Sculpted Prims: 3d Software Guide

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About 3D Modeling Software

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

What Features are important for making Sculpted Prims?

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.
  • NURBS: NURBS stands for "Non Uniform Rational B-Splines". It's an advanced modeling technique in which shapes are created by manipulating a series of curved splines. Compare this to polygon modeling, a more economical method of manipulating the faces, edges and vertices of a polygon mesh, which is frequently used for computer graphics. NURBS are very good at creating organic shapes and smooth curves and, according to Qarl Linden, they convert to sculpted prims much more easily than polygon meshes. (However with the flood of Resident solutions for creating sculpt prims in different programs, this distinction may turn out not to be relevant.)
  • 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 colors, patterns or just a template guide to your model and bake it out for upload or further detailing in a paint program.

Do I need a really powerful computer to run this stuff?

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.

Offline Previewer Tools

Basic tools that can be used to preview what a sculpt texture will look like when uploaded into Second Life and rendered as a prim. All of these are made by other Residents and should generaly be considered beta or works in progress.

XNA Sculptpreview

  • Creator: Eddy Stryker
  • Link to get it: XNA Sculptpreview
  • Requires: Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista, along with the Microsoft XNA framework (see above link for details)
  • Derivatives: XNA SculptPreview - Modified version to include LOD and a more sensible camera configuration (and a bunch of other changes under the hood).

A Hacky Sculpt Previewer

  • Creator: Yumi Murakami
  • Link to get it: Web Start Launcher, Executable JAR file, Source Code (Java SDK required to run from the source).
  • Requires: Java Runtime Engine 1.6 or higher, Java 3d API and any OS that will run them (Win, Mac and Linux are well covered). If installing or upgrading the JRE, be sure to do it before installing Java3d. The Web Start link above should be able to automatically install any needed components. Note that it will attempt to automatically redirect your browser to a download page, so if nothing happens when you click on it, please check your security settings will allow this.

Free 3D Modeling Software


  • Website:
  • License: GPL
  • Operating Systems: Cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, Irix, Solaris, FreeBSD and others)
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, Python
  • Supports NURBS?: Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Development in progress by SL residents. Also, people have figured out how to get Blender to generate sculpt maps as you work, without needing a script! The process is documented here, and here

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 steep learning curve.


Art of Illusion

  • Website:
  • License: GPL
  • Operating Systems: Any OS that will run Java (requires Java Runtime Environment 1.4 or later)
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, Java via Beanshell
  • Supports NURBS? Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: ???
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

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


Moment of Inspiration

  • Website: Moment of Inspiration
  • License: Open beta testing/freeware
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP/Vista
  • Supports user scripting?: ?
  • Supports NURBS? Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: ?
  • 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. Documentation on the website is sparse however and being in beta means there will be kinks.

It should be noted that MoI will become a commercial product when it leaves beta testing (expected later this summer), but it will still be comparatively inexpensive; the estimated cost is between US$200-$100.



  • Website: Ayam
  • License: BSD license
  • Operating Systems: Unix/Linux (native), Windows 98, 2000 and XP, Mac OSX (with X11)
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, tcl
  • Supports NURBS? Yes (NURBS modeling only; polygon meshes can be imported)
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No


Wings 3D

  • Website: Wings 3D
  • License:BSD license
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux (binaries), other Unixes (source only)
  • Supports user scripting?: ? (Plugin interface avalible)
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: ?
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes. Wings 3D is the easiest way to get started making scultpties. See the first post in this forum threadfor instructions on getting set up.

Wings3D is a subdivision modeler and has the advantage of being fairly easy to learn and is well suited to making sculpted prims. Documentation is sparse, but there are many tutorials on the Web.


Professional 3D Suites

It has to be said: most professional 3D software is (incredibly) expensive, anywhere from hundreds to 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 witin the reach of an average person: some legal, some not.

  • Don't post links to downloads of pirated software or directions/tools to crack trial software. They'll be deleted.
  • Don't ask in a public forum where you can download pirated software.
  • Don't be fooled by online retailers selling "cheap OEM" copies of software online. None of these programs come in OEM (original equipment manufacturer, or anyone who makes computer hardware and bundles software with them) versions. Many companies such as Autodesk only sell their software through authorized retailers. These too good to be true offers are just that: crooks trying to get you to pay them money for pirated software. (ed.: Trust me: I've fallen for it before and now know better).
  • Do be aware that downloading pirated software is a good way to end up with malware on your system such as trojans and keyloggers.

That said, here are some of the legal options you can look for:

  • Educational Licenses: If you're a student or know one willing to help you, you can usually get a significant discount on most of these programs. The downside is that many educational licenses say you're not supposed to use the program for commercial purposes.
  • Annual Licenses: Many of the same educational vendors also offer an option to buy a one or two year license to the full version of the program, sometimes for as little as $200 or less. Even over the course of several years, this could be the most economical option and you won't be crippled by the terms of an educational license.
  • Subscriptions: If you already own the software, some companies, particularly Autodesk, offer subscriptions that can get you access to extra new features and deals on upgrades.
  • Trials: Most 3d software has a demo or a "learning edition" that you can download from the software maker and try on your system. They will be either time or feature limited but this is a good way to get your feet wet.

So with that out of the way, the list...

Maya (Autodesk/Wavefront)

  • Website: Autodesk Maya
  • Cost: US$3000 ("Complete") - US$7000 ("Unlimited"). ("Complete" version sufficient for creating sculpted prims.) Educational licence: US$300
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP SP2, Max OSx 10.4, Linux (SUSE, RedHat and Fedora supported)
  • Trial version available?: "Personal Learning Edition", no time limit but not usable for creating sculpted prims (sculpt textures ruined by watermark)
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, MEL Script
  • Supports NURBS? Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, script by Qarl Linden available on their wiki here, instructions 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.


Maya Sculpt Tutorial by Talila Liu (needs HTML or wiki-fication, any volunteers?)

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
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, MAX Script/plugins
  • Supports NURBS? Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes (version 8 and higher)
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: 3 methods in development:
    • Method 1 by Gearsawe Stonecutter, uses a premade template file.
    • Method 2 by Abu Nasu, uses a shader and is capable of handling arbitrary shapes but requires Max 8 or higher. Download the Materials file here. Tutorial coming soon.
    • Method 3 by Shack Dougall, is a vertex-based method using MAXScript and preset geometry as a starting point. Tested on 3dsMax 9.

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 generaly 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).


Zbrush (Pixologic)

  • Website: Pixologic :: Zbrush
  • Cost: US$489
  • Operating Systems: Windows 98/2000/ZP, Mac OSX
  • Trial version available?: Yes, 30-day time limit
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, Zscripting
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No, future support is planned by Linden Lab

Zbrush pretty new and a bit unique. It's 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.


Lightwave (Newtek)

  • Website: Lightwave
  • Cost: US$795
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP, Mac OSX 10.3.9 or higher
  • Trial version available?: Yes, 30 day time limit
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, LScript
  • Supports NURBS? Yes, with LWCAD 2.1 add-on (costs extra)
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: Yes, manual method instructions here: User:Patchouli_Woollahra/Lightwave_Sculptie_Rendering

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
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP/Vista (Vista not recommended due to OpenGL issues)
  • Trial version available?: Yes, save count limited
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, VBScript
  • Supports NURBS? Yes (limited polygon functions)
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: 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 the learning curve much less steep 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.


trueSpace (Caligari)

  • Website: Caligari
  • Cost: US$595 for latest version (7), but legacy versions are sold for lower prices ($199 for TrueSpace 5)
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP/Vista
  • Trial version available?: Yes, prior version of the program
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes
  • Supports NURBS? Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

trueSpace and its companion products appear to be aimed more at the independent developer and hobby market, resulting in a fully featured program at a much more affordable price. Of interest to Second Life users: trueSpace 7 and up offers a collaborative work environment; the benefit of working together like in SL but without the guy shooting off guns at you in the sandbox.


trueSpace3.2 Full Version (very old) for Free

Softimage XSI (Avid)

  • Website: Softimage XSI
  • Cost: US$495 ("Foundation") - US$6995 ("Advanced")
  • 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).
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, Python, COLLADA and C#
  • Supports NURBS? Yes
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

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.


Modo 203 (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
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: 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 (Skymatter)

  • Website: Mudbox
  • Cost: US$299 ("Basic") - US$649 ("Professional")
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP SP2, Atm untested on x64 or Vista
  • Trial version available?: Yes, 15 days trial fully functional.
  • Supports user scripting?: No
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: 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.


Carrara (Daz)

  • Website: Daz
  • Cost: US$249 ("Standard") - US$549 ("Professional")
  • Operating Systems: Windows, Mac (UB)
  • Trial version available?: Yes
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes (plugin development, no scripting)
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: No (Yes with third party plug from Inagoni
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

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.


Other 3d Programs

These programs may be free or cheap, but they won't have nearly as expansive feature sets as those above.

Google Sketchup

  • Website: Google Sketchup
  • Cost: Free (Google Sketchup 6)/$495 (Google Sketchup 6 Pro)/$45 (Educational/Student Price)
  • Operating Systems: Windows XP/2000, Windows Vista (with OpenGL 1.5 or higher), Mac OSX (10.3.9 or higher)
  • Trial version available?: 8 hour trial available for Sketchup Pro
  • Supports user scripting?: Yes, Ruby
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation?: No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support?: No

Since before Google bought the company that made SketchUp, the program was designed with a very specific aim: fast, easy to use architectural rendering and other similar conceptual art. While a cool program in and of itself, it's not particularly designed for organic shapes. The texturing and materials tools are about as basic as those found in the Second Life build tools and export to other formats like OBJ is limited to the paid Pro version.


MilkShape 3D

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


See the Tutorials and Links sections on the MilkShape website

ROKURO -Sculpted Prim Maker

  • Website:
  • Cost: FREE
  • Operating Systems: Windows
  • Trial version available?
  • Supports user scripting? N/A
  • Supports NURBS? N/A
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation? Yes
  • Current Sculpt Map Support: Yes

Rokuro translates from Japanese as "lathe" and that's basically what this is, a standalone version of the lathe tool found in many 3d modeling programs that saves directly to sculpt maps. You draw a line in 2d and the program spins that line around an axis to create the 3d object. Obviously limited to things you can create with that method so far, but easy for anyone to pick up and use. Created by resident Yuzuru Jewell...arigato!



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.

Hexagon 2 (DAZ Productions)

  • Website: Hexagon product page
  • Cost: Full version: $149, "Crossgrade" from other DAZ software: $79, Upgrade: $49
  • Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP, Max OSX 10.2 or higher
  • Trial version available? Yes, it's burried: go here and select Hexagon from the list.
  • Supports user scripting? No
  • Supports NURBS? No
  • Built-in Texture Baking/generation? No
  • Current Sculpt Map Support: No

SL animators may have heard about (and perhaps been disappointed with) DAZ Studio, a competitor to Poser. Others may be familiar with Bryce, a landscape creation tool with a much better reputation. Hexagon appears to be a spinoff of DAZ Studio and while it appears to be a perfectly capable 3d program by itself with polygon modeling subdivision modeling, sculpting tools, and is that 3d painting I see?, the absence in their feature list of either texture baking or any sort of user scripting or plugin interface could be a deal-breaker until something like a reliable .OBJ converter comes along.

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 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. 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, 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 to try and write import/export plugins for it. ⇒ Cindy Crabgrass has written 3dm2sculpt; it converts MoI's .3dm files into .tga sculpt maps.

Other Resources

Useful places for anyone interested in 3d modeling:

  • 3d Buzz - Forums, video tutorials and even classes covering everything from 3d programs to 3d programing and even Photoshop.

See also