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3D Modeling Software Types:
Organic vs Hard-Surface

Last Updated: April 11th, 2024

CAD (computer-aided design) is the use of software to conceptualize, create, modify, optimize, analyze, simulate, and render a design. While every CAD and modeling program is unique, we attempt to group them into two categories - organic and hard-surface.

Organic modeling programs are designed to streamline the design process of models representing people, organic matter, and abstract ideas.

Hard-Surface modeling programs are designed to streamline the design process of models representing non-living objects, especially those with a real-world functional value.

Table of Contents

Should I Use Organic or Hard-Surface Modeling?

When to use Organic:

  • Miniatures
  • People, Animals, or Plants
  • Concepts (e.g. automotive or aircraft design)
  • Jewelry
  • Texturing, Painting, and Animation

When to use Hard-Surface:

  • Functional or Mechanical Parts
  • Replicas, Trinkets, or Toys
  • Concept Translation to Application
  • Statics, Dynamics, Thermal, Fluid, and Electrical Simulations

What is Organic and Hard-Surface Modeling?

Organic Modeling

Organic modeling software is designed to streamline the design process of models representing people, organic matter, and abstract ideas. These programs typically include digital sculpting, painting, and animation.

Organic programs grant enormous creative freedom, which allows the emergence of beautiful art, miniatures, and jewelry. Professional artists, hobbyists, and students can affordably access these products to create virtually anything they can dream of.

Something often overlooked from the other side of the isle, Organic modeling can play a vital role in quickly conceptualizing ideas before being designed in a CAD program. For example, automotive and aircraft designs can be conceptualized within minutes with a program like Zbrush or Blender.

Rhino Model PlaneRhino3D - rhinofan
ZBrush Model JewelryZBrush - RVDS

Hard-Surface Modeling

Hard-Surface modeling is designed to streamline the design process of models representing non-living objects, especially those with a real-world functional value. These CAD programs are typically parametric-based (constraints and dimensions).

Any program in our Hard-Surface category is ideal if you want to manipulate STLs from repositories or create your own functional designs. Non-functional items, such as abstract art, can be created with these program but they are not well-suited for it.

Professional CAD programs like Solidworks or Inventor have the ability to conduct static, dynamic, thermal, fluid, and electric simulations. CAD programs are primarily used by engineers, DIYers, hobbyists, and students.

Free & Paid Organic Modeling Software

Free Organic Modeling

Blender is a popular open-source program for modeling, and it has the ability to perform a variety of other functions - it is the jack of all trades, master of none.

ZBrush Core Mini is the elementary version of ZBrush that is minimalistic in features.

ZBrush Core Mini

For: Beginners



For: General



For: General


Paid Organic Modeling

ZBrush Core is the next step up from Mini, with basic features to learn on. The full-version ZBrush grants access to the powerful features used by professional artists.

Cinema 4D has been used to model and render movies such as Iron Man 3, Inception, and War of the Worlds. It is no stranger to being utilized to create wonderous models.


For: Beginners

Monthly: $2
Yearly: $15

ZBrush Core

For: General

Monthly: $10


For: Pros

Monthly: $39
Perpetual: $895

Cinema 4D

For: General

Monthly: $94
Yearly: $719


For: Pros

Monthly: $71
Yearly: $719


For: Pros

Perpetual: $995

Free & Paid Hard-Surface Modeling Software

Free Hard-Surface Modeling

Tinkercad, FreeCAD, Fusion 360, SketchUp, and Onshape are some of the front runners for free computer-aided design software. Proprietary programs are often freemium and prohibit commercial use with hobbyist licensing.


For: Beginners


3D Slash

For: Beginners

Free Version
Pro Yearly: $24


For: General



For: General



For: General



For: General

Free Version
Pro Monthly: $15
Pro Yearly: $140
Perpetual: $600

Fusion 360

For: General
(20% OFF)
Free Version
Daily: $6
Pro Monthly: $60
Pro Yearly: $500


For: General

Free Version
Pro Yearly: $300


For: Pros

Free Version
Yearly: $1,500

Paid Hard-Surface Modeling

Solidworks and Inventor are two CAD programs that are taught in universities and used in many industries. The full-versions of these programs are powerful and have unlimited commercial use, but the pricing creates a high barrier of entry for individuals and small businesses.

Our recommended pick for CAD is Dassault Systèmes's hobbyist licensing of Solidworks. This offering is affordable and allows you to learn the program.

Solidworks Makers

For: General

Yearly: $100
Monthly: $10


For: Pros

Yearly: $1,295
Perpetual: $3,995


For: Pros

Daily: $24
Monthly: $275
Yearly: $2,190

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