The Consolidation of Inexpensive 3D Design Tools

By on March 15th, 2017 in Software


 Seeking inexpensive 3D design tools
Seeking inexpensive 3D design tools

For several years there have been a great deal of choices when it came to 3D design for those on a budget. Now, there’s less choice. 

Several of the popular tools were absorbed by 3D software giant Autodesk, and they were integrated into existing tools or became part of their very popular 123D Suite. 

The idea of the 123D Suite was to expose many more people to the technology of 3D design and, for Autodesk, to possibly attract them to their paid products in future years. As a result of this strategy, many schools and individuals built programs around the 123D Suite. 

However, Autodesk is shutting down the suite this month, with the functionality being relegated to other products. 

123D Design, one of the easiest and powerful individual 3D modeling tools, is to disappear entirely. Another, Tinkercad, seems to be quite limited in what can be constructed with it. 123D Catch also disappears, as does Memento, another 3D scanning service offered by Autodesk. 

Most of these products are being phased out and replaced with trial versions of their “normal” products. In some cases, it’s possible to continue to “trial” indefinitely if you qualify, but in any case Autodesk seems to be pushing users closer to paid subscriptions. It may be their previous strategy of “3D exposure” was insufficient and they want a more direct approach. 

One tool in Autodesk’s arsenal that doesn’t seem to be affected by this strategy (yet) is MeshMixer, which curiously stands alone and appears to be continuing with ongoing development. 

And it’s not just Autodesk: online 3D modeler 3D Tin closed down last October, and I suspect certain other introductory 3D design tools could also disappear. If 3D Tin and Autodesk can’t make a business doing this, how can others? 

For now there seems to be a few strategies for low cost 3D design tools: 

  • Select an appropriate open source tool and learn how to use it well (we have two dozen listed on our interactive 3D software buying guide)
  • Exist on trial, educational and demo versions of Autodesk’s and other’s products
  • Try any of several tablet-based solutions, but only a few permit STL file export
  • Select a low-cost alternative paid 3D design software product; there are many options that are available for three digit fees

While the market for low-cost 3D design software options seems to be consolidating a bit, there are still many options you can choose from. 

Whatever you do, choose a tool that is likely to survive, as it isn’t fun to learn complex 3D software tools over and over. Yes, it gets easier the more you know, but it’s effort you shouldn’t have to expend. The situation is even worse if you’re an educator and have developed training material based on a tool you must change. 

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!