Examining what Blender CAD software has to offer for beginners, students, artists, or those with a more engineering mindset because “What” you want to create can eliminate what CAD 3D modeling software you use. We’ve gotten several listeners who have written in over recent months as we’ve done other software reviews who have been saying, “How about some of the other free ones, like Blender?” Told you we would get to it. Here we are.
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Blender CAD Software Review
I spent some time really digging in to Blender CAD software, because there’s really a whole world there in Blender. It’s pretty comprehensive. In fact, I even have a neighbor, a friend of the family, who has a fifteen or fourteen year old son who is getting into CAD and 3D printing. He’s been teaching himself Blender for quite a while now. I was hoping I could actually interview him for this episode but the schedule hasn’t worked out for that.
The point is that people of all ages are using Blender, from people that are just starting out to serious professionals. There is quite a community. Let me go over the fundamental thing that’s different about Blender CAD software. Obviously, those of you that use it already know this. For those of you that don’t, Blender is a completely free open source CAD software. In fact, it’s not just a CAD software. They call it a 3D creation suite, because it really is. They really are supporting what they call the entire pipeline of 3D, including modeling, animation, rendering, motion and tracking, animation stuff, even video editing. It also specifically works for game creation.
Obviously, I think what makes this software so attractive in the first place is that it’s free. That’s really amazing. This is an incredibly powerful program. I have, for a lot of years, used different programs, including 3D Studio Max, which is a very comprehensive and complex and expensive program. It really seems that Blender CAD software is every bit it’s equal. In fact, does more than 3D Studio Max does from what I can see anyway.
I think that if you are someone who is out there, who’s just starting out in learning and exploring CAD software and thinking of picking one to choose, I think Blender is a really serious one to consider. Obviously, it’s free. It’s free for everyone, for any purpose, even commercial use.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a student and you’re starting to learn it and then at some point, you’re not going to be a student anymore. You’re going to start doing things in business and commercially getting paid to do it. You can do that. You have all the rights to do it. It’s impressive that there’s quite an organization and community behind this program that is making a really robust program. But then also, it’s out there. It’s free.
They do certainly, on the website Blender.org, they actually talk about how you can donate to them. They do obviously solicit donations. They have to fund doing this somehow. Certainly, as you’re starting out, you don’t need to do it if you can’t afford it. Later, if you can afford it, they’re hoping that you will do that. There’s actually a development fund they have that you can agree to pay them something monthly if you’re behind it. I think that’s a good thing to do if you’re using this program regularly because they are constantly making updates to it.
Blender CAD Software Tutorials and Features
There’s just such a wealth of resources information. They have an online manual, they have a whole tutorials section, they do have professional support available if you need it. There’s also community support, a really good FAQ and demo files.
They actually have their own YouTube channel with a lot of videos. Some of those videos are from recent Blender conferences where you can see them talking about new features. There’s also a lot of independent YouTube videos made that are tutorials. They have tutorials for beginners and advanced tutorials on new features and things like that. A lot of things to consider.
In terms of the features, I’m going to get down to what I think is really so impressive about this program. Like I said, it’s sort of beginning to end. They have everything in here. My typical CAD program I’ve talked about, I use Rhinoceros a lot. That’s really primarily just a modeling program. There’s some basic rendering you can do in there but it’s in no way photo realistic. You have to use another program for that. In reality, I find the same thing with a lot of other CAD programs.
Blender has photo realistic rendering built right into it. It’s very serious in terms of how realistic it is and have quite some impressive rendering engines in there. Modeling, obviously it does modeling. Every CAD program we’re talking about and we’re reviewing has modeling. It has a wide range of tools.
I actually got an email recently written in from a long time listener and relatively frequent communicator with us, mostly over social media, like Facebook, Joe Larson. He emailed recently after our 3D printed puzzle episode and said he read that one and he was letting us know that he did a series of books about designing for 3D printing, which I think you might all want to check out.
He has obviously made this book, but the point is he’s done a lot of his work in Blender. He basically was giving a shout out to us. He says, “Blender is a perfect software for doing things like those 3D printed puzzle toys and things.” If you haven’t heard that episode, go back to it. He says that Blender is perfect from his experience because he has not experienced any other software that can switch between artistic sculpting and true solid modeling seamlessly. I really appreciate and I trust his word on that. I don’t have as much experience in Blender but from what I’m seeing, certainly there are quite a wide variety of tools.
We’ve talked about many different CAD programs over recent months here as we’ve been reviewing them. We’ve reviewed a lot of the strict, more engineering CAD programs. We reviewed ZBrush, which is really entirely about sculpting. It’s much more of an artistic process, sculpting a solid block of clay, if you will, in the computer. It doesn’t have some of the other capabilities of more of a strict parametric CAD programs.
Blender CAD software really fits in both of those camps. It Joe says, it allows you to switch back and forth between them, which I think is really impressive. I actually have always looked for logins and things for Rhinoceros to allow me to do some of those different things in one program. A lot of times, I’ve actually used different programs to achieve certain things. It would be nice to do it all in one program.
Blender also says that it has a lot of realistic materials. In terms of translucency for glass and things, also for real metals and things. It has a lot of different capabilities and great materials available there.
Blender CAD Software – Animation
When it comes to animation, there’s different aspects of animation. In the old school days, when I was a very early user of 3D Studio, even before it was called 3D Studio Max. That was the animation program at the time. I did a lot of animations. Actually earlier in my career, I used to do, in the early days of computer 3D modeling, I actually did accident reconstruction animations for court cases, with car crashes and where people got hurt and stuff like that.
Animation right then at that time, was all about you actually had to make every different part of the body be a different object and then have pivot points that related in a hierarchy and you could move them and animate them.
Modern animation of characters actually allows you, in a lot of different programs, to make one solid model that doesn’t have a bunch of separate pieces that are just grouped together. It’s actually one piece. The animation tools allow you to bend, create joints, bend them, move things around. Especially when it comes to human bodies or animals and things or even characters. It makes them look incredibly realistic.
They have this thing called fast rigging within Blender where you transform a model into a posable character. It’s very easy, apparently. I’ve played around with it but still, it takes a long, long time. I’m going to cover that in a couple of minutes here. A long, long time to really get intimately familiar with a program to speak from experience. I’m not going to claim that I’m at that point here. I’m just trying to provide you, our listeners, with some helpful information to consider as you’re considering what program to use and to start working with or to switch to.
Animation, certainly full blown animation where they have some automated walk cycles for making things walk. It used to be you had to completely create all that motion yourself. These days, they have some sort of, I would call them templates or inherent built-in features that can help you with some of those basic motions, especially repetitive motions.
They have nonlinear animation for independent movements. Nonlinear editing is very important with inverse kinematics and all sorts of different features. You can actually do nonlinear video editing. I’m getting ahead of myself here with this. It actually has video editing capability right within Blender. I haven’t even gotten through half the list of features this thing has yet.
Sculpting, of course I mentioned that. Just like ZBrush, this program has absolute native sculpting features. They have 20 different brush types, high res sculpting support, dynamic topology sculpting and mirrored sculpting, which is pretty cool to be efficient.
Blender CAD Software – Renderings
They have another thing that I find is very important if you’re going to be doing any renderings. Maybe that’s not always going to be true of people that are doing work for 3D printing specifically. But at some point, if you’re going to do renderings, and/or animations of your stuff, you get to texture mapping and making objects look realistic. It has a really good UV unwrapping feature when you take your 3D object.
It can basically, think about taking the skin off of it and putting it flat so that then you have a map for how you want to put color and texture. You do things in maybe Photoshop to create a texture map, which is basically an image, which is going to then wrap back on the object and make it look like you have all the colors and materials and textures and different things actually appear where they’re supposed to, as you want them to.
A lot of how that is done these days is actually they make a grid map on a 3D object and then unwrap it and translate that into a flat map surface. You can actually do 2D graphic work or have someone else do it and then you can wrap that back on the object and make it look realistic. It’s very impressive. You can also paint directly onto a model, onto a mesh if you want to with this unwrapping that they have.
Anyway, they’ve got such powerful tools. They have other simulations. If you need to be modeling, let’s say you’re making a new vase. So many people in 3D printing make a vase and 3D print it. What about animating it? What about animating somebody pouring water into it?
They have a lot of impressive simulations in Blender CAD software for fluid, realistic water and fluid simulations. Smoke, hair that can blow in the wind and interact with coming in contact with other objects, cloth, amazing cloth simulations for clothing. This is really impressive.
Tracy has a lot of experience in textile design. She started in the textile design field in her career. Rendering cloth that looks realistic, fabrics that look realistic, has been a very difficult thing to do historically. They’ve done a really good job here within Blender. You have native tools for doing it.
They also have features for particles. Creating things like rain, sparks, dust, things like that. Another impressive feature … they’re really trying to cover all the bases here in this software. It’s really impressive for an open source project. They have tools for game creation.
I think it’s important to note that they have a lot of tools specifically for creating games and creating characters for games within Blender. I actually saw, as I was going through some of their YouTube channel, there’s actually an advertisement. I almost never watch the ads in front of a YouTube video, but here’s a good example of how there was a very relevant ad at the beginning.
I actually at first thought it was part of this tutorial video I was starting to watch about Blender. YouTube knows that I was going to watch a Blender video and so put a relevant ad there that was about this company that makes its own set of tutorials, which I think are paid tutorials. Has their own tutorials available for helping you learn how to construct games and game characters with Blender.
If that’s something you’re into and you want to learn how to do it, just understand that there is a lot of options, tools and support out there. A lot of it is free but also some of it is paid. I think it’s great that they’re there, because if you’re going to get into using a program that’s this complex, then you need support and help along the way. At least you can get it.
I mentioned video editing but I think it’s also really important to understand that this video editor that is inherent in Blender is really complex. I’ve done some video editing of my own in Adobe Premier and programs like that, that are really serious video editing programs. The interface and the tools and the features that they have here are actually very impressive.
I think there would be no need, if you’re doing things within Blender, there would be no need for the skill level that I would expect anybody who’s doing real CAD modeling, rendering, animation who is a designer, an engineer or some type of person like that. There’d be no reason to go and use another program for video editing.
If you really need that professional video editing, you probably ought to go have a professional video editor do it for you. If you’re just doing your own, as a part of your own work within Blender, certainly it’s seamless that it’s all in the same program. I think it would be a really good option and a fine solution to use the internal video editing they have here.
Blender CAD Software Extensions
Another thing that I’ve always been a fan of with CAD programs, and it’s one of the things that I like about Rhino as I mentioned before, is that they have extensions. Because Blender is part of a community and it’s an open source community, there are a lot of enthusiasts and developers that have created a lot of what they call extensions. These are additional tools.
They even have a set of tools specifically for 3D printing that’s one of these extensions that’s called the 3D printing toolbox. In addition to that, they’ve got generators for trees and terrain and making clouds and things like that. That’s, to me, another really good sign of a robust program. To me, also, it’s impressive. To me, it’s the right thing to do.
If you’re going to be making such a complex program, whether you are a company that’s making it and selling it for profit or you’re part of an open source community, it speaks well of a program when it’s open enough that other companies can make third party components for it. Whether you call them plugins or extensions or anything else. I like that about it. I’m impressed.
In terms of compatibility, Blender CAD software works with all of the major file formats for images, videos and 3D. It’s got native support in the 3D world for 3DS, COLLADA Film Box, Autodesk DXF, Wavefront OBJ, DirectX, LightWave. Of course they have your standard STL, which is important. There are others, I’m not going to read them all. They’ve got really good compatibility for that.
Final Thoughts on Blender CAD Software
I want to start to wrap up this review by talking about some aspects of Blender CAD software. I think this is true of any really comprehensive CAD program. People always ask, “Is it easy to use?” I would say, “No, it’s not easy to use. But neither is any other CAD program that is that comprehensive.” Rhinoceros is not easy to use, especially if you’re a new user coming into it. 3D Studio Max is not easy to use. ZBrush is not easy to use.
I think that any CAD program, you’ve got to put in a serious amount of time and effort into it. You’ve got to train yourself, you’ve got to spend a lot of hours at it. Eventually, a lot of it becomes easy for you. It becomes intuitive. It becomes, I like to say, like breathing. You don’t have to think about, “Where does this come in? What am I going to do next? Because I want to do this or I want to construct this kind of shape.” You don’t really think too much about it. You just do it. You start going at it.
It’s not easy to use. I don’t think their interface is necessarily intuitive. The user interface, it’s complex because this program, there’s just so much jam packed in there. You have to learn this user interface. It’s not going to be easy, you’ve got to train yourself.
However, what I have learned is that I think there’s a difference between easy to use and things that make it simpler to use. I know that may sound like the same thing but there is a distinction. Meaning, once you learn a certain aspect of the user interface for a command or several commands within their system, that user interface is the same throughout the different modules of the program. Either you’re modeling or you’re rendering or you’re animating or you’re doing these different functions.
There’s a predictability that you get to learn very quickly once you start learning any aspect of the program. That makes it a little simpler to use. There’s consistency of design and user interface of this program. Everything has the same kind of building blocks that it’s built on within the program. I think that speaks very well and very highly of the program.
Again, I’m not really a Blender CAD software user. I’ve just scratched the surface. I’m not speaking with a lot of experience here. But I certainly have more than 20 years of CAD program experience. I’ll tell you, if I were starting out fresh today, I think I would very seriously consider Blender. I would probably download it and start to use it and put the time in, because it looks like this project is going to be here for quite some time. It’s already been around for a long time. There are communities and conferences about it. It has a lot of support. It’s really very impressive.
Certainly, if you are on a budget, I think it makes the decision even easier. It’s kind of a no brainer. I think that’s to their credit that they’re doing it. I don’t really know how you create such a robust program and all the support and the community all for free. They did it, more power to them.
Basically, I think I’m becoming a Blender CAD software fan. While I don’t know if I will ever really use it enough in what I do in my business, that I would use it as my primary program. I’m definitely going to spend some time with it and maybe use it for some of the things my other programs don’t do. Who knows, maybe in time I will switch over entirely. It’s really impressive. The more I hear about it, the more I like. There you go. As much of an unbiased review as I can give you on it. I’m impressed, I like it. There you go.
If you have any project you’d like to share to us that you’ve done on Blender CAD software, maybe you have some images or maybe even a video you created from it, animation, something like that, please reach out to us anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint. Or ask us a question, go to the homepage. You can fill out a form. That’s how actually Joe let me know about his book in time for this episode. You can always email at info@3DStartPoint.com.
- Blender CAD Software
- Blender CAD Software Features
- Blender CAD Software Tutorials
- Other 3D Start Point CAD Software Reviews
- 3D Printing Design Books by Joe Larson
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