3D Modeling Techniques: Everything you need to know

 |  Sammy Ekaran

Table of Contents

Surface Modeling

Image-Based Modeling

Box Modeling

Digital Sculpting

3D modeling is a technique for creating a mathematical representation of any object. The product formed is called a 3D model. A 3D modeling software is the one being used in designing these 3D models. Many professionals, hobbyists, and artists utilize 3D modeling in their day-to-day activities. Whether you’re a professional,  beginner in 3D modeling, or have an interest in giving it a try, this article describes the four main techniques used in 3D modeling. We're ready to shed some light on the most popular techniques used in 3D modeling.

1) Surface Modeling

What is Surface Modeling?

A 3D modeling technique for representing solid objects. That is the creation of a solid object through the use of Computer-Aided Design Software. With the Surface modeling technique, one can be able to the surfaces of the model. That is the contours of the object and its exterior. Regardless of the complexity, type, or nature of the object you’re designing, this 3D modeling technique will allow you to define the exterior curves and shapes of your model. When compared to wireframe, surface modeling is more technical. 


How it works

Surface modeling in Solidworks works through continuity. Continuity is where a surface interacts or is influenced by other surfaces on a design. In Surface Modeling Technique, the surface curvature intersects at a point of contact called Tangency.  The surfacing tools of Solidworks allow one to create complex shapes and geometry that might be hard in other tools like revolves, lofts, and sweeps. 

Just like SelfCAD, you can make edits to existing models and repair imported parts.


What is the use of Surface Modeling?

  • It gives you the ability to build the surface of the model.

  • It gives the 3d designers the capability to modify the model in ways that are hard for solid modeling.

  • Modify Imported objects: Working on imported objects in a CAD program that wasn’t designed can be challenging. The flexibility of surface modeling allows one to modify the geometry of the imported designs easily. SelfCAD works best with this technique to fix models.

  • Create more complex models- Surface modeling technique gives you control of the exact direction and contour. You can build several sides of a model at once and build faces individually. With the use of an appropriate CAD program, you can also create complex models like organic shapes using this technique. Unlike solid modeling techniques, the various facets of the model aren’t created at a go, rather, you can build one face at a go. This is much helpful in controlling the face and contour direction of the organic model as per your requirements.

  • Create a raft or fillet between faces: When creating rafts or fillets in solid modeling, you will always get an error, “invalid, unable to create a feature” even if one uses different settings. You can use surface modeling to achieve this without facing any problem. Moreover, you can also delete faces, reconstruct,  and stitch them to the existing model.

  • Ability to leverage hybrid modeling methods: In surface modeling, a solid model can be changed to surfaces for the purpose of contouring and shaping it. One has to work on a single face at a time through this is much helpful in working on complex designs that are hard to work on in solid 

Which Software is Best for Surface Modeling?

  1. SelfCAD

SelfCAD is a great affordable tool for Surface modeling. Working on imported and complex models is easier than other surface modeling tools.

This 3D modeling software is easier to learn and there are many tutorials and courses to help you master the program just within a short time. 

Free-form artistic and technical tools available for creating highly-detailed, complex designs, and organic shapes for prototyping and 3D printing.

Macros of SelfCAD are much helpful in doing surface modeling. In 3d modeling, macros are a true life-savers when it comes to quick and precise modeling; With just a few clicks, you can transform even the simplest of objects into a unique and beautiful design.

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Stairs designed in SelfCAD image source: SelfCAD


Check out this youtube video to learn how the above stairs were designed in SelfCAD. 

SelfCAD drawing tools are also wonderful. There are drawing tools that are versatile yet simple and you can use it to convert simple 2d drawings into fully-fledged, 3d models with just a few clicks. 

  1. Surface Modeling in Catia

Catia is a great tool for conceptual design. It works best when it comes to working on complex models like planes and automobiles. It doesn’t work best for mechanical designs, but it’s great when it comes to artistic and technical designs. Surface modeling technique in automobiles is important in getting surfaces neat and smooth.

Catia has special features like:

  •  Surfaces: There are commands in the surface toolbar used for creating surfaces. Examples of these commands include: 

  1. Extrude: 

Extrude tool functions of Solidworks the same way with that of SelfCAD. To demonstrate how this works. Draw a spline, click on extrude and select the profile. This will be able to create a surface and you choose the direction to extrude.


  1. Offset

Useful for creating offset surfaces of the previously created one. 

  1. Sweep

It requires a profile and guide to create a surface. To create a surface, you need to select one curve as a guide curve and the other as profile and click on preview and you will be able to get your desired results.

Surface modeling in Catia offers the capability to create complex models being supported by generative shape design.


  1. OmniCAD

A 3D surface modeler that’s integrated with a 2D environment. With OminiCAD you can:

  • Accurately draw the walls of a building and make modifications for custom areas in the building.

  • Morphing solution

  • Make calculations for system weight and volume.


  1. Alias

A surface modeling tool for technical surfacing. Alias offers free-form modeling and real-time surface diagnostic features.


  1. Surface modeling with Solidworks

Solidworks is another great program for surface modeling. With surface modeling with Solidworks, you can create almost anything that you can imagine much easily and take your designs to the next level. 


Creating Solidworks Surface from Sketches

When you begin designing, you will need to begin with a sketch. Most of the sketching commands in Solidworks are similar to that of the Solid modeling technique. To start working on surfaces, begin by using the sketch to create basic surfaces like revolves and extrudes then move to advanced surfaces like boundaries and lofts.

Alternatively, you can also create new surfaces from existing geometries in order to save time. You can do this using features like freeform, offset, knit, and ruled. 

There are other great programs available for Surface Modeling like Solidworks, Cobalt, Geomagic, Mesh Transformer, and many others. 

Generally, there is no best program for all users. The program that you can master easily, and you can get it’s tutorials easily is the best one for you. This is because everyone has their own tastes and preferences. 


Surface Modeling Advantages 


  • Allows for drawing of precise curves and mathematically correct surfaces to be drawn.

  • It’s easier to make changes to the surfaces of the imported models.

  • It makes it easier to create complex shapes of features.

  • Surface modeling can also be used as reference geometry.

  • When combined with solid modeling, it can be used to create solid models. The model is started as a solid then surfaces are used to modify it.

  • Helps in creating 3D spline (used for creating organic models)- (Spline tool)

2) Image-based Modeling (Image to 3D tool)

This is a 3D modeling technique where three-dimensional models are created using two-dimensional images. The two images must be static in nature. 

Where it’s used:

-It is useful when one doesn’t have the time or budget to create complete 3D sets.

-It’s much common in the film and entertainment industries.

3)Box Modeling

A simple object like a cube is modified until the desired shape is generated. The artists usually start with a low-resolution solid then sub-divide the solid in order to add details and smooth out hard edges.

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A retro phone designed in SelfCAD Image Source: SelfCAD

See the video tutorial of the design process:

The refining and sub-division are usually repeated until the intended solid is created. Box modeling is usually being used together with the edge modeling technique.

4) Digital Sculpting 

This is a 3D modeling technique that allows one to design 3D models through 3D sculpting. Specialized 3d software like SelfCAD is usually being used. In this technique, a digitized sculpture is used on textures and shapes which resemble clay and rocky compositions. 

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Statue of Liberty designed in SelfCAD image source: Instagram

The 3d model is then refined using brushes to the desired shape. The time taken for the model to be sculpted depends on the complexity of the model and the skills of the artists. Though CAD programs like SelfCAD have easy to use and powerful brushes that can help one sculpt their models quite easily.


The Process of Digital Sculpting

Just like in manual sculpting, digital sculpting is usually done in multiple layers. The first step is usually the basic shapes like a cube then it’s shaped based on the artists’ imaginations.

The sculpture shapes up the model by pushing, pulling, rolling, and deformation of the geometries and more geometries can also be added in order to create the desired shape.

The initial later in digital sculpting is blocking. This is where fundamental features of the model like the shape of the nose, or muscular curves are defined. Once this is done, the geometry sub-division is done to accommodate further details. Check out SelfCAD video on youtube to learn how this technique was used in sculpting some parts of the statue of liberty shown above. 

More imperfections like scars can then be added during the blocking face in order to make the design more real.

Check out the video tutorial on Youtube to learn how to create the above. In that video, you will also get to know how to use brushes of SelfCAD.

Applications of Digital Sculpting

  • Television shows and movies use 3D sculptures created using digital sculpting techniques. They can be static or in animation mode.

  • Game industry- digital sculpted creatures are usually incorporated in games.


Do you want to learn 3D modeling? Check out our interactive tutorials.

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