3D Modeling Programs


Before we get started doing 3D in a game, it is nice to have some 3D models to use in them. I have a few models that you can use in the 3D Model Library, and those are the models that I will use during these tutorials. However, I can almost guarantee you that those few models won't be enough, or even what you want in your games. So, where do you get models from? There are a few choices. First, you can find some online. Unfortunately, almost all of the models online (and virtually all of the good ones) cost money. And I'm not talking about $3 either. They are usually more along the lines of $50 - $300 a model, and some are even more expensive. You could hire an artist to make models for you, which might be a good idea, but if you are just trying to learn MonoGame, you probably don't have money for that either. A third option is to make the 3D models yourself. You don't even necessarily need to be good at art or 3D art because all you really need is some models to experiment with. Later on, if you build a game that has potential, you can bring in the professional or shell out the money for the online models. So in this tutorial, we will look at a few 3D modeling programs and compare them in terms of price, power, and ease of use.

Some 3D Modeling Programs


The 3D modeling program that most "small-time" not-a-full-time-3D-artist people use is Blender (https://blender.org). It is free, open source, and extremely capable.

For many years, I was hesitant to recommend Blender to people because it has a steep learning curve. It still does, but the learning curve has gotten simpler over the years. Plus, I can feel confident referring you to Blender Guru's donut tutorials to get started with Blender and have high confidence that you'll be able to pick it up.

This is the one I now recommend to most people.

Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya

Autodesk has two products for the high-end 3D artist: 3ds Max (often just called "Max") and Maya. While Blender is very powerful, at the moment, most large game dev shops just don't really use Blender. (Though that has been eroding in recent years, and may change some day.) If your goal is to become a 3D artist at a large studio, it might be worth going with Max or Maya.

Both of these have a slightly richer feature set than Blender. But they come with a rather steep price: $1785 per year (each, not together), as of 2022.

Wings 3D

If Blender is too intimidating for you, there is an assortment of much lighter-weight 3D modeling tools out there. One that I've recommended to people is Wings 3D. It is also free and way less intimidating than Blender. But the feature set is also much smaller.


There are a lot of products in the 3D content creation space. MonoGame doesn't really care what you use to make your models or textures. But a few other pieces of software that I just want to quickly call out as potentially useful tools in your collection are:

  • [Substance Painter https://www.adobe.com/products/substance3d/3d-augmented-reality.html] (and friends) from Adobe. This is a great set of products for making realistic 3D models.
  • [ZBrush https://pixologic.com/] from Pixologic. This is a 3D modeling program that focuses primarily on sculpting. Blender, Max, and Maya have sculpting capabilities, but if you greatly prefer a sculpting workflow over a mesh modeling workflow, this is relatively cheap and worth the investment.
  • [Houdini https://www.sidefx.com/] from SideFX. This is primarily aimed at effects but is another one used in the 3D community quite heavily.

Models from the Internet and Hiring Artists

You don't have to make all of your 3D art. Indeed, it is quite common to purchase art to supplement your main content. It can take days of work to make a single model. If you can manage to free up that time for other things, it is usually a win.

There are a few other strategies you can use to getting 3D content for your games.

Buying Models Online

Why model 40 types of trees and 40 rocks when you can buy a pack online for $40? That frees up your time to focus on your "hero" assets, like that armor set that the game is named after, the evil villain's scarred, haunted face, or the golden car you unlock when you win the Mocha Cup in your racing game.

There are many websites out there that contain free and paid 3D models. You may have to do work to clean them up and make them work in your game, but this is usually far less than building them from scratch.

Just make sure they fit nicely into your game's artistic style. You don't want 40 trees that all look completely different from each other.

Commissioning and Hiring Artists

Of course, if 3D art isn't your thing, but you can't just buy what you need online, then you could commission an artist to make a model or many models for you. Good 3D artists aren't cheap, but if the alternative is spending five years getting good enough at 3D art to do it yourself, it may be worth it. (Though learning 3D art is a fun journey on its own.)

Commissioning art is usually piece by piece, so you don't have to spend a fortune, and if you end up not liking the artist, you can just find another one for the next piece.

Alternatively, if you have an artist you like and have enough 3D work and money, you could always hire them on your team full time.

Programmer Art

Another option worth considering is to just make do with what you can manage in a short amount of time. I realize I'm probably talking to mostly programmers in this tutorial, and "make do" probably means the notorious Programmer Art. However, unless the art is an essential part of your game, you might be able to survive with less than ideal art if everything else is working well. And most importantly, if you have a game that is "done" except the art could look much better, it becomes way easier to convince an artist to jump in and work on the game because they can see it work and have higher confidence it will eventually ship. Using stand-in art until you get to that point can also be fine.

What's Next?

Now that you're armed with a 3D modeling program, take some time to learn it. Make a few models and get some practice. Your first model will probably look bad, but that's OK. It always takes time. You don't have to make all your own 3D art. You can find some free stuff online, buy a bunch more, and hire an artist for the most important parts.

After you have spent some time making some 3D models, you are ready to continue on. Even if you don't want to make 3D models right now, feel free to move on. I have some 3D models that you can freely use in the 3D Model Library. The next step is to start using 3D models in MonoGame!

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