Like in other professions, you need the right gear to succeed as a hard surface artist. Specifically, you will need the best software for hard surface modeling and overflowing creativity at the bare minimum.
Indeed, a so-so software puts you at the risk of being left behind by the competition even if you are a pro designer.
Luckily, there are quite a number of excellent software for hard surface designer but before we look at them, let’s get the basics out of the way.
What To Look For In a Hard Surface Modeling Software
It’s true that most of the available options do the job. There are, however, some prominent differences in workflow, interface, adds-on, and such variables.
And so as an artist, it boils down to the question of whether the interface works for you, the industry you belong to, and other considerations such as your experience.
That said, the quality of the final product should be the chief determinant. Additionally, your software should make the design process smooth to allow your creativity to shine.
What’s Best Software For Hard Surface Modeling?
Interestingly, artists have been engaged in a heated debate about which is truly the best software for hard surface modeling over the last couple of years.
Names like Maya, 3DS Max and even the up and coming Blender have been bandied about as the very best.
And there are dozens of other options, both subscription-based and freeware each with its own strengths and faults.
So, what’s the very best software for hard surfaces? Here is what our editors and in-house designers think.
Autodesk Maya (Editor’s Choice)
Maya’s impressive collection of powerful modeling tools puts it ahead of the competition by miles.
Even better, the interface has recently been overhauled and now comes with a revolutionary UV toolkit with enhanced tools and functionality.
You will thus love how it makes everything flow easily starting with the easier symmetrical modeling as a result of the improved symmetry tool.
Likewise, its famed sculpting toolset help sculpt and reshape models more intuitively and artistically.
In the same way, Maya’s efficient library improves consistency in Boolean operations making it awesome for polygon modeling.
The interactive workflows, look, and feel are all designed to help hard surface artists work faster and to deliver jaw-dropping hard surface creations.
Sure, the software is a bit pricey but its brilliance fully compensates for the hole it burns in your pocket.
You can download Maya Free Trial and enjoy its goodness for 30 days.
AutoDesk 3ds Max (Recommended)
3DS Max is considered faster for demanding hard surface modeling projects. As a matter of fact, some of our editors felt that its UV projection tools and smoothing groups are immensely better than almost every other tool from Autodesk.
Consequently, there’s a widespread impression that 3DS Max is the benchmark as far as hard surfaces are concerned.
Well, when we scanned its abilities, it’s hard to disagree.
First, you can create models in numerous intuitive ways. You can also easily extract information for your model to help inform planned modifications.
You can as well blend and mix up to six materials to create realistic hard surface models.
The software’s spline-based modeling features have also been earning rave reviews as they are super-efficient when creating/ editing poly formats in surface modeling.
Bottom-line? The 3DS Max software offers 3D hard surface models of the highest possible quality in much less time.
While a lot of artists know Zbrush as an organic modeling tool, the software also comes with infinite powers for hard-surface modeling.
From typical hard surface modeling tasks like extrusions to finding edge hardness to using dynamesh for creating sophisticated hard surfaces, this has it all.
And it makes some of the tougher designs look like child’s play…
For example, its features allow you to use the customizable toolset to dynamically add/reduce polygons as desired.
Then, the software also offers a refreshing way to blend multiple pieces of essential geometry together.
Still there, applying live Booleans has never been easier while the panel loops make creating elevated/lowered panels a breeze.
Like the rest of the top 5 tools, Zbrush’s hard surface workflow is superb and it, in general, makes hard surface modeling fun.
These powers and precision have, unsurprisingly, endeared Zbrush to film studios, game developers, illustrators, and countless designers globally.
And, oh Zbrush’s price is far much affordable.
Experts contend that Blender might go on to become the best software for hard surface modeling in the not too distant future.
Already, the program is making its mark in the games industry in a big way with several gaming giants known to be admirers.
Now, if you don’t have the budget for Maya and her similarly pricey rival 3DS Max, or if you are a fan of open source, then you will appreciate the free Blender’s huge potential in hard surfaces.
Among the highlights is its exceptional performance in manipulating various surfaces at a polygonal level together with the availability of all the popular modeling tools.
It’s as elegant as its competitors and one certainly feels that this is primed to produce top class realistic models.
The program is optimized for pure hard surface objects and will give you incredible Sci-Fi movies, real-world robotic designs, environment props, and more.
Okay, its support is still sluggish but it’s understandable considering it’s a freeware.
Again, blender’s growing community is very helpful and ready to come to your aid when in trouble.
- Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in other engineering software, check out our wide collection of guides.
Despite increased options for artists, Modo’s modeling tools have remained a huge attraction to designers.
Most appealing is the program’s versatility which makes it a premier choice for all types of projects related to hard surface modeling.
Whatever the project, Modo’s intuitiveness, iterative design workflows, and flexible tool assembly lets you create without bumping through typical technical hoops.
And because of its many add-ons, Modo can be adapted to match the needs of any modeling project from conceptualization to the final product.
Further, Modo’s highly robust procedural modeling system lets you add several levels of fine details with speed.
The drag-and-drop presets are also a godsend and allow artists to quickly fashion the look they want.
If not, one has the option of simply selecting from the software’s huge library of tremendously realistic physically-based materials.
In short, whether you are a veteran or a beginner, Modo’s finesse give you immense creative freedom to showcase your natural artistic talent.
Pricing varies and there are hefty discounts for enterprises.
As you can see, there are many accomplished programs all ranked among the best software for hard surface modeling.
To avoid disappointments, remember to consider each software’s workflow, capabilities, and flexibility.
The issue of your budget is also crucial as well as your skillset.
As usual, always start with the trial version if totally lost.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been since updated for freshness, and accuracy.