Which 3D Design Software Should You Use?

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When embarking on the journey of 3D modeling, one critical question often arises: which 3D design software should you use? Given the many software options available, making a choice can be overwhelming. This article aims to demystify the options and guide you toward the software that best fits your needs.

3D Design Software: Artistic and Engineering Aspects

As a very big umbrella, we can understand that 3D software falls under two big categories that form two ends of a spectrum, on one end there is Art, while on the other end, there is Engineering. Let us address each briefly.

  • Artistic Software (Abstract): This encompasses software that is specifically aimed towards artistic creation and design. Tools like ZBrush, 3D Max, and Blender exemplify this category, allowing artists to create intricate, organic models akin to a virtual block of clay. They excel in digital arts, assisting in the fabrication of characters and worlds for games, movies, and animations. 
  • Engineering Software (Parametric): On the other end of the spectrum, there are software solutions focused on precision engineering. TinkerCAD, for instance, provides a more geometric approach, simplifying design for educational purposes, hobbyists, and rapid prototyping. Further towards technical precision, software such as SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, CATIA, and Siemens NX emerged as powerhouses in the engineering world, prioritizing accuracy, drafting, and mechanical functionality. These CAD systems are essential for professionals to design complex assemblies and components for manufacturing. 

Each category of 3D design software serves a unique purpose and together, they contribute to the diverse landscape of digital creation. As we are better at the engineering side of things, we will focus on Engineering Software in this article.
The first aspect we should know about 3D engineering software is they are mostly parametric 3D modeling software

Understanding the Parametric Software Landscape

For engineering applications in aviation, construction, consumer products, and automotive industries, parametric software is often preferred. Popular choices include Fusion 360, Rhino, Inventor, SOLIDWORKS, CATIA, and Siemens NX. The number of 3D software is huge and can't be covered in a single article. We can further order parametric software from low to high based on their capabilities and applications. We will use specific software as examples. However, the rule can expand to other software as well. 



TinkerCAD is a user-friendly 3D design software that offers an intuitive interface for designers of varying expertise levels. Highly acclaimed for its user-friendly atmosphere, TinkerCAD allows beginners to transition smoothly into the world of 3D modeling. It underlines a geometric approach, simplifying the design process for educational activities, quick prototyping, and hobbyists. TinkerCAD serves as an accessible entry point for individuals seeking to understand and engage with 3D design software. It provides all the basic tools you need for 3D modeling in a simplified, easy-to-learn, and intuitive environment. TinkerCAD is one of the popular software used to teach kids how to create 3D models.


FreeCAD is a software that has a unique position since it is open-source, free, and relatively capable. It might not have the best user-friendly interface or the most advanced features, however, it can be satisfactory for a large group of individuals working on hobbyist, commercial, or research projects. If you have never used 3D software before and are interested in trying something out, FreeCAD can be a good choice.

Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is the newest entry from Autodesk, boasting a user-friendly interface and excelling in surface design, such as the exteriors of cars or computer mice. However, when it comes to elaborate parts, assemblies, or simulations, Fusion 360 may lag behind other software, although it compensates with a more accessible price point. One key feature of Fusion 360 is that it is a cloud-based software.

Rhino 3D

Rhino 3D is a comprehensive and adaptable 3D modeling tool for various industries. It offers unrestricted designing of Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines (NURBS) based models. Its plugin, Grasshopper, supports algorithmic design without traditional scripting, enhancing Rhino's capabilities. Together, they enable designers to push boundaries and inspire creativity with technologically advanced tools. It can be hard to compare Rhino to other software with some of its unique functionality, especially with Grasshopper.

SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, and Creo

SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, and Creo are viewed as direct rivals, offering similar capabilities. Users can design complex systems like entire car engines or substantial construction models. This level of 3D CAD software is the most common level used in professional and business applications. SOLIDWORKS, though, edges out with a larger user community, offering an abundance of online resources for learners.


CATIA and Siemens NX

CATIA and Siemens NX are two software that have a reputation for super heavy applications including aerospace and oil and gas. Their superior functionality comes with a heftier price tag, reflecting their specialized nature.

Keep in mind that the ordering above does not mean one software is better than another. Rather, it is to help us understand how each software can serve a different audience. If a lower and simpler software can satisfy your needs, there is no reason to invest in a more complex software.

Diverse Software for Varied Applications

Outside of engineering parametric modeling above, you can find software that is focused on niche areas. For example, Autodesk Revit is optimized for architectural needs, such as creating blueprints. Another example is M4 PLANT is more specialized for piping applications.  

3D Printing and Software Compatibility

If 3D printing is your end goal, virtually all CAD software can generate the STL files needed for printing. Thus, your focus should then be on choosing software based on the industry-specific categories outlined earlier — organic design, architecture, or engineering.

Cloud Design Services

One recent side of 3D software is the use of the cloud which can enable higher flexibility of online collaboration both on the design side as well as the project management side. While those cloud services are very promising, it is hard to predict their specific success in the long term as much of that would depend on the implementation and execution of each company. Some big names include OnShape by PTC and Fusion 360 by Autodesk which are standalone 3D design software that are over a decade old.

Another more recent entry is SOLIDWORKS with their cloud services that include both new cloud design software like xDesign, and xShape as well as integration with SOLIDWORKS desktop software as part of the newish 3DEXPEREINCE platform. So, if the cloud is super important to you, you might restrict your options to software that utilizes that.

Price Considerations and Investment

Software prices vary, from free options like FreeCAD to medium-tier offerings such as SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, and Onshape, to high-tier applications like CATIA and Siemens NX. It's essential to balance the cost against your expectations and needs. For newcomers and hobbyists, FreeCAD or TinkerCAD might suffice. Other software like SOLIDWORKS also provides affordable maker licenses that hobbyists and makers can use. Many software also provide student licenses that can be accessed for free or at affordable prices.

Professionals may need the advanced features of a higher-end system. In this case, looking at paid, commercial software licenses for SOLIDWORKS, Inventor, and others can make sense. However, one reality of paid software like SOLIDWORKS is that most users get access to them for free given the software is adapted and paid for by their organizations, be it a commercial company or a university to fulfill business or educational needs.

Learning Resources and User Base 

One factor you might consider for choosing a software is the availability of learning resources and the size of the user base. In that prospect, SOLIDWORKS currently has the largest professional user base compared to other software. This ultimately means that it makes it easier to find learning resources and community help if you get stuck on something. Other software often has more niche and focused learning communities due to the smaller user base size

Our Software of Choice at TforDesign

At TforDesign, we use SOLIDWORKS because it is a well-rounded 3D design software that is fulfilling all our needs. Also, due to the software's large user base, it makes it easier to find talents that are familiar with the software already. The widespread use of SOLIDWORKS also makes it a bit easier to communicate with third-party prototyping facilities as many use SOLIDWORKS as well. In our case, this meant we could correspond with native SOLIDWORKS files directly rather than getting entangled with different generic formats.

Which Software Should You Use? 

Unfortunately, there can not be an ultimate recommendation as to which 3D software you should use. So, the best answer is: 'it depends'. If you have the freedom to choose a software, then our recommendation is to explore each option, watch tutorials, and possibly try out free or trial versions before making a final decision.

For most people, the reality is that your choice might not be about what features the software provides. Rather, your choice might depend on what software you have access to or what software you will have access to based on the location and industry you are looking to work in. For example, if you happen to work in a prototyping facility that has adapted SOLIDWORKS, then you would simply use SOLIDWORKS. 


Navigating the world of 3D modeling software may seem daunting, but by considering your project's nature, industry, budget, and whether you prefer a cloud-based or desktop platform, you can narrow down your choices. Remember that each program has its strengths, and often, trying a few can give you a better sense of the right fit for your 3D modeling aspirations. Whether you're a budding hobbyist or an aspiring professional, the key is to begin creating, experimenting, and finding the tool that best serves your imagination and workflow.  

A last word to keep in mind is that all parametric 3D design software works on similar principles. Thus, transitioning from one software to another is easy and quick compared to learning 3D modeling from scratch. Thus, just getting started with any software can be a great move regardless of whether or not you end up using that same software for the rest of your career.

If you are looking to start your 3D modeling journey with us at TforDesign, you can start with our Intro to 3D Modeling program which is not software-specific. After that, you can start learning SOLIDWORKS in our most basic SOLIDWORKS program: Become a Certified Associate Today

A Short Video Summary

If you are looking for a short video summary of all the above, you can check out the following video.

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