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10 Best Free 3D Modeling and Design Tools to replace Autodesk 123D

After Autodesk 123D, one of the most popular free 3D design suites announced that it will close up shop this month, many are left scrambling to find a new set of tools. This line of products was already discontinued as of last year, where the download links and account creation were removed from their website. As of April 1st however, any existing files saved to their platform are scheduled for deletion as well.

Although they were kind enough to suggest several stand-ins for each application, there is in fact a wide range of tools available to choose from. For the hobbyist printer, buried in a sea of replacement parts and filament spools, we are usually looking for the cheapest solution to meet our needs. Have no fear! Below you will find a list of the best free software to complete all of your 3D creation projects.

123 Design (CAD/Modeling Tools)

The most widely used of the 4 tools, 123 Design was Modeling/CAD software with an emphasis on 3D creation. Although the ease of use was by far one of the biggest selling points to users, there are a number of alternatives available out there.

  • Tinkercad (CAD) – Tinkercad is the option that most closely resembles Autodesk 123D. It is extremely simple to get started and targets a broad demographic, ranging anywhere from kids to hobbyist. With the capabilities to create small nick-knacks all the way up to functional prototypes, this is an excellent solution for consideration.
  • Fusion 360 (CAD) – Geared more heavily towards industry professionals, this is a fully functional CAD application powered by the Autodesk Cloud. A platform with an advanced toolset that allows you to design, test and fabricate from a single interface. The Cloud integration of course has the added benefit of working from anywhere as well as collaborating on projects with others.
  • Sketchup (CAD) – Although the 3D Printing community is less enthusiastic about Sketchup, it does have its place in this list. It is one of the original free CAD applications and has no shortage of guides and tutorials to get started. It has a moderate learning curve, placing it somewhere between Tinkercad and Fusion 360 in terms of both features and difficulty.
  • Blender (Modeling) – I personally consider Blender to be the absolute best free modeling tool available. Not nearly as simple as the aforementioned CAD oriented applications, but it is capable of much more. Despite the rather intense learning curve which makes it difficult to get started, you will find few limitations in terms of what can be created.

123 Sculpt (Sculpting Tools)

Sculpting has garnered a lot of attention in the past several years, especially when creating organic models. Rather than working with points (vertices), edges and faces, you are given a ball of digital clay and the tools to mold it. Although 123 Sculpt was considerably basic when compared to the alternatives, it did have its place within the package.

  • Sculptris – From Pixologic, the developers of Zbrush. this program is an excellent introduction into the world of digital sculpting. While it lacks a considerable amount of the more advanced options, users of 123 Sculpt will likely find this a simple transition and more than capable substitute.
  • Meshmixer – While not traditionally used for its sculpting abilities, they are available and certainly able of reaching comparable results. You can choose from a number of base objects to start with, similar to the library offered in 123 Sculpt, making this a contender as well. In addition to the design capabilities, it does also feature an array of extremely useful features for 3D Printing.
  • SculptGL – A web based sculpting interface, SculptGL is an honorable mention within this list. While you will likely not make this a permanent fixture within your tool-set, it requires no download or account to use and has tablet support, a backdrop image plane and more.
  • Blender – Despite the recommendation for Blender in the 3D Modeling/CAD list, it is absolutely deserving of  attention here as well. Introducing sculpting tools several years ago, it has continued to improve upon these in nearly every update. Although finding itself some distance behind when compared to the paid applications like Mudbox and Zbrush, the features offered are beyond anything else in the price range.

123 Catch (3D Capture Tools)

While 3D scanning is more of a novelty than a professional option at this point, the possibilities for a hobbyist are still exciting. Converting photos or video of real world objects into digital 3D objects is still a relatively new concept. Although Autodesk 123D’s Catch app was absolutely one of the neatest options in this area, building models from photos, we of course still have some other software that can achieve similar results.

  • ReconstructMe – Using hardware you may already have, such as an Xbox 360 Kinect, you can scan yourself or other world objects. While the final outcome is limited by the quality of the capture device being used, the results others have had are beyond impressive!
  • KScan3D – Similar to ReconstructMe, this builds a 3D scan by capturing objects from the real world. This is designed to work with Microsoft Kinect or ASUS Xiton sensors.

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