By Jennifer Farley

Eight 3D Modeling & Graphics Applications Available For Free

By Jennifer Farley

If you’re interested in getting started with three dimensional (3D) graphics, there are a large number of applications available, and if you’re just dipping your toe in the water, applications with a price tag of FREE are always welcome. 3D graphics are used widely in product design, advertisements and increasing on web sites and of course, at the movies.

Most authoring tools offer 3D modeling, 3D animation and 3D rendering. Creating 3D models is not easy and you can expect to spend a lot of time in the learning process. Here’s a brief overview of ten free 3D software apps for you to try out.


Blender is well reknowned as a free and open source 3D modeling and animation application. Importantly it also has a great community who contribute tutorials, help and add-ons. Blender’s features include animation, rigging, non-linear editing, particle and other simulations.


Google SketchUp

Currently on version 7.1, Google SketchUp lets you create, share and present 3D models. You can create a movie using your model or export 3D images for use in other programs including Photoshop. Sketchup is closely associated with Google Maps where users have created 3D models of landmarks and buildings around the world. There is free video training available and tons of 3D models shared by the community in the Warehouse.


3D Canvas

3D Canvas is a 3D modeling and animation tool which uses a drag-and-drop approach for 3D modeling. Models can be built from simple 3D primitives, or created using 3D Canvas’ Object Building Tools. Modeling tools are provided to deform, sculpt, and paint 3D objects. The free version allows you to export models only as POV-Ray format but it is fully functional freeware.



Caligari’s TrueSpace7.6 is a modeling, texturing, animating, rendering, and 3D collaboration tool. It was made available for free in July 2008 when the company was bought by Microsoft. There are some excellent free video tutorials to get you started with the tool.


Art of Illusion

Art of Illusion is another open source 3D modeling and rendering package. It may not be as sophisticated as some of the other applications but it does have some good modelling tools and a simple interface.


K-3D is a modeling and animation application and includes basic tools for NURBS, patches, curves and animation. “It features a plugin-oriented procedural engine for all of its content, making K-3D a very versatile and powerful package.”


Persistance of Vision Ray Tracer (POV Ray)

POV Ray is a free open source tool for 3D graphics. This has been around for ages, I remember getting an early version on a floppy disk on the cover of a computer magazine and waiting hours for it to render something unrecognisable. That wasn’t the program’s fault though. POVRay has an extremely enthusiastic community built around it and there are bucketloads of plugins and addons available.



Anim8or is a a 3D modeling and character animation program and has been around since 2004 when it was started as a personal project. It allows users to create and modify 3D models with built-in primitives such as spheres, cylinders, platonic solids, etc.; mesh-edit and subdivision; splines, extrusion, lathing, modifiers, bevel and warps. I’m not sure how frequently it’s updated but it might be of interest.


Have you used any of these 3D graphics apps? Which one did you think was the best?

There are of course, many more free 3D apps available and the number is growing. What others that you would recommend?

  • Tarh

    I’m currently in the long process of learning Blender for a personal video game project. One thing that really stands out about Blender is its non-traditional GUI which, for better or worse, is fundamentally different than most other programs. Specifically, the non-blocking interface design and incredibly customizable workspace are things that really set this software apart.

    The software does have a reputation for being difficult to learn, though. Helping me along the way has been the excellent “Blender for Dummies” book, which is great for someone like me with absolutely no experience in 3D modeling.

    If anything, this foray into 3D modeling has been an excellent reminder to me of how difficult – and rewarding – the arts can be.

  • Gabriel

    Another very good one is Softimage’s Mod Tool. Though geared more for the game modding community, the basic tools are the same found on Softimage’s excellent XSI.

  • ron_phillips

    If you’re doing 3D modeling to make 3D models, look at:

  • Chris A

    I’m currently working with Autodesk 3ds max which has a huge learning curve(I’m a software developer not an artist) but there are a ton of tutorials and plugins out there for it. It’s also really expensive. I was considering upgrading to a newer version but this article may have given me an alternative to look at before I upgrade. I did play with POV Ray years ago but it was difficult to use. I don’t know if that’s still the case.

  • Some Funky Dude

    Blender is awesome, it takes a while 1-2 months probably just to get comfortable with modeling, but once you know it, you’ll see there’s so much you can do with it. You can ‘youtube’ tutorials for it also, there’s a lot, though most of them are for Blender 2.49, the new version (pictured above) is 2.5 which includes a major overhaul with a lot of new features like volumetric rendering and smoke effects.

  • elemental70

    I’m learning Blender, and am surprised that you’d post a pic of the alpha version. Personally, I actually like the more stable 2.49b which has the “default” interface. But I will definitely check out the other tools mentioned. This was a surprise article and one I’m grateful for! :)

  • AdrianJMartin

    Dont confuse POVRay with a Modelling tool – it’s a superb rendering engine, it is NOT a modelling tool…. is another superb rendering engine – Blender and others have built in support for it.

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