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Ultimate iPad Guide: Modeling & Rendering Apps for Architects

Our listing guide of Modeling & Rendering apps for iPad includes gems we think you may have missed or not yet heard about

Modeling & Rendering Apps for Architects on iPad

New in 2.0

By-in-large this particular category is a tough one. Despite promising technology and exciting newcomers a year ago, not much has happened in this space in one year’s time. In fact, things have gotten worse. We have added Autodesk 123D Make Intro to this group and have removed, sadly, Maide Control, an app we listed as the Gem in the group a year ago, as it appears to have gone out of business. Despite all the terrific press this app gained, by us and others, sometimes startups fail. Other apps have disappeared from the list as well, including iSculptorHD and iTracer, two cool apps no longer available. Those last two were sweet technology examples, but for apps to last on the market they must address real world problems.


On the other hand, we now have Trimble SketchUp Mobile Viewer. While not a modeling “authoring” app but rather a “viewer,” we have added it here and will eventually add it over at the CAD Viewers and Collaboration guide page when we update that very shortly. And also listed below is Room Planner by Chief Architect.


In this category we are going to include apps that are used to both model and render models on the iPad. There is some overlap here as some apps in our CAD Viewers category overlap with these abilities, as do some BIM apps in their list. Explore those lists as well.

What we are interested in here is primarily model making and model editing, plus those apps highly focused on model rendering. Of the modeling tools one app that stands out is Verto Studio 3D by Michael L. Farrell. The app has been featured on TV in an iPad TV commercial. It supports 4-split screen view, works with OBJ file format, imports, creates and exports and supports Dropbox. There is also a terrain generator with heights field. (see image 01).

01 – Verto Studio initially had great reviews on the app store but its latest reviews are not so hot. We hope this app recovers.

02 – FormIt by Autodesk is now at version 6.6 and is the only true model authoring app in this group useful to architects.

03 – This Shaderlight app for iPad ties into a leading SketchUp renderer and cloud rendering.

Another  modeler very much worth pointing out is Autodesk FormIt which is now at version 6.6. This is a basic conceptual modeling tool meant to be used at the building site to help make early design decisions. You can store and share design models with Autodesk 360 Cloud. (see image 02). Finally, speaking of the cloud ShaderLight by Limitless Computing has a nifty iPad app for viewing your cloud renders on the go. Besides letting you view your SketchUp models rendered on the Shaderlight Cloud Rendering Cloud, you can use the app to check on the status of in-progress renders (great when away from the desktop or office/studio), (see 03 above).

The List (10 Apps)

Here is one of the most complete listing of excellent modeling and rendering tools useful to architects on the iPad at the time of this writing. We have updated the reviews, ratings and pricing. Again, if we have somehow missed an app we would sure appreciate your email on the subject. It may also be listed in another category in our series. Without further ado:

  • Autodesk FormIt — this app from Autodesk lets you use real-world site information to help support early 3D design decisions. It supports easy, gesture interface conceptual modeling and syncs data with the cloud for further work in Revit. (26 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • Autodesk 123D Design — this app is a basic 3D modeling tool for iPad that is geared towards the maker market. Despite this market orientation the app is nonetheless in the limited group of true modelers on the iPad. (36 reviews, 3 1/2 stars) Free
  • Autodesk 123D Make Intro (New in 2.0) — this app isn’t necessarily a true modeler authoring tool like its sibling app above, but it is interesting and useful, allowing you to turn 3D models into 2D build plans and with animated instructions. (33 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • Mandelbulb Raytracer HD — this app is of very little use to us architects but yet we have listed it here because it represents a very interesting iPad technology demonstration. The quality of the raytracing–which runs off the GPU in the iPad–is quite impressive. What this apps does is produce fractals-based models and then render them with OpenGL ES 2.0 shaders. The ultimate purpose is to create compelling imagery for screen backgrounds. The developer has a few other similar apps all about real-time raytracing on iPhones and iPads. (4 reviews, 2 1/2 stars) 1.99.USD
  • Room Planner by Chief Architect (New in 2.0) — while not a standard 3D modeling application, Room Planner by Chief Architect does generate architectural 3D models from the creation of floor plans. This is more of a consumer or residential builder application but may have some appeal by architects. (394 reviews, 3 stars) Free with in-app purchase options. 
  • Shade 3D Mobile — this app is dedicated to viewing Shade 3D based files on your iPad device. And using Shade Basic and Shade 3D mobile you can utilize OBJ, DXF and SketchUp files for iPad viewing as well. (9 reviews, 3 stars) Free
  • ShaderLight Cloud Viewer — this app with in junction with the ShaderLight app and its cloud-rendering service. It lets you check the status of cloud renders, download and display final renders, view scenes and animations, bringing your ShaderLight renderings into the field. (zero reviews, not rated) Free
  • SightSpace 3D — the full title of this app is SightSpace 3D: Augmented Reality Viewer for SketchUp & CAD. This app is focused on exploring your SketchUp models or Google Earth models (.KMZ format) on your iPad complete with Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities. With it you overlay models onto the real world. (27 reviews, 3 stars) 39.99.USD.
  • Trimble SketchUp Mobile Viewer (New in 2.0)  — This is a dedicated SketchUp mobile viewer application by the same people that make SketchUp itself, Trimble. The young application is at version 1.1, just at mid May of 2014. We anticipate a lot to come in this application but it is good to finally see the dedicated mobile version of SketchUp. (17 reviews, 2 star rating) 9.99.USD
  • Verto Studio 3D — this app, which was once featured on an iPad TV commercial, is a fully functioning 3D app designed to rival desktop apps. You can create quick 3D mockups, it supports viewing, editing and exporting of models and works with the open OBJ format. Has Dropbox support. (36 reviews, 3 1/2 star rating) 13.99.USD

The Gem in the Group

Our old gem in this group used to be the now defunct CadControl by Maide, Inc., but clearly the big new app we have added to this group this year is Trimble’s very own SketchUp Mobile Viewer. Trimble’s latest mobile app won’t let you create a model in your iPad (yet!) but it does allow you view your models and to tap into the vast 3D Warehouse and download other models.

01 - For 2014 SketchUp Mobile Viewer is the new app in this category of modelers, though in all honesty it is not a modeling authoring mobile app.

04 – For 2014 SketchUp Mobile Viewer is the new app in this category of modelers, though in all honesty it is not a modeling authoring mobile app.

Down the road we hope that Trimble adds features that will let you actually do at least basic modeling, taking this 3D SketchUp viewer app into an authoring environment. For now then, the only truly useful architectural modeling app on mobile is Autodesk’s FormIt listed above, which is arguably the true gem in the category.

next page: Mobile CAD Authoring for Architects  | index page: Ultimate iPad Guide: Apps for Architects


[Last updated: 23 Jun 2014 – 8:05 AM EDT]

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