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I am basically looking for a software (free for students) to have mechanical 3D features (extrude, fillet, etc) and very basic animation capabilities (like different positions for a membrane to open an close a valve). It should be capable to export to other formats like jpg or pdf.

For example Autodesk 123Design is good but it does not export to any good format. I am not looking for something complicated like Maya and always have problems of putting lamps, lights, etc. Autodesk Inventor also looks very nice for designing but the rendering is not that straight forward. Any idea?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You can try Blender.

Blender is a free and opensource project to make high quality 3d designs.

You can also give flash a shot,But it wont produce any 3d models.Adobe Photoshop CS6 is also good for producing 3D shapes and is very simple to make too. But i dont think you can animate the 3D objects in it.


You can also try Google sketchup Its a free product from Google.No camera , lighting or anything of that sort.Its fairly simple.

If you have Maya, then you can try download free 3d models available on the net and modify it according to your need.The lighting's and camera would have been already set in that scene.

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Sketchup if not free anymore it seems. Will try the Maya models as it is free for students. – rowman Sep 30 '13 at 12:37
@rowman sketchup is still free: – DA01 Sep 30 '13 at 14:43

Art of Illusion

This cross platform open source application was written in Java to run on Windows, OSX, Linux, and other operating systems.


  • only very little efforts to get started
  • easy to use intuitve GUI
  • easy to use mesh editor with predefined primitives
  • "fast rendering" and raytracing capability
  • keyframe and skeleton animation
  • scriptable
  • good online documentation


  • limited precision and object properties control
  • can be slow, depending on hardware
  • stability issues from Java on some platforms
  • limited raytracing controls
  • proprietary file format
  • object import from Wavefront .OBJ only
  • export to .OBJ, VRML, and Povray only
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