Have you ever wanted to get started in the gaming, film, or 3D printing industries? Dreamed of artistic freedom when it comes to a 3D canvas? Figuring out what your needs and goals are before researching and buying software is critical to getting the most out of your purchase.
Keep reading below to learn about the best 3D sculpting softwares available.
What is the Best 3D Sculpting Software?
There are a lot of options out there on the market now, both for hobbyists and professionals alike. Features and prices are some of the most common aspects of what to look for.
These are our picks for the best 3D sculpting software:
Developed and distributed by Pixologic, an American company, ZBrush is a premier 3D application for sculpting, texturing, and painting your 3D models. The program is used widely throughout many industries as the sole 3D sculpting medium or as part of an optimized workflow.
ZBrush uses a unique “3D pixel” technology instead of computer-aided design programs when crafting and sculpting models.
The 3D pixels are known as “pixols” and, similar to how MIDI files or vector-based graphics work, each pixol is less of an individual unit that stores a set amount of information and more of a container that houses information or formulas on things like depth, orientation, material, and color tone.
The level of customization that can be done from the program’s user interface and suite down to the individual brushes and materials is truly remarkable. This feature alone is why it is so prevalent in the digital art scene.
The price tag is a hefty deterrent for any newcomers or hobbyists that are maybe just starting their 3D sculpting career and aren’t sure what they need or can do within their means.
Zbrush Key Features:
- Quick access to commands through the XMD ToolBox
- Pen pressure can be used for things like brush size
- Dual alpha and textures
- High level of customization
Zbrush User Experience:
Even with online support guides, the learning curve is pretty steep making ZBrush a specialized tool in the kit of an experienced professional.
Some people also find the user interface of the program to be poorly designed and clunky compared to other professional alternatives out there.
Check out our list of the Best Zbrush Tutorials
Pixologic offers multiple versions of ZBrush under different names that have various features restricted behind tiered paywalls.
ZBrushCoreMini is a free version that is quite limited but a good tool for experimenting with 3D sculpting, and ZBrushCore has a software-as-a-service payment method of about $10 per month for more creativity.
The full, unbridled package of ZBrush will cost you approximately $40 each month or you can get a static version of ZBrush for a one-time fee of just shy of $900.
There is some investment but the monthly billing method means you will always have the latest and greatest version of ZBrush and it can be canceled at any time.
What We Like/Dislike About Zbrush :
- Multiple payment options
- Different packages for experimenting with 3D sculpting
- Relatively low requirements to run smoothly
- Customization of workstation and tools beyond compare
- The hefty price tag limits entry-level artists and creators
- Needs a high time investment to learn core skills for sculpting
We give ZBrush a 9 out of 10 for all of its utility and advanced technology with minor points being taken off for expensive pricing and the time investment required to learn the program’s features.
Often seen as the main competitor to ZBrush when it comes to 3D sculpting, Mudbox is a 3D modeling, sculpting, and painting software created by a team of former artists at Weta Digital.
Tibor Madjar, David Cardwell, and Andrew Camenisch went on to found Skymatter and develop Mudbox which was then acquired by industry titan Autodesk.
Mudbox utilizes more traditional technologies and approaches when it comes to sculpting a 3D model. Like many sculpting softwares, models begin as a simple polygon mesh that can then be molded and manipulated to achieve the desired shape and size through the use of different tools.
Mudbox may not have the fancy “pixol” technology like ZBrush does, but its traditional art software design can be seen through the inclusion of sculpting and painting layers.
This means that users can make adjustments to their 3D model through things like masks without making permanent changes. A layer-based workflow like this allows for greater creativity and experimentation than using an undo function might.
If the thought of ZBrush’s price has you down, then Mudbox might be the 3D sculpting solution for you. The monthly subscription plan is a quarter of the price of ZBrush’s with a few other options for financing your use of the program.
Mudbox Key Features:
- Layer-based workflows and brush-based workflows
- High-quality models even for realistic effects
- Ability to paint maps directly to polygon mesh
- Made with artists in mind
Mudbox User Experience:
Learning how to use Mudbox has been easy for most people interested in the 3D sculpting field, thanks to a focus on the art of sculpting rather than all of the technical aspects of making a 3D model as well as an intuitive user interface.
In a professionally creative setting, Mudbox is often used in conjunction with another Autodesk software, Maya. The programs usually have different roles in an artistic pipeline, but the ability to simply send projects and models between the two is a wonderful feature.
The biggest gripe people tend to have is that Mudbox is not as powerful as Maya, otherwise, most complaints about the program are about very specific things that individuals don’t care for, like right-click commands for example.
Compared to ZBrush’s $40 a month, Mudbox’s $10 per month subscription plan is not nearly as gouging on your bank account while still providing you with a quality piece of software.
There are also $95 per year and $270 every three years payment options but unfortunately, there are no one-time purchases of the software.
Autodesk has started using a Flex token system for 24-hour pay-as-you-go access to the application’s features as needed. Each token costs $3 (except for the highest number of tokens purchasable), which seems great but the minimum number of tokens you can buy is 100 tokens.
If you just need to touch up or paint a model imported from another program now and then, the Flex tokens might be a great option for you.
What We Like/Dislike About Mudbox:
- Cheaper alternative to ZBrush with similar capabilities
- Learning is intuitive and fun
- Seamless back and forth between Maya
- Can be glitchy at times
- Recognizing and closing small gaps automatically doesn’t happen
Mudbox scores a 7 out of 10 for a much more intuitive and affordable approach to 3D sculpting but loses points for being a suite used mostly for model enhancements instead of a standalone sculpting software as well as some minor frustrations.
A powerful 3D creation suite, Blender is a community-driven project under the GNU General Public License (GPL) headed up by the Blender Foundation and its spin-off companies, Blender Institute and Blender Studio.
What the GNU GPL licensing means is that the software is open-source, available to anyone, anywhere, for any purpose which is downright impressive.
The program boasts the ability to support an industrial 3D pipeline from modeling to rigging, animation, rendering, and more in line with the project’s mission to provide the world with the best possible 3D CG technology as open-source software.
Because Blender has so many features, and sculpting is just one of those features, each feature leaves a little to be desired. Many people wish Blender would implement some of the technologies or fixes that other industry-leading programs have so that Blender can become their sole program for 3D sculpting.
Fortunately, Blender is constantly being updated and improved thanks to the dedicated development team as well as useful user feedback and support from the community.
Things that people desperately want from Blender’s 3D sculpting are even coded in Python independently of the main project’s work by individuals, who are then happy to share their work in future patches.
In case you aren’t aware of what open source means, you might be thinking that this all sounds so amazing that it must have an outrageous cost.
To many people’s delightful surprise, everything about Blender is free with no trials or paywall limitations. This makes it a great option for trying your hand at 3D sculpting and art in general.
Blender Key Features:
- Fully customizable user interface
- Huge suite of uses other than 3D sculpting
- Python API allows custom scripts to be programmed for finer control
- Regular updates and improvements from transparent leadership
Blender User Experience:
When it comes to an application this powerful, you expect that everything will flow smoothly and that creating is a natural extension of one’s imagination. Unfortunately, this is not the case when using Blender.
Professionals make it look easy, but even seasoned veterans in the industry are sometimes confused and frustrated by Blender’s cluttered user interface. Some might even go as far as calling it counterintuitive compared to other 3D sculpting interfaces.
To make matters worse, the documentation for Blender, while certainly plentiful, is either far too outdated to be useful for the latest stable version of the program, or just doesn’t answer some questions with all of its technical jargon.
Check out our list of the Best Blender Tutorials
One of the amazing things about Blender is that it is completely free and open-source. All of the included features are available from the start without any paywalls.
You can even find amazing plugins that do very specific things for you for free provided by the community on platforms such as GitHub.
If you do find that your career advances or you get a lot of use out of Blender, consider donating back to the development team to support their efforts.
What We Like/Dislike About Blender:
- Access to all features for free
- Plenty of official resources and community-driven tutorials for newcomers
- Works even on low-end computers
- Has tons of uses but doesn’t necessarily do any of them well
Blender also gets a 7 out of 10 for being a completely free 3D sculpting tool for hobbyists and beginners. A clunky user interface, a bunch of other features you may never use for digital 3D art, and missing some key sculpting features all contribute to Blender’s lost points.
We looked at Maya briefly earlier when we discussed Mudbox. Both are Autodesk products that can be used for 3D modeling and sculpting but are some of their differences?
Maya is an award-winning software geared toward professionals that need performing simulations or animations to their 3D models, regardless of where they come from. This makes Blender one of the closest competitors of Maya in terms of its uses and features.
Although sculpting is possible in Maya, it isn’t the primary use which is why you can generally shape a model in Maya before you will quickly need to swap to something like Mudbox to add finer details with more intuitive tools.
Even when following recommendations to use the software with a graphics drawing tablet, the experience isn’t as smooth as in something like ZBrush.
The first thing that many people notice about Maya is how expensive it is. A $1785 yearly or even just the $225 monthly subscription plan is one of the biggest hurdles for anyone looking to learn Maya.
An inflated price is the result of powerful software used so commonly throughout the industry that it is almost standard. At this price point, any company hiring digital artists for 3D sculpting should be footing the bill of the software for individuals.
Maya Key Features:
- Focus on sculpting and animation workflows
- Adaptive retopology
- NURBS modeling for 3D model construction
- Bifrost for Maya allows for physically accurate simulations of models
Maya User Experience:
With no prior experience, Maya can be a difficult landscape to navigate. With a little time and effort, many tend to prefer Maya’s straightforward and easily navigable user interface over competitors like Blender.
Autodesk has made multiple strides in making Maya more accessible for first-time users while improving the quality of life for returning users. An application home and interactive tutorials allow you to learn more about the Maya environment in an intuitive and guided user experience.
Users on multiple platforms including Windows, Mac, and Linux can run the program smoothly and without issue which gives people peace of mind knowing they can sculpt in 3D from the familiarity of their preferred operating system.
Check out our list of the Best Maya Tutorials
Autodesk doesn’t mess around with its prices when they know they have a quality product. Maya costs significantly more than even ZBrush at $225 monthly or $1785 annually.
Autodesk also offers a subscription plan of $5085 every three years much like Mudbox which saves you about $270 over an annual subscription paid for three separate times.
Maya is another instance of Autodesk using the Flex token payment system. Having the ability to use a program as powerful as Maya for 24 hours at just $3 a token sounds amazing but what they don’t like to tell you until right before you pay is that six tokens are required per 24-hour access.
At $18 a use, the offer is nothing to sneeze at, but if you know you’re going to need more than a couple of 24-hour uses within a single month you’re better off just getting a monthly subscription.
What We Like/Dislike About Maya:
- Seamlessly integrates with Mudbox
- Can operate sculpting tools with a three-button mouse
- Intended for rendering simulations or animations rather than just sculpting
- Especially expensive price is hard to justify for just 3D sculpting
Despite our best efforts to find the good in Maya, it scores a 6 out of 10. Our verdict for Maya comes from our consideration of Maya’s 3D sculpting capabilities.
Between the program being so expensive right out of the gate, along with the fact that you may need a whole other application and monthly payment plan just to sculpt high-quality 3D models you can be proud of is unreasonable.
The best parts of Maya simply wouldn’t be used by a significant portion of artists looking to just create 3D still imagery or export models for 3D printing.
Designed by the minds of European software developer Pilgway, 3D-Coat is another digital 3D sculpting tool meant to make freely creating organic and hard surface 3D models easy.
3D-Coat features a type of sculpting that uses 3D pixels they call “voxels” similar to what ZBrush does at a fraction of the cost. These voxels allow users to easily sculpt and mold their models, create user-friendly UV maps for texturing, and manipulate the topology of a project.
All of these features of voxel-based sculpting supposedly contribute to a greater degree of flexibility in modeling as well as increased versatility and speed for the whole 3D sculpting process.
The program is also used extensively when it comes to painting and texturing models exported from other 3D sculpting applications thanks to its ability to accept most of the common file types used in the VFX and gaming industries.
Affordable and flexible, 3D-Coat has a wide variety of payment options for those who aren’t sure if they are completely sold on the application’s features.
Depending on your needs, you may even decide to use a slightly different program that Pilgway offers called 3D-CoatPrint which primarily deals with optimizing parts for 3D printing. This option is free as of writing this article which is a great deal on a compact suite of tools that are a little more limited than 3D-Coat.
3D-Coat Key Features:
- Voxel-based sculpting
- Boolean operations with defined edges
- Fluid sculpting brushes
- Advanced texturing tools for dynamic tesselation
3D-Coat User Experience:
Using 3D-Coat feels good and makes sense when sculpting 3D models on a level that many other programs would struggle to achieve.
That being said, the graphic user interface which is probably the thing that users interact with most, aside from a model’s mesh, can stand to be improved upon.
Although there are some official resources and tutorials for getting new users up to speed with all the program’s features, there is some discontent among members of community forums with reports that constructive criticism of the program gets you blocked.
Not only that, error messages that pop up with no documentation while using the program go undiagnosed after notifying developers, and potentially useful feedback and suggestions from users are ignored.
One of our favorite things about 3D-Coat is that there are so many options when it comes to owning and using the program.
For individuals, you can opt to own a permanent version of the software for €379 with 12 months of free updates after a one-time purchase, or choose between renting to own, a monthly subscription, and a one-time rental for a whole year with no recurring payments.
Companies, schools, and even teacher/student pairings all have their options for buying a license to use this amazing application.
Just be aware that all of the prices you see on their official website are listed in euros. This means you’ll have to convert the price into US dollars (€1 = $1.07 at the time of writing) or whatever your local currency is.
What We Like/Dislike About 3D-Coat:
- Polygon painting after sculpting is quick and easy
- Solid retopology makes sculpting feel natural
- File compatibility with most industry standards
- Relatively unstable program with more than the occasional bug
- Graphical user interface could be easier to understand and navigate
A 7 out of 10 seems fair as far as 3D-Coat is concerned. Having a similar approach to creative freedom and natural feeling sculpting that ZBrush does is certainly nice. The application is well within most individuals’ and companies’ budgets thanks to their many financing options.
Comprehensive painting and texturing as well as easy-to-use UV maps can make this your one-stop-shop for 3D sculpting but dealing with crashes and errors might be too much of a headache to deal with so we had to deduct some points.
Best 3D Sculpting Software FAQ
Should I learn 3D sculpting?
3D sculpting is well worth learning. It supplies the foundations of becoming a 3D modeler. This is because there are some details that you just can’t mimic with modeling, especially more like-like designs.
Even for animation, it is important as a lot of more detailed and realistic CGI relies on some form of 3D sculpting.
Is ZBrush free?
While there are paid versions of ZBrush, the basic program is completely free. This means that if you want to test out the software, or just start to learn how to sculpt in general, then ZBrush is a great option.
Is 3D sculpting hard?
It can be incredibly hard to learn, especially if you don’t have any basic knowledge of 3D sculpting software. Even if you do have experience, it can be difficult switching to new software and learning all of the intricacies of the new tools and layout.
While it can take as little as six months for people to learn the basics of sculpting, it takes years to learn how to use the software and tools.
Is 3D modeling like sculpting?
While they are similar, they are different enough to make it hard to jump from one to the other. Like physical sculpting, a 3D sculpture takes a polygon mesh and manipulates it like you would clay or other materials. 3D modeling, however, involves building an item by the addition of materials known as polygons.
That’s our list of the best 3D sculpting software to try your hand at this year.
The first thing to look into when choosing a 3D sculpting software is the software’s features. Ideally, all of the tools and any CAD will be tailored just for sculpting a digital mesh and making it feel as natural as possible.
Cost and how much you will use the software are the second most important factors when deciding on what 3D sculpting software is right for you. If you’re a hobbyist new to 3D sculpting or only want to work on projects every other month, buying into an annual subscription plan or a massive one-time payment simply doesn’t make sense.
Thirdly, and finally, consider what you are using the program for. If you need to support an entire creative pipeline, something like Blender might better suit your needs rather than a highly specialized program made just for 3D sculpting like Zbrush.