While many free models are available through sources such as Thingiverse or MyMiniFactory, the most satisfying aspect of 3D printing for many is when you've finally printed a model that is completely yours. Unfortunately, modern CAD software is an investment most users aren't willing to empty their wallets for. Instead of shelling out $1000+ on a program like Solidworks or Zbrush, many of these free online CAD software tools offer the same design power as industry "big boys." But won't have you skipping out on this month's rent. Check out the most important free online CAD software tools here.
Blender is about as deep as it gets for a 3D modeling suite. It offers tons of professional caliber functions and modules and has become synonymous with free 3D software.
Blender is commonly referred to as The Blender Project, as it is much more than a piece of software. It is an entire community driven towards creating the most complete piece of 3D modeling and animation that is always open source. There are new modules and plugins being developed for Blender every day, and the software is constantly evolving.
A common complaint with Blender is its somewhat poor UI. However, the community is so large and vast that there is an endless amount of tutorials online for every user need.
Blender allows for much more than just 3D sculpting. It allows users to rig up and even create animations of their creations. Some of the animations that have been created in Blender would make the top designers at Pixar blush. It truly is an incredible community and a very powerful and impressive piece of technology.
Difficulty of Use: 4/5
Feature Set: 4/5
Intended Users: Those who want an advanced 3D modeling software with all the bells and whistles.
Download Here: Blender
Made by industry standard software company AutoDesk, TinkerCAD is an incredibly user-friendly beginner-level 3D CAD software. While not the most powerful software on this list, TinkerCAD offers a surprising level of functionality that will suit anyone from first timers, to even the most advanced of CAD users just looking for a quick and easy way to throw something together.
Its visual interface lets you operate in a “building block” type fashion. So if you want to make a cube, you drag-and-drop the cube, put in your measurements, and you’re done.
TinkerCAD is very much a “what you see is what you get” tool. There are also many pre-built designs to choose from that you can modify to suit your needs. While it won’t offer much in the way of an artistic modeling functionality, it completely makes up for it in the very straightforward user-friendly approach to barebones 3D design. TinkerCAD also has a very dedicated community around it allowing users to see the potential of this basic, entirely cloud-based 3D CAD software.
Difficulty of use: 1/5
Feature set: 2/5
Intended Users: Beginner CAD designers and people wanting to create a basic 3D model
Download here: TinkerCAD
Another AutoDesk product, Fusion 360 is free for students, educators, and academic institutions. While much more powerful than TinkerCAD, Fusion 360 is not necessarily a product beginners can just jump into. With that being said, AutoDesk does offer a complete tutorial suite for those who are wanting to dig in and learn.
Much like TinkerCAD, Fusion 360 offers all your files to be completely cloud-based. It allows users to save various models within projects and test them to see the stresses they will face as they interact with each other. While not offering a massive suite in the way of character modeling, there are minor features that will allow users to create and sculpt with meshes.
There is also plenty of 3D Printer integration as well, allowing this to work hand-in-hand with your slicer to streamline your workflow even more. If TinkerCAD is crawling, Fusion 360 is sprinting; I would recommend this to anyone who wants to dig deep and go beyond the basics of TinkerCAD. The power of this software is virtually endless!
Difficulty of Use: 3/5
Feature set: 4/5
Intended Users: Those who want a higher level of customization than TinkerCAD with many engineering features.
Download here: Fusion 360
The most impressive item in this list as far as functionality goes is OnShape. Founded by two former Solidworks CEOs, Jon Hirschtick and John McEleney, OnShape offers a strong Solidworks competitor entirely free, and entirely cloud-based all online.
As far as this list goes, OnShape is without question the most functional and portable of the free online CAD software options. It is the only one that has an Android and iOS app, allowing you to view and modify designs from your tablet or smartphone. OnShape offers a lot of the similar features previously mentioned with Fusion 360 such as simulating the function of multi-part assemblies.
When it comes to engineering integration, OnShape is no slouch. It does a wonderful job of streamlining the entire engineering workflow from start to finish all in one entirely cloud-based model. There is a ton of customization available as well which will appeal to many CAD users familiar with other programs such as AutoCAD or Solidworks.
In 2016, Onshape added a function called FeatureScript, which is a new open-source programming language for creating and customizing CAD features. OnShape is, without question, the most powerful free CAD software currently on the planet.
Difficulty of Use: 4/5
Feature Set: 5/5
Intended Users: Power users who want the most functionality and engineering capabilities.
Download Here: OnShape
Moving away from more engineered parts and into modeling software, Sculptris is an absolute dream to work with. Made by the folks who make ZBrush, Sculptris is the closest a user can get to modeling with a virtual ball of clay. It allows you to push, pull, pinch and more to create a mesh that is coherent and, sometimes, ready to print immediately.
There is some mild frustration with Sculptris, as sometimes you will need to repair a model in something like Make Printable, but the extreme level of user-friendly design and intuitive interface of Sculptris far outweigh the downside to it. Having little to no 3D character modeling experience at all, I was able to model a half decent pig in a short time with very minimal instruction.
If you have ZBrush already, Sculptris offers integration with the software with their GoZ button which allows you to further model your item in the ZBrush interface. The possibilities with Sculptris are virtually endless as far as creating a stationary 3D model goes. There is a plethora of artwork and tutorials available online for inspiration.
I would recommend Sculptris to absolutely any beginner looking into getting into 3D modeling, as well as anyone who just wants to see what brilliant UI they offer. I cannot praise the user-friendliness of this software enough. Highly recommended for 3D printing!
Difficulty of Use: 2/5
Feature Set: 3/5
Intended Users: Modellers/Digital Artists/3D Character Creators
Download Here: Sculptris
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License: The text of "6 Best Free Online CAD Software Tools" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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