Rendering software for desktop computers and smartphones bring a valuable toolset into the hands of creative minds. Rendering software holds countless applications, extending from interior design to 3D animation. Regardless of how you wish to apply the functionality of rendering software, there is most definitely a tool that is best suited to your given task. Rendering software has reached new pinnacles and all that is needed to begin creating your very own models and animations is a powerful PC, open source software and a desire to learn and express yourself. Here we take a look at the tools that you need to get yourself going in the direction of software rendering, without any cost (other than the hardware) any all. These tools can also be used in conjunction with 3D printers to custom design any printable that you have developed.

Beginning with 3D Rendering

If you have decided that you will to begin the journey into 3D rendering, then one needs to find a platform to start with. There are a few open source packages that give users a powerful framework from which to create all forms of machinations of the imagination. One fantastic free software package does however stand tall above the rest, giving far more freedom and power to the creative designer.


Blender is a software suite that has been released under the GNU General Public Licence, and it is thus completely free software. Blender can be used for any purpose whatsoever, including those for promotion and resale. All images, movies and in actual fact any data produced with Blender is your sole property. Blender is an extremely popular framework that can be used for the creation of art, movies or 3D models. The engine can also be used for game playback. Blender’s community is filled with avid fans, eager to help with any queries that may arise. There is also more than enough documentation being fed to the community by the Blender developers. This is a rendering studio like no other, an equal match to almost any commercial application that is publicly available.

Learning Blender

Now that you have such a powerful tool before you, the task of actually learning the software can be quite daunting. All that is takes action, and the same goes for learning blender. We have compiled a list of Blender tutorials and guides, but all the theory in the world will not teach you how to develop 3D rendering of scenes, objects and models. Take the resources below and put them to practice.

Blender Wiki – This is an often overlooked treasure trove of invaluable resources to the student of Blender.

Creative Bloq: 33 Brilliant Blender Tutorials – These tutorials are easy to follow and show you what Blender is truly capably of.

CG Masters: Blender 3D Tutorials – A comprehensive collection of tutorials and guides, giving you the essentials that you need to get started with Blender. Blender 3D Design Course – This fantastic site gives you everything that you need to learn and teach Blender. It is constantly updated and video guides are also provided for your convenience.

Software to Enrich 3D Design

There are lots of handy utilities that are freely available that help the design process greatly. Certain functions, such as sculpting, benefit from using a dedicated application for the task, in conjunction with Blender. After all a tool designed specifically for the job is likely to give wider scope it terms of functionality and creativity. Here are some great apps that you can use to fine-tune your 3D rendering and other creative works, once you have become a bit more familiar with what is involved.


Sculptris is a multiplatform application that allows for highly detailed, advanced sculpting. It is a completely free tool for Windows and Mac that allows one to delve into the world of 3D sculpting with no limits. Sculptris is the freeware alternative to Zbrush, a leading sculpting application. The functionality and usage of this free app mimics Zbrush, making it easy to transition to the paid, powerhouse Zbrush. In its own right, Sculptris is an outstanding 3D design application that allows for a great introduction to 3D sculpting and painting.


Unity is a fantastic game engine that works wonderfully alongside Blender. Using the Unity game engine and Blender, one can develop everything from mobile games to next generation 3D renderings. Unity is primarily aimed at desktop and mobile development, and does not particularly cater to console games, although the possibilities to develop for consoles is there. Unity does offer a professional licence for those that have commercial interests, charged at $75 per month, however for anything else there is a free version available.


Meshlab is a great tool for working with 3D meshes, and the first of its kind in the open source arena. If you ever begin using laser scan data to assemble 3D meshes then this tool will be invaluable. It has fantastic capabilities of assembling 3D meshes from laser-data. Until one reaches a fairly advanced degree of skill, Meshlab will not be used. But once needed, this tool is essential.

Basic 3D Rendering Software that Do Need Specialized Skills

These applications listed are free to use and do not need any specialized skillset of knowledge base to operate, nothing near as expansive as Blender or paid applications such as Maya. If you want to dabble with 3D rendering, then these are the cream of the crop.


K3DSurf is a fun, free tool that allows one to create and visualize mathematical models in three, four, five and six dimensions, the experience itself is quite immersive. For those that like to match creative and logic, K3DSurf is a great way to visually get those ideas out there. It makes a fun experience out of mathematical drawings and equations, giving a 3D rendering that is accurate as well.


eDrawings is a great platform for both technical and everyday individuals across all fields to get together and share their 3D creations. eDrawings makes creating and observing 3D models of all sorts of everyday objects and designs, quick and easy. The act of interacting with a predesigned model is rather addictive, leading many users to devising their own 3D creations, and in turn veering into the software rendering field for the first time.

Art of Illusion

Art of Illusion is a 3D design, modelling and rendering application, similar to blender but having less functionality and an interface that is leaps and bounds simpler. Art of Illusion is easy to pick up and use, very a learning curve that is quick to grasp. One can take advantage of many 3D creations available online to become familiar with the tool itself. Despite the limited capabilities when compared to blender, Art of Illusion is still nevertheless a tool that can produce outstanding 3D renderings.


3DTin is a browser-based 3D modelling tool and community that aims to make the process of design easy to accomplish. One can explore the thousands of creations of others making this a favoured resource of those new to 3D printing.

123D Creature

123D Creature is a must have for anyone that owns an iPad. This iOS only app is made by Autodesk Inc. and allows for the easy, intuitive and yet highly customisable creation of 3D characters that are nothing short of amazing. The experience is highly rewarding and the creations are ready to be exported as an image, or 3D printed as a sculpture. In terms of 3D printing, this is one of the best apps available, almost making the purchase of an iPad for it alone, worthwhile.

Professional 3D Rendering

Should you have progressed to the point whereby you are now designing and earning money and or progress as a sizable reward, then it is logical to look towards more professional applications with wider scope. The need for such tools is normally exclusively for professionals, as the high cost is typically too high for beginners to even begin considering purchasing these high end tools. Once you have reached that pinnacle in your career, the following applications are considered to be standards of the industry.

Autodesk Maya

Maya is the foundation of 3D modelling and the rendering of animations. It is power hungry and can put any resources that you give it to work, giving real-time rendering of your creations. All major engines are supported by Maya, giving designers the basis to render accurate fluids, skin, fur, hair, muscle, cloth and other complex physics. You imagine it and Maya has a way to do it.

Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D is the competing 3D design studio to Maya. It compares in every way, matching Maya on almost all functions. When it comes to which is better, it seem to be simply a matter of personal preference. Cinema 4D is praised for being much easier to use than Maya, although Maya is said to hold many complex design capabilities that are not yet implemented by Cinema 4D. Regardless they are both quite evenly matched, with Cinema 4D specializing in the placing and modification of 3D elements within scenes.