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  • Sarah C Awad and Dhemerae Ford

101s: Intro to 3D Modeling Software (Part 2)

Our first 3D models we ever created and printed!

Now that you have a primer to what 3D software is out there, we still need to tackle several more prompts to making your 3D dreams a reality.

Getting the Software on Your Computer- and for How Much

An adorable graphic from Tinkercad's website!

Since this can be a difficult decision to make, especially if you're on a budget, below is a breakdown of some more accessible options, and some tips and tricks to get more bang for your buck (because, who doesn't want that)!

Free to Use Software

- Forger (By Javier Edo)*

*a few of our personal faves!

Discounts and Workarounds

Student Discounts: High school and university students/faculty, look into your school's computer store for slashed prices. Some schools have "virtual computer labs", where students can access specialized software on their personal computers through a cloud-based system. Programs like Maya also have incredible deals for students.

Never forget though, to take advantage of your school's technology facilities, for the amount of high-end equipment and software accessible to you for no cost is a privilege you should take advantage of! And once you have thrown your cap in the air, sometimes alumni have access to certain university equipment, so do your research.

Free Trials: Most programs offer a 30 - 90 Day free trial, and while it's short and may only allow you to access a limited number of its tools, it's not a bad option for newbies who want to learn the basics.

Learning How to Use It

This is a great time to be (or become) a part of all this 3D awesomeness; with the amount of Interweb resources and the speedy growth of the technology, there is a how-to for anything and everything, a software to make it in, and a machine to make it happen upon.

When we were first learning how to 3D model, we found it very helpful to find a strong go-to source. This could be a series of YouTube videos, a blog (wink wink!), or even an instructional manual- a thorough source that lays out the foundations of the software, step-by-step, and something you can always refer to with most of your questions.

Personally, we love having the actual software manual, but some of our other favorites include: A subscription-based service, is an excellent source for well-produced and thorough video tutorials on 3D modeling. With a highly customizable interface and easy accessibility through apps, users can create their own workflow for learning that best suits them. Students, check with your college/university to see if you have access to this great how-to hub!

UArtsy: Is an online resource for courses on 3D Modeling using ZBrush. From full-blown Anatomy courses to rendering for production, Uartsy is an excelling recourse for those who want to push their digital sculpting skills.

Bad King: Additional to its great ZBrush video tutorials, Bad King also creates custom brushes and alphas for ZBrush that you can download for free, or pay as you wish. Anything from braids to rocks to fruits to eyelashes (yes, eyelashes), Bad King has it.

Pixologic: The studio that gifted the universe with ZBrush has a great tutorial hub that contains both videos and literature, called Brush Docs, that cater to different types of learners. For anything ZBrush, why not go right to the source?

SolidWorks: Dassault Systems, creators of SolidWorks, have video tutorials for the program on their site; you'll want to create an account for more of its content though. They also have the awesome Model Mania page, where schematics of parts are uploaded for users to test their SolidWorks knowledge; Model Mania is perfect for those who know the basics and want to drill them down, or for more advanced users looking for a refreshing new challenge.

Shapeway Blog: We have to give a shout-out to the passionate community of bloggers who run the Shapeways Blog. If you're looking for advice on preparing 3D files for printing on any 3D program you're using, the Shapeways blog is a good place to start. They'll provide you with handy tips and tricks for prepping your files to print through their online 3D printing services. A website by our friend and 3D printing educator extrodinaire, Erol Gunduz. This hub has a great series of Cinema 4D video tutorials, useful links for a diverse number of software, as well as important TED talks, printability checklist, and open source models to download!

YouTube: Of course, YouTube. What is so great about the 3D modeling community is that 3D modelers (ourselves included) love to show their work and share their knowledge, and that is awesome because we have built a tutorial empire! This means hours upon hours of free videos teaching you how to do something in almost any 3D software you can think of. Personally, we find that YouTube is an excellent resource when you're looking for very specific help with a particular program, but it may not necessarily be the best source for beginners.

But Wait, There's More!

Another getting started option is to manipulate a pre-made model. Whether downloaded off the internet, or even 3D scanned, working off of an already existing thing can allow you to get deeper into the software at a much faster rate since the initial building portion has already been provided to you. It can also allow you to see physical results at a faster rate.

An open source 3D scan

3D Model Resources

There is an array of resources to download open source models to work from. Some of our favorites are...

Thingiverse: A popular site founded by Makerbot, these open source .stls are uploaded by users to be (ideally) printed via Makerbot or other desktop FDM machines. The best part of this site: all of the models should be printable, as is. A great source for simple machines and fun cheeky models!

Google 3D Warehouse: SketchUp affiliated, this site acts similarly to Thingiverse in that users create a profile and upload their (open source) models for others to download; however, don't expect these models to be made soundly though. Many a time, we have downloaded models that appeared well made, but ended up being a polygonal mess when imported into our personal software. You may have to do a bit of digging to find a "good" model, and do not be surprised if you have to repair your model prior to messing with it. On the bright side though, that can just make for another great learning experience!

TurboSquid: Another place for downloading models, Turbosquid is different in that uploaders can put their models up for sale, from $0 onwards. The site easily allows you to search by a number of parameters (including price), but the rest of its interface can be a bit convoluted; do not be surprised if you end up downloading a .jpg of your desired model when you think you are getting an .stl. Many of these sites (we see it the most on TurboSquid) allow you to solely upload images or renders of the model, so just double check what exactly you are downloading.

GrabCad: The Google 3D Warehouse equivalent for CAD files. Most of the files are created in AutoCad, Solidworks, or other CAD software. Not all of the files are free to download, but most of them are. Make sure though, before downloading any files, that the model was made in the right program for your modeling needs.

3D Cad Browser: Another free model site, similar to GrabCad.

BadKing: Again, amazingly well-made free brushes and alphas for ZBrush!

STL Finder: Pretty self-explanatory, but STL Finder is a compiler that searches for STLs on a myriad of 3D modeling/printing websites and puts them all on one webpage for your convenience. While it mostly searches on Thingiverse, Shapeways and Turbosquid, this is a cool resource to get a lay of the 3D land.

One of our favorite things in ZBrush, the Dragon Insert Mesh Brush!

Software provided tools: Many a time, the software itself will provide you with a few pre-made models to play with. One good example is ZBrush, whose Tools section offers a variety of highly detailed models to work from, including a full skeleton and a dog (We have used these in our 30 Minute Modeling challenges!). Software packages and online tutorials (like may also provide different models to work off of that coincide with the manual or certain sections of the video series. Use these to your advantage.

Your First Prompt

Our final recommendation holds a very special place in our hearts, because it is how we learned the facets of software.

Our (amazing) professor had us choose an object, a figure, anything that we felt compelled to model, for it would help alleviate the frustration that naturally comes with learning such a new and dense skill. He also encouraged us to choose something that had a good balance of rigid and organic shapes in order for us to exercise both types of modeling. Once those steps were completed, and after a general introduction to the interface, he let us loose on the software.

With this prompt, we have never been so happy to fail. Through sitting with this software, determined to accomplish our goal, we not only learned a combination of general and specific aspects of the programs, but we also began to establish a foundation of our individual working style, which would slowly refine as we worked.

Remember, learning anything new is all about duration, frequency, and engagement: in many cases, the longer, more often, and more excited you are about the skill you're trying to learn, the more likely it will seep into your brain. So never lose the passion and that sense of awe, it will make you better and more hungry to learn so much more!

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