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I am often asked ‘what is that killer’ app – people want to know what software to use for 3D modelling. There is no simple answer. If everybody was to use the same creation software there is the risk that the work would all start to look rather similar. I always place great emphasis on ‘ways of work’ rather than the ‘means’ of working. The software is just a tool and what is important is what you do with it and how you use it.

Touch screen tablet computers are offering a very interesting ways of digital 3D modelling and I keep a close eye on the AUTODESK 123D family of apps.  The race is on to develop a simple and intuitive 3D modelling software to keep up with the surge of interest in 3D printing. Ultimately I would suggest it is a too complex subject to distil into that single killer app and that you will find you will use a whole number of different 3D software tools.

My answer to this is to have a favourite tool. A program that will need some time spent on it to learn but will be the unifying element to all the different digital ways you might end up working. A program that can import different file types for further editing or remodelling. A program that will offer different types of modelling techniques such as mesh sculpting for organic forms or hard edge geometric modelling for engineering shapes.  I am very much of the open source ethos so look no further than Blender.

1 Download Blender

This is the first in a series of videos that offers a basic introduction to using Blender, an open source 3D modelling software. The series is aimed at those who might not be that confidant with computer software but want to gain knowledge of digital 3D modelling. First you need to download Blender. I use windows operating system so for other systems the download could be a bit different. This video has been edited so your download will take longer. Blender runs with a computer language called Python and if Python is not already on your computer this will also take a bit longer to download. With Windows, Control Panel -> Systems and Security -> System will tell you whether your system type is 32 bit or 64 bit.

2 Customise your workspace

This second videos shows how to set up a start up file so the workspace suits your preferences. Once this is save each time you open Blender it will be customised to how you like it. You will also begin to get an idea of the layout of the program before trying to model something.

3 Know your workspace

Before you make a start it is useful to know your way around the Blender 3D modelling work space. This video shows how to split modelling windows for multiple views. How to use the key board and the mouse buttons to aid with operating the program. The T key opens and closes the Tools menu while the N key the Properties menu in a 3D View. The Space bar is used for searching out tools. The Home key brings the modeling window to a home position while the S key will scale with the Left mouse press and the G key grabs an element with the Left mouse press. Select an item with a Right mouse press. Move your modeling world with the Center button/wheel pressed and zoom in and out with the mouse wheel.

4 Modelling with vertices

This is a simple introductory project to 3D modelling with vertices in Blender. This is a good exercise in thinking in 3 dimensions. It introducing how in Blender there is an Object Mode where objects are placed into the modelling world. Consider it the mode where you always return to, your home mode. Then when you want to change or edit a model you do it in Edit Mode. The short cut key move between these two modes is the Tab key. At any stage key A selects all in a window, or deselects if something is selected. Right mouse button select individual elements. Holding down the Shift key and pressing I key at the same time will invert a selection. In this project, where you draw in three dimensional space with dots that link to make up a mesh it is best to start with one vertices or dot. To add and link a second vertices hold down the Ctrl key and Left mouse press. Remember the dot is added on the plane in which you are viewing so it is important to think from what angle you are viewing your model. When you want to fill between two points or fill a whole area select the first vertices with a Right mouse press, then hold down the Shift key (above Ctrl often represented by and arrow icon) and select further elements with more Right mouse presses. Then key F will bridge 2 vertices or fill between 3 or 4 vertices. To Undo at any stage the shortcut is Ctrl and key Z together

5 Modelling from a grease pencil drawing

Using the ‘grease pencil’ in Blender a simple two dimensional drawing is extruded into three dimensional space and then manipulated to give it more form and volume. The black grease pencil drawing is converted to a path that is made up of vertices. However this path (2D) will not make a mesh (3D) so back in Object mode the selected path object must be converted to a mesh object - see video. Key E is used to extrude a selected group of vertices (or edges, or faces) in edit mode. To keep your extrusion to one plane also press the key for that plane such as X, Y or Z. To select all the vertices around or vertically on a mesh hold down Alt when you select with the Right mouse press. Holding down Tab as well will enable you to select multiple times. All these key and mouse combinations are confusing to begin with but the more you use them the more natural it becomes.

6 Modelling with metaballs

Unfairly neglected and not a very common technique of 3D modelling Blenders ‘metaballs’ offers a surprisingly quick and easy way of producing organic looking forms. Once converted to a mesh the shape can be edited using techniques learn in the previous videos.

7 Modelling with boolean

Boolean in 3D modelling is the technique of using the outcome of adding two forms together, or subtracting one shape from the other, a sort of negative result or to use the intersection of two objects. This technique certainly tests your ability to manipulate three dimensional special relationships.

8 Modelling in sculpt mode

Of all the digital modelling techniques Blenders Sculpt mode is described as most like modelling a plastic material in the real world. Its drawback however is that it is more of a surface modelling tool and it is difficult to make dynamic sculptural forms with it.

9 Saving files and setting preferences

This video shows how to saved and navigate through file directories in Blender. It also covers where to find the wealth of add-ons available and how to switch them on. Although using the windows version of the software, other operating system will not be that different.

10 Append and import/export

To append in Blender is to load an object from one Blender project or file into another, while import is to bring a different 3D file type into Blender. The standard file type for 3D printing is the .stl file type and so this will need to be exported. This video briefly covers these procedures.


Blender program home page. Under the Education & Help tab there is a Wiki page (in many languages) with a User Manual and a Tutorials page.

Blender Documentation, this documentation has been put together by users so some information refers to old versions of Blender but it offers good documentation.

Blender Guru, tutorials and a blog that shows just what is capable.

Blender Cookie, a very thorough site of Blender basics, tutorials and articles.

Blender 3D Architect, using Blender for architectural visualisation

YouTube, when stuck just search out your Blender problems in YouTube. Being and open source program there are just masses of videos online.