Getting your 3D scan is only half the story in making your 3D model useful. Because unless you’re fortunate, some form of model post-processing usually needs to be done to your scan to get it ready for its final purpose. Fortunately, a wealth of third-party essential 3D tools are available to help you out.
What tools you need to use after your scan is determined by what your ultimate goal is for your 3D model. Whether you want to do 3D printing, reverse engineering, 3D modeling, product design, or some combination of these, this article will help you by suggesting the best free tool in each category. That’s right, only free software because the paid ones are usually horrendously expensive; we’re talking hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for year-long licenses.
FreeCAD, as its name suggests, is an entirely free CAD modeling tool with powerful advanced modeling functions available. However, it does have quite a steep learning curve, but it is well worth learning.
Fusion 360 is one of the best CAD modeling software tools available and is excellent for turning a 3D mesh into a CAD model. It usually costs around $400 per year, but if you’re using it only for personal non-monetary uses, you can get free access to most of its features. It’s pretty straightforward to use, and plenty of tutorials are available.
Blender is one of the most powerful 3D modeling tools going. It can do everything from adjusting 3D models and texturing to animating, and because it’s open-source and free, there are a ton of YouTube tutorials out there that can teach you everything you need to know about it. You’ll absolutely need to watch some of these tutorials as Blender is not super user-friendly to beginners, but it’s well worth learning how to use it as you’re not going to find anything else as good or powerful for free.
If looking at Blender’s user interface (UI) is too overwhelming for you, don’t worry. You’re not alone on this one. A group of UI developers known as Bforartists has redeveloped Blender’s whole UI to make it much simpler to use.
Chitubox is compatible with a long list of resin 3D printers and offers auto-scaling so you can be sure your model isn’t too big to print and quick automatic support generation to get your model in a printable state quickly.
ideaMaker is a good option if you’re using an FDM 3D printer. It’s got a user-friendly interface with clearly labeled buttons and auto repair and auto-generate support features to get your 3D model ready for printing fast.
Check out this guide if you want to know how to get your 3D models ready for 3D printing.
Mesh Editing Tools
Meshmixer is a jack of all trades, making it great for finishing up 3D scanned models as it allows you to edit, combine, and clean up meshes and fix any issues that might prevent a mesh from being 3D printed. It’s pretty easy to use and won’t take long to learn. However, unfortunately, Autodesk has ceased developing it, so what you see now is what you’ll get forever. Its only real downside is that it only runs on Windows systems unless you can find the macOS client out there in the wild, but be warned, Autodesk removed it due to security issues.
MeshLab is another free, open-source system for editing meshes. It has a similar functionality as Meshmixer but is a little more difficult to use. Its main advantage over Meshmixer is that it runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Sometimes, manually texturing your mesh can be the best way to get an excellent colored 3D model. However, creating the texture yourself can be a pain, but with a bit of help from pre-made textures, you can get a fully textured model fast. Both these sites are entirely free and have an excellent collection of textures, but if you use them a lot, do consider donating so they can remain free.
Another idea for textures is using an AI art engine like Dall E2 to generate textures from a description, though it might take a few attempts to get something reasonably good. However, keep in mind that the AI-generated textures are a bit of a legal grey area at the moment as some of the content might have been created through the use of copyrighted work, so don’t use it for anything other than personal use.
3D Model Stores
Perhaps, you would like to make a little extra money on the side. If so, you can upload your finished 3D creations on these websites for sale. Just so you know, scanning and uploading copyrighted items is not allowed on these sites.
And that wraps up our list of essential 3D tools. Let us know in the comments if we need to include any great pieces of free software or websites.