What to Use to Make 3D Product Concepts

Taking your product from concept to production often involves creating a physical 3D model. 3D-modeling software gives you the ability to experiment with different designs, shapes, colors and textures before you proceed to the production phase. Some 3D-modeling software even lets you animate your 3D product in a real-time environment to see how it reacts when it encounters the laws of physics.

  1. Blender

    • Blender is an open-source 3D application that works with Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and FreeBSD operating systems. Its features include 3D object rigging, rendering, a customizable user interface, animation capabilities, shading support, UV unwrapping, physics and particle manipulation and real-time 3D object development. Its modeling features include a variety of onboard objects such as B-spline and Bezier curves and polygon meshes, all of which make the product modeling process easier. Blender also has sculpting capabilities and nondestructive modifiers. To run Blender, your computer needs at least a 1-GHz processor, 512MB of RAM and an OpenGL graphics card with at least 64MB of RAM.

    Autodesk Maya

    • Autodesk Maya is industry-standard 3D-animation software with powerful modeling features for designing three-dimensional objects. Maya’s modeling features include subdivision surfaces, NURBS, mesh modeling and a polygon tool set. To be compatible with Maya, your computer needs at least an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor with SSE3 support, 2GB of RAM, 10GB of free hard disk space and an OpenGL-compatible graphics card. Autodesk offers a free trial version of Maya. The full software has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of around $3,500, as of the date of publication.

    Google SketchUp

    • Google SketchUp is an application designed specifically for 3D modeling. Its features include 2D-to-3D extrusion, color and texture tools, a real-time shadow engine and a first-person exploration feature that lets you walk around and inside your model. Google also offers a wealth of free online training videos that help you familiarize yourself with SketchUp. The standard version of SketchUp is free. A professional version called SketchUp Pro costs around $500 and includes an expanded feature set and a 2D presentation and documentation tool called LayOut. SketchUp works with computers running Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.5 or later.


    • Like SketchUp, Rhino3D is a dedicated 3D-modeling application. Its features include free-form 3D modeling, unrestricted editing and 2D illustration and drafting. With Rhino3D you can scan a drawing or physical model of a potential product and convert it to a 3D model. You can also animate and translate NURBS curves, solids and surfaces. Rhino3D works with computers running the Windows 2000, XP, Vista or 7 operating systems. Your computer needs at least a Pentium or Celeron processor, 512MB of RAM and an OpenGL graphics card. A full version of Rhino3D costs around $1,000, although fully functional student and teacher versions cost around $200.

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