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With so many different 3D prototyping solutions available, figuring out which is right for you is tough. You know you want to create 3D prototypes more efficiently, turn digital designs into tangible objects, and accelerate the product development process by allowing rapid iterations and tests but need to figure out which tool is best. I've got you! In this post I'll help make your choice easy, sharing my personal experiences using dozens of different prototyping tools with large teams and projects, with my picks of the best 3D prototyping tools.

What is 3D Prototyping Software?

3D prototyping software is a tool that help teams turn the digital outline of a product into a physical prototype. The primary purpose of 3D prototyping software is to develop initial 3D versions of your product for testing and refining. These help you analyze and optimize quality, spot any issues or flaws, and create a perfect design before moving forward with production.

Overviews Of The 10 Best 3D Prototyping Software

1

Unity

Best for game development and interactive 3D experiences

This is an aggregated rating for this tool including ratings from Crozdesk users and ratings from other sites.
4.6
351 reviews

From $40/user/month (billed annually)

Unity is a powerful and widely-used 3D game engine allowing users to develop simple and complex interactive content. It is renowned for its ability to create high-quality games and simulations on multiple platforms, making it ideal for game development and interactive 3D experiences.

Why I Picked Unity:

In my judgment, Unity stands out for its exceptional flexibility and versatility. I picked Unity because of its extensive community, rich asset store, and its ability to build games for nearly every platform. It is especially effective for game development and interactive 3D experiences due to its robust feature set and the vast resources available to help navigate its learning curve.

Standout features & integrations:

Unity offers valuable features like real-time rendering, AI pathfinding tools, and a comprehensive physics engine. It also provides visual scripting, making game development easy for those without a coding background. It integrates with many tools and platforms, including but not limited to Blender, 3ds Max, and Visual Studio. Moreover, it supports exports to platforms like Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, and more operating systems.

Pros

  • Comprehensive set of development tools
  • Large user community and asset store
  • Extensive platform support

Cons

  • Some advanced features require scripting knowledge
  • The learning curve can be steep for beginners.
  • Can be resource-intensive
2

3ds Max Design

Best for detailed character modeling

From $205/user/month (billed annually)

3ds Max Design, part of Autodesk's suite, is a powerful 3D modeling and animation software widely used in the game, film, and motion graphics industries. Its broad toolset and advanced character modeling capabilities make it the go-to software for creators looking to craft intricate and realistic characters.

Why I Picked 3ds Max Design:

In my exploration of 3D prototyping software, I picked 3ds Max Design for its superior capability to sculpt and animate lifelike characters. Its comprehensive suite of character modeling tools, including skin weighting and morph targets, stands out from most competitors. It's the best for detailed character modeling as it also enables users to achieve an impressive level of detail and realism that truly breathes life into creations.

Standout features & integrations:

3ds Max Design offers robust polygon and texturing tools, a character animation toolkit, and advanced particle effects. These features also enable artists to shape detailed characters and create natural-looking movements. 3DS Max supports conventional polygon construction, NURBS, and patch surfaces for modeling purposes. Key integrations such as Unity, Unreal Engine, and Adobe After Effect are offering a streamlined workflow from modeling to animation and rendering.

Pros

  • Integration with popular animation and game engines
  • Powerful rendering capabilities
  • High-end character modeling features

Cons

  • Requires a robust hardware setup for smooth operation
  • High starting price compared to some competitors
  • The steep learning curve for beginners
3

Creo Parametric

Best for robust CAD functionality

From $2,310/user/year (billed annually).

Creo Parametric is a robust Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tool by PTC that caters to various design and engineering needs. Providing versatile parametric and direct modeling, it supports multiple mechanical design tasks. Its robust CAD functionality makes it ideal for comprehensive design work and precise engineering.

Why I Picked Creo Parametric:

I determined Creo Parametric as a top tool for its robust capabilities in CAD. In judging its place on this list, the software stood out due to its versatile and comprehensive design features that support a wide range of mechanical design tasks. Thus, Creo Parametric is unmatched when it comes to robust CAD functionality.

Standout features & integrations:

Creo Parametric shines with features like 3D direct modeling, 2D drafting, sheet metal design, and simulation capabilities. It also integrates with finite element analysis (FEA), allowing for detailed simulations and tests. Creo Parametric also supports various CAD file formats (STL or OBJ) for import and export and integrates with Windchill, PTC's product lifecycle management (PLM) software, for better data management.

Pros

  • Supports various file formats for seamless data exchange
  • Integrates with PTC's Windchill for lifecycle management
  • Extensive CAD features

Cons

  • Requires a substantial learning curve
  • The interface can be complex for beginners.
  • A high starting price might be restrictive for some users.
4

Blender

Best for open-source 3D creation

Free and open-source

Blender is a comprehensive and robust open-source software for 3D creation used by hobbyists, students, and professionals alike. It provides a wide range of tools for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, and game creation. With its extensive features and open-source nature, Blender is unrivaled for open-source 3D creation.

Why I Picked Blender:

Blender's free CAD status makes it stand out in selecting the right tools for this list. I chose Blender because it provides a wide range of comprehensive 3D tools while offering the flexibility of an open-source platform. This makes it perfect for open-source 3D creation, where licensing costs or software limitations do not restrict users.

Standout features & integrations:

Blender includes extensive features such as sculpting, animation & rigging, rendering, simulation, and even video editing. It also provides Python API for advanced users or those interested in custom development. The software integrates with various other platforms and tools such as Unity and Unreal Engine for game development and can import/export multiple file formats, supporting a smooth workflow.

Pros

  • Active community for support and resource sharing
  • Open-source and free
  • Wide range of 3D tools

Cons

  • Some industry-standard features are less developed than commercial counterparts.
  • May require high system requirements for complex projects
  • Steep learning curve
5

Stratasys

Best for industrial-grade 3D printing

Pricing upon request

Stratasys is a leading 3D printing software program provider specializing in creating robust and high-quality industrial parts. Its range of professional-grade 3D printers delivers unparalleled performance and reliability, making it the best choice for industrial-grade 3D printing.

Why I Picked Stratasys:

I picked Stratasys for this list due to its position as a pioneer in the 3D printing industry. Its commitment to innovation and versatility also sets it apart from many other solutions in the market. Therefore, I judge Stratasys to be the go-to tool for industrial-grade 3D printing.

Standout features & integrations:

Stratasys offers a range of advanced 3D printers with unique features like multi-material printing, high-resolution printing, and large build sizes. It also provides software solutions like GrabCAD Print for seamless printing management. Also, Stratasys is compatible with most 3D modeling programs, enabling an easy transition from design to print.

Pros

  • Compatibility with most 3D modeling software
  • Features like multi-material printing and high-resolution printing
  • High-quality industrial-grade 3D printers

Cons

  • Requires a significant initial investment
  • Might be too complex for beginners or small-scale use
  • No transparent pricing available on the website
6

Autodesk Maya

Best for complex 3D animation tasks

From $205/user/month (billed annually)

Autodesk Maya is a highly regarded CAD software tool in 3D animation, rendering, and modeling. This powerful software offers a comprehensive set of features, making it an essential tool for animators, game developers, and VFX artists. It’s excellent handling of complex animation tasks and wide range of capabilities make it best suited for these purposes.

Why I Picked Maya:

I selected Maya for this list based on its proven track record in the industry and the diverse set of features it provides for animation tasks. Having evaluated several tools, Maya also stands out in its ability to handle complex animations and create stunning visuals. Its comprehensive toolset makes it the best choice for complex 3D animation tasks.

Standout features & integrations:

Maya offers a robust suite of tools, including 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and simulation. Moreover, its advanced rigging system, high-quality rendering with Arnold, and powerful dynamics and effects all contribute to its effectiveness. It can export several standard formats, including STL files and VRML files. Maya integrates well with other cloud-based Autodesk products, like Fusion 360 for collaborative product development, and Mudbox for digital painting and sculpting tools, and it supports a wide range of plugins for further functionality.

Pros

  • Extensive plugin support
  • Excellent integrations with other Autodesk products
  • High-end animation and modeling features

Cons

  • Requires high-end hardware for optimal performance
  • Steep learning curve
  • A high price point may be a barrier for some users
7

Threekit

Best for product configuration visualization

From $300/user/month

Threekit is an advanced tool designed to create engaging visual experiences for complex products. It allows businesses to create interactive product configurators, virtual photography, and augmented reality experiences, aligning it as the best choice for product configuration visualization.

Why I Picked Threekit:

Upon examining various tools, I decided to include Threekit in this list for its exceptional capability in product visualization. Its rich set of features that help create interactive and customizable product experiences make it stand out. Considering this, Therefore, I believe Threekit is the top choice for those aiming for effective product configuration visualization.

Standout features & integrations:

Threekit offers features such as 3D product configurators, AR and VR, and virtual photography that are crucial for creating realistic product visuals. Moreover, it allows for real-time customization, allowing users to tailor their products to their liking. As for integrations, Threekit works seamlessly with eCommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento, thus offering a streamlined process for businesses selling online.

Pros

  • Integrates well with popular eCommerce platforms
  • Real-time customization capabilities
  • A comprehensive set of tools for product visualization

Cons

  • It could be overkill for simple product lines
  • It may be expensive for small businesses.
  • Steep learning curve for non-tech users
8

Saritasa

Best for customized 3D software development

Pricing upon request

Saritasa is a full-source software development company that provides custom solutions across various domains, including 3D applications. With a team of experienced developers and designers, Saritasa offers tailor-made 3D software applications, making it the optimal choice for businesses seeking customized 3D software development.

Why I Picked Saritasa:

I selected Saritasa for this list because of its comprehensive and adaptable approach to software development. The company stands out because it can deliver fully customized solutions that cater directly to the client’s needs. Hence, I determined Saritasa is best for businesses seeking bespoke 3D software development.

Standout features & integrations:

Saritasa provides comprehensive software development services encompassing design, development, testing, and support. Also, the company specializes in creating 3D software applications using technologies like OpenGL, WebGL, and Three.js. As for integrations, Saritasa also ensures that its custom-built software can be integrated seamlessly with the existing systems and platforms of the client.

Pros

  • Ensures seamless integration with existing systems and platforms
  • Extensive experience in a variety of 3D technologies
  • Offers fully customized 3D software development solutions

Cons

  • Turnaround time may be long due to the custom development process
  • There might be better options for off-the-shelf solutions.
  • No transparent pricing structure
9

Solidworks Composer

Best for intuitive technical communication

From $85/user/month (billed annually)

Solidworks Composer is a comprehensive software solution developed to streamline the creation of technical product communication. Leveraging existing 3D CAD data, it also helps craft interactive animations, 2D graphics, and intuitive instruction manuals, making it best for communicating complex technical concepts.

Why I Picked Solidworks Composer:

I chose Solidworks Composer for its unique approach to technical documentation. Among the software I evaluated, Solidworks Composer differentiates itself by simplifying the process of creating technical product materials without requiring specialist knowledge. It's the best for intuitive technical communication because it translates intricate technical designs into easily understandable visual and textual content.

Standout features & integrations:

Solidworks Composer offers many tools for creating detailed and interactive 3D animations and 2D line art. It's also capable of auto-updating graphic content to reflect design changes. Furthermore, the software integrates seamlessly with Solidworks 3D CAD, ensuring an efficient workflow from design to documentation.

Pros

  • Auto-updates graphic content to reflect design changes
  • Facilitates creation of interactive 3D animations and 2D line art
  • Simplifies technical product communication

Cons

  • Requires CAD data for best results
  • Integration with non-Solidworks CAD tools could be improved.
  • Pricing could be a barrier for small businesses.
10

KeyShot

Best for fast, real-time 3D rendering

From $995 for a one-time purchase

KeyShot is a leading tool in 3D rendering and animation, providing real-time updates and a speed that is hard to match. It allows users to easily create visuals from 3D models with a user-friendly interface and efficient workflows. This aspect of fast, real-time rendering truly sets KeyShot apart and makes it best for those who need quick results.

Why I Picked KeyShot:

Choosing KeyShot was easy for me, as its real-time, fast 3D rendering capabilities genuinely set it apart from other tools. I've compared multiple devices, and the speed and efficiency of KeyShot made it stand out. Therefore, it's the best tool for those seeking quick and real-time 3D rendering results.

Standout features & integrations:

KeyShot stands out with its real-time ray tracing, which allows users to see changes instantly as they work on their model. Additionally, it has a substantial library of materials, lighting presets, and color options to enhance the quality of the renders. KeyShot integrates well with the best 3D modeling software such as SolidWorks, Autodesk Alias, MeshMixer, and Rhinoceros, facilitating an easier user workflow.

Pros

  • Smooth integrations with other primary 3D modeling tool
  • Rich library of materials and presets
  • Real-time ray tracing for immediate feedback

Cons

  • Limited animation capabilities compared to some other tools
  • It may be too advanced for beginners.
  • High upfront cost
Preview Image - <h2 class="c-block__title b-summary-table__title c-listicle__title h3" > Compare Software Specs Side by Side</h2>

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Other 3D Prototyping Software

Below is a list of additional 3D prototyping software that I shortlisted but did not make it to the top 10. Definitely worth checking them out.

  1. Adobe Dimension

    Best for realistic 3D image rendering

  2. SmartPlant

    Best for enterprise-level plant design

  3. Hexagon

    Good for 3D design and visualization

  4. Ansys SpaceClaim

    Good for 3D modeling solution that enables analysts to create or edit geometry

  5. Mudbox

    Good for 3D digital painting and sculptural designing

  6. Autodesk Architecture, Engineering & Construction Collection

    Good for comprehensive solution covering architecture, engineering, and construction needs

  7. Sculpt

    Good for sculpting models in the browser

  8. ZBrush

    Good for digital sculpting and painting

  9. Recap

    Good for converting reality into a 3D model or 2D drawing

  10. Tilt Brush

    Good for painting in 3D space with virtual reality

  11. ArcGIS 3D Analyst

    Good for terrain and surface modeling

  12. Adobe Substance 3D Sampler

    Good for creating textures from images

  13. Chief Architect Premier

    Good for home design for residential and light commercial drawings

  14. formZ

    Good for 3D design applications featuring a variety of modeling personalities and tools

  15. Modo

    Good for 3D modeling, texturing, and rendering

  16. Cinema 4D

    Good for motion graphics and animation

  17. Autodesk Media & Entertainment Collection

    Good for a comprehensive toolset for content creation

  18. Substance Designer

    Good for creating custom materials for 3D projects

  19. Houdini

    Good for procedural 3D animation and visual effects

  20. PV Elite

    Good for a comprehensive solution for vessel and heat exchanger design, analysis, and evaluation

  21. Amazon Sumerian

    Good for creating and running virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D applications

  22. Realflow

    Good for fluid and dynamics simulation for 3D visualization

Selection Criteria for 3D Prototyping Software


When choosing 3D software, there are several critical factors to consider. It's important to understand that different tools cater to different needs and specific industries. I've tested and evaluated dozens of 3D tools, and in this context, I primarily focused on functionality, key features, and usability.

Core Functionality

When looking for 3D software, the core functionality you should be looking for includes:

  • Ability to create and manipulate 3D objects
  • Capacity to render high-quality images
  • The capability of animating 3D models
  • Competence in simulating physical attributes like lighting, textures, and shadows
  • Proficiency in digital sculpting and painting

Key Features

A few key features that play a significant role in 3D software are:

  • Multi-platform Compatibility: The software should also be compatible with multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux) to ensure flexibility of use.
  • Real-time Rendering: Real-time rendering allows you to see changes as they happen, which can drastically improve the design process.
  • VR Support: Virtual reality support allows designers to work in a VR space, which can be beneficial for certain types of projects.
  • User-friendly Interface: For any 3D software, a user-friendly interface that allows easy navigation and control of 3D models is essential.
  • Comprehensive Library of Assets: A comprehensive library of ready-to-use 3D assets can speed up the design process.

Usability

Usability is often overlooked but is crucial in 3D software. Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Learning Curve: 3D modeling software can be complex. Choosing a tool that balances advanced features with ease of learning is essential.
  • Quality of Customer Support: Look for software with a robust support system. This can include video tutorials, online forums, documentation, and responsive customer service.
  • Integration Capabilities: The ability to integrate with other software can significantly streamline your workflow. Please be sure to look for tools that support integration with other design software you are using.
  • Scalability: Choose a tool that can scale with your projects, whether they're small individual projects or large, complex tasks.

Most Asked Questions Regarding 3D Prototyping Software

What are the benefits of using 3D prototyping software?

Using 3D prototyping software offers numerous advantages, such as:

  • Improved Design Quality: 3D prototyping software allows designers to visualize and rectify design flaws before production, resulting in improved design quality.
  • Cost Efficiency: It significantly reduces the costs associated with multiple iterations of physical prototyping and testing.
  • Time-saving: With 3D software, design revisions can be made quickly and efficiently, leading to shorter product development cycles.
  • Enhanced Communication: It enhances communication as 3D models are more accessible to understand than 2D drawings, making it easier for non-technical stakeholders to grasp the design.
  • Increased Customization: 3D prototyping software allows for more customization in product designs, as changes can be made easily in the model itself.

How much do these 3D prototyping tools typically cost?

The pricing for 3D prototyping tools can significantly vary, depending on the complexity and capabilities of the software. Most software operates on a subscription basis, with prices starting as low as $20/user/month for basic packages and going up to several thousand dollars per year for high-end professional software with more advanced features.

What are the pricing models for 3D prototyping software?

Most 3D prototyping software follows one of three pricing models:

  • Subscription: You pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to the software.
  • Perpetual License: You pay a one-time fee to use the software indefinitely.
  • Freemium: The software is free to use, with additional features or resources available for purchase.

What is the typical range of pricing for 3D prototyping software?

The typical range of pricing for 3D prototyping software can vary quite significantly. For entry-level software, you could be looking at around $20-$50/user/month. Mid-range software could cost between $50-$150/per user/month, and premium software with advanced features and support can exceed $200/user/month.

Which are the cheapest and most expensive 3D prototyping software?

SketchUp offers one of the most affordable options, with prices starting from $20/user/month. On the high end, software like Autodesk’s AutoCAD can cost up to $1,690/user/year.

Are there any free 3D prototyping tools available?

Yes, several 3D prototyping tools also offer free versions or free trials. Tools such as Tinkercad, Blender, and SketchUp offer free versions with limited capabilities, which can be sufficient for beginners or small projects.

More 3D Prototyping Software Reviews

What do you think?

I've strived to create a comprehensive list, but the field of 3D prototyping software is vast and constantly evolving. If you know of any great tools that I've missed, I'd be delighted to hear about them! Please feel free to share your suggestions, insights, and experiences. Your input can help others make informed decisions and ensure this guide remains valuable.

By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager. Following six years of experience in the tech industry, she pivoted into the content space where she's had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant voices in the product world. Driven by insatiable curiosity and a love of bringing people together, her mission is to foster a fun, vibrant, and inspiring community of product people.