Which 3D modeling software is right for you?

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Not all 3D software is built the same, even when both suites are from the same brand. Autodesk is such a big name that it needs two types of 3D animation and rigging software in its wheelhouse: Autodesk Maya and 3DS Max, popular with professionals and hobbyists alike.

Should you choose 3DS Max or Autodesk Maya? While we can’t definitively answer this question, we can certainly provide some guidance.

What do Autodesk Maya and 3DS Max have in common?

3D artists at all levels use these two animation programs to do their work. Basically, there is a lot of commonality between these two Autodesk products:

  • Maya and 3DS Max are applications used to create 3D models, animations, and images.
  • Both include advanced features like particle effect, rigging, framing, materials, lighting, and other special effects.
  • Both can be used to design games or in other industries, such as medical modeling.
  • Both cost exactly the same: $ 215 per month, $ 1,700 per year, or $ 4,590 every three years.

The differences between 3DS Max and Maya mainly relate to the overall workflow, the tools available in each, and the skills required to use them.

To download: Maya for Windows, Apple, and Linux (starting at $ 215 per month, free trial available)

To download: 3DS Max for Windows (starts at $ 215 per month, free trial available)

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Related: The Best Free CAD Software

Autodesk Maya vs. 3DS Max: the differences


A person working on a laptop computer.

Honestly? Much of the difference between Maya and 3DS Max will ultimately depend on your personal preferences. There is no cap on what either is capable of, but there are a few key differences to consider.

Required configuration

We were surprised to see that Maya is actually the more demanding of the two systems in terms of hardware configuration. In addition, 3DS Max is only available for Windows; Autodesk discontinued Mac support for this application in 2017.

Other than that, you’ll find all the usual stuff: Windows 10 or higher, as well as macOS 10.13 or higher for Maya users.

In addition, you will need a few other things:

  • Both systems prefer a high-end graphics card, Intel or AMD.
  • Maya requires 8 GB of RAM; 3DS Max only requires 4 GB.
  • For Maya you will need 6 GB of free space on your hard drive, and for 3DS Max you will need 9 GB.

These are not unreasonable expectations by today’s standards. Any properly equipped system will be more than capable of effectively executing either program.

Related: Best Laptops For 3D Modeling Engineering Software

Modeling tools

None of these creative apps leaves much to be desired in terms of 3D modeling tools. Many claim that 3DS Max reigns supreme in terms of granularity, but it all depends on what you’re trying to do.

3DS Max is best suited if you are modeling architectural, product design, engineering, or construction models. It also offers a more advanced materials workflow and integrates more seamlessly with other related Autodesk products, which can be ideal in some cases.

Animation


3d shapes

According to Autodesk itself, Maya is the brand’s flagship animation software. However, 3DS Max is still more than capable of animation.

Curves in Autodesk Maya, along with an extensive toolset for keyframe animation, make this option the software of choice for many. However, many of these features require scripting, which may limit the potential to be found here for some.

Competence level

Both of these systems are advanced, industrial-grade 3D modeling programs.

Maya is considered by some to be more difficult to learn in between, but this is not always the case. One thing is for sure: there are a lot of tools to learn in Maya, far more than what you will find in 3DS Max.

While it’s usually possible to create anything you try to create in either one, Maya offers more avenues to success than 3DS Max in a general sense. It all depends on what you’re used to working with and what you need to accomplish.

Related: How Is 3D Modeling Changing Our World?

Autodesk 3D modeling software: should you use Maya or 3DS Max?

There are a lot of arguments in favor of Maya and 3DS Max for both casual and advanced users.

As strong supporters of the power of the imagination, we contend that whichever you choose has less to do with your end result than the love and care you put into every 3D project. Wherever you find yourself in the Autodesk catalog, we guarantee that you can use whatever you find to bring your dreams to life.


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