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A CAD Shootout

Blender vs Maya – CAD Software Compared

Picture of SC Gusto
by SC Gusto
Nov 18, 2018

As more and more people become interested in 3D printing, we present this Blender vs. Maya guide to help novices break down several factors that matter most when choosing a CAD platform.

Blender vs Maya Decisions, Decisions

Image of: Decisions, Decisions
Source: Lampmaker / Thingiverse

Choosing one computer-aided design (CAD) program over another for 3D printing is becoming increasingly hard. Selecting the right software depends on a variety of factors:

  • How much does it cost?
  • How hard is it to learn?
  • Is there an active community to support the platform?
  • Are the files compatible with other programs for 3D printing?

With these questions in mind, let’s first review the latest versions of Blender and Maya. Then we’ll continue by comparing the two and declaring a winner.

Blender vs Maya Background

A rendered model.
A rendered model. Source: 123rf.com

Blender is a 3D computer graphics program that comes with a variety of features. While primarily used for making animated movie characters, it can also be used for 3D modeling and printing. This process involves using math to represent a 3D surface of an object.

One of Blender’s core features is UV unwrapping or mapping, where a user can project a 2D image to a 3D model surface. Another feature is texturing, which adds details like surface textures or color to a 3D model. Blender also allows for skeletal animation, fluid and smoke simulation, sculpting, rendering, and video editing. Finally, Blender is a game engine used for creating and developing video games.

Maya is also a 3D computer graphics software. Originally developed by Alias Systems Corporation, it’s currently owned and developed by Autodesk. Like Blender, Maya is used to create interactive 3D applications,  such as video games, animated film or television, and visual effects. Maya contains many similar features to Blender, like fluid and smoke effects, rendering, UV mapping, and rigging and skinning.

Product image of Autodesk Maya

Autodesk Maya

Similar Functionality

For those who are new to 3D modeling and printing, the basic concepts to learn with any platform centers around four main functionalities: navigation, transformation, object/edit modes, and extrude/edge loops.

  1. Navigation enables the user to rotate, pan, or zoom into an object.
  2. Transformation is the ability to move, scale or rotate an object.
  3. Object modes are operations affecting the entire object. In edit mode, the user can edit the geometry of an object by manipulating one of three things: its vertices, which are the individual points of the 3D object, its edges, which are the lines that connect vertices, or its faces, which are the surfaces between edges.
  4. Faces can be moved, rotated, or scaled.  To change or shape the geometry of a mesh, the extrude and edge loop tools can be applied to any face of an object.  Extrude and edge loops can also be used to create interesting and unique shapes by collapsing a face into itself or extruding it outwards.

In the context of these functionalities, both Blender and Maya provide similar tools.

Different Usability

The principal distinctions between the two programs lie in the user experience UX. We’ll discuss the UX of some features for both Maya and Blender a little later in the article.

Other differences include

  • pricing,
  • the learning curve,
  • community support, and
  • 3D printing compatibility.

Blender vs Maya Software Costs

Costs
Costs Source: 123rf

Apart from usability, the most obvious difference between these CAD programs is cost. Blender is a free open-source program while Maya requires a subscription to use.

Blender

While Blender doesn’t cost anything to download, the features and tools that come with it match more high-end packages. So you may ask, why is Blender free? The answer lies in its history.

Blender started as a crowdfunding project in the Netherlands where the founders launched a campaign to make Blender open-source. After receiving enough funding from the Blender community, the source code was released to the public.

Maya

The default Maya platform follows a subscription fee-based model, costing $190 per month to a little over $4000 for 3 years. However, there are certain circumstances where Maya can be used for free. In one instance, Maya is free but only for a 7-day trial. After that, it requires the purchase of a license from Autodesk.

If you’re a student, Maya can be downloaded for free and used for a minimum of three years. Naturally, proof of enrollment at an institution of higher learning will be required.

Maya also comes in a more inexpensive version, Maya LT. Essentially, this is a slimmed down replica of the full version. Maya LT’s features are mainly focused on game development, and it costs $30 a month to $500 for 3 years.

Summary: Given that it’s completely free, Blender is the clear winner here.

Blender vs Maya Ease of Use

Maya's interface.
Maya's interface. Source: SC Gusto

Whether a program is easy or difficult to use is always dependent on the end user’s ability. In the end, it’s likely that one can use either Blender or Maya to create the same object or perform the same operation. Nevertheless, every 3D application comes with its own benefits and drawbacks, and every user who tries using these programs will always think one program does some things better than the other.

For most users who have experience using both programs, the consensus is that Blender’s user interface (UI) is not as user-friendly as Maya’s. Some users have even described Blender’s UI as “odd” and that. Some even think that Blender’s developers purposely made it that way to force users to use shortcuts.

Use Case: New User

As an example, we tried to compare downloading and manipulating an object in both programs to see which provided a more straightforward experience. Sure enough, setting up and manipulating our pumpkin model was easier in Maya vs. Blender. We therefore turned to some other toolsets in both programs.

In our experiment, Maya’s features were simply more intuitive and easier to use than Blender. The process of UV mapping, for example, was a far superior experience. The process usually requires three steps: unwrapping the mesh, creating the texture, and applying the texture. Doing all three took all of 30 seconds in Maya. In contrast, Blender’s UV mapping process still relies on old unwrapping methods, which felt clunky and outdated.

Another feature we liked about Maya was that rendering is easier and more user-friendly. Utilizing a purchased plug-in called V-ray, we determined that the rendering process in Maya provided a much better user experience than rendering in Blender.

On the other hand, Blender uses its own built-in renderer, which doesn’t require purchasing a separate license. We further noted that the Blender rendering capabilities were faster than with Maya’s V-ray plugin.

Nevertheless, in terms of overall experience, we determined that Maya’s interface and toolsets were cleaner and less cluttered.

For more information on rendering tools, check out our list of the 25 Best 3D Rendering Software Tools of 2018 (Some are Free).

Summary: Maya is the winner in this category, offering a cleaner and simpler user experience.

Blender vs Maya Community Support

Blender Community page.
Blender Community page. Source: Blender

When determining whether a program has an active community, several criteria stand out:

  • Are there always people in the forums or chat rooms?
  • Are discussions relevant and revolve around real projects?
  • Is the community engaged in productive actions and not just waiting for hand-outs?
  • Are people only interested in making money, or are they motivated by real values underlying the platform?
  • Does the community genuinely care, and show it by their actions, about the values espoused by the organization behind the software?

When it comes to Blender vs Maya, one tell-tale sign of community strength is the number of tutorials available for both. Another revealing indicator is the number of people searching for tutorials on a particular platform every month. A higher number would suggest that there are more people wanting to learn how to use one program over the other.

With this in mind, Blender seems to have the stronger community. Simply searching on YouTube shows far more tutorials being offered for Blender than for Maya. In addition, Google search volume indicates that by a factor of 8 to 1, more people search for Blender tutorials than for Maya.

For beginners, especially those just starting to learn about 3D printing, Blender seems to have a larger beginner community and contains more beginner-level tutorials and documentation. Whether you want to learn about rendering and 3D modeling, integrating with the Unity game engine, video and composting, or texturing, Blender’s community offers solid tutorials and information.

Summary: While both platforms have thriving communities, Blender’s offers more in terms of helping new users and providing valuable documentation online.

Blender vs Maya 3D Printing Compatibility

.STL file source.
.STL file source. Source: 123rf.com

Previously, we wrote about the 4 most common 3D file formats. Files with the .stl extension are considered the defacto standard for 3D printing. In addition, .obj, .amf, and .3mf are also frequently used.

When creating and saving a new file in Blender and Maya, each program will store that file using their own unique extension modifier. Blender files are saved in the .blend format and can be easily exported as STL files. In addition, Blender can also import .stl files, which can then be manipulated. For other files, such as .amf or .obj, third-party programs must be used to first convert them.

Maya files are saved as .3ds by default. This type of extension is the format is used by another 3D modeling software, 3DS Max, which is also owned by Autodesk. As with Blender, Maya can also import and export files with different extensions.

Unless you’re working with an esoteric 3D file with an uncommon format, both Maya and Blender are capable of handling, importing and exporting most 3D printer file formats with relative ease.

Summary: There’s no clear winner here, as both Maya and Blender are capable of handling different 3D printer file formats.

Blender vs Maya Results

Image of: Results
Source: All3DP

Here’s a summary of which platform comes out on top for each of the factors discussed above:

  • Pricing: Blender
  • Ease of Use: Maya
  • Community Support: Blender
  • 3D printing compatibility: Tie

Blender vs Maya Final Note

Image of: Final Note
Source: CGTrader

Both Maya and Blender are powerful platforms with features capable of satisfying most 3D printing needs.  Although we found Maya easier to use and had a more intuitive interface, because Blender contains almost the same high-end features as Maya, coupled with its zero costs, it would seem to be the preferred platform.

License: The text of "Blender vs Maya – CAD Software Compared" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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