If you’re an architecture geek, ideas for awesome new buildings are constantly flowing through your head. Sometimes, you wish you could quickly create a 3D model that you could show to others.
You don’t want Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, which creates not just a 3D computer-rendered model of a building, but a full mock-up with all the building’s information from electrical systems to HVAC equipment to plumbing fixtures.
And you don’t even necessarily want Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, which isn’t quite as detailed as BIM but is still primarily used by engineers and draftsman.
Instead, you want to create a simple but beautiful manifestation of the concept that is in your head. You’ll work out all the pesky design aspects later.
There’s nothing like some good 3D modeling software to get those creative juices flowing way before you’ve even thought about drawing up plans to build an actual building. You can play with architectural concepts and really go wild with your artistic ideas, reality be damned.
Or maybe you’re just getting into construction design and want architectural software that is free, and easy to play around with.
Either way, we’ve got you covered with the following five popular free 3D modeling software options, based on our research into what users say they use for this type of modeling. They are listed in alphabetical order.
Note: Some of these software options are listed as CAD, but we chose them because although they can be used for more intricate and precise designs, they are also a good option for those who simply want quick and easy software that allow the user to play with architectural concepts.
1. 3D Crafter
3D Crafter dashboard
3D Crafter is great for the drag-and-droppers out there who like to tinker with shapes and concepts. Not only can you manipulate, sculpt, and paint 3D shapes, but you can even create an animated scene—a good way to demonstrate some special feature in your architectural concept. The software can be used to either create low-resolution, low-polygon models or more detailed 3D renderings.
Price: The basic version is free, but you can upgrade to 3D Crafter Pro for $39.95, which includes the “full-fledged 3D modeling and animation package.”
Have you used 3D Crafter? Leave a review!
Blended box mapping on Blender
Blender is a popular and quite robust 3D modeling engine, with lots of features for the serious modelers out there. For beginners, there are plenty of tutorials to help you get started using the software.
It’s a free and open source 3D creation suite that supports everything you need to create 3D models, including rigging, rendering, compositing, and even game creation. It’s a public project where hundreds of people worldwide chip in to develop its capabilities, and it’s used by everyone from artists to hobbyists to students.
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Meshmixer is a free offering from architectural and construction software powerhouse Autodesk. Meshmixer describes itself as “state-of-the-art software for working with triangle meshes” and as a “‘Swiss Army Knife’ for 3D meshes.”
Indeed, there are examples on the website of all sorts of random objects that were designed with the software.
The software allows you to convert your designs into something that could be 3D-printed, so you can even produce a hard copy of your 3D model. It also boasts advanced selection tools such as brushing, surface-lasso, and constraints. And those are just a few of its long list of design capabilities.
Have you used Meshmixer 3.0? Leave a review!
Onshape is fully cloud-based 3D modeling software. The software is designed for “modern agile design teams.”
The software gives everyone on the team access to the same CAD system and data at the same time. Real-time data management means employees always have access to the latest design, and are always on the same page. You also have the option to keep designs private or invite customers and your team to work with you on a design.
There are no downloads or installs since it is entirely cloud-based, so you can start playing with it right away.
Pricing: If you just need a simple version of Onshape for yourself and are OK with your designs being public and open source, it’s free to use. For professional design and engineering teams who want private documents, it costs $125 per user per month, although you can request a trial.
Have you used Onshape? Leave a review!
SketchUp bills itself as “3D modeling for everyone.” This software is good for people who want to jump right in drawing lines and shapes rather than spending a lot of time trying to figure out the advanced features of the software. You can stretch, copy, rotate, and paint to make whatever you want.
SketchUp also offers video tutorials for beginner, intermediate, and expert users, and it has a “fully loaded” 3D modeling encyclopedia. SketchUp also boasts a robust forum, so if you’re stumped, head over there to ask other users for help on a project.
Price: The basic SketchUp version is free. SketchUp Pro costs $695. SketchUp Pro is required if you want to use the models for commercial purposes. It also comes with features that allow you to create 2D presentations of your drawings, and lets you import and export from/to 2D and 3D CAD applications.
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What do you use to create 3D models?
There’s tons of free 3D modeling software out there, so this is definitely not an exhaustive list. What 3D modeling software have you use in the past? What did you like about it? What features do you wish it had? Let us know in the comments below.
Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.