Sculpted Prims: 3d Software Guide

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Stuff to do: Want to help out with this page? Check out the To-do list.

About 3D Modeling Software

This page offers a list of 3D modeling software for use with sculpt maps for Sculpted Prims, along with a short explanation of popular 3D file formats. Each entry lists the software package's web site, operating system support, cost and trial versions if applicable, and the licence.

Note: Resident-made sculpt map tools and offline previewers now have their own page.

Important features

Each software entry includes a rundown of features that are particularly useful for creating sculpt maps. Although support for these features isn't necessary in order to create sculpt maps, it can make the process a whole lot easier.

  • User Scripting: A script interface is one of the easiest and fastest ways to add functionality to a program or to automate tasks the program is already capable of. Plugins and SDKs can do the same thing but may not be available.
  • Built-in texture baking/generation: This term describes the ability to create/"render" textures and export them to image files. If this functionality is built into the software, it is available to user-generated scripts. For example, it allows manual export of sculpt maps with Blender and Lightwave. It can also make it easier to create regular textures for your model; you can apply colours, patterns or just a template guide to your model and bake it out for upload or further detailing in a paint program.
  • Modeling Methods: Over the years a variety of different 3d modeling techniques have emerged, each having various strengths and weaknesses. They include:
    • Polygon Modelling: The most mature method and the choice output for most games and realtime rendering in which you directly manipulate the faces, edges and vertices of an object.
    • NURBS: NURBS modelling uses series of curved splines to define the shape of an object and are excellent for smooth, organic shapes. The methodology behind sculpted prims is very largely based on them.
    • Subdivision Surface: Subdivision modelling shares some of the advantages of both NURBS and polygon modelling: the shape is manipulated using sets of control points that allow for both smooth surfaces and precise details.
    • Brush Sculpting: With this method, you use your mouse or pen tablet and a series of adjustable brushes to literally sculpt on the 3d surface like clay. Many programs such as Blender and 3ds Max offer this function in a limited sense to help with precision detailing but not to the extent of programs built with this method as their focus, such as zBrush.

Which you use will ultimately come down to personal preference and what your exporter will handle best.

Do I need a really powerful computer?

For most Second Life users, this shouldn't be a major issue. If your computer is capable of running the Second Life client, you should have no trouble running most of these programs. Some programs will run fine on something as old as a Pentium III. A few professional programs (like Maya) say they'll only support high-end workstation graphics cards but it will still run ok on a regular setup. Check the system requirements on the software vendor's webpage for specific details.

What programs are the best for making sculpties?

There's no easy answer to that question. It depends on a number of factors which will vary from user to user:

  • How much money can you (or are you willing to) spend? The cost of 3d software ranges from "free" to thousands of dollars. Programs like Maya and 3ds Max are powerful, but if you're not already seriously into 3d modelling, they're probably overkill. Lightwave, zBrush and programs in their price range are powerful professional tools while still being within reach of a reasonably well-to-do person who's dedicated to their SL design work, but these are probably still overkill for pure sculptie creation as most of the features you pay for go beyond the general tools to create sculpt maps for Second Life. Programs such as Amorphium, trueSpace and Milkshape are aimed at professionals and casual hobbyists, but not all of them are going to have the full 3D studio capabilities of some more expensive programs. Free programs run the gamut between the pro and hobby levels and you'll have to consider other factors when choosing between them. Blender is a nice alternative to professional suites like Maya and max because of its flexibility and price (it's free), but its user interface is arguably less intuitive.
  • How much time are you willing to invest? If you want to just make a few sculpted objects, a simple standalone utility like Rokuro might suit you best. If you're a serious content creator though, you'll want to put the time and effort into learning a more complex program.
  • How much prior experience do you have? If you've been working with 3d software for a while already, you probably already know what you like, or will have an easier time picking up a different and/or more complicated program. If you're brand new to modeling, it's probably a mistake to jump right into a program like Blender or Maya because of their steep learning curves. The availability of general modelling tutorials, product support, user forums and other resources (not just SL-related ones) will probably affect your choice as well.

I'm new to all this. What should I start with?

Probably not with anything expensive...unless you're a university student at a school with a good computer art program where you can take advantage of their resources. If you're very serious about learning the tools the pros use, you might also want to seek out such a program, either online or in a classroom.

If you just want to dive straight into making sculpties then there are a couple of front-runners for your attention. (Please note that these are opinions and may not reflect everyone's.) If you have to go the free route, Wings 3d is probably your best bet: the exporter has some hard limitations and the interface isn't necessarily friendly but it's much easier to use than the other main free option, Blender. Once you get the hang of it you can make sculpties fairly quickly.

If you want free and simple, try out the Rokuro and Tokoroten sculpt-making tools. You'll be limited in the shapes you can produce, but they require no 3d experience and you can turn out some good sculpties in a little as ten minutes. The Wings plugin can also import these sculpt maps where you can tweak them further.

If you're willing to spend some money (under USD$100), AC3D is a good place to start. The interface is nicer than that of Wings, and Zora Spoonhamer's exporter allows you to take good advantage of program features which the Wings exporter doesn't; full subdivision capabilities, cutting and extrusion of faces, etc.

That said, the best way to decide which program you should use is to start downloading their demos and trying them for size and feel.

Adding Programs to This List

The hobby market for 3d software is currently growing rapidly: as a result there are dozens of software packages in the wild, many undiscovered or not well known. If a new program is discovered and proven by means of it being listed here, great, but it's not within the scope of this list to name them all, else the most useful ones would get buried and the page would become a confusing mess.

A couple things to consider:

  • Popularity: This may seem contrary to the "discovering new programs" bit above, but it's impossible to ignore the impact popularity has on a program: it means there's a community of users that can offer support to newbies and it increases the likelihood that someone will develop sculpt map support for it.
  • Features: If it doesn't already have sculpt map support, does it have the features that will make it likely able to support sculpt maps? Certain well known programs like Sketchup and Milkshape have been put in the "Other" category because people will ask about them but the chance of sculpt map support being developed for them seems slim because of their feature sets. If that turns out to be an incorrect assumption then they'll certainly be moved up. A file converter like 3dm2sculpt or one of various object to sculpty programs is better than nothing but as such programs are in varying stages of being beta and/or experimental (and often may not work), being able to save to a convertible file format shouldn't be the only thing to consider. Other things to keep in mind: is the interface usable? Does the program run without frequently crashing?

With those in mind, if you're adding a program, follow the format used in the rest of the entries (they differ slightly between the free and commercial packages) and be sure to fill in as much information as you can; this will usually take a little research. If you've used the program, you're encouraged to include your insights and experiences in the short description blurb (you don't need more than a short paragraph). Tutorials, documentation and the like should be linked separately under the Resources section.

Special Purpose Sculpted Prim Tools

The resident-made sculpt tools such as Rokuro, SnurbO'Matic and the preview tools now have their own page: Sculpted Prims: Resident-made Tools.

Free 3D Modeling Software

Art of Illusion

  • Website:
  • License: GPL
  • Operating Systems: Any OS that will run Java (requires Java Runtime Environment 1.4 or later)
  • User Scripting? Yes, Java via Beanshell
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS
  • Built-in Texture Baking? ???
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No, although it is possible to save as a .obj file and then convert it to a sculpt image.

A number of Residents have recommended this program. If you're familiar with it, please give the rest of us a summary!



  • Website:
  • License: GPL
  • Operating Systems: Cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, Irix, Solaris, FreeBSD and others)
  • User Scripting? Yes, Python
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS, Subdivision, Basic Brush Sculpting
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, see blender add on's and tutorials below

Formerly a company's in-house tool, Blender is the current king of the open source modeling programs. With all the features of the expensive programs, an active development community and even some existing SL-based tools made by Residents, this is going to be the default choice for many people. Downsides: Blender's interface is not newbie-friendly. That combined with spotty documentation can make for a slow learning curve.


  • Blender classes and tutorials inworld
    • Eleanora Newell's Blender Classes in SL Description of classes; calendar with times/places/topics. Classes are on using JASS-2 for sculpts and will begin to work with pure mesh for use in the beta grid, Aditi, as well as launch into Blender 2.5.
    • Blender Tutorials at TAMA Tools Blender self-paced tutorials in book format inworld. Fully illustrated and explained projects.


A SLork sculpted in Plopp
  • Website: Plopp Second Life
  • License: Donationware/Commercial
  • Operating Systems:Windows, Mac
  • User Scripting? No (N/A)
  • Modeling Methods: 2d painting
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes

Plopp is a cute 3D modeling tool designed for little kids. The makers of Plopp have now put out a free version for SL users (the full program can be bought for US$19.50).

Imagine one of those new mylar balloons. You paint the one side with an image, and then paint the other side with an image represetning the other side. Plopp then blows up the balloon and shades it. You can also import graphics from other tools (Photoshop, a scanned drawing, etc.), make a "cutout" with the eraser and inflate that. You can play a little with the lighting and with rotations. The Plopp drawing tools are very basic but keep in mind, this is for little children. Then it bakes the texture and exports the texture and the sculpt map (128x128).

Even if you don't use this for Second Life, you might like to get it for your kids...or inner child. It just looks like a lot of fun.


trueSpace (Caligari)

  • Website: Caligari
  • Cost: As of late July, 2008, Caligari, recently acquired by Microsoft, is giving away the latest version of trueSpace (7.6) for free, with all documentation as well as all formerly extra-cost video training.
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista
  • Trial version available?: No longer necessary
  • User Scripting? Yes
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

TrueSpace and its companion products appear to be aimed more at the independent developer and hobby market. Today now that it is owned by Microsoft they are giving it away with the training videos, a fully featured program now absolutely free! Your on your own for support ever since the acquisition but there is still an active forum see the resources below for the link. However it lacks support to export Sculpt Maps directly, you'll need to use another program to import the .obj files you create. A unique feature TrueSpace 7 and on offers a virtual collaborative work environment without working in the Second Life sandbox.


Wings 3D

  • Website: Wings 3D
  • License:BSD license
  • Get Started:Second Life Wings 3D guide
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (binaries), other Unixes (source only)
  • User Scripting? Plugin interface using a language called Erlang
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Not sure
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes.

Wings3D is a subdivision modeler that is easy to learn and is well suited to making sculpted prims. The sculpt import and export for Wings is easy to use. There are also numerous tutorials that are specific to making sculpties.


*) The SL servers seem to be having trouble sending the zip files from the forums.  Use the alternative site, for now.


POV-Ray is a renderer - you have to do all your modeling in another application, or by describing in plain text the mathematical shapes which make up the model. It may seem an odd inclusion in this part of the list but merits mentioning up here instead of burried at the bottom with the "Other" section because it actualy can produce sculpt maps. Some other programs like AC3D (below) can also call on POV-Ray for texture baking.

XSI Mod Tool

The Autodesk® Softimage® Mod Tool software is a free version of Softimage for non- commercial game creation. It was designed for use by anyone needing a powerful 3D application to make and mod games. Most of the features and functionality of the commercial version of SOFTIMAGE|XSI 6 are enabled in Mod Tool, without the hassle of licensing.

Commercial 3D Suites

It has to be said: most professional 3D software is (understandably) expensive, anywhere from hundreds to many thousands of dollars for a single copy. They're marketed at big professional studios with thousands or millions of dollars to budget for this stuff. There are ways to reduce this expense so that it's within the reach of an average person: some legal, some not.

Under $200

Archipelis Designer (Archipelis)

  • Website: Archipelis
  • Cost: €38 or about $50
  • Operating Systems: Windows and Mac
  • Trial version available?: Yes
  • User Scripting?
  • Modeling Methods: by drawing on photo
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes

With Archipelis Designer you just draw an outline from a background image(s) to make it a 3D textured model. Or you can use a blank view and just draw the shapes you want from scratch. it's an intuitive approach to sketch the shapes out that can then be enhanced with textures and photographs and then exported to a set of sculted prims.

Archipelis.jpg Peng.gif


Amorphium (Electric Image)

  • Website: Electric Image Amorphium
  • Cost: US$79 ("Standard")
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac (UB) - trial is Mac OS X 10.0 - 10.3 only
  • Trial version available?: Yes
  • User Scripting? Yes
  • Modeling Methods: Brush Sculpting, NURBS, Polygon
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes (paint on, further controllable with sensitive pen-tablet)
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No (export to a format Blender knows, or to OBJ, and use a converter, can start with the 64x63 sphere made by Wings3D)

Sculpting is what Amorphium is all about. If you have a pen tablet (even a tablet PC), the pressure sensitivity will control the pressure applied to the current brush to morph the sculpture. It gives a very natural feel to being able to sculpt 3d models easily and intuitively. Amorphium has won 14 awards including "Best Graphics Software" from magazines like Computer Graphics World, PC World, and Macworld for its breakthrough real-time approach to creating 3D graphics.


AC3D (invis)

  • Website: - AC3D
  • Cost: US$75
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac OSX 10.4 or later, Linux (x86 only)
  • Trial version available?: Yes - 14 day trial
  • User Scripting? Plugin Interface available, plus TCL-based scripting
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? No (But can be accomplished via 3rd party plug-ins or POV-Ray)
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes: As of 6.4 (released July 2008) the Second Life plugins now ship with AC3D. For older versions, visit these links: Export plug-in for Windows, Mac and Linux, developed by Zora Spoonhammer

AC3D is an inexpensive polygon modeler with SubD support designed to be easy for novice users. The sculpt map plug-in will export any model that has a perfect uv space. Several pre-mapped starter shapes are included with the plug-in, including a cube that can be used as basis for complex objects by artists familiar with the popular box modeling method using sub-division surfaces. Invis recently gave their official blessing (as well as hosting) to the plugin, making them the first vendor of this kind of software to put their backing into sculpy development.


Curvy 3D

  • Website: CURVY 3D
  • License: Commercial US$99
  • Trial version available: Yes 30 day
  • Operating Systems: Windows
  • User Scripting? No (N/A)
  • Modeling Methods: Sketch, paint or even trace.
  • Built-in Texture Baking?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes

Simply draw the outlines of shapes to create 3D forms, then you paint on the surface to sculpt details. No need for UV unwrapping, the coords are all set up automatically by Curvy

  • Resources

Info in English :

Free modeling tutorial English:

Free modeling tutorial French:

Hexagon 2.5 (DAZ Productions)

  • Website: Hexagon product page
  • Cost: Full version: $149, "Crossgrade" from other DAZ software: $79, Upgrade: $49, Discounts for DAZ 'Platinum Club' members available.
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP, Mac OS X 10.3 or higher
  • Trial version available? Yes: go here and select Hexagon 2.5 Demo from the list.
  • User Scripting? No
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support: Yes

Hexagon rolls out official support for sculpted prims which shoots it from the "other" section into the main list. By itself it appears to be a very capable program - the full range of expected modeling tools plus 3D painting, ambient occlusion baking - in short, all most sculpt makers will need for not too much money. The program was originally developed by eovia and was purchased by DAZ.


Moment of Inspiration

  • Website: Moment of Inspiration
  • Cost: US$195
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP/Vista
  • User Scripting? ?
  • Modeling Methods: NURBS, Polygon (Import/Export Only)
  • Built-in Texture Baking? ?
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, try 3dm2sculpt

This program has some cool things going for it. It's the work of a former Rhino developer and has an interface that pretty much lets you draw shapes with the mouse or a pen tablet. Original text: MoI’s sleek intuitive UI blends a fluid easy workflow with powerful tools, making it the perfect choice for someone who has been frustrated with the complexity of existing CAD tools.


Silo (Nevercenter)

  • Website: Nevercenter - Silo
  • Cost: US$159, US$59 (upgrade), edu licensing on request
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000 or later, Mac OSX 10.3 or later
  • Trial version available?: Yes - 30 day trial
  • User Scripting? -?-
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? -?-
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: -?-


Shade10 (e frontier)

  • Website: 3DCG : Mirye Software
  • Cost: US$49 / $249 / $899
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP/ XP Professional x64 Edition/Vista /Vista 64bit, Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later
  • Trial version available?: Yes - 30 day trial
  • User Scripting? Python
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon Mesh, Boolean, Meta Mesh, Curved Surface
  • Built-in Texture Baking? -?-
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes

Comments Now available in English through Mirye Software. All versions of Shade include support for exporting Second Life sculpted prims. Shade is available for Windows and Mac OS X, and includes modeling, rendering and animation. Features integration with most other 3D software products. Supports Poser file hosting through PoserFusion.


From $200 - $999

Zbrush (Pixologic)

  • Website: Pixologic :: Zbrush
  • Cost: US$595 (V3.1)
  • Operating Systems: Windows 98/2000/ZP, Mac OS X
  • Trial version available?: Yes (30 day trial)
  • User Scripting? Yes, Zscripting
  • Modeling Methods: Brush Sculpting, "ZSphere" modeling, Polygon (Import/Export)
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No, future support is planned by Linden Lab (but note to Resident developers: this one is in high demand). There is a Resident created tool called Sculpty Maker that allows you to convert objects created in zBrush. Download/Info

Zbrush is a 3d painting and sculpting tool; instead of manipulating polys or curves, you select a brush and literally paint and chisel and mold...the best way to grasp it is to download the demo and play with it. It's pretty sweet: a ton of studios such as Epic Games use it to create the details for their normal maps and some SL designers are already using it for the 3d painting capabilities.

V3.1 adds many new features, such as Displacement Maps (and and Exporter) and the ZMapper.

(I may be incorrect, but I believe that the Displacement Maps and Exporter may be Pixologic's rendition of sculpture maps. Some with more experience needs to check, please: Displacement Exporter. -- just checked this, and is different from how sculpt maps work. Just a converter for displacement maps to normal maps. (pretty powerful in its own right, but not the same thing as sculpties) Sculpt maps are not using the normals in any way at all - they look similar in that they are RGB maps, but the similarity pretty much ends there. Rather sculpties use RGB gradients from the center of the prim to the edge of the prim's bounding box to define where the vertices are in xyz space. --Hypatia Callisto 14:47, 1 November 2007 (PDT))


3D Coat

  • Website: 3D Coat
  • Cost: US$285 (V3.1pro) OR $235 (V3.1pro) if activated within 30 day trial period (also, no VAT Charge for EU residents)
  • Operating Systems: Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X, Linux
  • Trial version available?: Yes (30 day trial)
  • User Scripting? Yes, SDK for some elements available
  • Modeling Methods: Brush Sculpting, "Voxel" modeling, Polygon (Import/Export)
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes, exstensive global illumination w/ layers and full UV toolset/retopology
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: YES. - Native support of sculpted primitive import and export; full compatibility with import/export for many formats.

3D Coat is, like ZBrush, a 3d painting and sculpting tool that is most often used as part of a production workflow with maya or studio max, but is extremely well suited to sculpted primitive development and texturing, even in conjunction with simpler polygon modeling packages such as Wings3D.

However, 3D Coat has some additional elements that Zbrush does not have, such as the cloth simulation engine and layers. The layering of displacement/environment shaders and painted aspects on your object can be opened directly as layers in an image editing program and live updates performed within 3D coat "on the fly," allowing for precise use of the Photoshop/Gimp/etc. toolsets and seeing the results instantly on the model in 3D Coat. Example texture in image editor


3D Coat - Video Tutorial Library 3D Coat - PDF Manual 3D Coat - Official Forums and Online Community

Lightwave (Newtek)

  • Website: Lightwave
  • Cost: US$895, US$495 as a companion upgrade for Photoshop
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or higher
  • Trial version available?: Yes, 30 day time limit, currently only available with a couple books
  • User Scripting? Yes, LScript
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS with LWCAD 2.1 add-on (costs extra)
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, manual method instructions here: User:Patchouli_Woollahra/Lightwave_Sculptie_Rendering (works with any version of Lightwave of at least version 6) or use the DStorm plugin provided [[1]] at DStorm (LW9+ only)

Some high-profile Second Life designers have been using Lightwave for quite a while to burn realistic highlights and shadows onto their skins and clothing textures. Therefore it's not a big surprise that after Blender, this was the second program that community members figured out a sculpt export method for.


Rhinoceros (McNeel)

  • Website: Rhino 3D
  • Cost: US$995 ($300 student)
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP/Vista (Vista not recommended due to OpenGL issues) OS X (beta, free)
  • Trial version available?: Yes, save count limited
  • User Scripting? Yes, VBScript
  • Modeling Methods: NURBS, Polygon (limited)
  • Built-in Texture Baking? No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: please try 3dm2sculpt (not tested with Rhino yet)

Rhino is built from the ground up for NURBS modeling; thus if you intend to use NURBS, this isn't such a bad option. From this author's brief trial with it, it handles certain operations (like joining 2 or more objects) somewhat more intelligently than 3ds Max. A couple UI tricks make it easier to learn than the sea of buttons you're initially presented with: a help window to one side explains each operation as you select it and the command line at the top effectively lets you search for a function by typing in its name, without having to know where the button or menu option is.


Modo 302 (Luxology)

  • Website: Luxology Home
  • Cost: US$895 professional, $149 Educational, $99 "Good Student" price. Download a trial version then wait 1-2 weeks and you'll receive a voucher dropping professional price to US$695.
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac
  • Trial version available?: Yes
  • User Scripting? Yes
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, Subdivsion, Brush Sculpting
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, via texture baking

Luxology Modo is a premier modeling and UV system built to maximize the workflow of professional modelers. It has both a rich modeling and painting toolset, ideal for creating models for Second Life.


Mudbox (Autodesk)

  • Website: Mudbox
  • Cost: US$745 (Autodesk Mudbox 2009) US$450 (upgrade from older "Basic" version) - US$375 (upgrade from old "Professional" version)
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP SP2, Atm untested on x64 or Vista
  • Trial version available?: Yes, 30 day trial fully functional.
  • User Scripting? No
  • Modeling Methods: Brush Sculpting, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

With ZBrush one of the most powerful organic modelers out there, really easy to use and artist friendly. Its modeling is based on brushes like ZBrush but aims more to 3D like Maya or 3D Studio Max. It contains a high quality texture renderer for baking normal maps and is used be many 3D professionals and studios like WETA Digital and some artists at Raven Software and id Software.

Mudbox's creator, Skymatter, was bought by Autodesk in October 2007


Carrara (Daz)

  • Website: Daz
  • Cost: US$249 ("Standard") - US$549 ("Professional")
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac (UB)
  • Trial version available?: Yes
  • User Scripting? Yes (plugin development, no scripting)
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon
  • Built-in Texture Baking? No (Yes with third party plug from Inagoni
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes - via texture baking with third party plugins - tutorial User:Hypatia_Callisto/Carrara_Sculpt_Baking

Like Hexagon, Carrara was an Eovia product that is now owned by Daz. Carrara is full-featured 3D application, supporting polygon modeling, spline modeling, "metaballs", and terrain modeling (it is sometimes compared to Vue). This app seems fly under the radar consistently, but Daz does seem to be serious about maintaining it as they have recently released a Mac Universal Binary version, free to registered users. Carrara also provides animation and particles.


Cinema 4D

  • Website: Maxon
  • Cost: CINEMA 4D R10 Win PC £586.33, additional modules available.
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista, Mac
  • Trial version available?: Yes, Demo
  • User Scripting? Yes, COFFEE
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, via Shader.

One of the more affordable 3D applications, excellent learning curve. Uses COFFEE script for plugins.


Sculpt map tutorial part 1 for Cinema 4D Loosely translated from Klaus Strifler´s original german KS-3D sculpt map tutorial into english by a finnish 3d artist Kraphik 3D.

$1000 and Up

Maya (Autodesk/Wavefront)

  • Website: Autodesk Maya
  • Cost: US$3000 ("Complete") - US$7000 ("Unlimited"). ("Complete" version sufficient for creating sculpted prims.) Educational license: US$300
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP SP2, Mac OS X 10.4, Linux (SUSE, RedHat and Fedora supported)
  • Trial version available?: 30 day trial. "Personal Learning Edition", no time limit but not usable for creating sculpted prims (sculpt textures ruined by watermark) - Discontuned by Autodesk in November 2008. Older versions of the PLE can probably be found by searching.
  • User Scripting? Yes, MEL Script
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, script by Qarl Linden available on their wiki here, instructions here.
    • Qarl has released a new export script that can handle assemblies of prims and can also bake the surface textures for you. Available Here

Why was Maya the first to receive sculpted prim support from Linden Lab? Because it was what Qarl Linden, the main developer on the project, learned to use while creating kick-ass movie SFX like these and the tech for sculpted prims was adapted from tricks he learned in the process. Maya has been a growing force in the movie industry for some years and a strong presence in the video game industry as well.


3d Studio Max (Autodesk)

  • Website: Autodesk 3ds Max
  • Cost: US$3495. Educational License: ~US$200. Subscription: ~US$500/year.
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP, Windows Vista (with version 9.1)
  • Trial version available?: Yes, 30-day demo, full features
  • User Scripting? Yes, MAX Script/plugins
  • Modeling Methods: Polygons, NURBS, Subdivsion, Basic Brush Sculpting
  • Built-in Texture Baking? Yes (some functions only in version 8 and higher)
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes

Formerly Maya's main competitor, especially in the game industry. Then Autodesk (the makers of Max) bought out Alias (the makers of Maya) a couple years ago. So far the company is developing both products separately, marketing Maya at the movie industry and Max at the game developers, but they have long had comparable feature sets, and in the future it's likely that there will be tighter integration between the two. A choice between Maya and Max generally comes down to user preference and (particularly in our case) plugin support. Some users have said that Max is easier for a newbie to learn than Maya and certain basic controls share similarities with SL's build tools (such as shift-drag to copy).


SL Prims to 3ds Max - A prim building plugin and export system for Max. Open source.

Prim Composer for 3ds Max - Prim Composer is based on SL Prims and SculptGenMax. 3ds Max offline building plugin for both prims and sculpties. Open Source.

Unofficial Prim Composer mirror - The official prim composer site is down. This blog will stay alive until (and if) it is back up. The latest (unofficial) version of Prim Composer can be found in this post:

Softimage (Autodesk)

  • Website: Softimage XSI
  • Cost: US$2995 ($3790 with subscription for updates.)
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP SP2/64 bit
  • Trial version available: Yes, 30 day trial with full features, free "Mod Tool" supported by Valve with limited features (watermarks images).
  • User Scripting: Yes, vbscript, jscript, Python, COLLADA and C#
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon, NURBS, Subdivision
  • Built-in Texture Baking: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes. With the aid of a addon:

Billing itself as "the most advanced 3D animation and character creation software for next generation games & film", it does that, modeling, baking, film compositing, and it makes toast! All kidding aside, they seem to be going after the largest slice of the market they can and their client list includes everything from Half-Life to Howl's Moving Castle. Pluses? It's one of the few commercial programs that uses non-proprietary languages for their scripting...yes, I said languages, because apparently you have a choice between several. However it's unlikely that it has a significant user base within the SL community at the moment.

Softimage XSI was bought out from Avid by Autodesk in November 2008, did away with the $495 "foundation" version and reset the price at $2995. C'est la monopoly.


Other 3d Programs

These programs are free or cheap, but are not well supported or necessarily suited for sculpt making. They are listed here because they are popular for other applications and their absence from this list would be confusing to those who know about them otherwise.

MilkShape 3D

  • Website:
  • Cost: US$25 / €25
  • Operating Systems: Windows
  • Trial version available? 30-day unrestricted trial, save disabled thereafter until registered
  • User Scripting? Plug-in SDK available (Does that count?)
  • Modeling Methods: Polygons
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation? No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support: Import/Export plugin under development


Google SketchUp

  • Website: Google SketchUp
  • Cost: Free (Google SketchUp 6); $495 (Google SketchUp 6 Pro)/$45 (full-feature academic license for Google SketchUp 6 Pro)
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP/2000, Windows Vista (with OpenGL 1.5 or higher), Mac OS X (10.3.9 or higher)
  • Trial version available?: 8 hour trial available for Sketchup Pro
  • User Scripting? Yes, Ruby
  • Modeling Methods: Polygon
  • Built-in Texture Baking? No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Indirectly (through OBJ export; Pro version only)

SketchUp is a 3D drafting program popular among architects for its conceptual similarity to manual drafting and physical model-building. It has a very low learning curve, but is rather foreign to most established suites other than AutoCAD.

Hypothetically, SketchUp could be used to reduce the number of prims used in structures already possible with Second Life's built-in tools, as its use of edges and faces allows the creation of efficient compound geometric forms.

On the other hand, SketchUp's "bring your own geometry" approach makes it not particularly suited to the creation of mesh-based organic shapes.

Sketchup's surface modeling paradigm currently makes it difficult to translate SketchUp models into Sculpted Prims. The paid "Pro" version of SketchUp does, however, allow export to OBJ which, via obj2sculpt (or, of course, Maya), may allow sculpt-map export. It also exports to 3DS, Collada, XSI and VRML, et cetera, but these formats may well require software more expensive than SketchUp.

SketchUp uses image textures about as basic as those found in the Second Life build tools. Its texture capabilities would therefore likely not be useful to Second Life designers other than for previewing existing textures.


[3] - A rudimentary Sketchup to SL prim exporter plugin.


  • Website: Ayam
  • License: BSD license
  • Operating Systems: Unix/Linux (native), Windows 98, 2000 and XP, Mac OS X (with X11)
  • User Scripting? Yes, tcl
  • Modeling Methods: NURBS, Polygon (Import/Export Only)
  • Built-in Texture Baking? No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No


3D File Formats

If you're using software that cannot export to sculpt directly, you might still be able to succeed. You can always give the file to someone with access to the appropriate software, or you could export your model into another 3D modeler. To do that, you'll need to export the model into a format the other program can handle. Here's a brief rundown of the file formats that SL developers will generally find the most useful.

  • .OBJ: Probably the most common cross-platform export format for polygon models; it's fairly open and any 3D program worth its bits supports it. It's also well-documented and easily hackable.
  • .3DS: The default polygon export format supported by 3D Studio Max. Because of this, it is widely supported. However, it doesn't have as many export options as OBJ.
  • .FBX: Another Autodesk format that is good if you need to export whole scenes: objects, animation, lights, cameras, etc. More importantly for our purposes, it preserves NURBS objects in some programs. Especially useful if you're trading files between 3DS Max and Maya; it's also supported in some other programs but Blender isn't among them ...yet.
  • .3DM: a.k.a OpenNURBS. This is the native format of Rhino3D and MoI and, as the name suggests, is a NURBS export format. It's gaining some popularity; unfortunately, it's not currently supported by the big three (Maya, Max and Blender). However the format documentation and code libraries are open-source, tempting those brave enough to try and write tools for it, such as 3dm2sculpt.

Other Resources

Useful places for anyone interested in 3d modeling:

  • Yobi3D — 3D model search engine and see results in 3D
  • 3d Buzz — Forums, video tutorials and even classes covering everything from 3d programs to 3d programing and even Photoshop.
  • An Interactive Introduction to Splines — a technical introduction to NURBs.
  • CGTrader - place where you can find already made 3D models and use them.

See also