What is 3D Modeling?

3D modeling is a manner of creating three dimensional objects, it can be used for a wide-range of industries and applications for rendering, simulation, animation or manufacturing. When it comes to 3D printing, 3D modeling is often done through a 3D file that can be affected to the desired dimensions of the print. 

Without a 3D model, a 3D print is impossible!

Rhino 3D software
3D Modelling using NURBS in Rhino

Introduction to 3D modeling: How does it work ?

3D modeling is the process of creating a 3D object using 3D modeling programs. CAD modeling is visually represented as a two-dimensional image using 3D rendering or visualization techniques. There are a few general types of 3D modeling methods, which are listed below.

  • Polygonal Modelling: A polygonal model represents points in 3D space connected by line segments to form a polygon mesh. Polygonal mesh files are planar, which means that they are represented by a series of flat facets. Therefore, curves can only be approximated through surface subdivision with a defined resolution. Polygonal meshes are convenient because they are lightweight and visualizations can be rendered quickly. 
  • Curve Modelling: Another type of modelling that relies on curves to generate surface geometry. Curve modelling can be both parametric (based on geometric and functional relationships) or freeform, and rely on NURBS (nonuniform rational B-splines) to describe surface forms. The curves are driven by mathematical equations that are influenced by the designer using weighted control points.  Check out our entry on Rhinoceros to learn more about curve modelling. 
  • Digital Sculpting: This is a relatively new type of 3D modeling where the user interacts with the digital model as you would modeling clay. Users can push, pull, pinch, or twist virtual clay to generate their model. Sculptris is a great example of digital sculpting. 
  • Code-driven modeling: this is a growing area of modelling where geometry is generated autonomously based on conditions set in place by the designer. To read more about how this works, check out our entry on Autodesk’s Deamcatcher . This type of modelling is excellent for 3D printing as it can be used to generate 3D structures that can’t be manufactured through any other means.  

What is 3D modeling used for?

From architecture or sciences to mechanical engineering, fashion or the medical industry, all industries are now seeing the full potential of 3D modeling and making the most of it. 3D modeling can actually be helpful in a lot of different ways.

It’s an essential tool for animation, either for movies or video games, 3D modeling software allows you to create everything from character to landscape, with light effects, textures and more.

But 3D modeling can also be used for rendering, or simulation, which could represent a strong asset for your business. Engineers and architects use it to plan and design their work. Photo-realistic renders will be perfect for real-estate purposes. Indeed, it will be the perfect way to show a project to a potential client. For more technical applications, simulation will allow testing technical parts without having to manufacture them. Some software is so powerful that it can predict how you will react under some precise circumstances. 

Last and not least, 3D modeling is now part of manufacturing processes, especially with the growing use of additive manufacturing. Indeed, 3D printing requires the use of an STL file. From rapid prototyping to production, these 3D programs will take your production processes to the next level by saving time and money, while optimizing your products and processes.

How to learn 3D modeling and is it hard to learn?

If you didn’t learn 3D modeling at school, it can be difficult to learn by yourself. But it is not impossible. Lots of tutorials are available online, using 3D modeling classes, or if you don’t want to bother with 3D modeling, you can buy an already made 3D file for your projects.

Moreover, there are 3D programs adapted to any level of experience, you can find really easy and intuitive ones to start your journey. Some software is even adapted for kids.

What 3D modeling software should you use?

The applications and the industry you are working in will influence your 3D modeling software choice. Some software can be more polyvalent while other ones will be more adapted to mechanical engineering, or architecture, or education, etc. 

Your level of expertise will also be one of the main factors to consider while making your choice, but it is not the only one. The budget is also an aspect you have to take into account: some software can really be expensive, and if you are not an experienced user, you should definitely consider a free CAD software to begin with. 

There are many 3D modeling software programs available on the market and it might be difficult to make your choice. Here is a little selection of interesting software:

  • AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a well-known 3D modeling software developed by Autodesk. It is a software for 2D and 3D CAD, considered as a real standard by many designers. 

This 3D software is based on 2D drafting to create 3D models. AutoCAD is very precise and accurate, the drawings will always be based on mathematical measurements. Its main application is to create blueprints and floor plans. Autodesk offers specialized tool packages for different industries such as architecture, engineering, construction, and mechanical or electrical engineering.

Meshmixer appears to be a really useful 3D software for 3D printing or even to elaborate some new designs for your products. It has a lot of 3D tools, such as 3D sculpting tools, remeshing or mesh smoothing features. Meshmixer is more of an advanced 3D modeling software.

Autodesk Inventor is a CAD program, first produced 20 years ago. It is aimed at professionals working on mechanical and engineering projects. This 3D modeling software is powerful, capable of designing complex models with thousands of parts, such as cars. It is stable and reliable which also offers the possibility to access customized tools.

  • ZBrush

 ZBrush from Pixologic incorporates clay sculpting techniques into its professional-level software. The process takes many hours to complete, so it isn’t recommended for beginners. The same developers produce Sculptris, which is similar, but a simpler, free 3D modeling application that new 3D designers might try first.

  • 3DS Max

3DS Max, just like a software like Cinema4D, will be perfectly adapted for professional video game developers as well as visual effects artists. Available with Windows, this software is not for beginners, but for experienced 3D modeling users.

With a lot of features and several advanced tools, Sketchup is a well-known professional-grade software, especially used for architecture, interior design or engineering projects. In its open-source library, you will find a large collection of 3D designs you can use and reuse for your projects.

This 3D modeling program is free for personal use, or for students! Keep in mind that the free version of Sketchup is a web-based version. You can also find Sketchup alternatives.

Blender is a well-known computer-aided design software, it is a very powerful mesh-based direct modeling software, and not a parametric one. Blender is even used by professionals to develop video games or animation. It is quite similar to software such as Mudbox or ZBrush, and it is not really suitable for beginners. This program is amazing for artistic use, but not only! With great software tools such as sculpting, rendering and fast modeling, this program can be useful for many applications. This is a perfect software if you need to create 3D printable 3D models, as it is also including CAD features to repair your meshes. It is allowed to avoid bad surprises once parts come out of 3D printers.

Going Further: A Brief History of 3D Modeling

3D modeling is used to generate 3D models for sectors ranging from engineering and manufacturing to digital animation for films and video games. The first uses of computer graphics were in the early 1960s for scientific and engineering purposes, and CGI artistic expression began by the late 1960s. 

The first commercially available solid modeler program named Syntha Vision was released in 1969. It wasn’t until 20 years later that NURBS and parametric modeling appeared on the scene, the latter being the birth of Pro/ENGINEER. 3D Modeling grew in popularity and utility, with 3D modeling applications ranging from film and video games to all aspects of commercial design and manufacturing. The first 3D printing technology, Stereolithography (SLA), emerged in 1986 and lends its name to the now popular STL file.  

What does 3D modeling do?

3D modeling is a technique allowing you to create a 3D model, or a three dimensional representation of a person, an environment, or an object. 3D modeling is made using 3D modeling software

    What are the best 3D modeling apps?

    Here is a selection of 3D modeling apps you can use with iPad or Android: Sculptura, Shapr3D, Tinkercad, or 3DC.io.

    What is 3D modeling used for?

    3D modeling can basically be used everywhere. We know it is widely used for cinema, video games and animation, but that’s not it. From architecture to mechanical engineering, or the medical industry, all of these demanding industries are now seeing the full potential of 3D modeling and making the most of it. 3D modeling can actually be helpful in a lot of different ways.