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Category Tools

This category describes software used by artists for game development.


There are no accurate publicly-available data sources about which art software packages are the most popular for game development. There is only a loose consensus about which tools are used the most often (see Maya = Modeling? or Chances of working with 3DS Max vs Maya in the industry? on the Polycount forum). The choice of art software is usually very subjective, or is forced upon the artist by the studio pipeline. Professionals agree on one thing though... the best way to find out which is best is to give everything a try.

Expense is usually not a concern for employed artists, due to the ratio of saved time and effort vs. cost. For hobbyists and students however, low-cost alternatives can be found in the forum thread Free or low cost 3D and 2D apps.

Main 3D Software Packages 3ds Max
3D Modeling Software Modo
3D Animation Software MotionBuilder
3D Sculpting Software ZBrush
Decimation Software Meshlab
Re-Topology Software TopoGun
3D Paint Software BodyPaint 3D
3D Normal Map Software Xnormal
3D Texture Coordinate Software UVLayout
Main 2D Software Photoshop
2D Normal Map Software Crazy Bump
Image Browsing Software XnView
2D Concepting Software Photoshop
2D Vector Software Illustrator

3D Tools

Main 3D Software Packages

These are "complete" 3D packages with a wide variety of art tools. However external packages are often used in conjunction with the main package, since some of the included tools are often not quite as efficient or strong as external specialized packages.

Package Company Supported OS Price
3ds Max Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#3ds_Max Autodesk Windows $3,675
Animation:Master Hash Inc. Windows $299
Blender Blender Foundation Linux/Mac/Windows Free
Cinema 4D MAXON Windows $995
Houdini Side Effects Software Linux/Mac/Windows $1,995
LightWave 3D NewTek Mac/Windows $1,495
Maya Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Maya Autodesk Linux/Mac/Windows $3,675
Modo Luxology Mac/Windows $1,345
Softimage XSI Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Softimage_XSI Autodesk Windows $3,145

3D Modeling Software

Most modeling is done in the Main 3D Software Packages. Sometimes artists will use specific modeling tools, to speed up their workflow. These packages are used mostly for 3D modeling, but they often have additional features as well.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Carrara Daz3D Mac/Windows $149
Hexagon Daz3D Mac/Windows $20
metasequoia N/A Windows Free
Milkshape 3D ChumbaLumSoft Windows $35
Rhino3D N/A Mac/Windows $995
Silo Nevercenter Mac/Windows $159
SketchUp Google Mac/Windows $590
Wings3D IZWare Linux/Mac/Windows Free
World Machine Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#World_Machine Stephen Schmitt Windows $99

3D Modelling Software is the old modeling tools page, with links that are probably out of date.

3D Animation Software

Most animation is done in the Main 3D Software Packages, though here are some tools that specialize just in animation.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Anim8or N/A Windows Free
CharacterFX Insane Software Windows Free
Messiah Studio pmG Worldwide Mac/Windows $399
MotionBuilder Autodesk Windows $3,995

3D Sculpting Software

Digital sculpting is the process of creating a high-resolution 3D model with a series of painting strokes, using a pressure-sensitive tablet or screen. Usually the details from these models are baked into a NormalMap for a lower-resolution in-game model. Often these tools include 3D painting as well.

Package Company Supported OS Price
3DCoat Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#3DCoat Pilgway Linux/Mac/Windows $375
Amorphium EI Technology Group Windows $79
Curvey3D Aartform Windows $99
Mudbox Autodesk Mac/Windows $745
Sculptris Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Sculptris Pixologic Windows Free
ZBrush Pixologic Mac/Windows $795

Decimation Software

Decimation means to reduce the triangle count of a highly-detailed model, often created via digital sculpting. This makes the model easier to load, manipulate, and render in other applications. Decimation tools should preserve the model's essential form without degrading texture coordinates or material boundaries.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Atangeo Balancer Atangeo Windows $52
Decimate Modifier (Blender) Blender Foundation Linux/Mac/Windows Free
Decimation Master (ZBrush) Pixelogic Mac/Windows (included)
Mesh Reduce (Maya) Autodesk Linux/Mac/Windows (included)
Meshlab N/A Linux(Source)/Mac/Windows Free
MultiRes (3ds Max) Autodesk Windows (included)
Optimize (3ds Max) Autodesk Windows (included)
Polygon Cruncher Mootools Windows $129
Polygon Reduction (Softimage XSI) Autodesk Windows (included)
ProOptimizer (3ds Max) Autodesk Windows (included)

Re-Topology Software

Re-topology means creating a new mesh surface from scratch, that conforms to an existing "messy" mesh, often created via digital sculpting. Messy meaning that it either has too much detail or has a topology that's not the best for texturing, shading, or animation. The details from the "messy" mesh are transferred to the new re-topologized mesh by baking a DisplacementMap or NormalMap. The new mesh can either be used directly in-game, or it can be used as the control cage for a subdivision surface. For opinions/reviews of re-topo software, see retopo tools for Max? on the Polycount forum.

Package Company Supported OS Price
3DCoat Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#3DCoat Pilgway Linux/Mac/Windows $375
Max_Retopo (for 3ds Max) cyfer Windows Free
TopoGun PixelMachine Srl. Linux/Mac/Windows $100
Wrapit (for 3ds Max) Matt Clarke Windows TBA

Conform Software

These tools are for conforming an existing mesh to another mesh. Two finished models can be shrink-wrapped to one another, for example to fit a new mesh layout to the size/shape of an existing model. If the models have a different vertex count and order, a conform-style tool must be used instead of a morph tool.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Conform Wrap (for 3ds Max) Paul Hormis Windows Free
polyShrinkWrap (for Maya) Linux/Mac/Windows Free
xyShrinkWrap (for Maya) Linux/Mac/Windows Free

3D Paint Software

Many of the main packages include bare-bones 3D paint tools (partial list here), and most sculpting software also has 3D paint. The Blender site has a list of 3D paint programs here. The following tools are dedicated to 3D paint:

Package Company Supported OS Price
Blacksmith3D Paint BlackSmith3D Mac/Windows $80
BodyPaint 3D MAXON Windows $995
CrackArt N/A Windows Free
Deep Paint Right Hemisphere Windows Discontinued
Mari Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Mari The Foundry Linux/Windows $1995
P-XCEL N/A Windows Free
Tattoo Terabit Software Windows Free

3D Normal Map Software

These packages are used specifically for creating normal maps from 3D meshes. See also 2D Normal Map Software.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Xnormal Santiago 'jogshy' Orgaz Windows Free
Turtle Illuminate Labs (OS?) (cost?)
SHTools Epic Games (OS?) Included with a license of Unreal Engine 3
PolyBump2 Crytek (OS?) Included with a license of CryEngine 2
Renderbump id software (OS?) Included with a license of Doom 3

Also, the Main 3D Software Packages and the dedicated 3D Sculpting Software each usually have their own integrated normal map creation tools.

3D Texture Coordinate Software

These packages are specifically for creating for a 3D mesh.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Cas Auto UV Castor Lee Windows Free
Headus UVLayout Headus Ltd. Linux/Mac/Windows $200
PolyUnwrapper Jorge Rodríguez Windows (requires 3ds Max) $25 (free for non-commercial)
Roadkill UV Pullin Shapes Windows Free
TexTools renderhjs Windows (requires 3ds Max) Free
Unfold 3D Polygonal Design Windows 299.00€

Special Effects Software

2D Tools

Main 2D Software

These are "complete" 2D packages with a wide variety of art tools for photo manipulation, texturing, concepting, etc.

Package Company Supported OS Price
GIMP GNOME Foundation Linux/Mac/Windows Free
Krita KDE Linux/Mac(beta)/Windows Free
Paint.NET dotPDN LLC Windows(XP+) Free
PaintShop Pro Corel Windows(XP+) $50
Photoshop [[PhotoshopTools|PhotoshopTools]] Adobe Mac/Windows $20 per-month, subscription only

Texturing workflow - software Polycount Forum thread has discussion about the texturing tools game artists are using.

Wikipedia has a nice table comparing the features of multiple 2D editing packages.

2D Concepting Software

These packages are most often used for painting concepts and illustrations.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Alchemy Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Alchemy N/A Linux/Mac/Windows Free
Art Rage Ambient Design Ltd. Mac/Windows $50
Illust Studio Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Illust_Studio CEL SYS Windows  ???
Krita KDE Linux/Mac(beta)/Windows Free
Open Canvas Media:Category:Tools/attachments/icon-info.png|#Open_Canvas PortalGraphics Windows $50
Paint Tool Sai Systemax Windows 5250 JPY
Painter Corel Mac/Windows $429
SketchBook Pro Autodesk Mac/Windows $60

2D Normal Map Software

These packages are used specifically for creating normal maps from 2D images. See also 3D Normal Map Software.

Package Company Supported OS Price Website
!Bitmap2Material Allegorithmic Windows/Mac $149
CrazyBump N/A Windows $299
Knald KnaldTech Windows Free
MindTex FrozenFlame Software Windows $15
NJob Free
PhotoSculpt Hippolyte Mounier Windows 139 Euros
PixPlant N/A Mac/Windows $195
ShaderMap Pro Rendering Sytems Inc. Windows $29.95 (command-line version is free)
Smart Normal Web Free
  • Photoshop nDo Normal Creation Toolkit is a plugin that costs $99. Windows only.
  • Photoshop NVIDIA Normal Map Filter is a free plugin. <
    >• Convert a grayscale image into a NormalMap or DuDvMap, many options available. Windows 32bit only.
  • Photoshop NVIDIA DDS texture compression plugin is free. <
    >• Same as the NVIDIA normal map filter, but lets you create the best-quality Mip Maps for a normal map, by filtering each mip independently from the original source image, rather than simply scaling down the normal map. Windows 32bit only.
  • Photoshop Xnormal filters is a free plugin by Santiago 'jogshy' Orgaz. <
    >• Five filters for Photoshop: Dilation (see EdgePadding), !Height2Normals (see NormalMap), !Height2Occlusion (see AmbientOcclusionMap), Normalize normal map, !Normals2Cavity.
  • GIMP normalmap plugin is a free plugin by Shawn Kirst.
  • NSpace is a free converter from Diogo Teixeira that can convert Object Space normal maps into Tangent Space normal maps. The tool is discussed in this thread and Osman "osman" Tsjardiwal has created GUI for it as well.
  • Normal Map Actions for Photoshop by Will "sinistergfx" Fuller<
    >• Overlay: Levels blue channel of current layer to 128 and sets the blend mode to overlay. Used for overlaying additional normal map detail.<
    >• Normalize: Just does a nVidia normal map filter normalize on the current layer.<
    >• Normalize (flatten): Flattens the image and does a nVidia normal map filter normalize.<
    >• Rotate 90 CW: Rotates current normal map layer 90 degrees clockwise and fixes your red and green channels so that it doesn't break your normal map.<
    >• Rotate 90 CW (inverted Y): Rotates current normal map layer 90 degrees clockwise and fixes your red and green channels so that it doesn't break your normal map. For normal maps that use the inverted Y convention.<
    >• Rotate 90 CCW: Rotates current normal map layer 90 degrees counter-clockwise and fixes your red and green channels so that it doesn't break your normal map.<
    >• Rotate 90 CCW (inverted Y): Rotates current normal map layer 90 degrees counter-clockwise and fixes your red and green channels so that it doesn't break your normal map. For normal maps that use the inverted Y convention.<
    >• Rotate 180: Rotates current normal map layer 180 degrees and fixes your red and green channels so that it doesn't break your normal map.

2D Vector Software

These packages are used for creating vector graphics, commonly used for or print media.

Package Company Supported OS Price
Flash Adobe Mac/Windows $20 per-month, subscription only
Inkscape N/A Linux/Mac/Windows Free
Illustrator Adobe Mac/Windows $20 per-month, subscription only
Krita KDE Linux/Mac(beta)/Windows Free

2D Image Overlay Software

These tools are helpful for overlaying reference images, drawing quick review comments on artwork, remote collaboration, marking animation reference points, etc.

Package Company Supported OS Price Website
Floaty 'StrangeDave' Windows Free
Foreground Reference Utility Mark Grice Windows Free
Ghost-It! Matthew T. Pandina Windows Free
ozToolOverlay 'osman' Free
PureRef Natascha 'Arookh' Schirmuli Mac, Windows Donationware Reference image viewer - PureRef Polycount Forum thread
refBoard Jonathan 'Equanim' Richards OSX, Windows Free refBoard! Nifty little reference viewer Polycount Forum thread
ScreenMarker BeamYourScreen GmbH Free
Snippet tool Microsoft Windows Vista, Windows 7 (included)

Image Browsing Software

These packages are used for browsing image collections and for displaying reference imagery while an artist is working.

Package Company Supported OS Price Website
ACDSee ACD Systems International Windows(XP+) $60
DeskPins Elias Fotinis Windows(95+) Free
FastStone Image Viewer FastStone Soft Windows $35<
>(free for personal use)
First Impression Windows(XP+) Free
Foreground Reference Mark Grice Windows Free
IrfanView Irfan Skiljan Windows(95+) $12<
>(free for personal use)
XnView Pierre Gougelet Linux/Mac/Windows/etc. $34<
>(free for personal use)

Tiled Texture Tools

  • Filter Forge ($) procedural tiled-texture editor.
  • PixPlant ($) texture tiling tool.
  • Seamless Texture Generator ($) texture tiling tool.
  • Seamless Workshop free Photoshop filter that fixes tiling errors by blending edges.
  • sdvTile free Photoshop script that expands the canvas 3x and repeats your texture across it.
  • Tiling Texture Tester Tool free 2d tile previewer. Great for viewing tiled textures while painting. Drag-n-drop your texture into a HTML page, refresh as needed.
  • Texture Frank free 3d tile previewer. Great for viewing tiled textures while painting. EXE shows textures on meshes, drag-n-drop, auto refresh, diffuse/normal/specular/displacement maps, multi-layer PSDs, etc. Many options!
  • Wood Workshop free procedural-wood tiled-texture editor.

Sprite Tools

Tablet Utilities

These are tools that help with using a tablet or Cintiq.

Package Company Supported OS Description
How To Easily Make Your Cintiq/Tablet Better forum Windows/Mac How to manually tweak your Wacom sensitivity, and links to some tablet tweaker apps
Tablets - Tips, Tricks and Resources Polycount forum Windows Tips and links to tablet tweaker apps
Tablet PC annoyances BEGONE! Polycount forum Windows Removing the annoying UI gizmos on tablet PCs.
Tablet Pressure Curve Editor with a GUI forum Windows Note: might not be supported with latest Wacom drivers.
LazyNezumi Guillaume 'kamih' Stordeur Windows Smooths out cursor motion in a similar way to ZBrush's Lazy Mouse feature. See the Polycount thread Lazymouse for Photoshop?
Illusoft's Wacom Monitor Switch Utility Illusoft Windows Use a hotkey to switch the tablet from one monitor to another, on a multi-monitor setup.

3D Tool Information


Best known for: Voxel sculpting for topology-less sculpting, and advanced retopology capabilities including auto-retopology which can generate all-quad meshes using nothing more then a few basic guide splines drawn by the user.

3ds Max

Best known for: the power of its modifier stack for modeling. Features powerful viewport shaders such as Xoliul's Shader and the 3Point Shader. lists some popular shaders and has articles about how to make new ones.

Plugins and Scripts


Best known for: being a free alternative to more expensive packages, and as a very inclusive package with it's own compositor, sequencer, sculpting system, and game engine.


Best known for: being used in the production of Avatar film, and can handle multiple 32k resolution textures.

Mari is a 3D painting app that is currently only for Linux, but will be receiving a windows version before the end of 2010. It uses the hard drive heavily as a swap disk, and thus requires a significant amount of free space (250gb free recommended).


Best known for: the speed of its marking menus while modeling, and ease of animation due to the versatility of attributes.


Best known for: adding geometry to a mesh dynamically, avoiding worries about topology while sculpting. Sculptris is a powerful, easy to use, and lightweight sculpting app. Because you don't have to worry about geometry or using a base mesh, it is quickly becoming popular for roughing out and concepting ideas. Afterwords artists will retopologize their concept sculpt and take it into ZBrush or Mudbox for refinement. There are also painting tools for color and bump, but as of v1.02 their is no way to preserve the paint if one decides to go back into sculpt mode.

As of July 23 2010 Sculptris has been purchased by Pixologic, and its Developer (Tomas Petersson) hired by them. What this means for the future of Sculptris, its technology, and its 'free' status has yet to be determined.

For v1.01 :

Softimage XSI

Best known for: the modeling toolset, and ICE (used for creating effects) is considered very powerful, plus tight Mental Ray integration. Even though Softimage XSI isn't as commonly used as in the games industry, there are big studios that use it as their primary 3D software. Some notable examples are Ubisoft (Assassins Creed), Lionhead (Fable series), Konami (Metal Gear Solid 4), Valve (Half life 2).

World Machine

Best known for: Widely used in the game industry for creating terrains using natural erosion techniques. Great for creating height maps, textures, and texture masks.


Best known for: being well a supported and innovative sculpting package. Zbrush's Ztool system allows for minimal use of a traditional 3D package, while it's tools attempt to bring digital media as close to traditional, physical media as possible.

2D Tool Information


Illust Studio

Open Canvas

Best known for: The 'Network Canvas' feature that was present in its free pre-commercial version, which allowed multiple users to paint on a single canvas over the net or LAN (This feature was removed once Open Canvas became commercial software, but the free version despite its limitations and age remains popular to this day because of it).

  • Download the free version here.


See PhotoshopTools.

/!\ Note: prices are accurate as of June 27, 2010

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