Finding the right 3D visualisation software for you is going to be something of a journey in itself; there is no objectively ‘best’ software out there, and every professional in this industry has their own opinion on which one you should use. Choosing the right package for you has to factor in your personal needs, area of work, budget and prior expertise in using such programs. However, you’ll be happy to know that, like in every industry, there’s a few roses that have risen above the thorns, and you’ll find that certain names keep cropping up again and again. Therefore we can recommend that you look into the following well-regarded and critically-received programs to see if they suit your requirements.
Your PC and your CGI dreams
Some of the prices of the high-end software might shock you, but even these prices can be deceiving; you’ll also need a computer with the specifications and hardware required to run whichever program you want. Thus, ‘can my rig run this thing properly?’ should be one of the biggest questions to consider.
Don’t forget that software developers specify both ‘minimum’ and ‘recommended’ system requirements for their programs; meeting the recommended specs ensures that you can run the software comfortably and largely without worry, while having the minimum specs will mean that the software could tax your computer considerably and have repercussions on your machine’s longevity. Furthermore, the power under your PCs hood will determine how fast the software will run; rendering 3D graphics can take a long time, and as time is money, programs running slowly could end up costing you more in the long run than forking out enough cash to upgrade your personal computer.
Are you looking to pick up 3D visualisation from scratch? Whether you want to dive right in and immerse yourself or just dip your toes, there are a number of surprisingly versatile programs for beginners to get stuck into, without having to spend thousands on licences. Here are a few of our top picks, perfect for both a hobbyist or a beginner.
Sculptris / free / win, mac (http://pixologic.com/sculptris/)
Pixologic’s Sculptris is rightly recognised as one of the best free digital sculptors available, and is well-regarded for its easy-to-use interface and gentle learning curve. However, it seems to work best as a tool used in conjunction with other, more expensive software, such as Maya and Blender
Clara.io / free or premium version $100 per year / browser (https://clara.io/)
Innovation is no stranger to Clara.io, a potent 3D visualising program that has a wealth of powerful tools and can even be used for 3D animation. Clara.io’s real strength, however, lies in its collaborative capacities; much like Google Docs, you can easily share your files with other Calar.io users and allow them to work on your design, allowing for true collaboration at the click of a mouse.
SketchUp /$600 for premium / win, mac / (https://www.sketchup.com)
Designed for flexible application, SketchUp is a versatile program that is simple and not too difficult to master. While it is mostly used in architectural rendering, interior design and real estate development, its uses don’t extend to far beyond that. However, if this is your industy, SketchUp is a solid choice.
Professional / Industry-level software
Blender /free/ win, mac, linux / (https://www.blender.org/)
Proof that sometimes the best things in life are actually free, Blender is an open-source 3D powerhouse that can do a little bit of everything. It’s steep learning curve and sometimes strange design choices require patience and perseverance, but it excels in its capacity for multi-stage development, with tools to take care of all manner of tasks from modelling through rendering to full 3D animation. It’s clear to see why Blender is a championed by its passionate independent following.
3DS Max /£204 per month / windows (www.autodesk.co.uk)
A marquee product of premium software developer Autodesk, 3DS Max can be found in offices and studios the world over in industries such as video game development, architectural visualization, and visual effects. Mastering it will take both training and patience, but what else would you expect from one of the best 3D visualisation tools on the market?
AutoCad / £186 per month / (www.autodesk.co.uk)
Another product from Autodesk, AutoCad isn’t going to get a lot on highly artistic and graphical visualisation projects. However, for engineering, industrial or architectural visualisation or product design, AutoCAD is the go-to program for many companies, and it’s use is taught in many engineering degrees.
Cinema 4D visualise /$2,295 per year /win, mac (/www.maxonshop.com)
Cinema 4D has a reputation as one of the best for 3D modelling, and its advanced tools for adding layers of complexity to its models make it great for visualisations. The only drawback is that it doesn’t go much further than 3D modelling, so those looking to use animations in their projects might be better off with something else.
Inventor / $2060 per year / win, mac (https://www.autodesk.co.uk/products/inventor/overview)
Another high-quality Autodesk product, Inventor is specifically designed for prototypes and proof of concept designs for mechanical products. As such, it is highly efficient useful product simulation, mechanical design, and tool development. As expected from Autodesk, Inventor is a versatile and powerful tool if you have the technical expertise to use it..
Solidworks /£9950/ windows (https://www.3ds.com/)
Much like its chief competitor, Inventor, Solidworks produces wonderful solutions for visualisation specifically geared towards mechanical and industrial engineering, and is commonly used in aerospace, nautical, automotive and industrial product design. It has also been used in medical modelling and architectural design. As you might imagine, anyone using this software will need fairly advanced engineering skills and extensive training.