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INDEX 02: 3D Apps: AEC (Architecture, Engineering, Construction)

The Mac platform has always been popular in architecture and it has featured some of the most innovative 3D applications ever developed, period. This list of 3D apps useful and commonly used in AEC is mostly focused on architects but all AEC pros may want to touch some of these. This list complements our other AEC app list coverage.

HERE WE HAVE our complete list of 3D Apps for the AEC market that work on macOS. The list is in alphabetical order below. This list is focused on 3D applications other than BIM and CAD applications for the AEC market. For BIM and CAD apps for AEC, please see this guide here.

There are so many great macOS native 3D apps now that are highly useful for or actually purpose-built for the AEC industry it is hard to choose three to spotlight below. So we have chosen to focus on three that did not even exist 19 years ago when Architosh first published its original Mac App Guides for CAD and 3D.

Some Notable 3D Apps for the AEC Market

Architosh, as its name implies, was actually created to bolster morale and hope for the continued use of the Mac in the architecture market. The purpose of the site is told, originally, here on the first version of Architosh. The purpose and history are further expanded in several interviews and a podcast. Back in 1999, it was very much worth fighting for the Mac in architecture because it already had some amazing applications (all still in existence), but the three apps of note were not yet created.

The first one app of note is clearly Trimble’s SketchUp. Downloaded over 35 million times, SketchUp is the number one 3D application by use every created on any platform. Originally created just for Windows in the first decade of this century, Architosh got the exclusive story when the company (@Last Software) decided to bring the app to the Mac. If SketchUp is new to you the first thing you should know about it is its legendary ease-of-use. SketchUp brought “approachability” to professional 3D modeling.

01 – SketchUp 2018 is the current version and ships in free and Pro versions.

02 – Grasshopper enables sophisticated modeling power by using algorithms to drive 3D form.

03 – Chaos Group has announced the release of V-Ray 3 for SketchUp, a popular design workflow in AEC.

The next app of note is also a world leader. McNeel’s Grasshopper is the undisputed market and mindshare leader in algorithmic 3d modeling using a visual script node user interface. Only recently a native macOS app, Grasshopper is one of the most important and popular apps taught in architecture schools in colleges worldwide.

Finally, we must bring some limelight to V-Ray by Chaos Group. V-Ray is a rendering engine and set of plugins for popular CAD/BIM/3D apps. It’s visual quality and speed are top-shelf, and its ease-of-use has dramatically improved over the recent round of releases. V-Ray works with such popular 3d tools such as SketchUp, Rhino and popular BIM applications like Window-only Autodesk Revit. In terms of renderers on the Mac, the competition is fierce with well over a dozen superior choices, but V-Ray continues to find favor with the AEC community.

3D apps are just some of the tools required by AEC pros. To see our list of complete macOS tools for AEC also visit these guides below:


INDEX 02: 3D Apps: AEC (Architecture, Engineering, Construction)

We have over 27 macOS native 3d applications in this list for AEC use. There are clearly more if we broaden our criteria around everyday use, but these below are purpose-built for the industry or well-known to be used by AEC pros.

  • Artlantis — this award-winning tool by France’s Abvent is a stand-alone renderer for architects and designers. It has legendary simplicity and power. (macOS and Windows)
  • Cinema 4D — Maxon’s widely lauded professional but affordable 3D package is used for modeling, animation, rendering and motion graphics, used across broadcast and film, game, architecture and engineering industries. Maxon is a Nemetschek Group company based in Germany. (macOS and Windows)
  • City Engine — ESRI’s City Engine transforms 2D GIS data into 3D city models, an invaluable tool for various types of professionals, including planners, urban designers and architects. The tool integrates with ESRI’s leading ArcGIS tool. (macOS and Windows)
  • CL3VER — this award-winning app is a cloud-based interactive presentation software that simplifies 3D visualization for the AEC and design industries, offering an exciting way to explore design projects or products from any angle and easily evaluate alternatives. Seamlessly integrating into your daily workflow, CL3VER matches scene information as is, including cameras, materials, lights, and geometry, turning designs into 3D immersive experiences shareable via the browser, offline and in virtual reality. You can use as a plugin with Sketchup & Rhino. (macOS and Windows)
  • Datasmith — Datasmith is a plugin is a workflow toolbox they are working on to simplify data migration into Unreal Engine for architectural and design visualizations. It is part of Unreal Engine Studio. (macOS and Windows)
  • Design 3D CX 8 — Design 3D CX is a modeling, animation, and rendering package that is easy to use and powerful for professional use. Known earlier in time as Strata 3D, the Strata product line has expanded over the years into various versions. (macOS and Windows)
  • FormIt Pro — FormIt is a powerful BIM-powered architectural modeling software with native Revit interoperability, which enables architects to conceptually model and then analyze against environmental concerns, locate models in real site contexts, etc. It works in the cloud, on Apple iPad Pro, and on Windows. (macOS via web browser, iOS, Windows)
  • formZ — formZ by AutoDesSys is a stalwart mac developer and global leader in a professional 3D package highly used in architecture and related industries, featuring modeling, animation, and rendering. There are for apps the company supplies to market—formZ Free, formZ Jr. and formZ Pro. There is also a new formZ mobile viewer for iOS.  (macOS, iOS, and Windows)
  • Foto 3D CX — Foto 3D CX allows you to use your camera to capture full textured 3D models from real-world objects. (macOS and Windows)
  • Grasshopper — Grasshopper is a graphical algorithm editor tightly integrated with Rhino’s 3-D modeling tools. Grasshopper is the AEC industry’s leading algorithmic design platform made by McNeel and Associates. (macOS and Windows)
  • LightWave 3D — one of the top professional 3D packages highly used in Hollywood and across numerous other industries close to and far from the film industry. (macOS and Windows)
  • LumenRT — Bentley’s LumenRT is a plugin for immersive visualization for Architecture and Geo Design. It can create fast photographic images and ultra high definition video of your projects. (macOS and Windows). Note, this app may not actually be supported on Mac any longer.
  • Maya — Autodesk’s Maya is a leading pro 3D modeling, animation, simulation, and rendering software for character animation, architectural rendering, environments, virtual reality, and motion graphics. There are actually two Autodesk Maya’s, the regular version and Autodesk Maya LT. The LT version is used for character and environment creation and animation, while the regular version is used for complex simulations and motion graphics. (macOS and Windows)
  • Maxwell Render — Maxwell is a beautiful photorealistic renderer for architects and designers. The product by Next Limit is famous for its speed and render image quality. Maxwell comes as Maxwell Studio, a standalone application and in plugins for leading 3D tools like SketchUp, Rhino, formZ, and others. Importantly, the list of integrations includes Rhino for Mac. (macOS and Windows)
  • Maxwell Multilight — this newish app is a standalone rendering version that does not need Maxwell Studio to enable users to modify a scene’s lighting and save multitudes of images under different light conditions. The product is completely free. (macOS, Windows, Linux)
  • Modo — Modo is a powerful, professional modeling, animation, and rendering solution for professionals that work the way an artist thinks. The product is from The Foundry.
  • Octane Render — OTOY’s Octane renderer is a professional level photo-realistic images, and one of the fastest GPU accelerated renderers on the market. (macOS, Windows, Linux)
  • Render[in] — Abvent’s newish Render[in] is a powerful radiosity engine created for Sketchup. It is actually part of the Artlantis rendering engine and is designed to give SketchUp users a powerful photorealistic rendering option. Runs inside of SketchUp. (macOS and Windows)
  • Rhinoceros — aka: Rhino, Robert McNeel & Associates’ award-winning and extremely popular professional 3D modeler application is fully NURBS-based and allows you to create just about any shape imaginable. (macOS and Windows)
  • Shade 3D — This app is a mac stalwart modeler, animation, and rendering software made in Japan. It is one of the oldest 3D packages on the Mac. (macOS and Windows)
  • SketchUp — Trimble’s world’s most popular 3d application makes modeling easy and friendly while providing extensible power through a vast third-party app system.  Start by drawing an object and push and pull on surfaces to create 3D forms. (macOS and Windows)
  • Twinmotion — Abvent’s Twinmotion is the simplest, fastest way to do innovative cross-platform virtualization. 3D and VR solution plugin for CAD packages to be ported into the Unreal Engine. (macOS and Windows)
  • Unity — Unity is the most downloaded leading game engine used for creating video games, virtual reality projects, animated movies, and TV shows, and more. This game engine, like the Unreal Engine, is now powering immersive 3D experiences for pro markets. (macOS, Windows, Linux)
  • Unreal Engine — Unreal Game Engine is the industry-leading professional-level creative tool for video games, architectural visualization, film and TV production, and virtual reality. lt gives you the ability to build entire worlds inside Unreal. (macOS, Windows, Linux)
  • Vue — VUE Pioneer, VUE Esprit, VUE Studio and VUE Complete provide 3D artists with powerful modular applications to create rich 3D Digital Nature scenery and landscapes. VUE xStream and VUE Infinite offer CG professionals the premiere solutions for creating exceptionally rich and realistic Digital Nature environments with seamless integration into any production workflow. (macOS and Windows)
  • V-Ray — Chaos Group’s V-Ray stand-alone renderer is a leading renderer for visual effects for film, television, games, product and AEC industry visualization, and VR. V-Ray for Sketchup, formZ, and Rhino, among others are also available. GPU accelerated rendering is now available on the Mac. (macOS and Windows)
  • Twinlinker — is an app and technology by the Abvent group behind Artlantis and Twinmotion, which enables the user to create virtual visits of your 3D model environments directly inside your web browser. (macOS and Windows)


Growing This List

Have we missed a key software package you use or make that should be on this list? If so please email us at [email protected] and tell us about it.

We will be sure to add it to the list at the next update AND we will give you a complimentary annual subscription to Architosh INSIDER premium membership.

series index page: Mac 3D App Guides for AEC/CAID/VFX and Animation industries

Architosh will be reviewing and updating all our App Lists on a regular basis. See the dates below.

Listing of Updates by Date

7 Oct 2018 — Creation Date

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