What is the best free software for designing multi material objects for 3D printing?
I literally just posted this for a similar question in another forum.
Tl;dr - What do you want to model - organic or mechanical things?
For 3d modeling you should first ask what it is that you want to make and then ask how much money you have to spend.
What: An easy split is mechanical vs organic shapes. Architectural is another major category that branches off of mechanical. Some things like jewelry might cross over both categories but may require mechanical precision over organic ability.
Budget: Freeware vs consumer tools vs professional tools. I suspect those who mention using Inventor, solidworks (primarily mech modelers) or other pricy professional tools are already making a living using those tools or have a lot of spare cash. The only thing close to getting these tools at low cost is an educational license which can’t be used for profit. Most of the consumer tools will not offer enough to justify their cost over the free offerings and won’t be powerful enough to replace the pro tools. A serious user is likely to outgrow a paid consumer tool quicker than they’d like. Do you have more time or more money?
I’ve used a wide range of tools over the last 20 years and the pro tools usually can handle more complex models and assemblies without choking and usually export out cleaner models for something like 3d printing. They are usually faster if you have the hardware to support them but many users are slower than the tools anyway. But these days any tool worth using has some pathway to a 3d printing format, though sometimes not without plugins.
If you have no planned revenue stream or lack a pile of spare cash then you should turn to one of the many free tools. Each one has a genre of shapes it is better at and most pros will use a number of tools, shifting as the work requires.
If you don’t know what you want to make (organic vs mech, etc) then experiment with Blender (free form poly modeler), openscad (programmer-friendly script-based mech modeler), zbrush (digital clay free form modeler - free learning versions or similar products available) till you find a groove. If you want to make more industrial design models then look at Rhino or Alias (NURBS-based curvilinear mech modelers). When you know the tool you need and have the work to pay for it the choices will be more obvious. Until then don’t waste money on what you may not need.
@Robert_Lloyd Thank you very much for your very detailed answer, it is most helpful for me. I plan to experiment with very simple shapes so I guess the simplest tools will do the trick for me.