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Digital Creativity: a Practical Guide

3D modelling

A practical guide to getting digitally creative and using digital tools and technologies to explore work, ideas, and research.

3D modelling

You might be used to working in 2D digitally, but what about 3D? We'll explore how to make things in three dimensions on a computer, from finding models to building your own.

What are 3D models?

You're probably more used to working in 2D on a computer - maybe you've made 2D images or presentations or worked on documents or videos. However, you can also work in three dimensions (3D) in ways which allow you to utilise all the space that the object would take up. 3D models are computer-based creations that exist in 3D, i.e. they have depth as well as existing horizontally and vertically.

These models can be used for a wide range of functions. They can be put into presentations in PowerPoint, used as assets in games and virtual reality experiences, and used with 3D printers to turn the virtual model into something physical and tangible.

3D modelling tools

To start creating 3D models, you will need to use a 3D modelling tool. There are many out there and they can be expensive, but there are also free and open source options, some of which we'll explore below. Bear in mind that some of them can have a steep learning curve, so some of the more simple options can be a good starting point for getting to grips with the concepts.


Blender is a free and open source 3D modelling tool that can be used as a desktop application on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It is a commonly used tool and you'll find lots of help and guidance for using it online.

Autodesk inventor

Autodesk Inventor is a piece of CAD (computer aided design) software that is good for creating 3D models that you want to use in the real world, for example for 3D printing. The IT Services Software page for Autodesk Inventor explains how you can get educational access to it whilst you're at the University when using it for educational purposes.

Other free 3D modelling tools

Tinkercad is a web-based free 3D modelling tool that is a great way to get started with 3D modelling without even having to install an application on your device. It's made by Autodesk, who make more complex 3D modelling software too, and has a range of learning resources on the site as well.

On Windows devices, Microsoft's 3D Builder tool is another good starting point for 3D modelling.

Other ways of getting 3D models

As well as making 3D models yourself, you can find 3D assets that others have made or scan physical objects using 3D scanning devices or apps.

Finding 3D assets

Just like with images, audio, and video, you can find a range of free-to-use 3D assets and models online, which you can use according to the licence/terms given on the website. You might want to use these models to edit (if that's allowed for the model in question) and customise. You can also use these models if you're learning other skills like game design, animation, and virtual reality, so you don't have to create all your 3D assets from scratch.

These sites can also be focused on 3D printing, for example the site Thingiverse has a range of 3D models that are mostly designed with 3D printing in mind.

Getting assets from 3D scans

Another way to get 3D models is to use a 3D scanning tool to scan physical items and turn them into 3D models. You need to pay attention to file types and whether or not you want to capture the colour/texture of the original item.

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