To 3D Print anything, you need a CAD file.
Beginner CAD Programmes
Tinkercad is a free online CAD programme for beginners. It has lots of good features for creating relatively simple designs and then exporting them for 3D printing.
Beginner, Subscription, Solid Modelling, Cloud
Sculptris is a free sculpting programme from the makers of ZBrush. You can sculpt complex organic forms in a simple and intuitive way. It is great for creating character and organic designs.
Beginner, Mesh modelling, Free, Mac OSX, PC
Honeycomb is a parametric, cloud based modeller designed with 3D printing in mind. It is still in beta but has some good simple modelling features.
Beginner, Solid Modelling, Free, Cloud
123D Sculpt+ is a clay modelling program for sculpture and character design. It allows you to sculpt organic shapes and then pose them by rigging an underlying frame. You can also paint directly onto your model to create texture maps.
Beginner, Mesh modelling, Free, Tablet
123D Design is a solid modelling CAD application that allows you to build simple but accurate objects. It has been designed with 3D printing in mind so it has options to export good .stl data.
Beginner, Solid Modelling, Free, Mac OSX, PC, Tablet
Sketchup was originally developed by Google, but is now owned by Trimble. It is great for doing quick sketch models and is often used for this purpose in architecture. However it is not great if you are planning on 3D printing your object as it is difficult to draw and then export good mesh files.
Beginner, Intermediate, Surface Modelling, Free, Mac OSX, PC
Meshmixer is a free mesh modelling and editing tool made by Autodesk. It has some really powerful features such as sculpting, editing, and remeshing tools that rival some of its paid competitors.
Beginner, Intermediate, Mesh Modelling, Free, Mac OSX, PC
Intermediate CAD Programmes
123D Catch is a 3D scanning app which uses the process of photogrammetry to build 3D models. You take images from all angles of an object, it then uploads them to the cloud and processes them into a 3D model. It can be hit and miss, but if done well you can get good results.
Intermediate, Free, PC, Tablet
FreeCAD is an open source parametric CAD programme that is great for people who are trying to get to grips with CAD. It’s ideal for doing personal work, but may not be powerful enough to do anything overly complex or with an aim towards commercial production.
Intermediate, Free, Solid Modelling, PC
Cheetah 3D is a Mac OSX based modelling and animation programme. It is best used as an organic modeller to create complex forms rather than anything mechanical or precise.
Intermediate, Mesh modelling, Surface Modelling, Paid, Mac OSX
ViaCAD is a good alternative to more expensive CAD software, it has some powerful features for solid modelling and is well designed. It supports both Macs and PC’s and can import and export a wide variety of file formats.
Intermediate, Advanced, Solid Modelling, Paid, Mac OSX, PC
Fusion360 is a CAD program made by Autodesk that utilizes the power of cloud computing, helping you to create complex CAD models. It combines industrial and mechanical design tools and because it is cloud based allows you to access your work wherever you are.
Intermediate, Solid Modelling, Subscription, Free, Cloud
Onshape is a cloud based CAD program made by one of the founders of Solidworks. It is based in the browser and utilizes the power of cloud computing. It has some great features and allows you to create quite complex models for 3D printing in an easy way.
Intermediate, Solid Modelling, Free Subscription, Cloud
Advanced CAD Programmes
Spaceclaim is one of the pieces of software we use here at Digits2Widgets. It is very powerful with a wide range of functions, including solid and surface modelling, as well as mesh editing tools. It is excellent for developing and iterating designs, and has support for a wide range of file formats.
Intermediate, Advanced, Solid Modelling, Surface Modelling, Subscription, PC
Blender is an open source 3D software with a huge array of features, such as solid and surface modelling, character design, animation and rendering. It is very powerful but the wide variety of features means it has a steep learning curve.
Advanced, Mesh modelling, Surface Modelling, Solid Modelling, Free, Mac OSX, PC
OpenSCAD is different to most other software listed here, as you design your model in a programming language which then compiles it rather than in an interactive environment. This means you can do lots of interesting parametric designs and easily used mathematical principles.
Advanced, Solid Modelling, Free, Mac OSX, PC, Cloud
Solidworks is a very popular and widely used piece of software in the engineering and design industry. It has a wide range of powerful features ranging from parametric modelling, surface modelling and part analysis.
Advanced, Solid Modelling, Surface Modelling, Subscription, PC
Rhino is an excellent all round modeling program, ideal for all sorts of projects. It has a large range of features, that is also expandible through plug-ins and add-ons. Compared to programs with similar functionality it is great value for money.
Advanced, Surface Modelling, Paid, Mac OSX, PC,
Zbrush is used for designing organic objects, and is widely used in the games and animation industries to sculpt objects. It has quite a confusing interface so can be difficult to learn, however it has some excellent mesh modelling features and comes highly recommended.
Advanced, Mesh modelling, Paid, Mac OSX, PC
AutoCAD was the original Autodesk product, and is a bit of a jack of all trades. It is used widely for 2D architectural and engineering drawings, but you can model in 3D and export .stl files for 3D printing.
Advanced, Paid Subscription, PC
Maya is Autodesk’s 3D animation and computer graphics programme. It is used widely in animation and games design, and although not specifically designed to create models for 3D printing, it is possible to output files.
Advanced, Mesh modelling, Paid Subscription, Mac, OSX, PC
3DSMax is mainly used for 3D animation and product rendering. It has the ability to produce files for 3D printing, however they are not very accurate, so it is more suitable for conceptual and organic work.
Advanced, Surface Modelling, Paid Subscription, PC
Mudbox is Autodesk’s digital sculpting and painting tool that is used extensively in animation work. It is great for creating organic forms and character designs.
Advanced, Mesh modelling, Paid Subscription, Mac OSX, PC
Alias is known as a CAID (computer aided industrial design) programme and it excels when surface modelling and with precise curves and complex surfaces. It’s used widely in automotive design where they demand precision surfaces.
Advanced, Surface Modelling, Paid Subscription, Mac OSX, PC
Inventor is Autodesk’s solid modelling software aimed at engineering and industrial design. It is similar to Spaceclaim and Solidworks in that it works parametrically and can do both solid and surface modelling.
Geomagics is a software suite from 3D systems. It incorporates software for working with 3D scan data, designing engineering and mechanical parts, as well as sculpting and freeform design software.
Advanced, Mesh Modelling, Surface Modelling, Solid Modelling, Paid
Cinema4D is a 3D graphics programme used for modelling, animation, lighting and rendering. It is used widely in the film and animation industry, and although it is not made for 3D printing it is possible to export the data.
Advanced, Mesh Modelling, Paid, Mac OSX, PC
Modo is a 3D graphics programme used for modelling, animation and rendering. It has tools for sculpting and rigging of animation, as well as incorporating physics engines for simulation.
Advanced, Clay Modelling, Paid, Mac OSX, PC