Tips on How to be Successful Freelance 3D Designer in 2021

 |  SelfCAD University

Tips on How to be Successful as a Freelance 3D Designer in 2021

Freelance 3D designing is one of the most interesting skills one can learn. The great thing about this skill is that it’s not your ordinary 5 to 9 job.

It is more of a lifestyle, and you can continue developing as long as you have the passion. There are also creative minds and design influences all around us, and having this skill not only will it change the way you see life, but you will also impact everyone around you.

Freelance 3D designing is also a skill that is more of networking and who you know. So if you are the kind of person who likes meeting and interacting with different kinds of people, either online or in-person, freelance 3D modeling is a great career for you!

In this article, we are going to help you know what it takes to be a successful freelance 3D artist in 2021.

But before we do that, you might be wondering, “how do freelancer jobs look like?


What Does it Mean to be a Freelance 3D Designer?

freelance 3d design


Have you ever thought of striking out on your own? Or, if you have always been thinking about having more freedom and control in your professional life? If so, then you already have a general idea about what freelancing is.


Whether you are a professional 3D designer or just a beginner, you might be interested to know which path you would like to take when you venture into the job industry after gaining the necessary skills. That is, whether to get employed full time, contract basis, or freelancing.


When you opt to work on a full-time basis in a particular company, agency, or organization, it means that you are either paid a salary or on an hourly basis. Most employees work in offices, but remote working is very common nowadays too where employees are working from home, especially during this time of the coronavirus. Working as a full-time employee has its benefits. You will get workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.


Working as a contractor is almost the same as freelancing as in both, the workers set their working hours, and they have full control of what work to take. However, they are different in that on a contract basis, if you are working through an agency, you will need to fill a W-2 form (wage or tax statement). This is used to report taxes and wages to the IRS.

Additionally, contractors work differently from freelancers as they only work on one large project for a single client at a particular time. Freelancers, on the other hand, can take several projects from different clients at the same time and work on them simultaneously. Contractors are most common in the IT industry and the construction industry.


When one chooses to be a freelancer, which is our main focus on this article, it means one of these two things or both of them:

  • They are considering creating their side-hustle
  • They are thinking of being self-employed

In the first option above, you can choose to hold a steady job while at the same time running your own side business, which is a great way to supplement your job. Maybe you just started learning how to design 3D models in SelfCAD so that you can work in a 3D company while at the same time doing your projects on the side. Or you might already be working in a non-3D design job that you want to keep, but you are doing 3D artist on the side.


In either of these scenarios, your business is a side-hustle as you already have a full-time job, so you won’t be working with many clients at the same time.

When going through this route, learning how to market the services you offer to get clients is very important. The tips that we shall provide in this article will be important to you too in scaling your side business.

In the second scenario, as a self-employed 3D designer, you aim to make your 3D designing business your main occupation. You can either start your career by primarily working for yourself and not as a side-hustle or leaving your current job. This allows you to focus on improving your design skills and working for your clients. In this route, you will not have a much-fixed schedule as you will not be multi-tasking.

Focusing on your own business can result in bigger returns. The main challenge in going this route is that your income doesn’t have any additional income stream.

The route that you choose to take depends on you. But it’s important to consider your situation as well as your preferences before deciding on which path to take.


How Has Freelancing Transformed Over the Years?

For the past few years, there has been an advancement in the freelancing field. It is growing among people of all ages, though it’s more prominent among the younger generations who are between the ages of 18-34. 

According to a survey, “Freelancing in America”, conducted by Upwork in 2019, a total of 57 million Americans freelanced that year. This represents 35% of the US workforce. These statistics show that freelancing is becoming much more popular each year.

Coronavirus also has had a great impact in this industry. At the onset of the pandemic, millions of people turned to freelance either after losing their jobs or in the search for new opportunities after their businesses closed.

The upwork study conducted by Santa Clara in September 2020 showed that 36% of the American workforce went freelance amid the pandemic. Covid-19 drove highly-skilled, both young and old, to seek new opportunities. With millions of full-time jobs affected since 2020, freelancing is likely to be a way of survival for most people. Most of those turning to freelance are not doing it out of choice, rather out of necessity. The graph below shows the increment of the freelance workforce in the past years.


freelance 3d designers

Freelancing workforce increment between 2014 and 2020. Source:


Having answered what freelance jobs look like and how it has transformed over the years, you might want to know if this field pays.


The basics that a Freelance 3D Designer Needs to Know to be Successful in 2021

  1. Choose an appropriate 3D modeling software to use

3D designing in SelfCAD software


Having the right tool will not only help increase the amount of work you do, but you will be able to do it much faster. As a freelance 3D designer, you need to be familiar with 3D modeling software. There are several available, and you might be wondering, does it matter to your clients on which 3D software you are using?


Well, it matters sometimes, especially for the full-time jobs in which one of the requirements for the design job is understanding of a particular program. This is usually common in the manufacturing industries as everyone in the company is using it. So that’s their standard even if it’s not very powerful. Also, some choose to stick to one program because of the file types it supports.


 Thanks to SelfCAD as it’s one of the few programs that allows designers to import and export models in almost all the common 3D file types. 

But when it comes to freelance 3D designing, clients looking for freelancers just want to know if you understand their requirements and if you can get the job done as well as if there are previous jobs you have done similar to what they need.


Note: The type of 3D modeling software you are using doesn’t matter. 

So as a freelance 3D designer, your aim should not be just to master a particular software. Instead, you should focus on how you can get the job done efficiently and fast and as per the requirements of the customer.

It’s common to find 3D designers starting their 3D design career learning complex 3D programs that have a steep learning curve, and when they get in the middle, they get stuck, or some take even several years before they can design anything professional.

For an average person, 2D is complex, and when a 3rd dimension is added, you find that you are familiar with it, but you don’t fully understand it. Hence the only solution is for those who are aspiring to be 3D designers quickly without taking long to consider choosing appropriate software.


Because why should you use a bulky CAD application when you can achieve the same results easily and faster with another program?

freelance 3d modelers 2021


SelfCAD is one of the easiest and professional CAD software that you can use for your projects. Thousands of beginners and professionals who have mastered 3D design are using this tool to create top-notch 3D renders and models ready for 3D printing.

And even if you have zero 3D modeling experience, SelfCAD will help you create your designs in less time using its powerful modeling, sketching, drawing, and modifying tools.

Additionally, SelfCAD helps both small and medium businesses record Interactive Tutorials for their recruits much easily.


freelance 3d artist in 2021

For those freelance 3D designers focused on creating courses, the Interactive Tutorial feature of SelfCAD will allow you to easily record your steps and share them with your students.

It’s also important as a freelance 3D designer to ensure that you are familiar with various CAD applications so that if one of them doesn’t give you the results you need, you can easily switch to another one.

  1. Learn at least one 2D Software and their File Types


freelance 3d artist in 2021

A Can designed in Photoshop 2020. Image source: Creativepro


Learning a 2D program like photoshop is an added advantage. It is because a client can sometimes give a PSD file (output from 2D software), and they might require modifications, or you might need to edit a 2D image before importing it to your CAD program.

As a freelance 3D modeler, learning 2D will also help you learn the foundations of design deeply and internalize the important 3D modeling concepts that will later help you when learning 3D modeling. It is because, in 2D, one is forced to learn the basics. After all, how could you create complex designs without knowing the basics?


Something interesting is that the basics you learn in 2D (drawing and painting) will directly carry over to your 3D. However, the things you learn in 3D can’t be carried to 2D the same way. It’s very possible to be a professional 3D artist but drawing and painting like a beginner. It means that learning 2D means you are learning a universal skill. If you have mastered 2D, you can translate this knowledge to 3D much easily after learning the basics of 3D modeling software.


2D is also helpful when you want to create some concept arts, sketches, and even mockups much faster than when you would use a 3D modeling program. On top of that, you can import your 2D sketches to 3D modeling software.


You can also learn interface design tools like Figma. Figma is a design tool that has capabilities for real-time collaboration. As a freelance 3D artist, this tool will ensure that you and your team and clients are on the same page to focus on the work. It makes it easier to create, test, and export quality designs from the beginning to the end as a team.


freelance 3d design

Figma Homepage Interface


Figma has a pack of editing tools just like those in 2D design software and there are other unique inventions like vector networks. It’s a faster tool as you can remove repetitive tasks by augmenting and automating using plugins.


  1. Learn the Foundation of Visual Art

Learning the fundamentals of design is one of the most important things one needs to know if one aspires to be a better freelance 3D artist. It doesn’t matter if you want to specialize in 3D, graphic design, VFX, 2D, or even photography. It is always important to know the basics.


As you start your journey in 3D design, you need to master the following:

  • Composition:

It is how various elements of art are organized together. It determines the appearance and layout of a design and the relationship between various structures. There are different composition techniques available; the most common is the Rule of Thirds. This Rule states that whenever there are two vertical and horizontal lines splitting the image into nine equal segments, the subject of the composition should be positioned at the intersection points or along the lines. By doing this, visual balance will be achieved, as shown below.


freelance 3d in 2021

The Third Rule of Composition. Image source: turbosquid

  • Perspective: 

It's an art technique that makes the design look 'real' by creating an illusion of a three-dimensional on a two-dimensional surface. There are many concepts you need to learn when it comes to perspective, and if you try learning all of them at once, you will be overwhelmed. You need to take it step-by-step and slowly get comfortable with a single concept before moving to the next one. The image below shows the wireframe of a building in perspective mode.


freelance 3d design

Wireframe of a building in perspective mode. Image source: Designspiration

  •  Color theory: 

freelance 3d design

Applying material and color on a model in SelfCAD software


Color is one of the elements of communication. So the way you use colors in your artwork, be it in the textures, materials, and even lighting is vitally important. Mastering color theory helps you when choosing the base color for your project. Understanding color attributes and spaces will help you create appealing designs in simple scenes.


  • Geometry: 

Geometry deals with properties, measurement, angles, lines, surfaces, and solids. Having an understanding of geometry helps you have a good foundation on how 3D models are represented.


  • Polygon Modeling: 

freelance 3d design

Low poly set designed in SelfCAD


It is a 3D modeling technique where you begin with a primitive shape like a cube, sphere, or torus and edit its components such as edges, vertices, and faces until you create your desired shape.


  • Sculpting: 

It’s a modeling concept that works almost the same as working with clay in real life. Most CAD programs have tools like smooth, grab, pull, push, etc., used to manipulate digital objects.


freelance 3d with SelfCAD

Sculpting done using the Sculpting tools of SelfCAD

  • Texturing: 

It's a technique in which 3D artists define the colors and materials of their design. Textures are but 2D images that are imported as pictures. Some of them are even prepared by artists while working on their projects. Most of the industry-standard programs have a great variety of in-built textures you can choose from, like SelfCAD. Texturing is important in that If your design is bad, you can try hiding it with textures. The creative abilities of a designer can also be seen in the way they use textures.


  • Rendering: 

freelance 3d design in 2021

And once the model is done, you can render it. 3D rendering is where a 2D representation of the model is produced. Learning the basics of rendering as you start your journey as a freelance 3D artist is very important as you will know what you will be doing ahead of time.


  1. Learn about Collaboration Platforms

When you start getting projects as a freelance 3D artist, you have to ensure that you have effective communication with your clients. Red Pen is a good example of a great platform that you can use to communicate with your clients and get immediate feedback. Once you have designed your model in 3D modeling software and even rendered it, you can simply drag and drop it to this platform and get feedback from your client or team members.


  1. Have a Business Mindset

Having a business mindset as a freelance 3D designer is a must. It helps you build confidence so you'll be able to take risks and even try projects that you never thought you would be able to. Because you are the only one motivating yourself, you will be able to set goals and milestones and strive to achieve them. Because you will be operating as a business, you won’t entertain clients who want you to do free or low-paying jobs.


Once you have enough knowledge about the 3D design industry and you are experienced enough to attract attention, it’s time to market yourself so that clients will know about your services. This can sometimes be challenging, especially when you are just starting, but we have compiled the most important strategies that you can use to market yourself.


  1. Always follow the design Process

Take your time to research and understand the customers’ needs first, that is, the brief requirements. Go through the requirements a few times, internalize your customer's vision, and take note of the deadlines. Search for the keywords such as nice to have and must-have. Take note of other requirements like colors, style, and shape.

Research the industry of your clients. Their target market, and even their competitors, so that the design that you come up with is consistent. Also, you need to aim at being original. It’s good to check the designs of others for inspiration, but don’t copy as this will be considered stealing.

Also, make sure that you reverse image search the final design so that your customer may not be at risk. Avoid overused concepts or design cliches.

So always ensure you understand the design requirements and wait for feedback before suggesting any new design concepts. And before submitting the final design, make sure that you included all of the key points.

  1. Learn how to engage with your customers

freelance 3d design

To be successful as a freelance 3D designer in 2021, you also need to learn to have a professional and friendly conversation with your clients. When your customer sends you a message, provide a timely response when your client engages you and work on any revision on time.

When working on different platforms which allow clients to rate the freelancers, don’t pressure your customer to give you a 5-star rating. Once you have done your job perfectly, they will do so of their own volition.

  1. Be your own critic

You have to always criticize yourself to be able to come up with high-quality work consistently. After doing your research and coming up with the idea of how the project will appear, step back and ask yourself: is this the best design I can do? Or I am just rushing to complete it?

To criticize yourself efficiently, you have to master your area of specialization first. Avoid working randomly on projects that you don’t have the skills for. Learn the skills first, and everything else will fall in place.

‚ÄčEnjoy powerful modeling, rendering, and 3D printing tools without the steep learning curve.

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