3D model of a mountain bike

What is 3D Modeling?

3D modeling is the process of creating 3D objects using specialized software. These models can be staged with other visual effects to create entire scenes for still imagery or animation. Anybody can get started in 3D modeling with the right tools.

What is 3D modeling used for?

3D models are used in film, gaming, architecture, product design, and more. While you may expect to see 3D models in entertainment industries and virtual reality, you might be surprised to realize 3D models are used in many more industries.

Where we see 3D modeling today.

Here are some common 3D modeling examples. Keep in mind, sometimes these models are so lifelike, it can be hard to realize you’re seeing a rendered image in the first place.


1. Entertainment and media: 3D modeling is used extensively in VFX, video games, and movies and TV. It isn’t at all uncommon to see productions that are entirely created using 3D software.


2. Architecture and real estate: Architects and designers utilize 3D modeling to create detailed virtual representations of buildings, interiors, and landscapes. These models are very useful in communicating the designer’s vision to prospective investors, clients, and the public.


3. Product design and manufacturing: 3D modeling is an efficient and environmental-friendly way to develop prototypes, visualize product ideas, and simulate functionality pre-production. Designers can refine ideas and make countless iterations before a product is finalized.


4. Automotive and aerospace industries: 3D modeling is used in both the design and testing of vehicles and their components, and in the advertising and marketing of them. Many commercials of cars and airliners feature 3D generated imagery that looks so realistic it’s nearly impossible to tell they aren’t real camera footage. 3D allows for realistic simulations, which can be used in testing an idea or vehicle before it’s built.


5. Medical and healthcare: 3D modeling is utilized in medical imaging and surgical planning. Accurate recreations of organs, bones, and tissues can be used to aid in diagnosis, treatment planning, and aid medical research.


6. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR): 3D modeling is essential in creating immersive experiences. VR and AR have several applications and can be used across nearly any industry.


7. Education and training: 3D modeling is used in educational settings to teach concepts in a variety of subjects, from biology, to geography, and even history. It allows students and professionals to interact with virtual models and simulations in safe, controlled environments. A great example of this is pilots flying in a flight simulator.

3D model of a bike handlebar

Images by Giona Andreani.

3D model of a bike pedal

Images by Giona Andreani.

The 3D modeling process at a glance.

These steps provide a general overview of the 3D modeling process. The actual workflow you use may vary depending on software, artist preference, or specific requirements of a project. Let’s dive in.


Whether it's brainstorming ideas or hopping right into the software and using basic shapes to block out an idea, spending some time in this phase is very useful to ensure you are committed to an idea before you spend too much time on it.


In this stage, the actual 3D modeling takes place using your software of choice. If you are using polygonal modeling this will involve manipulating vertices, edges, and faces to build the mesh. Another approach is to use software like Substance 3D Modeler, which allows you to accurately sculpt digital clay with a variety of tools and sculpting methods.


Once the shape of a model is complete, textures and materials are applied to the model’s surface to give it a realistic or stylized appearance. Textures can include color, patterns, and surface details like bumps and reflections. They can be hand-painted, procedurally generated, or derived from HD photographs.

Rendering & processing

Once the model is complete and textured, the final step in the 3D modeling process is staging and rendering. Rendering involves generating high-quality image or sequence animations considering lighting, shading, and other visual effects. This can be a computationally intensive process. Post-processing can also be used after the render to further enhance the final output.

3D texturing a mountain bike scene

Images by Giona Andreani.

3D rendering of a mountain bike scene

Images by Giona Andreani.

See what’s possible.

When all the stages of 3D modeling are brought together, artists and designers can create amazing work. Here are some real-world examples from different industries, showcasing what 3D modeling can do.


1. Fashion. See how Hugo Boss uses 3D to enhance their processes.


2. Product design. See how Puma and INDG leverages Substance 3D apps and AR to help design amazing shoes.


3. Entertainment. This beautiful project, End of Summer, was created by talented artists from Adobe, showcasing what is possible using almost entirely Substance 3D tools.

Tips for 3D modeling.

Here are some tips to consider when engaging in 3D modeling:


1. Master the basics. Building a solid foundation in basic 3D modeling principles and learning how to efficiently use the tools available in your software is a necessity. Your models will be cleaner, and your time will be more effective as well.


2. Learn keyboard shortcuts and workflow optimizations. 3D software can be very complex. There are a lot of tools and methods available to creators, so becoming comfortable with shortcuts will vastly increase your quality of life while creating. This will speed up your workflow, improve productivity, and make the entire process feel more efficient.


3. Utilize references. Working with references is a great way to not only help plan and visualize a project, but also ensure that your 3D model is realistic, has accurate proportions, shapes, and details. References provide a solid foundation and help maintain visual fidelity. Consider creating a mood board with multiple different references to encourage creativity and idea generation.


4. Explore different techniques. A good 3D artist is always learning. Continually practicing your 3D skills and learning new tools and techniques will help you grow as an artist and designer. Explore different techniques and software such as polygonal modeling, or sculpting to help you develop a more diverse skillset.

Get content, get inspired, get creative.

If you’re looking to get started creating 3D, or would like to freshen your approach, we’re proud to share Adobe Substance 3D, a powerful toolset for creatives. In these apps, you can experience familiar Adobe-workspaces while using powerful tools designed to streamline many facets of the 3D process, from modeling, to texturing, material creation, and staging and rendering. Discover the possibilities of Substance 3D and unlock a new level of creativity in your 3D projects with a 30-day free trial of all our 3D apps today.

Frequently Asked Questions

3D modeling has many applications across many industries, from entertainment, to architecture, product design, manufacturing, education, health and more. Because 3D models are both an art form and a tool, this allows them to be used in countless ways. Artists and designers use 3D modeling in art, design, planning, testing, simulations, marketing, advertising, education, and more.

3D models come in many forms. They can be photorealistic, stylized, or even abstract. To see many practical and artistic examples of 3D models, visit the Substance 3D Magazine. You’ll find helpful tips, tutorials, case studies, and examples of professional 3D models.

1. Polygonal modeling. This is the most widely used technique. It involves creating 3D models by manipulating polygons (usually triangles or quads) to define the object's mesh. It is versatile and accurate, used in both hard-surface and organic modeling.

2. Sculpting. Sculpting is a technique that emulates traditional sculpting methods in a digital environment. Artists use virtual tools to manipulate and shape a digital surface. This technique is excellent for creating organic and highly detailed models, such as characters. With the right tools, it is also suitable for hard-surface modeling as well.

3. Procedurally generated models. Procedural modeling involves creating models algorithmically using predefined parameters. This is great for generating complex structures, terrains, or architectural elements. Procedural generation is very common in creating large-scale environments for video games, movies, VFX, and simulations.