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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Industrial Design Software Choices

July 13th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

I’ve been an industrial designer for a long time, so long in fact, that I still have Prismacolor pencils, pastels, markers and gouache (long ago dried out) that I used to execute product design sketches and renderings. I still sketch quite a bit with pencils and pens. However, there are also a lot of ID software packages out there today for different budgets and needs.

With all these ID software choices, you can narrow them down with a few basic features and capabilities that you’ll need for ID:

GUI — A good one is essential for minimizing the learning curve (which can be very steep) and fitting in with the way you work.

Sketching — For mimicking napkin drawing medium, and not with contstraints and parameters, easy and fast sketching ability is an absolute.

Surfacing — Freeform, organic shapes require top-notch surfacing, above and beyond basic 3D modeling.

Rendering — Communicating a design to others inside the company or to customers outside is much more effective with high-quality renderings.

Export — ID is not a standalone endeavor and the ability to export to other CAD packages for refinement is key — in native and/or neutral file formats.

We don’t have room to detail all of the ID software possibilities, but some of the more notable packages include:
-Alias Design/Surface/Automotive
-3ds Max

Any others you care to add? Let us know.

In the future, I’ll put together a matrix that lists the products above and their features for comparison purposes for aspiring and practicing industrial designers.


7 Responses to “Industrial Design Software Choices”

  1. Chris Ward says:

    I think ZW3D deserves a mention. It has got a sensible, easy-to-use interface and gorgeous surfacing tools. The Sketcher is completely free-form when required but you can add dimensions, constraints and parameters at any time if you need to. Perhaps it’s greatest strength is that you can turn your design into the finished product assembly model in ZW3D, you do not need another CAD package.

  2. Thomas Teger says:

    You definitely need to add Creo / Pro/E to the mix. This is more of a design than NX and Catia. And of course KeyShot. For kick-ass visualization.

  3. Ken Versprille says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Take a look at solidThinking from Altair.

  4. Alain Clarinval says:

    Could you include Ashlar Vellum Cobalt software on your list?

  5. Steve Schroeder says:

    You should also consider the Creo product line from PTC. Creo is a suite of about 10 different software applications each designed for a specific role with in an organization. All the applications can seamlessly exchange data and have a common UI. Creo Sketch is a free application in the Creo product suite that is designed for 2D industrial design. Creo Parametric has many different advanced surfacing tools that can be used for industrial designers including a new “freestyle” surfacing tool that allows users to rapidly push and pull on a control mesh to create surfaces.

  6. Kevin Quigley says:

    There are a few notable exceptions:

    1. Shark FX by Punch Software – a full associative modeller based on the ACIS kernel – available in native OS and Windows. Very powerful, very good value for money (and includes things like CATIA v5 import/export, ProE in/out etc).

    2. Ashlar-Vellum Cobalt – ditto above – maybe not quite once the force it was but still good – and it comes with a copy of Ashlar-vellum Graphite – again OSX and Windows.

    3. SolidThinking – OSX and Windows – very powerful modelling system, rendering and form finding based on structural requirements. Quite a widely used system in Europe/Italy.

    4. Rhino+Tsplines – T splines plug in is an essential ID purchase IMO. Problem with Rhino is the general lack of associativity – Tsp;ones gets around this to some extent.

    5. SensAble haptic feedback systems – quite specialist but in use in some larger companies for freeform modelling (car seats/ ergonomic products/ decorative surface work).

    6. Delcam Powershape – again quite specialist and more used in the tooling industry but very powerful and possibly unique in the way it mixes mesh/nurbs/solids – this is one package you really can model anything in.

    7. VX/ZWCAD3D – very powerful, very good value, and under Chinese ownership has made some big improvements to basic interface that dogged previous versions – probably one to watch. Again very good value for money.

    8. Creo 2 Parametric – one of the very few packages on the market that includes sub-div type modelling in a full on CAD system – at the core package level. It will only get better.

    9. Autodesk Fusion – again improving all the time and once T Splines are integrated fully it will be a very potent system.

    10. Rhino+Spaceclaim – this combo gets around many of the issues with Rhino

  7. jose says:

    Another software for ID possibilities: Bonzai 3D

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