If you have watched animated movies or played video games, then you know how beautiful and lifelike 3D models can be. 3D models are also used extensively in other industries including consumer product design, architecture, engineering, science, and concept art, and there are many things affecting a 3D models cost.
Modelers create 3D objects using many different methods and software depending on how they want the results to be. Specific types of models like buildings, characters, and natural elements require a specific set of skills and computer programs to build. However, they have the same purpose: to create lifelike models from digital data.
These models can be based on real objects such as a person, the environment, wildlife, a structure, an entire city, or something completely imaginary. Similar to other commodities, however, the market is flooded with a massive amount of 3D models of different qualities. Some are excellent and professionally done, while others are simple and affordable.
Price is often a good indicator of how well-made a 3D model is. You spend more money to get better quality work. Differences in price should reflect the amount of work involved in building the model.
If you are in the market for 3D models and are looking for good quality assets, you should have a basic understanding of the pricing components. Some factors that affect 3D modeling costs are as follows.
1. Expected Quality
The first factor, of course, is the expected quality of the 3D model. As mentioned earlier, 3D models are built for many different purposes; each requires different specializations along with software and hardware requirements.
Photo-realistic models of product prototypes, buildings, cars, mechanical parts, animals, humans, nature, and everything else must be made in accordance with the purpose. If you plan to use the models for games and movies, the level of detail should be nothing short of immaculate. For mobile applications and browsers, you may not need to hire the most experienced artists.
Although the level of detail is partly affected by the software used, modelers play a much bigger role in making adjustments and configurations. An unskilled artist cannot build high-quality models even when using the most expensive software and computer, but knowledgeable modelers can use affordable (maybe even free) software to its full potential yet still come out with a better result. The quality of any particular 3D model is affected by the following aspects:
- Number of polygons: A low-poly model is almost always more affordable than its hi-poly alternative. A 3D model with a higher number of polygons is harder to build.
- Materials and textures: With most 3D modeling processes, an artist starts with plain texture. A “lifelike” 3D model, as the name suggests, must appear as realistic as it can be on a computer screen. The base plain texture needs many modifications, so the model has precise details on the surface. The type of material dictates the final appearance of the model, and textures may determine surface properties. For example, a model of wooden furniture should look exactly like its real-life counterpart. An artist applies textures to set visible color, reflectivity (glossiness), and roughness, among other surface properties.
- File presentation: When you are buying ready-made 3D models instead of placing a custom order, you are naturally attracted to the well-presented files in the list. You judge based on previews, relevancy between title and the object itself, and a short description that usually follows. The description may include software used, methods, file size, format options, textures, scale, etc. Also, a 3D model can be saved in multiple file formats, so more varieties reduce the chance of incompatibility with your software. Such presentation tends to come with a higher price tag.
In any case, the main purpose of buying 3D models is to acquire the best representations of objects in digital formats. Precision and lifelike motions (if required) are the most important factors. The more realistic and complex the object is, the more money you pay. And this brings us to the next factor that affects pricing.
When a project involves many difficult tasks, people tend to think that completion time is going to be considerably longer. It is, however, a common misconception. Difficulty is not an objective measure, so it does not necessarily reflect completion time. Experienced 3D modelers are capable of creating what looks to be a complex 3D model within a short period using any available tools at their disposals.
If you have been doing something for long, you get pretty good at it; the same thing applies to 3D modeling works. On the other hand, the less experienced may need to revisit tutorials and go through a process of trials and errors before they can produce “acceptable” models.
This does not suggest that a 3D model done in a shorter period is always worse quality than one that took longer to finish and that you must pay more for the latter.
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The objective measure is the complexity of the model (or once again, the level of details it should produce) and the artist’s portfolio. It is only common that experienced modelers charge more for their creations. They have expertise, knowledge, and a good understanding of how to value the services they offer.
Price can be affected not only by the value of the product itself, but the additional quality attached to it. For example, an artist’s willingness to refine the 3D models, faster completion time without sacrificing quality, file compatibility with various software, communication, compliance with your exact specifications, and so on. Not only do the artists sell the goods, but they also provide services relevant to the process.
An effective method that you can employ to reduce the cost when hiring professional modelers is to provide detailed technical drafts of the project or model. Because 3D models are created based on specifications listed in the drafts, the artists don’t have to start from scratch. The more information you provide, the easier the process will be.
More importantly, providing detailed specifications eliminates the possibility of having to pay to have work redone. Asking a modeler to change things before completion may result in a higher price. To make things even more practical, you can provide some ready-made models for the artist to develop further.
For example, if you need to buy a 3D model of an interior design and you already have some models of furniture pieces to be used, it is possible that the cost associated with the works becomes smaller because there is less work to be done.
Price also increases when you want a complete 3D model as both a digital file and printed object. Product prototyping, small electronic parts, or specialized tools may require printing, but this is usually optional because some models are overly expensive or downright impossible to print.
You can print an action figure or small product prototype for quite a reasonable amount of money, but it does not make financial sense to print an exterior/interior design model or a car.
3. Urgency or Completion Time
Having a 3D model made quickly usually means paying more money for it, especially if you want to maintain a high standard of quality. A group of modelers should be able to finish a model much quicker than an individual artist, so you may want to hire a team instead of one person to do the project.
Because everybody in the team handles a different task simultaneously, completion time should be suitable for urgent circumstances. It also prevents you from accepting a rush job.
That being said, a project or task done with the sense of urgency has all the potential to produce a non-optimal result. Essentially, you ask the artist to work harder and quicker, but you also demand the same level of quality as other projects done with more time. It is difficult to accomplish, so you have to pay more. The expense is also affected by the pricing models used by the artists. There are two common models:
- Hourly pricing: It seems like a simple pricing model on the surface. You pay the freelance 3D modeler by an hourly rate, so the project that takes less time to complete is cheaper. With a 3D modeling project, however, this may not be the best option for you as a client.
The artists want to log more hours so they can charge more, while clients almost always want a quicker completion time to save money. Let us not forget that there is a greater level of scrutiny in the process since accurate calculation of price requires constant communication, tracking of time, proper documentation, and (sometimes) periodical deliverables. The best way to work hourly is by staying heavily (perhaps directly) involved in the project.
- Flat-fee pricing: The most common pricing model is project-based, where the client and provider agree on a fixed rate before starting the project. A fixed rate usually comes with a fixed completion time too, and in the process gives a lot of rooms for negotiation.
As previously mentioned, quicker completion time is most likely attached to a higher price tag. Communication and tracking progress on a client’s part are still important, but not as intense as with the hourly-pricing model.
With a fixed-rate model, insisting on getting the best performance from people in spite of the urgency translates to a bigger expense. On the other hand, a shorter completion time is cheaper with hourly-pricing. It sounds great until you realize that more experienced artists have higher hourly rates as well.
4. 3D Model Animation
The term “photo-realistic” refers to still images with a lifelike quality. When the discussion is about 3D modeling, however, there is no photography involved. It is not an image captured using a camera but drawn with computer software. A drawn image can be static – just like a photograph – or animated, with both of them offering a 360-degree viewing angle when opened using CAD software.
Animated 3D models are just like a video. The object moves around to showcase details from different positions. Some objects may not require animation at all, but it depends on the purpose of the project. You may want to use animations for product prototype presentation, simulation, or marketing purposes, but this is not obligatory for models to be printed or displayed in a paperback product catalog.
A 3D model is animated to make it even more lifelike than a still object. You would think that introducing any kind of motion to an otherwise static image would do the job, but that is not the case. Motion must be as natural and fluent as possible to accomplish the goal. This applies not only to characters such as humans, animals, or plants, but also natural elements like water and other fluids. Clouds, gears and chains, trees, wheels, smoke, and even fabrics must animate in a smooth flow to appear realistic.
CAD software can automate the task with which modelers have to set the first and last frames of the animation, but it doesn’t always work depending on the type of object. There are many different techniques, but generally, the 3D animation service must perform a lot of configurations to achieve perfect fluidity. For multiple complex movements, similar to what you see in movies or games, modelers have to deal with seemingly endless adjustments.
With a human character, for example, multiple body parts must move with the right synchronization to look natural. Things get more complicated when you also need to move the eyes, lips, ears, or even hair. Animated 3D models of mechanical objects such as a chain and gear or lever and fulcrum are repetitive, so they’re relatively simpler. If animation is required, complexity level increases to a great extent. With more tasks involved to complete the project, you need spend more money too.
It is generally a good idea to have the entire project handled by only one team unless you can make sure that multiple groups of people can collaborate and communicate effectively. The main reason is that a 3D model may still require a lot of refinements after the actual model is completely built.
If it’s a single-piece project, most of the post-production processes should be done pretty quickly. For a big project in which modelers must build multiple 3D models and put them together in one scene, the final touches make up a large portion of the works.
A 3D model of an architectural design or automobile (a building, large house, a bridge, airplane, battleship, etc.) requires a lot of different big and small parts. Sometimes the pieces are created individually for the sake of accuracy and finally assembled as one big object.
Especially when you want to use the 3D model for presentation or simulation, you also have to use “model of surroundings” which may include sunlight, wind, water, people, animals, vegetations, sky, and even audio.
With all those things, modelers have to build lifelike aesthetics by using special effects. At this point, you are approaching more than just 3D modeling. You’re also looking at 3D rendering, which is potentially budget-demanding.
When you are purchasing a 3D model, you want it to be as realistic as it can be. Proper rendering makes sure that you will view the objects as if you are seeing them in real life with the surrounding elements possibly recreated using CAD. With that in mind, the post-production aspect of a 3D modeling project is indispensable, and unfortunately, this is not an easy process and can take dozens of hours to produce lifelikeness.
But It Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive after All
3D modeling has been around for decades, and just like many other mature industries, the market is on the buyers’ side. There will always be new professionals entering the competition and trying to compete with the more experienced ones. Fresh young professionals, armed with updated skills and training, are eager to showcase their capabilities and competence to the world.
These professionals are still trying to build a respectable portfolio, and they tend to offer more or less the same services as their more established competitors for less money. Freelancing agencies are a great place to look for talented people who are willing to take your project for low prices. High-quality models do not come cheap, but this is not to say that all expensive 3D models are certainly better than their more affordable counterparts.
Cad Crowd is one place where you can find freelance 3D modelers and CAD services. We have thousands of pre-vetted designers ready to help you fulfill your project. All work is backed by an accuracy guarantee and is confidential. Contact us today for a free quote.