When we think of free software we might be tempted to label it as basic or at least not as complex as commercial programs. In many cases this is true, but there are some exceptions. In the 3D graphics industry, to say that the related paid applications are pricey would be an understatement. The license costs for such programs vary from expensive to astronomical, at least for individuals who wish to get the chance to become 3D artists.
And this is where the exception applies: Blender is an open-source 3D modeling software, which thanks to its user-based development, benefits from continuous improvements, that turned it into a dangerous rival of many similar commercial applications designed for professionals.
Installation & Requirements
Blender’s installation might surprise you, because normally the process of installing such comprehensive graphics programs would take at least a couple of minutes. The program is up and running within a minute, you don’t need to configure anything and even if Blender is free there is no adware present.
Blender’s minimum hardware requirements are accessible for a fair amount of users: you should have at least a 1GHz single core CPU, 512 MB of RAM, 1024×768 Display with 16-bit color, 3-button mouse and Open-GL Graphics Card with 256 MB RAM. Moreover, there are 32 and 64-bit versions of Blender for all major operating systems: Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X 10.5 and higher, Linux and Free BSD.
In terms of looks, Blender’s slick grey interface is quite refreshing but for a new user the huge amount of features it displays might cause a great deal of confusion. In spite of the discouraging first impression, the layout is logically organized.
The top menu contains options for basic file operations and information about the currently opened file or scene. The main area displays the 3D model or design with a variety of tools located on both sides. Finally the bottom menu relies on buttons that reveal extended submenus when clicked, allowing the user to manipulate the currently opened design or scene.
Because Blender is a free program it has a large user community that created many guides and tutorials so a beginner has a lot of relevant documentation at its disposal to get acquainted with Blender’s capabilities and even learn its advanced aspects.
Some might say that Blender’s interface is stylish yet hard to comprehend, but the truth is they did a great job and managed to organize such a great amount of features in a clutter-free layout. And as a plus, the interface can be customized in a great deal of aspects for ease of use and improved workflow, which is very useful for intermediate and advanced users.
- Free and open-source application with extendable architecture via plug-ins.
- Contains all the tools needed for 3D modeling, animation and rendering.
- Versatile interface with many customizing options.
- Thanks to its large user community there are plenty of free tutorials and books for all levels of difficulty.
- Available for all major operating systems.
- Even if the latest version has an optimized interface, it remains hard to learn for most beginners.
- The real-time game rendering engine is in need of improvements.
3D modeling is difficult to learn, no matter the program you use and the best solution to ease your task is to find the specific application that suits you best. Blender holds a major advantage due to the fact that it’s free, because commercial 3D modeling programs have pricey licenses, out of reach for a lot of independent users or small companies.
Fortunately there are a number of free programs for 3D graphics besides Blender. Google Sketchup is a comprehensive application aiming towards easy and intuitive use, which might thrill beginners who don’t wish to struggle too much and start creating 3D models right away.
As for the commercial software products at the top of the list proudly stand Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya, two powerful tools for 3D modeling, animation and rendering with similar capabilities that were used to create an overwhelming number of popular movies and video games.
Google Sketchup, Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya are compatible with Windows and Mac OS X operating systems, so in comparison Blender has a wider accessibility, providing support for additional platforms such as Linux and FreeBSD.
The rich list of highly-capable 3D modeling apps make the decision process a difficult task. Still, Blender prevails in many aspects: it’s open-source and free, cross-platform, highly customizable, extendable through plug-ins, contains a powerful set of tools comparable to the ones of very expensive commercial products and there are many tutorials and guides available for it. Undeniably those are a lot of pros for which you don’t have to pay a single penny, at least enough of them to give it a try.