We are about to build a business application with transparent 3D spheres, possibly cubes, etc. to visualize some data. Before we start building this, we want to brain storm and decide the exact UI we want to build. Is there a 3D Modelling tool we should be using? If not "3D Modelling", what exactly should I be googling for?

UI will be made up of mathematical objects (albeit 3D) like spheres, etc., so we don't need a full-fledged tool that lets you model real-world objects. Something simple enough that fits out needs.


  • 1
    Can you provide a bit more detail? Is the data 3D or is the UI also 3D? If the latter, can you explain what you mean by a 3D UI? That can mean a number of different things.
    – DA01
    May 23, 2014 at 22:01
  • Data is not 3D, just business data. We want to render spheres of varying sizes, some of them glowing, some of them semi-transparent (to show an inner sphere), etc.
    – praveen_r
    May 24, 2014 at 0:55
  • 2
    It sounds like you'd want to then build these programmatically, as they are dependent on the data. As such, it's going to depend heavily on your development enviornment.
    – DA01
    May 24, 2014 at 0:56
  • Right now your comment and question header contradict each other slightly. Do you need still pictures, vector pictures, animations or interactive data visualizations.
    – joojaa
    May 24, 2014 at 8:59

5 Answers 5


If what you're looking for is "sketching" some ideas for an UI with 3D objects (i.e. see what it would look like), I'd use Processing in 3D. It's easy to use, interactive, and you don't need to care about renderers.


  • Ofourse you need to care about the rendrer, otherwise you have no picture.
    – joojaa
    May 24, 2014 at 11:56
  • Yes of course, I simply meant that Processing already includes them. :-)
    – crtn-hrd
    May 24, 2014 at 15:37

Blender would fit your request. It's a free, open source, 3D modeling software.

More about it here: http://www.blender.org/

  • Thanks, but this seemed like too big for my requirement - I don't want to visualize real-world objects, just mathematical shapes like spheres, etc.
    – praveen_r
    May 24, 2014 at 0:56

I have come across several programs I have used for various jobs. Depending on what your creating and your budget really depends on what you can use. I personally prefer cinema 4D its a bit like 3D studio max but the interface in nicer. This will allow you to export a model or several to 3ds files, dae, obj and xml. Depending on your next development steps. This is a good program that bridges from design to app development easily.

Swift3D - pretty basic 3D programe that runs in most versions of flash Prefab - This is a free open source software a little like 3Ds studio or cinema 4D but very basic. Rajawali - 3D type interface for using 3D models in apps. This is also free and open source.

I personally prefer a 3D software but if all else fails Photoshop does have 3D capabilities and in the CC version is a lot better than the previous versions.

  • Thanks, will check these. If you can think of anything else based on my comment I just added to the other question, please let me know.
    – praveen_r
    May 24, 2014 at 0:56

You might want to look into POV-Ray. For basic shapes its incredibly easy to get started with and is all command line / numerical based for data. Depending on the amount of data you might need to find a 3rd party alternative / plug-in for data importing. Its all open source so there's a bunch of options out there. This should be pretty perfect for what you're describing.

Here's an example of a Sphere

        <Center>, Radius

It's been a very, very long time since I did any tinkering in POV-Ray but if I remember right you could do the script in any basic text editor and save it with the right extension. So even if your data is long/complex it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out a way to automate some of it into the correct syntax.


Modeling is the tool that makes the assets rendering is the tool that makes them into pictures. Since you want simple shapes you just want the output pictures so you only need the rendering back end. Because most render engines have primitives for squares and spheres.

In any case there are too many tools to enumerate comfortably. Ill try to summarize the choices by category. Im focusing on free or at least affordable tools as you can comfortably spend $10,000 on your infrastructure easily:

Software rendering

Software rendering makes for very flexible pipelines. The quality of software rendering is easier to control and do than in hardware rendering. Features such as global illumination and image based lightning is commonly available. On the other hand software rendering is usually a tad bit slower, tough some commercial renderers are pinnacle of computation fast. On the bonus side most software renderers are capable of doing micro polygon renderng, which means a sphere really looks round irrespectively of resolution.

All software renderers come with a easy to use programmatic and textual interface. And they are really easy to set up all you need is the rendering engine and a text editor. Choose a software render if: you need to do stuff as pictures, for commercials or webpages.

Example 1: A simple RIB stream

        Surface "coolglossy" 
        Translate 0 0 0
        Sphere 2 -2 2 360

Cheap choices in this category are:

  • 3delight. (one 4 core machine license for free) Its fast, and if speed is a concern you could swap over to Pixars renderman with no changes in pipeline, because it supports RIB which is pretty easy to author and has several programming bindings. The sub pixel rendering engine is going to make beautiful raster images. And because its commercial you can get additional support easily if you ever over exceed simple needs.

    RIB is also standard so the first has some real staying power when it comes to recreating the work later that NO other rendering file format has. Quite many front ends can generate RIB data. Delight also comes with plugs for Maya and 3DS max.

    enter image description here

    Image 1: Simple example that ships with 3Delight demonstrating sub surface scattering (render time: a few seconds). Image color corrected from linear space to sRGB.

  • YafaRay, open source pretty easy to mesh with. Because its free you can use amazon for bulk rendering. I would use either this or delight on a company project.

  • Povray, could be a possibility but its a bit old and slow. Both yafaray and 3delight provide most of all povrays features.

Hardware rendering

Hardware rendering comes in two flavors, those that are meant for interactive use and those that are meant for offline rendering, for real time rendering i suggest

  • Unity, which is a game engine. dont let that fool you graphs are trivial stuff for game engines. Unity is capable of making executables that you can show nearly anywhere even in the browser.

Many other engines exist, this is the programmer land and some of the other answers reflect this category.

Graphing tools

  • python + pylab, has all you need to make interactive 3d that looks pretty good.

PS: you may need to specify your data and your computer usage level in mnore detail to get a better answer.

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