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The thing with 3D modeling programs is that there’s one or two that’s perfect for you. You can have a lot of options when you’re looking for the best one.
A lot of people will suggest Sketchup, but what if you’re not entirely sold on this program just yet?
The good news is that you have fairly competitive alternatives in:
- Art of Illusion: Best for Professionals as well as Beginners
- Fusion 360: Very Powerful Alternative
- Autodesk Inventor: Best for Complex Projects
- Rhino 3D: Best for turning Sketch into a 3D Model
- Tinkercad: Best Easy to Use Software
- Blender: Best for Creating Professional-Quality 3D Models
What should you know about all of these Sketchup competitors? And should you stick with Sketchup, or are they better?
What Is Sketchup?
Sketchup is one of the most intuitive computer-aided design software that can help you create two- and three-dimensional sketches with ease. This software was once known as Google Sketchup.
It comes with a variety of features and tools that you can use to create your models. Plus there are no steep learning curves when using Sketchup. Using the program is very much like using a pen and paper to draw your designs. What features should you know?
- Push and Pull, helps you convert flat surfaces into 3D objects just by clicking and then pulling on it to make it look how you want it to appear
- Access to a vast database of pre-made models that you can down and use, eliminating the need to create from scratch
- If there are functionalities that you are missing, then you can use a third-party plugin that can serve the purpose
- You also have customizable palettes that allow you to rearrange, remove, or add palettes to make it easier for you to find things
- Sketchup also uses icons rather than feature lists that most other CAD software have
- A free version is available, while the paid versions can cost you $119 annually for personal projects and $299 for the Pro version
- Overall, Sketchup is known for how easy it is to use, from having a very intuitive user interface to user-friendly features and tools. It’s also known for its rendering capabilities that are native to the program, the plugins that make it more useful and powerful, and the free option.
So if you’re not sold with Sketchup, what are the alternatives that you should be looking at?
1. Art of Illusion
Art of Illusion is a 3D rendering and modeling program that has capabilities that are on par with other software. The biggest difference is that Art of Illusion is free to use.
The open-source program is very powerful and can be used even by serious illustrators, designers, and other professionals for their work. Beginners, on the other hand, will like the surface-based modeling features. These tools are very easy to use and understand.
As you advance in your skills, you will like the advanced tools, such as those for creating textures and animation. This program can also give you easy 3D renderings as well as an extensive range of lighting options. You can do primitive modeling and 3D sculpting to create your objects.
What’s more, the user interface is fully customizable. This feature is a big plus for beginners, as well as the help files they offer. the tools have contextual help as well as detailed explanations of what each tool does.
If you’re ready to dip your hands into 3D modeling, you can start with the software’s tutorial on how to create an hourglass. Plus it works on just about any operating system, including macOS, Windows, Linux, Unix, and others. The source code is also available.
Art of Illusion also has its Plug-in Manager feature that allows you to download and use plug-ins and scripts that allows you to extend the program’s functionality.
Art of Illusion: Bottom Line
Overall, Art of Illusion can help you come up with some high-end animations and 3D models. You can customize the user interface, expand its features and functionality, and not only is it easy to use, but it also offers a lot of help. And you get to enjoy all that for free.
2. Fusion 360
If you’re looking for an alternative to Sketchup because you need something more powerful, then look at Fusion 360. This software has more capabilities such as animation, simulation, and 3D rendering features that are not found in Sketchup.
You can even use Fusion 360 for computer-aided manufacturing. It comes from Autodesk and uses parametric modeling techniques.
You can also use Fusion 360 for slicing your 3D models for printing. The software is free for hobbyists, students, and educators. Startups can also use this program for free, provided that they don’t earn more than $100,000 a year. If you don’t fall into these categories of users, you will need to pay $60 per month to use Fusion 360.
Read our full Fusion 360 vs Sketchup comparison.
Fusion 360: The Skinny
You will love how Fusion 360 allows you to design 3D objects and slice them without using another program. This software is an excellent choice for those that need precise 3D models and even the free version is fully-featured.
However, Fusion 360 is only available on Mac and Windows machines. Plus the interface is not that user friendly. What’s more, Fusion 360 might be powerful for those who like to do technical or mechanical designs, but it’s not the best when it comes to 3D rendering.
Fusion 360 can also get very slow if you have a bad Internet connection. It can also drain your device’s memory.
Autodesk Inventor is very much like Fusion 360, but this program is made for professionals and those people who may have complex projects that they need to handle efficiently. Inventor is largely for industry users.
Needless to say, this program suffers from a steep learning curve, often requiring users to have some knowledge in engineering. But if you’re looking for a powerful CAD program that can adequately handle both 2D and 3D designs, then this is probably your best choice.
With Autodesk Inventor, you can do computer-aided design and engineering. You can also perform manufacturing and simulation, as well as other tasks. Inventor is best known for its tools that allow you to design parts and assembly.
With the current version of Inventor, you now have a cleaner and mobile-friendly user interface, a good number of modeling tools that you can see on Fusion 360, and more.
What You Should Know About Autodesk Inventor
With Inventor, you can do a whole lot more than just 3D modeling. You will be able to come up with computer-aided manufacturing and engineering. But it comes at a cost: a single license will cost you $260 per month, less if you opt for a longer contract.
On that note, you might be better off getting Autodesk’s Product Design & Manufacturing Collection where you pay $2,720 a year and you get access to Inventor, AutoCAD, Fusion 360, and Navisworks Manage.
Back to Inventor, you should know that it is not for everyone. For one, it is not easy to learn, which delegates Autodesk Inventory to professional users rather than for the 3D printing enthusiast.
Read our full Autocad vs Sketchup comparison here.
4. Rhino 3D
Perhaps, Rhino 3D’s strongest point is the ability to allow you to easily visualize a 2D drawing in 3D. It has some free-from 3D tools that you can find in more expensive software.
You can use this software to create prototypes or tinker with the designs of whatever it is you want to create. It will help you engineer, manufacture, or analyze everything.
It also allows you to work with files from other software, and can even repair meshes and IGES files. And the thing is that it has all of these advanced features yet remains very intuitive, easy to learn, and accessible.
Further, the Rhino is pretty lightweight. It doesn’t hog too much of your resources, nor would you need stellar computer specifications to use it. And yes, it’s easily extensible with plugins that can help you do your tasks with more ease.
Rhino 3D: The Bottom Line
If you’re into turning a sketch into a 3D model, then Rhino will be for you. You can have an easy to use and intuitive 3D modeling program and still get quality renderings that even professionals can use. It’s great for creating complex and complicated geometry.
However, it might not be as precise as other CAD software. You will also be hardpressed to get support from the company itself. The good news is that there are user communities online that can help you if you do get into a bind while using Rhino.
For beginners who are looking for easy to use CAD software, Tinkercad will be a good choice. It uses primitive modeling that makes it easier to piece together your 3D model even if you’re not a technical person.
Tinkercad’s biggest draw is the tutorials that can help novices come up with their 3D models with ease. The interface itself is all drag and drop. Once you’re done, you can upload your work to the Gallery of Things, where you can find other user-generated models that you can also use for your own projects.
You can create 3D models for printing using Tinkercad and it’s easy to learn that you will probably not have any problems figuring it out even if you’re using it for the first time.
What You Can and Cannot Get from Tinkercad
Tinkercad is an excellent introduction to 3D modeling. You can use geometric shapes and reshape them to create your 3D models and you have access to a library of drawings that other people made. It’s free and you don’t even have to install it on your computer. You only need a browser to use Tinkercad.
However, Tinkercad does have some limitations. It’s not as powerful as other programs on this list and there are only a few rendering features. There are no lighting options, either. And when your Internet suddenly goes off, you will not be able to use Tinkercad.
Blender is one of those 3D design software that proves that you don’t have to compromise on features just because it’s free. You can create professional-quality 3D models and animation and you have a well-thought-out user interface to work in.
Blender is feature-rich with tools for 3D unwrapping, physics, real-time creation, and shading. You can render edges with ease, simulate collisions, or use procedural brushes for both 2D and 3D designs.
This software is also compatible with a wide variety of file formats, allowing you to work with other software and with a wide range of filetypes. Plus with all those features, you have a large work area and drop-down windows to keep everything easily accessible.
Blender is not easy to learn, which is probably what most beginners complain about. But there are a lot of help options that you can take advantage of and these materials are comprehensive and extensive.
The Bottom Line on Blender
If you only have to work on 3D models or animation, then Blender should be a good choice for you. It has an extensive array of tools that you get to use for free.
However, if you’re in a hurry to create your 3D masterpieces and you’re new to Blender, then you might be turned off by how difficult it is. But don’t worry, help is always available.
Other Software You Can Consider Alongside Sketchup
While these six programs are the ones that you should consider first, here are four more that you can check out if our top recommendations are not what you’re looking for.
1. Shapr3D is an excellent tool if you are an Apple user and would like to create 3D drawings on the go. You will need the Apple Pencil to create your 3D renders. This app is only free for two of your designs or with an educational license. You will need to pay $240 for using the Pro version.
2. Maya is one of the software that you may want to check out if you can splurge on a 3D modeling software. This software has everything you need for your 3D models, including texturing, rendering, and lighting tools. You can easily add cloth textures, hair, particles, and even character animation and fluid simulations. But it costs $1,620 per year and you may not even need some of its features.
3. Lightwave 3D is an excellent 3D modeling software that used to be the darling of science fiction shows on TV. If it’s good enough for TV production, then you should check out the features it offers, especially the physically-based rendering engine that’s quite speedy and fully interactive. You will need to pay $995 for Lightwave 3D, but you might want to consider other alternatives because most of the features they offer are quite outdated.
4. ZBrush is the go-to software if you want to do some sculpting for your 3D models. There are so many features that it’s easy to become overwhelmed, and it shows in their user interface. Nevertheless, they do have the ZBrush Classroom where you can find video tutorials.
You will positively love Dynamesh, which allows you to stretch the mesh when you’re sculpting, as well as PaintStop for those who like 2D drawings. ZBrush charges $40 per month for a subscription or $895 for a perpetual license.
Answer: Primitive modeling is a modeling technique that uses a base object such as a sphere or cube. you use geometric forms as your starting point and you modify these by making them bigger or smoother.
This video will explain what primitives are and how you can use these geometric shapes to create your 3D model:
Contrast this with digital 3D sculpting, which allows you to use brushes to work on details, shapes, and edges.
It’s similar to shaping a piece of clay, as this video explains:
Further, you also have parametric modeling where you can change your 3D models easily just by inputting the dimensions.
You only need to enter one dimension and the CAD software will make adjustments to the entire object.
Answer: There are several 3D modeling programs that you can choose from and sometimes too many options may not be a good thing. If you’re confused, here’s how you should narrow down your choices:
a. What do you need the program for? Sometimes, 3D modeling software is packaged as different things, and it comes with functionalities and features that you might not even need. If you’re looking to use the software to come up with 3D models for printing, and that’s all you plan to do, then you can save more by not getting a more expensive software because of features you will not use. Then check if your chosen software has all the tools that you need.
b. Choose software that’s compatible with your operating system. This might sound basic, but it’s worth repeating. You may find a 3D modeling software that’s free and full-featured, but if you’re using a Mac and it’s only for PC machines, then you should be looking at something else.
c. Consider industry-based software. There are 3D modeling programs that are geared towards a certain industry. For example, RhinoGold is made for jewelry designers, while ArchiCAD is best suited for architects and interior designers.
d. Stay within budget. There are free, yet very powerful, 3D modeling software out there. You should have a budget and try to see if you can afford your preferred software. Some programs are accessible via a one-time purchase price, while others are available by subscription.
e. Look at the user community. You will want to know how helpful the user community is, or how much education and training material is available for your chosen software. Having excellent support and an active online community will help you if you’re stuck on something while using the software, or if you’re a beginner and still learning.
Answer: The best 3D software like Sketchup and any one of its alternatives are not guaranteed that you will have a successful print if you don’t consider the following:
a. Material physics. When you’re creating a 3D model, you don’t have to worry about such things as physics. The 3D model will float and you can rotate or flip it without problems. It doesn’t work that way with real-life objects. So be sure to consider this when you’re still working on your 3D model.
b. Weight distribution. Ensuring that your 3D prints will not be unstable and keep falling over is also one of the things that you need to remember when you’re designing your 3D prints.
c. What printer do you have? You should create 3D models that are too big for your 3D printer. Also, you might want to ease off on the elaborate details if your 3D printer cannot handle accuracy and precision to flesh out the intricate designs you have created.
The Best Alternatives to Sketchup
While Sketchup might be one of the best 3D modeling software right now, it’s not for everybody. If you’re looking for a suitable alternative, then the programs we mentioned here are your best bets. To make it easier, you can think of it this way:
For those who are just beginning their journey in making 3D drawings, Art of Illusion is the ideal choice: it’s free and it serves the purpose. If you want something quick and easy, there’s Tinkercad. This program is perfect for those simple 3D models, or perhaps to introduce kids to 3D modeling.
Further, if you’re working on a technical design, you will love the parametric modeling used by Fusion 360, but it may not be the best 3D rendering program out there. Then for turning 2D sketches and ideas into 3D models, you have Rhino 3D. And if you like a powerful suite of tools, there’s always Blender.