3D Graphics Introduction and Resources

3D graphics, once the domain of high-end Hollywood effects and highly paid corporate engineers, have recently leapt into the world of mainstream design. With the advent of free, open source modeling, rendering, and animation tools like Blender and Sketchup, just about anyone can engage in the art of 3D modeling and sophisticated animation.

As modeling and rendering software options have grown, so too have resources that offer free 3D models and wireframes for download and manipulation.

The resource list below provides 22 websites for downloading 3D models, wireframes, and content. There's another list further down with eight powerful 3D modeling and animation tools.

3D Models Free (and for Sale)

The 20 sites below offer literally millions of 3D models and wireframes for download. Browse everything from military aircraft to toothbrushes to squirrels in hats. This is an incredible amount of work compiled from thousands of talented graphic designers, all available for free.

  1. Sketchup's 3D Warehouse has a pre-made 3D model of just about anything you could need. A search for "bowl" turns up over 4,000 results. The total collection has millions of models, which is why Sketchup calls it the biggest 3D model library in the world.
  2. TurboSquid claims to have the biggest 3D products library for sale anywhere in the world. It offers a gigantic selection of free and paid wireframes, including 3D models of cars, characters, vehicles, anatomy, animals, and several other categories. Their free library packs a surprisingly large array of over 17,000 3D objects, with everything from guns to castles to soda cans, dinosaurs, houses, and shirts. They offer free file format conversions and royalty free licenses too.
  3. Cgtrader has dozens of categories for all different kinds of 3D models from the real world and the imagination. Many cost a relatively low price, but there are plenty of freebies to be had.
  4. 3dsky is a 3D models download site centered around realistic home furnishings and fixtures, much like SweetHome3D, but with more sophisticated artwork. They've also got an incredibly vast selection of over 180,000 objects, with thousands of free options. They've got anything you can imagine as long as it's related to the home in some way, and their objects look so real you could almost reach out and touch them.
  5. Hum3D probably wins the cool contest in the 3D model universe. They've got the Tumbler Batmobile from the Christian Bale series, plus all kinds of other cool cars. (A 1976 IH Scout II??? No way!) They also pack in trucks, busses, military vehicles (lots of military vehicles), aircraft, warships, weapons, and all manner of tech from cameras to laptops to phones. The models and wireframes are well-rendered, with reasonable price tags, considering an extremely wide range of available file formats.
  6. Sketchfab has some pretty amazing 3D content. There are hundreds of eye-popping designs from some very talented people, but not all of it's downloadable. To find the models you can grab, click the "Explore" menu item at the page top, then select "downloadable."
  7. GrabCAD allows you to download 3D models and wireframes of millions of different objects, from fidget spinners to vehicles to a fully posable Iron Man suit.
  8. Clara.io has nearly 80,000 downloadable 3D objects, all free. The collection includes vehicles, people, weapons, soldiers, tanks, science fiction items like robots, Star Wars props, spaceships, architecture, and other tidbits like Pokemon and Minecraft models. The objects come in a huge variety of file types.
  9. Thingiverse is a service of MakerBot digital printers. It's a place for 3D modelers to share their work, and people who need models to find them. The site has over 800,000 models available for download. There's a lot of impressive content here, all quickly searchable by keyword.
  10. Free3D houses a vast collection of really cool, out-of-the-ordinary 3D wireframes and models. They've got architecture, cars, planes, plants, animals, tech, sports, weapons, and more. Some of this stuff is real-world, and some from fantasy or science fiction. It's all really well done and downloadable without even signing up.
  11. CadNav hosts a gigantic selection of 3D models for download. They've got dozens of categories, so rather than list them all, we'll just say they don't have a paisley unicorn. That should about cover it. They've got everything from household items to military weapons to mythical beasts.
  12. SweetHome3D is a great resource where you can download hundreds of 3D models of everything to do with homes and houses. That includes staircases, shower stalls, toilets, wine racks, furniture, light fixtures, appliances, plants, people, pets, and more. All files are downloadable free as .obj files, sometimes packaged with .mtl, .png, .jpg, and other file types.
  13. Daz3D only has a few free 3D models available for download (13 at the time of this writing) but they swap out the freebies periodically, so it's possible to amass quite a collection by staying on top of their offerings. Their models are of the very lifelike computer animated variety, complete with moving hair and realistic facial expressions. They've also got a wide selection of inexpensive paid 3D models.
  14. CreativeMarket offers thousands of 3D models. They lack a free category, but their wireframes are searchable with a handy filter that lets you set your price range. You can also search by file type, which is a nice feature.
  15. NASA 3D has an archive of models and resources for 3D graphic animation purposes. It's a pretty cool list, even if some of the artwork looks a little "last decade." Find 3D models of NASA modules, crew vehicles, satellites, suits, landing sites, asteroids, and more. The models are available as .3ds files. All are free.
  16. Design Connected has a page with 184 models of indoor light fixtures and furnishings. That's not a huge selection compared to some of our other 3D resources, but holy cow is this stuff realistic. If I hadn't known these were 3D models, I'd have been sure they were professionally produced product shots. You'll need to create an account to download the free models. If you can afford to pay their relatively low per wireframe price tag, they've got another 6,000+ models worth looking at.
  17. Fiverr allows you to get specialized work done cheap. If you need a product or other real-world object turned into a 3D model, there are people on Fiverr who'll do it starting at a few dollars.
  18. Sharecg is kind of a catchall 3D model resource: one of those sites where they'll let anyone through the door. There are some decent models on there, but you've got to do a bit of wading to find the pearls. Still, there's a ton of content and it's all free to download, with a registration and login.
  19. CADdetails houses thousands of home and garden 3D models available for free download, mostly in .rfa and .skp formats.
  20. Augment.com can create and optimize your 3D models. For a few hundred dollars per month, customers get 1000 model views, plus add-ons like a custom logo and offline access.

Popular 3D Modeling and Rendering Software

  1. Blender is the gold standard for 3D rendering and modeling, mostly because it's free. That said, some users take issue with its clumsy and often confusing User Interface (UI). Blender is open source and provides photorealistic rendering and fast modeling, sculpting, and rigging.
  2. Maya is one of Autodesk's software packages for 3D modeling, rendering, and animation. Its UI is considered much smoother and easier to learn than Blender's, but the high yearly price tag deters many graphic artists.
  3. Sketchup is another open free to download 3D modeling program. It's relatively fast to learn, with a built-in knowledge base to help beginners gain expertise fast. It's also got its own library of millions of free 3D objects. Pro licenses include maintenance and support.
  4. Keyshot rendering and animation software is geared toward creating fast, eye-popping visuals. Scientifically accurate environment presets and precise material control make this a versatile tool for 3D jobs from product shots to full animation.
  5. 3Ds Max is another modeling, animation, and rendering option from Autodesk. It promises realistic 3D animation, easy, powerful modeling, and a straightforward UI. Its high price tag scares off many low-to-mid income graphic artists.
  6. Cinema 4D by Maxon is easy to use, powerful, and has solid modeling features. It's considered a good starting point for 3D graphic work and animation, but not as robust as Autodesk's Maya.
  7. Tinkercad is a simple tool for creating 3D designs. Not animation software, this program starts with shapes, then combines and adjusts them to make new models and objects. It's free to use, and though it sounds simplistic, it's actually capable of producing some pretty impressive designs.
  8. 3D Slash, like Tinkercad, doesn't let you build animation, but it does let you build 3D graphics. Its interface is intuitive and has some fun (if somewhat impractical) features that make 3D modeling feel like playing a video game. There's a free online version, with very affordable premium versions.

Conclusion

It's not necessary to pay a fortune (or even anything) to find excellent 3D models for just about any object you can imagine. Once you have those models on your desktop, it's easy to find free, open source software for further modeling, rendering, and animation. While some tools and models do come with big price tags, the list above offers enough 3D modeling resources to keep even a seasoned pro supplied with content and tools for years.