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Autodesk 123D beta - Free Solid modeling for Builders


Interior Designers and Architects have SketchUp, product designers and builders now can use AutoDesk's 123D. It is based on AutoDesk's famous Inventor application. However instead of serving the needs for engineers and designers alike, 123D is cut down tool-set wise to what builders and modelers only need. This means while you have all basic standard geometry creation tools such as extrude, loft, fillet shell, and others, finer control about details such as radial fillets etc. is not given. Stress-tests or thermal tools are of course not included. This also enables Autodesk to offer this product for free.

This might look like a limitation, which it is, however in addition 123D features a fully working parametric design tree system, with an assembly option, and perfectly working snap, grid and geometry constraints. Those tools are essencial to build and think through a product design without the need to rebuild geometry. In parametric modeling, unlike in Blender, one builds geometry through utilizing constraints and measurements which in a nested approach build the model. Changing the model only requires changing the modeling tool settings.

The following screenshot demonstrates the different steps, from drawing a circle, extruding it, deforming the end edge, and applying a UV texture.


The interface is very clean, uses a below the mouse pointer geometry sensitive radial tool menu. The presentation modes allow wireframe and shaded textured view with realtime shadows, ambient occlusion, onscreen anti aliasing, and ground reflections. With a slower 3D card those options should be turned off to increase screen refresh rate.

Similar to Google's 3D Warehouse, also Autodesk created an online infrastructure where you can send your 3D models to, or download models. However they go one step further and also connect you with the rapid prototyping and 3D industry ranging from 3D printing to 2D laser cutting. Autodesk's strategy is to tap into the potential of hobby modelers and builders which do not need high end CAD system but would use the readily more accessible and affordable 3D printing services.

123D native file format can be used to store your design on your computer or to upload it into the online 3D warehouse. If you want to export you model into a different application you can select from a wide range of options such as STL for 3D printing or to import it into Blender and STEP a common NURBS exchange format.  OBJ is sadly not supported, at least not at the moment.

The program is in beta and thus it can be expected that further tools will or might be added. It is currently only for Windows and not OS X while a petition for an OS X port is already on the way.

As a free product with decent solid modeling tools and an amazingly well working construction tree, this is a great tool for everybody who like product modeling but does not want to shell out few thousand dollars for the professional applications.

Autodesk Link:


  1. Good overview, Claas. Parametric, history-based modelling takes some getting used to, but is invaluable for situations where many edits/modifications are made along the way... can be a huge timesaver. I wonder, can multi-view 2D dimensioned drawings be created from models? I didn't see any mention...

    I think its great to see such a resource available for free. (Lets hope it remains so.)

    Also, if your inclination is to generate your own g-code and CNC machine / RP your models yourself, the STEP files should import into HeeksCNC quite nicely.

  2. I'm surprised, Autodesk is generally pretty evil. I never would have thought they'd give something away free.

  3. deltaray: Why is this on a Blender news site?

    Many of us are using tools to finish a job. Blender is just a tool. One of many.

  4. I learned how to use Autodesk Inventor in high school PLTW classes, and for some of my models I wish i could use Inventor rather than Blender, so this will be a welcome addition to my toolset because of the different approach to modeling.

  5. @ deltaray, I would say that non-blender news is on BlenderNation is for the same reason that the New York Times or Washington Post (or really any local paper) run national or international news, because people are usually interested in more than just their immediate community, and so the people relaying the news to the public add some variety. While many people who read BN are Blender enthusiasts, it goes further, we are 3d enthusiasts, and so it is always exciting to find out that there is some new or useful 3d tool that we can use in addition to Blender. (I hope this helps clear things up for you and the many others who have asked the same question)

  6. I experienced an awful workflow with this software - all laggy and pretty much not usable at all.
    Also, crashed all the time...

    I'll try it again when more stable.
    At least one can be sure that it'll stay free which is a nice thing, especially for a Autodesk Software...

  7. From my point of view the program is a "free" - as long it remain so - that is NOT open source, so i really don't know what the program will do with my machine (ever heard of trojans?) it saves ONLY in a proprietary format - a suicide behavior for people who wants to keep control of at least his own data - and runs only on a privative, highly inefficient operating system. (See

    From this point of view this new is not useless; it show that almost monopolistic companies are looking on how to maintain control on a specific target, with techniques that are very easy to spot.

    Happy to be on blender side :)

  8. I agree that blendernation should only inform us about 3D softwares which are related to Blender workflow.. and mostly Blender itself of course..
    I don't see the interest to use this program as you can't export to a Blender's compatible format like OBJ..

  9. @aws357
    They'll probably release it for other platforms as well.
    At least it's a software for their own prinitng-service.
    Therefore it would make A LOT of sense to release it on other platforms as well.

    It's Autodesk, they won't blow up your computer...
    There's a lot of closed source software out there - doesn't mean they're bad though.

  10. I'll not use something from Autodesk that locks me into one of their egregious proprietary file formats.

    I think it's a way for them to entice/lock in people to higher cost (and equally locked in) solutions.

  11. While I prefer remaining strictly Blender I have enjoyed an occasional stray newsbit. I would not have discovered some of the interesting products (sculptris) otherwise and I also find that it can serve an interesting discussion board.

    What this product means is a colossal shift in market perception of Autodesk. I also consider Blender to be playing a big part in this shift. Go back some 10 years when there were only commercial solutions.

    You had two options. If you worked in industry and in a good company, you bought the software. It was way expensive but you still bought it. The other option was piracy and people went there in troves and it was kind of an open secret. You could not grow big but you could still learn the program. The company accepted it while not admitting it.

    Fast forward.

    We have Blender and with the aid of the foundation, it has been used for some quite interesting professional-qualitiy products. It has brought some publicity, but most of all: people are starting their career in Blender. This is very bad for companies which want you to start your carreer in their product so that you would eventually buy it: such as Autodesk. They don't want people to realize that all you need for starting an animation studio is a decent desktop computer, Blender and account in The combination is so goddamn powerful that I am constantly playing with the idea of doing some commercial projects for a change in pace. This is what Blender is all about: empowering artists without making them guilty. And that's why we all need to donate.

    For me Autodesk 123D is a solid testament to the fact that the company has understood the previous premise and as we can see from the Beta; they have decided to cripple their product and offer it for free to combat the trend of teenagers playing, then professionalising with Blender.

    My two cents.

  12. I have been a strong blender user for quite some time. I understand its strengths and weaknesses. Understanding blender and its limitations and the same for other software is something we should all keep an eye on. One software will never be perfect. There will always be something its missing which others might do better. I am glad that blendernation gives news about other software. This keeps us informed and we can use these softwares to improve our existing workflow. Its lets us keep an open mind rather than be a blender only community. We shouldn't make comparisons all the time.

  13. The software does not work in Linux, does not export to .obj, does not export to STL with UVs, and does not work with MAC. What's the goal ? Compete with sketchup and Blender asking for attention with the words ''free'' ?

  14. There's nothing wrong with posting this on a Blender oriented website. Quite the opposite. It is always good to see what else is out there and to widen ones horizon!

    I've worked with Solid Works for almost 10 years and frequently export geometry to use in Blender if I feel the interal render engine (Nexus from Luxology) is not up to snuff or if something needs to be animated.

    I hope (but seriously doubt) that they port it to OSX as there really is no CAD tool available that even has a subset of Solid Works.

  15. Well, here you have an example that NURBS are serious stuff (and that Blender needs them).

    About OS debates, just get Blender website access statistics ( and do your math considering that the population of visitors to that site is surely biased AGAINST Windows and towards Linux and OSX.

    About troians... do you really believe that Autodesk might envision committing a crime which would make them target of tremendous publicity and a devastating class action?

    The only real problem with this program is that it is HIGHLY unlikely it will remain free as soon as it will become popular.

  16. Clayton Walker on

    An excellent and unbiased opinion on a piece of proprietary software distributed by a company a lot of people (especially in the Blender community) are not fond of. It's hard to come by this these days.
    On the related note, perhaps I'll have to try it out, just to broaden my views.

  17. Hmm... I don't really need that app to tell the truth, especially if there's no way to really transfer the stuff between blender and 123D. I'm not too interested about stuff like that but I am interested about the plan of Autodesk. 123D sounds like a name of a first class math book, beginner stuff. And all what Irve said earlier.

    Well, I'm not going to bash Autodesk in here. They can be a cool company sometimes. Well, rarely but sometimes, they got to make a living too and I don't have anything against commercial programs, I use those to make music. This is not the first time Autodesk had released something for free. Remember GMax? Or game Max or whatever. That's how I got interested in 3D modelling and switched to Max soon after. And after that I got interested of Blender. It's nothing new but their timing was certainly not a coincidence. Watching your competitors is only natural, but they are watching blender development and it's users disturbingly close sometimes.

    Just my thoughts. :)

  18. Really - why is this on Blendernation?
    I've read through this article and first thought it was interesting, but then, at the very end of a longish (in terms of what is average on Blendernation) text, it says sorry, but you can't use this in a workflow with Blender.
    I'm feeling fooled. Yes, people here around are not only Blender-adicts, but also 3d-adicts. But there still is a focus on Blender. And so i expect that news are related to Blender.
    So this is quite different from news about Sculptris or Syntheyes or other software that is somehow related to Blender, because there are possibilities to interchange files. This one is only intended to force people to Autodesk.
    The least i would have expected from the editor is that the article starts with something like:
    "hey, I found this pretty interesting news about a new free (as in Beer) Software, although it only uses its own proprietary fileformat and therefore you can't use it in workflows with non-autodesk software."
    On Blendernation, i expect this info has to be on top, not at the end of the article.

  19. I think 123d is really powerful in an area where Blender is still lacking: CAD/Soiid geometry. In the light of the new Maker movement (think 3d printers!) Autodesk has made exactly the right move.

    As to why it's here: I believe that for many Blender users this may be a useful addition to their toolchest.

    If you don't like it, fine, feel free to skip this post ;-)

    • I agree wholeheartedly.

      People get too obsessed with running open source apps and steering clear of anything Windows or commercial. This is such a bad mindset.

      In the end, it boils down to what you're trying to achieve. Want to make a 3D CAD models? Well then why not try 123D? It's not open-source and is developed by a large proprietary company, but why not give it a shot? You might be pleasantly surprised ... 

  20. Maddes,

    FYI - re-read the article and pay attention to when I talk about export and the common STEP and STL formats.
    Do you want me to add a tutorial about how to use Blender and STL or STEP?

    Also like myself here are object designers as well who use Blender as part of the workflow.
    Dictating us what we can only write and read is a little offensive - don't you think so?

  21. Sucks they aren't releasing it for Mac, but then again it is the bastard OS in the 3D universe. I thought that was changing. I don't blame Autodesk though. I can safely assume that the majority of their user base is using Windows. The same goes with the number of visitors viewing the blender website. A whopping 72.16% are visiting via a Windows machine. Sorry I didn't do the math, but I am pretty good at judging numbers. Linux and Mac users only make up 26.55% of visits. Please see: Personally my expectation was that Linux would be a close #2, but they weren't even close, at 10.55%, making them #3. Oh well, that's why I bought parallels...

  22. I just wanna quote Marc petit , Senior Vice President of Autodesk’s Media & Entertainment division


    “What we’re seeing with Open Source in the industry is a reflection of the need for standards, the need to be able to share data and establish data driven standards. None of the studios wants to be locked in to a closed format. We ourselves are supportive of open formats and Open Source activity in the domain because we believe in the value that we bring, that we want to be judged upon and compete with, is in the quality of the tools. We want to give them good tools for their creative artists. We don’t want to win by locking down data. Open standards for data, we’re going to compete by delivering super high quality and cool tools.”

    yeah right... but they still keep close formats like DWG and MAX

    "... Navigating the intellectual property issues of Open Source software is a minefield..."
    "... Likewise, choosing to become an open-source developer is no easy task....Are there commercial alternatives? it should be ethical - not competing unfairly with commercial product..."

    Free Autodesk Products? Thanks, but No thanks.

    The main problem is that some companies (Autodesk, Microsoft) are trying to convince people that Free and closed software is the same as Open Source.

  23. The main problem Condar is that you guys are paranoid and fail to read right.

    Otherwise you would understand that 123D saves into their own file format because it needs to store the parametric design tree somehow but enables you to export in all major 3D formats like STEP or STL.

    So what is the problem here?

    Being anti commercial for the sake of being anti?

    You guys act really quite childish.
    They dont charge you for the software.
    There is no open source modeler with that strength on the market.

    And instead of being happy that they enable a semi entry level tool to be used for free with export ability - you all just rant about it.

    I just dont get it.

  24. @cekuhnen: "...Being anti commercial for the sake of being anti?..."... "... You guys act really quite childish...."

    childish? just for quote Marc petit or just because I don't like Autodesk Products based on what they sell and how they sell it with false statements and tricky "names"?
    And when you say "you guys".... I don't represent any group just me :)... I'm not an "anticommercial" fanatic btw. C4D, Modo, 3Dcoat and Zbrush are great proprietary/closed software and imho way more flexible than Autodesk products.

  25. Im no fanboy or activist, but I enjoyed the article even though I will never download or use it. Thanks BN keep it up.

  26. Grandmaster B on

    I don't like Autodesk, they have the habbit of showing big balls instead of being open and honest. And this release is just another strategy to gain more power.

    I strongly believe that, when possible, mature people are responsible to support those that have a moral concept.

  27. Man, some people here are acting like chickens. What's wrong with some general 3D news? Stuff like this is actually useful for some of us. I find this news interesting, because I believe I can use this in within my workflow to prototype products design; I'm a student of architecture.

    There are some amazing modelling tools in there too, NURBS for instance, is not something you'll easily find in a free software. I'm looking forward to this app supporting export to .obj. I really won't do texture or something similar in this, I have Blender / 3D Coat for that.

    Don't think 'closed',

  28. Grandmaster B on

    This has been made before by Autodesk, you'll sooner or later pay for the software, in some way. That's the plan.

  29. Roger L. Waggener on

    I heard about this product some time ago and actually went to the download site.

    When I got there I discovered I had to create an account on whatever they call their equivalent of Google's 3d Wharehouse. I was less enthusiastic but still willing to download till I discovered the ridiculously large size of the program. Then I balked.

    After all, I have Blender. ;)

  30. Condar,

    shall I repeat what you wrote:

    "Open standards for data, we’re going to compete by delivering super high quality and cool tools.”
    yeah right… but they still keep close formats like DWG and MAX"

    So it is a sin that they save the design tree in their own native application format as each software on the world does and enable you to share your work through various in the industry widely accepted and proven industrial strength file formats?

    You realize STEP STL etc are OPEN STANDARDS?

    In product design we do exchange 3D data not in native application file formats but in exchange formats as long as both teams do not work with the same software.

    Interesting way to see faults where no problems are.

  31. Milad Thaha

    you can export into STL if you need to RP it on a 3D printer.

    If you want to use UV mapping for texturing, you can export it as STEP and with Babel3d convert the STEP into OBJ with the UV unwrapping included.

    That is the nice part when you work with NURBS and export into OBJ - the UVs are great.

  32. I'm actually interested, I'm actually looking for a program like Sketchup but more powerful. This fits the critera easily, and 3d printing to boot!

    Again I'm just keeping a tab on this, I how BlenderNation will inform us on another major update for this... or maybe the final relese?

  33. Tried downloading it, but they require a log in. I thought OK, that's not too unreasonable so I signed in with my Windows Live account. The next window that popped up asked for permission for Autodesk to have access to basically everything in my email: my birthday, contact list, my contacts birthdays, the ability to post on my account etc! You can understand I kinda freaked out at that point and changed my password. Why in the world does a company need all that personal information just to download a program? They also use cloud processing. Which essentially means you give them access to everything you create with the program.

    This program is definitely not free. It comes at the cost of privacy!

    No thanks Autodesk! I'll stick with open source and proprietary software that their marketing strategy is developing good software, not ways to spy on and manipulate users. Autodesk has some good software (I work in the automotive industry and use several), but this is exactly why people don't trust them. I don't anymore. Not after this.

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