3D modeling

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1 Introduction

According to Wikipedia, “3D modeling is the process of developing a mathematical, wireframe representation of any three-dimensional object, called a "3D model", via specialized software. Models may be created automatically or manually; the manual modeling process of preparing geometric data for 3D computer graphics is similar to plastic arts such as sculpting. 3D models may be created using multiple approaches: use of NURBS curves to generate accurate and smooth surface patches, polygonal mesh modeling (manipulation of faceted geometry), or polygonal mesh subdivision (advanced tessellation of polygons, resulting in smooth surfaces similar to NURBS models). A 3D model can be displayed as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering, used in a computer simulation of physical phenomena, or animated directly for other purposes. The model can also be physically created using 3D Printing devices. The model can also be physically created using 3D Printing devices [like the RapMan]” (retrieved 14:57, 6 March 2010 (UTC))

This page primarily includes software links. A later version may include some 3D modeling principles.

See also: Computer-aided design and manufacturing

2 Wireframes and polygone meshes

The structure (and not the skin!) of a computer 3d model is usually represented as a so-called wire-frame model. “A wire frame model is a visual presentation of a three dimensional or physical object used in 3D computer graphics. It is created by specifying each edge of the physical object where two mathematically continuous smooth surfaces meet, or by connecting an object's constituent vertices using straight lines or curves. The object is projected onto the computer screen by drawing lines at the location of each edge.” (Wikipedia, retrieved 6 March 2010).

“A vertex (plural vertices) in computer graphics is a data structure that describes a point in 2D or 3D space. Display objects are composed of arrays of flat surfaces (typically triangles) and vertices define the location and other attributes of the corners of the surfaces.” (Wikipedia, retrieved 6 March 2010).

“A polygon mesh or unstructured grid is a collection of vertices, edges and faces that defines the shape of a polyhedral object in 3D computer graphics and solid modeling. The faces usually consist of triangles, quadrilaterals or other simple convex polygons, since this simplifies rendering, but may also be composed of more general concave polygons, or polygons with holes.” (Wikipedia, retrieved 14:57, 6 March 2010 (UTC))

3 File formats

See 3D file formats

4 3D Software

Types of modeling software (first attempt)

4.1 CAD software

This page contains primarily software that is made for creating virtual 3D objects (e.g. for virtual environments or games).

See Computer-aided design and manufacturing if you are rather interested in building printable 3D objects, but 3D modelers also can do.

4.2 Free modeling software


  • Which is the easiest one to learn and that is "good enough" for producing X3D/VRML and/or STL objects (solid freeform fabrication)
  • Wings 3D is a subdivision modeler inspired by Nendo and Mirai from Izwar
  • Art of Illusion is a free, open source 3D modelling and rendering studio. Well liked in the RapMan community.
  • Geist3D is a free software program for real time modelling and rendering three-dimensional graphics and animations.
  • K-3D is free-as-in-freedom 3D modeling and animation software.
  • Seamless3D is open source 3D modeling software for the web (VRML, X3D). Seamless3d can be used as a mesh editor and an animator, however its key feature is its build node technology.
  • TopMod3D is a free, open source, portable, platform independent topological mesh modeling system that allows users to create high genus 2-manifold (watertight) meshes. (dead project ?)
  • 3D Plus. Quote: “3D design software that enables you to create stunning 3D graphics for your home, school or business – no experience required!”. A commercial version named ImpactPlus costs $10.
  • TrueSpace High end free 3D Modeler like Blender. (if you understand right, bought by MS, but then became abandonware).

4.3 Free X3D modelers

Modelers specifically made to create X3D objects, animations and scenes. Easier to use than high-end modelers, they can do for simple objects.

See also: X3D

4.4 (Very) high end commercial 3D modelers

Most of these modelers do more than modeling, e.g. add compositing, animation and visual effects.

  • Maya (Autodesk). High end 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing software ($4000 +).
  • 3ds Max (Autodesk). 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and visual effects software. ($4000 +)
  • DAZ/Carrara (???)
  • Modo ($1000)

4.5 Easy low-end free or cheap 3D modeling tools

  • AC3D, Commercial (free trial). 3D modeler/editor] Can export to many formats, including STL and X3D.
  • Sketchup (Google). A simple version is free.
  • AutoQ3D CAD 3D Editor. Commercial and a free community version. Advertized as easy to use.
  • Easy Toy Quote: “is a 3D modeling software. It uses a sketch-based modeling method and a 3D painting method. The user interface is very friendly and operations are very simple”
    • Exports: .obj
    • 60 $USD, demo version available
  • Caligari TrueSpace. Free (used to be commercial). A world builder, not really a modeler. Can be used to create proprietary multi-user worlds (free small group server is available). Exports to several formats (e.g. Collada, but not X3D). The product is dead (bought up by MS), but the web site isalive.

4.6 Mesh manipulation

  • MeshMixer The goal of meshmixer is to make it dead easy to compose new 3D models from existing meshes. Comment: easy to use with provided meshes, but your own are hard to build - Daniel K. Schneider 11:43, 6 March 2010 (UTC)
  • MeshLab is an the open source, portable, and extensible system for the processing and editing of unstructured 3D triangular meshes. Can import/export STL (for 3D printers like the RapMan))
    • Meshlab documentation wiki
    • MeshLab is sponsored by the EU 3d-coform project.
  • Netfabb “is a software tailored for additive fabrication, rapid prototyping and 3D printing. It includes the ability of viewing, editing, repairing and analyzing stl-files or slice-based files in various formats.” Base version is free.
  • Cubit. Geometry and Mesh Generation Toolkit.

4.7 Sculpting

  • ZBrush is a digital sculpting and painting program. ($600, cheaper for academics, march 2010).
  • SharpConstruct a free program by N. Bishop. Dead project, but the author added the same and more functionality to Blender's sculpting tools.
  • Meshmixer. A free tool from Autodesk for meshmixing, sculpting and support generation.
  • Sculpt+. This part of the Autodesk "123" series. As of 2014, available for Apple and Android tablets. For work on PCs, see Meshmixer above.

4.8 Special purpose

  • Sweet Home 3D is a Java-based, interior design Java application for quickly choosing and placing furniture on a house 2D plan drawn by the end-user, with a 3D preview. See the homepage for more information. (working, free as of 11/2010)
  • Makehuman free software for the modelling of 3-Dimensional humanoid characters.

4.9 Converters

Digital elevation models (DEM)

  • Terrain2STL. Online service that creates an STL Map from a selected google map surface.

See 3D printing of digital elevation models for more information, including tutorials.

General purpose

  • Meshlab (see above) can convert from into many other formats


  • Mineways, (quote) lets you export your Minecraft creations into files you can use for making images, movies, or 3D prints. It is a free, open-source program for exporting your Minecraft models for 3D printing on your own printer or through a service such as Shapeways or Sculpteo, viewing on the web through Sketchfab, and rendering with Blender, 3DS MAX, Maya, Cinema 4D, or other rendering system.

5 3D Model assets

See 3D assets if your are looking for links to repositories

6 Links

7 Bibliography