While there are free 3D models available online, for many, the main attraction of 3D printers is that they can design and create their models. The problem is that most modern professional-grade CAD software is expensive, with programs like Solidworks or Zbrush costing at least $1,000, and most ordinary users are not willing to pay for it. Fortunately, there are many free CAD software programs in the industry that can provide professional-grade design capabilities, and this article introduces five of the best free online CAD software tools. (Some software features may require a small monthly rental.)
Blende is a comprehensive 3D modeling suite that offers a wide range of professional-grade features and modules and has become synonymous with free 3D software. Blender is often referred to as The Blender Project because it is not just a piece of software but an entire community dedicated to creating the most complete 3D modeling and animation development solutions. The software is open source, with developers providing new modules and plug-ins every day, and the software is constantly updated.
This software’s user evaluation is relatively high, and occasionally users complain that its interface is a bit poor, but this is because the community is too large and the need to provide too many online tutorials sometimes lets some users down. In addition, Blender is more than just 3D design styling; it allows users to research and even create their animations, and some animations created with Blender would make even the top designers at Pixar blush. Overall, the Blender community is very strong and impressive.
Difficulty of use: 4/5
Feature set: 4/5
Target users: People who need advanced 3D modeling capabilities and a variety of gorgeous effects
Download it at https://www.blender.org/
TinkerCAD, produced by industry-standard software company AutoDesk, is a user-friendly, beginner 3D CAD software. While it’s not the most powerful software on this list, TinkerCAD offers a lot of surprising features, especially for first-time users but also for the most experienced CAD users. The software provides several quick and easy modeling methods; for example, if you want to make a cube, you can drag and drop the cube, enter your measurements, and you’re done.
TinkerCAD is a “WYSIWYG” tool with many pre-designed options that users can modify to suit their needs. Although it is relatively weak in terms of artistic modeling functions, it can conduct quasi-system 3D design in a very simple and friendly way. TinkerCAD also has a very professional online community that allows users to see the potential of this basic, fully cloud-based 3D CAD software.
Feature set: 2/5
Target audience: Beginning CAD designers and people who want to create basic 3D models
Download address: https://www.tinkercad.com/
AutoDesk also offers Fusion360, a student product that is free for educators and academic institutions. Fusion360 is much more powerful than TinkerCAD but is not necessarily a product that beginners can use directly, so AutoDesk offers a complete suite of tutorials for those who want to specialize and learn.
Much like TinkerCAD, all files provided by Fusion360 are entirely cloud-based. It allows users to save various models in a project and test them to see how stressed they will be when interacting with each other. While there is no large suite available in terms of character modeling, there are a few small features that allow users to use grid creation and fine modeling.
In addition, the software has a large number of 3D printer integrations that can be used with slicing software to further simplify your workflow. Fusion360 is an advanced version of TinkerCAD. It is suitable for those who have mastered the basic knowledge and operation of TinkerCAD.
Difficulty of use: 3/5
Feature set: 4/5
Target users: users who require a higher level of customization than TinkerCAD, which has many engineering features.
Download address: https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/students-teachers-educators
In terms of features, OnShape is arguably the most impressive software in this article. Created by two former Solidworks CEOs, Jon Hirschtick and John McEleney, it is completely free and fully cloud-based.
OnShape is without a doubt the most functional and lightweight of the free online CAD software options, and it is the only one with both Android and iOS apps that allow you to view and modify designs from your tablet or smartphone. OnShape offers many similar features previously mentioned in Fusion360, such as the ability to simulate multi-part components.
And OnShape is no less impressive when it comes to engineering integration, perfectly simplifying the entire engineering workflow from start to finish into a fully cloud-based model. In addition, there are plenty of customization features that will appeal to many CAD users who are familiar with other programs, such as AutoCAD or Solidworks. In 2016, Onshape added a feature called FeatureScript, a new open-source programming language for creating and customizing CAD features. Without a doubt, OnShape is the most powerful free CAD software on the planet right now.
Difficulty of use: 4/5
Feature set: 5/5
Target users: Power users who need the most functionality and engineering features
Download it at https://www.onshape.com/
Sculptris can transfer engineered parts to modeling software, according to the authors of ZBrush, which models using virtual clay balls that allow pushing, pulling, pinching, and more to create a coherent grid that can be 3D printed instantly. Sculptris has some slight drawbacks, as sometimes you need to fix models like MakePrintable, but Sculptris is far outweighed by its extremely user-friendly design and intuitive interface, and I have little experience with 3D animal modeling. I can make a model of a pig in a very short time with very small instructions.
If you already own ZBrush, Sculptris can be integrated with the software via the GoZ button, allowing you to further model your project in the ZBrush interface. The possibilities for Sculptris are almost endless when it comes to creating static 3D models, and there are tons of artwork and tutorials online to choose from. Sculptris is ideal for beginners in 3D modeling and 3D printing.
Difficulty of use: 2/5
Feature set: 3/5
Target user: Modeler/digital artist /3D character creator
Download address: http://pixologic.com/sculptris/