List of Full 3D Software Applications

Learn more about Autodesk 3D software and others

Below is a list of the best full-featured 3D modeling software programs that let you create 3D models from scratch, develop video games, and more with a high-end, fully capable 3D builder meant for 3D artists.

Keep in mind that these software programs are professional editions often used by today's top studios, and are so high-powered that if you want to get the most out of them for tasks like 3D rendering, you'll need to ensure that your computer is fast enough; these programs will not run on an old, everyday laptop.

If you'd rather not pay for a 3D application, you might find that a free 3D modeling program will work just fine for you. See our Best Free 3D Software list for your options. There's even one at the very bottom of this list.

Note: If you like these 3D applications, consider checking out the software in our Animation and Visual Effects Studios list.

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Autodesk's Maya is the industry leading package for 3D animation, and boasts a comprehensive modeling, rigging, animation, virtual reality, and dynamics toolset. 

The software creates photo-realistic rendering and includes support for Arnold RenderView for real time views of scene changes, in addition to live links between Adobe After Effects to see changes in that program in real time as well.

Maya also permits the use of plugins that allow for the application to be customized and extended.

Maya is the top choice in the visual effects and film industry, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better solution for character animation.

Some other features included in Maya are a 3D text tool, OpenSubdiv support, a realistic materials builder, a platform for rendering photorealistic liquids, and lots more. See Maya Features to read more.

Because of its market saturation, Maya skills are highly marketable (but also highly competitive). Its popularity carries another bonus: there are literally heaps of rock-solid training materials available for Maya.

The newest version of Maya works with Windows, macOS, and Linux. The minimum requirements to run Maya is 8 GB of RAM and 4 GB of disk space. More »

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3ds Max (also from Autodesk) does for the game industry what Maya does for film and visual-effects. Its animation toolset might not be as robust as Maya’s but it makes up for any shortcomings with state-of-the-art modeling and texturing tools.

3ds Max is typically a first choice for game development houses, and you'll rarely see architectural visualization firms using anything else. 

Although Mental Ray is bundled with 3ds Max, many Max users (especially in the Arch Viz industry) render with V-Ray because of its material and lighting tools.

Maya also includes features that let you edit animations with real time visual feedback; make realistic fire, snow, spray, fire, and other particle flow effects; simulate a real camera with custom shutter speed, aperture, exposure, etc.; and lots more. See 3ds Max Features for more information.

Like Maya, 3ds Max is tremendously popular which means there are both a large number of jobs and a large number of artists competing for them. Skills in 3ds Max translate easily to other 3D packages, and as a result, it is probably the most popular first choice for beginning 3D artists/enthusiasts.

3ds Max works with Windows only, and requires at least 4 GB of memory and 6 GB of free hard drive space. More »

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LightWave from NewTek is an industry-leading modeling, animation, and rendering package used frequently for visual effects in commercial advertising, television, and film. 

Compared to Autodesk's ubiquitous presence in the film and games industry, LightWave is popular among freelance artists and on smaller productions where three thousand dollar software licenses are impractical. 

However, LightWave also includes a built-in Bullet, Hypervoxels, and ParticleFX feature to make it easier to display realistic physics like when buildings are collapsing, objects are placed in random patterns, explosions or smoke are needed, etc.

The integrated toolset (compared to Maya's modularity) makes it easier to be a 3d generalist in LightWave.

LightWave runs on macOS and Windows. 4 GB of RAM is recommended and when it comes to disk space, you only need 1 GB to download the program but up to 3 GB more for the complete content library. More »

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Modo from Foundry is a full development suite, unique in the fact that it includes integrated sculpting and texture painting tools plus a WYSIWYG editor to watch your designs develop.

Due to Luxology's unprecedented emphasis on usability, Modo initially built its reputation on one of the fastest modeling toolsets in the industry.

Since then, Luxology has continued improving Modo's rendering and animation ​modules, making the software an ideal low-cost solution for product design, commercial advertising, and architectural visualization.

The shading tool lets you create realistic materials from scratch in a layering format, but there are also lots of preset materials that you can select from within the software.

See all the features at their Modo Features page.

Linux, macOS, and Windows are the platforms that support Modo. For a full installation, Modo requires up to 10 GB of space. It's also recommended that the video card includes at least 1 GB of memory and the computer has 4 GB. More »

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On the surface, Maxon's Cinema4D is a relatively standard 3D production suite. It does everything you want it to do - modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering are all handled well, and although Cinema4D isn't as forward-thinking as Houdini or as popular as 3ds Max, consider the value proposition...

Maxon's stroke of genius with Cinema 4D has been the inclusion of the BodyPaint 3D module (which retails for over around $1,000 on its own). Body Paint might have Foundry's Mari to compete with but it's still an industry standard texturing application.

Having multi-channel texture painting directly integrated into your 3D suite is invaluable, and something you certainly won't find in the Autodesk suites.

There's also the Knife Tool that lets you slice up models in even, symmetrical cuts. It works as a plane cutter, loop cutter, and line cutter for different scenarios.

There's also a polygon pen and a method to extrude, stitch, and smooth edges, as well as analyze an object for faulty parts.

Read more about what you get with this 3D builder from the Cinema4D Features page.

Cinema4D works with Windows running an NVIDIA or AMD graphics card, as well as macOS with an AMD video card. It's recommended that for the GPU renderer to function at full capacity, there be 4 GB of VRAM and 8 GB of system RAM. More »

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SideFx's Houdini is the only major 3D suite designed around a wholly procedural development environment. The architecture lends itself well to particle and fluid dynamics simulations, and the software has been very popular in visual effects houses where rapid prototyping is essential.

Procedural instructions known as nodes are easily reusable, and can be ported to other scenes or projects and adapted as necessary.

Despite its hefty price tag, Houdini's procedural system is capable of solutions that simply cannot be achieved in other 3D software suites. 

Some more quick-hit features you get with Houdini include a particle creator for small things like dust or large things like crowds, the Finite Element Solver that stress tests objects, and the Wire solver for creating extremely thin shapes like hair and wire.

Its uniqueness can also work to its detriment, though - don't expect many of your Houdini skills to carry over into other packages (of course, this also means that a talented specialist is worth his weight in gold).

Houdini works with Windows, Linux, and macOS. It's best to have at least 8 GB of system RAM or more but 4 GB is what's absolutely necessary. 2 GB VRAM is the bare minimum requirement to run Houdini but 4 GB or more is likely preferred. 2 GB of hard drive space is required.

Tip: Houdini Apprentice is the free version of Houdini FX. More »

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Blender is the only piece of software on this list that's completely free, and might also even possess the most extensive feature set.

In addition to modeling, texturing, and animation tools, Blender has an integrated game development environment and a built-in sculpting application.

See Blender Features to learn more about its other features like UN unwrapping to break down the mesh for painting or texturing, support for rendering inside the program and to multiLayer OpenEXR files, and simulation tools for creating destructible objects as well as water, smoke, frames, hair, cloth, rain, sparks, and more.

Its status as an open source project has meant that development of the software has been almost constant, and there isn't a single aspect of the graphics pipeline that Blender can't incorporate.

However, at best, the interface could be described as quirky, and Blender does lack the polish of other high-end packages.

Blender works on Windows, Linux, and macOS systems that have at least 2 GB of RAM, but 8 GB or higher is recommended. The program installer itself is less than 200 MB. More »

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