployment, or as a SaaS-option. The tool combines 2D and 3D-navigation, facilitates teamwork, and streamlines project communication.
BimX developer offers paid subscriptions which also provide a multi-disciplinary model hub as well as an API, but sadly, the website offers no information about pricing.
Users have mixed feelings about BMX. On the one hand, they feel the user interface is pretty intuitive, but they also say that getting to know all the key commands takes a while. Surprisingly, the mobile version of BimX seems to have more functionality than the desktop version, making this an on-the-road-tool rather than an office application.
#3 Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is a tool integrating all of the major abbreviations: CAD, CAM, CAE and PCB all found a spot within the Fusion 360 SaaS-platform. Fusion 360 has an elegant and easy-to-use interface.
Autodesk, creator of a large number of tools for CAD, Product design and other 3D model-applications has also given us the choice to use the free version of Fusion 360 “for personal use”. The free version of Fusion 360 has “limited” CAM functionality. However, even with these limitations, this free 3D modelling option has some very powerful tools and features:
- 2 & 3-axis milling
- Adaptive clearing
- FFF additive manufacturing
- Water jet, laser cutter, plasma cutter.
The paid version, with a bunch of additional features, comes at $60/month.
#4 LiveHome 3D
One of the many shared experiences of mankind is the realization that designing an interior isn’t as easy as it seems. We’ve all been there, perhaps when we moved to our first apartment. In our heads, we had a brilliant plan: the couch would go against the wall, table in front of it, a cabinet on the left and a plant on the right. But then, in reality, what we expected to be a spacious living room, turned out to be… well… not as specious.
If interior design is the topic of your career, you’re going to need 3D modelling software such as LiveHome 3D, because –let’s face it- nothing helps us make better decisions about our home.
Design your floorplan, or upload an external image and start moving your (virtual) furniture around. The LiveHome 3D interface is easy to use and offers a large array of objects in several colours. The downside of it all is that you can’t edit anything which is outside of the building. If you want your interior to blend in with the outside, you will need to come up with a few tricks of your own (probably involving some 2D screenshots and Photoshop).
The biggest downside of LiveHome 3D? It’s not a SaaS. You will need to download and install a copy on each device you’d like to use this 3D modelling software on. Luckily, sharing documents is easy enough. So, despite this not being a SaaS, we’ve decided to include it anyway.
LiveHome 3D is free to use, but also comes as a Pro-version, with a large number of additional features.
Contrary to the two tools we’ve discussed earlier, OnShape can be used to design anything, from a vase to mechanical components.
Onshape is a cloud-based 3D modelling software tool that combines CAD with data management, collaboration tools, and real-time analytics. Founded in Cambridge (USA) in 2012, the company behind OnShape gives us pretty advanced modelling tools in a secure cloud workspace.
Those who want to start using Onshape will need to have some basic knowledge of CAD. Without this knowledge, you’re going to have a hard time. But anyone who’s worth their salt should have no problems figuring out how to use this 3D modelling software.
The free version of Onshape is a stripped-down version of the regular version of this 3D modelling tool. It’s perfect for hobbyists or small-sized companies. However, if you need more than the free version can offer, you will need to upgrade to the paid version, costing $125/month.
Silly as the name might sound, it has also become quite well-known since it’s birth in 1999: SketchUp. This is CAD-software to make 3D models of interiors, buildings, landscapes and more.
The cool thing about SketchUp is that it can be used from the earliest design stage to the final design. While architects design the building, a gardener might be working on the landscape designs, while the interior designer keeps tweaking the interior to design the ultimate reception area or the perfect lighting plan.
Despite being such versatile 3D modelling software, Sketchup is said to be easy to navigate and use. Even adding animations or selecting textures is easy as can be.
However, there’s no such thing as perfect software. SketchUp does come with some downsides. We could easily live with a not-so-responsive customer support (it’s a free tool, after all), but the inability to integrate SketchUp with other design software may be a serious issue.
The free version of SketchUp is Web Only and has limited features. If you need more, you can choose either the Web Only version ($119 per user/year) or the Web-and-desktop version ($299 per user/year).
#7 SkyCiv Structural 3D
SkyVic Structural 3D is all about structural analysis and design. This SaaS company was built with the needs of civil, mechanical and structural engineers in mind. This 3D Modelling software tool is not only about aesthetic design, it also analyses bending, shear, building stress, deflection and other structural factors.
Learning how to use SkyCiv Structural 3D is pretty easy, except when you are using the app on your iPhone. That version of the tool is said to be rather unintuitive. But, to compensate, the quick responses from customer support will get you going in no-time again.
Paid plans start at $69 per user/month for regular users. Students can be granted a cheaper license.