Which software to use?

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As a followup post to my “tips for starting artists” post. Another question beginner artists often give me is. Which software should I use?

Instead of giving you a biased “use this or that” answer. I wanted to give a short overview of what is currently out there and what is used the most.

It is recommended to try different tools during your path as a 3D artist. Software is a tool. If your school or studio uses one, stick with that for a year or two till you have a good foundation of it. Then switch to others to learn how they work. Each tool has its pros and cons, there is none that is best.

Autodesk Maya:

Used a lot by animators. Good at rigging and animation. Started as and known for the tool for animation and film. I believe it is the most used modelling and animation tool. By now an old tool, though it is being revived by Autodesk.

Autodesk 3D Studio Max:

Started as and known for Archviz, had a while where it was known as the game mapping tool. Mostly by the Unreal guys back in the day of UDK. Has a good modular workflow with it’s modifier list. Their line tools are also amazing. By now an old tool, though it is being revived by Autodesk.

The Foundry Modo:

A younger tool. But also showing age. Mostly a modelling tool. Was slow in getting other features like animations or game dev features. Has good fast tools for basic poly modelling. But lacking or slow in features like animation. You need to get used to its “dropping tool” feature.


Community driven and free. Haven’t used it myself yet. But everyone around me is shouting that it is amazing. For a long time it was the ugly duckling among giants like Maya or 3D Studio Max. However, in 2019 they revised the GUI to bring it up to compete with the giants. It’s free so it’s a very good option for students.

Pixologic Zbrush:

The best sculpting tool. Can handle very high resolutions (polycounts). And often presents new methods into the game and film industry. By now it can also do hard-surface modelling like weapons or machines. A must have tool.

Adobe Photoshop:

The industry standard for 2D pixel/bitmap editing. Used by most for texturing, designing, painting. Everything 2D.

Substance Painter:

A must have tool for any 3D game artist. Real-time texturing with a workflow that automatically adds detail to your model. Like dirt in corners, or scratches on edges.

Substance Designer:

A procedural texturing tool. It’s more for tech-artists. And your project’s pipeline needs to incorporate it to get the maximum out of it. But very powerful.

Marmoset Toolbag:

A small and efficient real-time renderer. Often used for presenting your work, or for easy testing of your models. Drag & drop features.

Unity 3D:

One of the two most popular public game engines. Unity is considered a lower quality game engine compared to Unreal Engine. But one that is easier to use, with more “plug & play” features compared to Unreal. Often used by smaller teams, indies or mobiles games. Though there are definitely a lot of high profile games built with Unity too.

Epic Unreal Engine:

A powerhouse compared to Unity. Amazing rendering and features. But also bulkier and slower to work with. Has a longer learning curve compared to Unity and you need more technical know-how to get correct results. A solid triple-A game engine that is available for the public.

Other tools worth knowing about:

These are less common, have a specific need, or are not being developed anymore. But might still be good to look into.

– SimplyGon – 3D asset optimization
– Marvelous Designer – Cloth creator
– xNormal
– 3D Coat
– Roadkill – UV unwrapping
– Ultimate Unwrap 3D
– UVLayout

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