To make a 3D print, you need a 3D file, but to get it you don’t need to be an expert or have a significant budget; you can download 3D files from dedicated marketplaces or try to create it by yourself using 3D CAD & Modeling software.
Last week, we introduced you to various professional CAD software, but these might not be the best suited for you if you are an individual user or if you want to give 3D modeling a try. One of the main advantages of free modeling software is that they are often more intuitive than professional software, and are user-friendly for all experience levels. Since it’s sometimes difficult to sort through all the options with only the help of reviews, we put together a full list for you.
- 3D Crafter
- Art of Illusion
- Fusion 360
I. Free CAD software for beginners
You never used a CAD software before? You want to design a simple shape model? Then these free CAD software are for you!
The idea of 3D Slash was born when Sylvain Huet watched his kid play Minecraft, he had the bright idea that 3D printing should be as fun and entertaining as playing Minecraft. It’s true that 3D CAD software can often be boring and difficult to use; however 3D Slash enables kids to discover the fun of 3D modeling by using block logic which enables everyone who uses it to create amazing designs, even if they have no previous modeling experience.
Files Format: STL, OBJ
On the same model as TinkerCad, 3D Tin is a web app. You can access all the functionalities as long as you accept to share your design under Creative Commons. If you want to keep it private, then you will have to pay an extra-storage cost. The interface is simple and you can access a library of already designed templates.
Files formats: STL, OBJ, DAE file formats, which can be imported in other modeling tools.
No download, it is browser-based
Leopoly offers an online surface 3D design software. It’s very simple to use, and it’s free. On their website, you can use already designed objects, and customize them using their tools. It’s very easy to add colors, shapes, letters to any designs. You can also start your design from scratch, or upload a file you’ve made using another software. You can then export the file you’ve created it, or 3D print it directly on their platform.
Files formats: STL, OBJ
As Freecad uses Parametric modeling it can be used by different kind of users from the home user to the programmer. You don’t need to have a previous CAD experience to use it, and if you have difficulties in your first steps the Freecad community will be there to help you. This software is mainly used by engineers and architects because it’s features are adapted to mechanical engineering. A free software comparable to the best-paying ones!
Still, if you want to get more advanced features, you will have to buy some upgrading package.
Files Format: STEP, IGES, STL, SVG, DXF, OBJ, IFC, DAE, OFF and Fcstd
K-3D is a CAD program with an artistic approach, both adapted to 3D modeling and animation. If you need more complex feature in your design, you can upgrade the software with flexible plugins such as visualization pipeline architecture. Also, various interactive tutorials will give you tips to model your design.
Files Formats: Wavefront OBJ, GTS and a raw format are fully supported, other ones are optional and depend on PLIB installation. Experimental plugins include OpenFX, OFF, RIB and X formats.
LeoCAD is a CAD program for creating virtual LEGO models. While it’s great for this purpose it is limited, so this is not the type of software you should use for an complex project. Its interface is user-friendly and currently includes over 6000 different pieces which can help you to create a 3D model fast.
Files Format:. ldr, .dat
In the series Autodesk123D, Meshmixer is a software adapted to modeling and sculpting for 3D printing. You can create new models from already existing one. The intuitive interface will help you to create complex models easily.
As with Meshlab, Meshmixer’s features include great tools for 3D printing like inspecting, cleaning and healing for 3D file for 3D printing.
Files Formats: OBJ, STL, MIX, DAE
If you need help to prepare your 3D file for 3D printing, have a look to our tutorial dedicated for Meshmixer
Sketchup is the CAD software developed by Google. It is one of the most used to start CAD design and has a massive repository of free 3D models.You can customize the interface by adding on tools or upgrade to the pro-version. Also, a nice feature specific to sketchup is its link with Google earth, you can directly use the app to create your design.
Files: OBJ, 3DS, DWG, DXF, DAE, FBX, KMZ, WRL, XSI
If you need help to prepare your 3D file for 3D printing, have a look to our tutorial dedicated for Sketchup
TinkerCad is not exactly a software, but more a Web application. Indeed, you can access the interface from your browser. You will find 3 basic tools to create a wide range of basic shapes. It is perfect to realize your own 3D model for your first 3D print. You can design it from scratch or use someone else design. Due to the CSG feature, you can get your 3D model in 10 minutes. With a limited number of tools and features, this browser-based software will be limited to more complex creation.
Files Format: STL
No download, it is browser-based
Even though Wings 3D is accessible for beginner CAD users, it is also a software used for complex shapes thanks to its advanced subdivision modeler, it has a customizable interface and a built-in Auto UV mapping facility to add texture to your model. However, the software doesn’t support animation.
Files Format: OBJ
II. Free CAD software for experienced CAD users
This is not your first try in 3D modeling, but you don’t want to invest in an expensive professional CAD software? These free CAD software for experienced CAD users, inspired by the best professionals ones are perfectly suited for your needs.
Due to its drag and drop approach to create your model, 3D Crafter is a pretty intuitive program. The software is adapted to create complex models, and you can even upgrade it with additional features for game development or to render photo-realistic images. Also, the tutorials included in the software are really useful to help you within the first steps of your creation.
Files: if you want to export as anything other than POVRay or Renderman, you have to upgrade to either 3DCrafter Plus ($35) or 3DCrafter Pro ($70).
Art of Illusion is the most used software within the RepRap community. The software is animation-oriented but is still really adapted when one is looking for a software that is both mixing modeling and rendering. Also, it has a good subdivision surface feature.
Files Format: wavefront .OBJ, VRML or Povray
Blender is well known for its steep learning curve, however, it is very powerful. Given that this software has a mesh-based direct modeling and not a parametric one, it is more relevant for an artistic use. Nevertheless with features as rendering sculpting and fast modeling, it is still very adapted to create your 3D model for 3D printing.
Files Format: 3DS), COLLADA (DAE), Filmbox (FBX), Autodesk (DXF), Wavefront (OBJ), DirectX (x), Lightwave (LWO), Motion Capture (BVH), SVG, Stanford PLY, STL, VRML, VRML97, X3
If you need help to prepare your 3D file for 3D printing, have a look to our tutorial dedicated for Blender
BRL- CAD has an outstanding geometric modeling system, also based on CSG. The editor even said that the software is used by the US Army to model weapon systems. The software is mainly used in advanced technology industry as in the Medicine or Automotive industry.
Files: ACAD, DXF, IGES, EUCLID, jack, STL, TAWKILL, VRML, Wavefront, X3D
Fusion 360 is one of the most advanced free CAD software. Still, it is only free for a non-commercial use. You can easily add some mechanical elements to a drawing of industrial design, and you can easily create a curved surface. Moreover, there is an assembly feature that allows you to create a simple mechanism. Then, all the parts are assembled in the same folder as the components. As the software is cloud-based, you can easily share your creations.
Files Formats: IGES, STEP, DWG, STL
Meshlab is another very complete mesh fixing and editing software. It is particularly appreciated by more professional users for its many mesh and point cloud processing functions, and its ability to manage even very large files, making it suitable for use with high-quality 3D scan data.
Its vast set of “Filters”, i.e. the processing tools in Meshlab, include meshing analysis and “cleaning” of errors, remeshing, like surface reconstructions, an automatic smoothing algorithm and visual “inspection” tools. The triangle reduction filter works great, letting you set the target number of triangles to reach and other useful options to preserve textures and topology.
Files Formats: PLY, STL, OFF, OBJ, 3DS, COLLADA, VRML, DXF, GTS, U3D, IDTF, X3D
OpenCasCade proposes a good alternative to professional software. Its standardized Data Exchange interfaces allow querying and examining the input file, converting its contents to a CAD model and running validity checks on a fully translated shape.
Files Formats: STEP, IGES, VRML, STL, ACIS SAT, Parasolid, DXF.
Openscad is merely focused on the creation of 3D objects for 3D printing. For this end it is more focused on CAD ( to create machine parts for example), rather than an artistic one.
Thanks to the use of Constructive Solid Geometry and the Extrusion of 2D outlines, this software is very intuitive. It is perfectly suited for simple shapes that are already parametrically defined. Nevertheless it would be too limited for an experienced user who works with complex models.
Files Format: STL OFF SCAD DXF
OnShape is one of the main competitors of Fusion360. It has the same functionalities as Solidworks and it is browser based and free. But Wait, there is more! What is really astonishing with Onshape is that it includes the same tools as Google doc. All your work will be instantaneously saved in the cloud thanks to the data management built in, you will be able to work on the same document with your peers and collaborate very easily.
Files Formats: DXF, STL, DWG, native SolidWorks, CATIA, CREO, Inventor, JT and AutoCAD file,Parasolid, IGES, SAT, STEP.
Sculptris is building around a user-friendly interface with detailled and complex level of modeling. With its painting and sculpting tools, it is perfectly suited for character modeling. Also, you will be able to locally redefine the internal structure of the model, which might be a very useful feature when you’re looking at making lighter structures for 3D printing.
Files Formats: N/A
If you need help to prepare your 3D file for 3D printing, have a look to our tutorial dedicated for Sculptris