If you work in 3D design or a related industry, you may come across the terms 3D modeling and 3D sculpting and assume that they’re the same technique or that one is part of the other. While both techniques help to create 3D assets, they are different in their results, methodology, software, and purpose.

Do you want to know which technique can help you make 3D models as per your needs? Or is it that you want to understand how 3D modeling and 3D sculpting are different?

Whatever the case may be, we’re here to help you out.

Here, we’ll have a deep dive into the two digital model-making techniques, so know which one to choose as per your needs.

3D modeling vs. 3D sculpting: How are they different?

Knowing the difference between the two processes is very important, whether you’re a 3D artist or someone who wants to hire 3D model making services. As they’re both used to making digital models, it is easy to get confused and think that they’re the same. So, let’s look more closely at how these techniques are distinct from each other:

The most obvious difference between the two techniques is in their meaning. So, let’s start by understanding what these two terms mean.

What is 3D modeling?

3D modeling, in simple terms, is a technique where you use various components like polygons to ‘build’ digital items.

What is digital sculpting?

Digital sculpting, on the other hand, refers to the technique of manipulating polygon meshes and turning them into a digital sculpture similar to a clay model.


3D modeling uses mathematical algorithms and exact measurements of the real object in order to generate accurate digital replicas of the real thing. So, it’s a very technical method. Artists have to develop the models from scratch by using these algorithms to define their shape and surface.

Here, the 3D modeler starts the process by creating the basic form, or wireframe, of the digital object. They then add details, textures, and materials to the final object.

However, the process of making digital sculptures is more artistic. Artists start with a digital model of a material and mold it similar to a clay model. Then, similar to clay molding, the artist refines the features of the model with different tools.

Purposes and uses

The purpose of 3D modeling is to create accurate digital replicas that can be used for:

Hence, it’s preferred in architecture, engineering, eCommerce products, etc.

Digital sculpting is used to form organic shapes and objects that need a high level of detail. Hence its frequent use in the gaming and entertainment industries for character and creature design. Also, it is well suited for 3D printing as the technology has come a long way and is able to support models with finer details.

Hardware and software

Overall, most 3D processes need powerful computer hardware to work seamlessly, sculpting needs more advanced hardware, as it takes a lot of processing power to create highly detailed models. Imagine using regular hardware to sculpt, only to have your system hang every time you manipulate the digital clay. You may also need digital art tablets, as making digital sculptures with a mouse alone is difficult.

For modeling, you need a moderately powerful rig, a mouse, a keyboard, and a lot of processing power to render complex objects.

There is no end to the number of programs that can help artists create digital models. Some of them are Autodesk Maya and Blender. On the other hand, there are some excellent standalone 3D sculpting software programs like ZBrush. However, many 3D modeling software programs have incorporated toolsets for sculpting.


3D modeling creates accurate digital objects that have clearly defined lines and surfaces. On the other hand, digital sculpts result in organic shapes with intricate details and textures.

Moreover, models created with standard modeling techniques can be edited at the sub-object level. The 3D modeler needs only to change the vertices, faces, or edges of a polygon mesh to alter the model. A digital sculpture, however, is a complete entity and very difficult to edit. Once made, it is hard to make changes to a sculpture. That is why digital sculptors must be very careful when making the model.


To sculpt a digital model, one needs to have a high level of creative skill. Whereas in 3D modeling, you need to rely on mathematical calculations. The difficulty you face will depend more on your talents.

Regarding learning, 3D modeling can be more challenging. If you’re a 3D modeler, you have to understand mathematical concepts like geometry and topology. However, to sculpt a digital model, a sculptor needs artistic skills like sculpting, painting, etc., making it tougher to execute.

3D artists with a background in traditional art will find this model-making method more intuitive. However, it is easier to make mistakes with this technique. Artists must be cautious during the process, as it is tough to correct errors after sculpting 3D models.

How do you know when to use 3D sculpting or modeling?

The choice of method ultimately boils down to the model and purpose. 3D sculpting is primarily used to create organic shapes that require high detail levels and smooth lines. It calls for the deforming of lines and shapes in order to add unique characteristics and asymmetry to a model. 

You’ll find sculpted models in video games, movies, and 3D printing.

3D modeling is preferred in cases where the models have a simple design and are primarily based on non-organic objects, as it produces even surfaces and geometry. 

Models made with this technique can be found in entertainment, marketing, manufacturing, product design, architecture, eCommerce, etc. Non-organic objects in games are also made using this technique. Sculpting is reserved for game assets like characters, vegetation, animals, birds, etc.

However, if you create models to practice and improve your skills, the choice will depend on your hardware and software. If you have limited processing power, you should choose 3D modeling.

Wrapping it up

Both 3D modeling and sculpting are two different techniques employed in the making of digital models of real objects. You can also use them to create completely imaginary creatures, people, and things. Even then, these are very different methods of model-making and deliver different results.

They both:

  • Call for different skill sets- modeling more technical and sculpting more creative.
  • Require different kinds of hardware and software.
  • Are suited for different types of models- modeling for non-organic objects and sculpting for organic shapes.

Now that we’ve gone through all the important differences, you should be able to choose the proper technique for your digital model needs.

3D models, in general, are made of several parts, like vertices, edges, and faces. These have the appearance of points, lines, and surfaces, respectively.

There are three types of 3D models or ways to represent digital models, namely:

Solid: where models are represented as solid objects.

Wireframe: where models are represented only with their outlines, which makes them look like skeletal versions.

Surface: where only the outer surface or skin of the model is shown.

ZBrush is generally considered to be the best software for 3D sculpting. All the brushes in this software simulate exactly what it’s like to mold and sculpt in the traditional sense.