Background: I recently upgraded my Mac, and it happens to have a pretty nice graphics card (not that my old one wasn't nice ... in 2006). While I didn't upgrade my Mac for this purpose, it has occurred to me that my life might be a tiny bit more efficient if I used some of this amazing graphics power that I now possess (and perhaps my old Wacom tablet) for sketching 3D designs, rather than my current method*.

So I hopped on over to the Mac App Store, typed in "3d modeling" (and every synonym I could think of), and was disappointed to see a pretty slim selection of apps.

Is there a good basic app for creating 3D objects? Free is good, cheap is also good -- I don't mind paying but "3D modeling" frequently seems to mean "here's a $10,000 program that lets you make Lord of the Rings", and I'm sure it's amazing for that, but I don't need that.

I need: ability to create simple objects, mostly square or circular, including CSG, and to move them around and look at them from different angles.

I don't need: any particular file formats, or textures, or animation, or smooth organic surfaces like human faces.

If you think "designing a chest of drawers", that's about the level of sophistication that I'm looking for. What TextEdit.app is for words, I want for 3D objects.

SketchUp is almost what I'm looking for, except it's kind of awkward and not entirely Mac-like, and to do any CSG you need the $500 "Pro" version (which I might get eventually, but it seems like there could well be something better and cheaper).

I'd almost be happy with something like POVRAY: the CSG is nice, the price can't be beat, but unfortunately it lacks any interactivity.

* (It involves whiteboards, paperboard and glue, and listening to old Yes albums while trying to visualize how things will fit together in space.)

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10 Answers 10


Have you tried Blender?

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  • I'd just like to point out that Blender is extremely polished for an open-source app! It is quite nice to use, once you get used to it, and it has the best trackpad support of any cross-platform app I've ever seen. (: – SilverWolf - Reinstate Monica Jan 10 '19 at 16:41

My personal favourite is Maxon Cinema 4D. It has a nice learning curve, is fairly respected in the industry and does what you require very well (simple objects). It has a slightly Adobe-like feel to it. I found that for complex organic modelling you'd need to start looking at Maya or 3DS Max (PC on Bootcamp).

However, these options cost quite a lot - though C4D is less than many applications and is modular.

A cheaper ($99) option is Cheetah, available through the app store. Basic but nice.

As Nix said, Blender is a fantastic, free option. I just found the learning curve is a little more tricky than C4D.

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AutoDesk makes a Mac version of Maya. I'm partial to Maya as I learned 3D on it. If you're a student, you can get an educational discount, which is how I got it about 4 years ago. http://www.autodesk.com/products/autodesk-maya/free-trial

As others mentioned, there is also Blender which is free. I tried it but it there is a bit of a learning curve as matt_w mentioned.

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  • 1
    I would add that Maya is free for students through the AutoDesk web site. – Dave Aug 29 '13 at 1:52

Here's a pretty big list, with, presumably, all the info you might need. A description, the price, the requirements, and links to the Downloads page.

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A few years ago (2009) I compared the input and output formats available on a few 3D model apps. Here is my list:

opens: byu, jvx, obj
exports: byu, fe, {jvd, jvx}, mgs, mpl, obj, off, stl, wrl

opens: wrl {including ver 1}, 3ds, obj, 3dmf
exports: 3dmf

opens: fbx
exports: dxf, obj, 3ds

opens: x3d, wrl

Instant Player
opens: x3d, wrl, [Instant Player Engine], [OpenSG Scene]

opens: mpl
exports: x3d, dae, pov, dxf

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I think you should have another look at SketchUp.

It's 'Mac-like' quality (on the Mac platform) has improved a bit and, I'm not sure I understand your CSG needs, but I would guess the increasing number of plug-ins now available makes it one of the best tools around. I can't think of anything better and cheaper.

I teach architecture and many of my students use the free SketchUp version in combination with Render[in], Artlantis or the new Maxwell Render for SketchUp plugin.

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Take a look at Shade 3D. You can get Shade 3D for Unity for free, and Shade 3D Basic is only $99. It has modeling, rendering and a lot of features you may not need now, but may decide you want later. Plus, its easy to get started with.

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I would recommend 'Hexagon' from Daz3D, which they offer for free and it meets all your requirements.

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My personal recomendation is SCULPTRIS


Free, simple, easy but powerfull.

ONLY use it for modeling ORGANIC models, i doesn's work with geometric or square models, remember, only organic. Later its perfect complement is ZBRUSH for amazing modeling from sculptris and great painting tools.

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I would recommend Verto Studio 3D. It is on the Mac App Store

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    Can you explain why you recommend it? What does it do well? What are its limitations? – Daniel Aug 29 '13 at 2:00

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