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27 Feb 2023

The absolute fundamentals of 3D modeling: Building blocks & main types of modeling

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3D modeling is a fascinating and versatile field that allows you to create everything from simple objects to complex scenes with lifelike detail. But just like any other skill, it requires patience, practice, and a solid foundation of knowledge.

As a beginner it is important to learn all the basic concepts of it, the basic building blocks that a 3D model consists of, some basic techniques for modeling and material creation and the most common mistakes and issues that arise while creating your first models.

This article will be the first part of a series called “The absolute fundamentals of 3D modeling”. In this series we will explain the basics and cover everything you need to know as a complete beginner looking to embark on their journey of becoming a 3D designer. By taking the time to learn these basics, you'll build a strong foundation for your future work and be able to tackle more complex projects with confidence. So, let's get started!

The basic building blocks of 3D modeling: Vertices, Edges and Faces

Every 3D model is constructed using a set of basic building blocks, namely vertices, edges, and faces. These three components are the foundation of any 3D model and are used to create the surface mesh of all your 3D models.

The absolute fundamentals of 3D modeling: Building blocks & main types of modeling 1


Vertices are individual points in 3D space that define the corners and intersections of a mesh. When connected, vertices form edges that define the shape of a mesh. These edges can be straight or curved, and they connect vertices in a specific order to form the surface of an object.


Edges define the boundaries of a surface in a 3D model. They connect two vertices and form a straight or curved line. In a wireframe 3D model, edges are the only visible components, as they outline the shape of the object. However, edges alone do not create a solid shape, and they need to be connected to form faces.


Faces are the surfaces of a 3D model, and they are created by connecting edges in a specific order to form closed polygons. These polygons can be flat or curved and can take various shapes, such as triangles, quadrilaterals, or more complex polygons. Faces are what give a 3D model its visual appearance, and they can be textured and shaded to create realistic-looking objects.

Together, vertices, edges, and faces form a 3D model's surface mesh. The surface mesh represents the shape and surface of an object, and it can be manipulated and transformed to create various types of objects, including characters, landscapes, buildings, and more.

Understanding the role of vertices, edges, and faces in 3D modeling is crucial, as creating and altering any 3D model will require manipulation of some or all those 3 key points of geometry. For example, to modify the shape of a 3D object, you need to move, add, or delete vertices, edges, and faces. Additionally, to create a more detailed and realistic 3D model, you need to add more vertices and edges to create a more complex surface mesh.

Main types of modeling distinction

When creating any 3D model, you involve many techniques in the process. The 3 main types of 3D modeling are solid modeling, wireframe modeling and surface modeling, each of which is used for different scenarios and situations. Most 3D workflows require understanding of these 3 main types of modeling processes.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at each of these methods.

Solid modeling

Solid modeling is a technique that involves manipulating basic shapes, such as spheres and cubes with a defined number of sides. The process can vary depending on the software used, but typically involves starting with two-dimensional sketches that are then extruded to create three-dimensional objects. Alternatively, solids may be added together to create more complex shapes. Regardless of the method used, the goal is to create a stable and realistic 3D model.

Solid modeling is particularly well-suited for creating objects with flat surfaces or simple curves that have a consistent radius. It is also ideal for creating precise dimensions and angles, making it a popular technique for designing mechanical parts, machines, and other basic representations of natural objects.

Wireframe modeling

When observing the world, one can see that reality is more than just simple shapes like cubes and spheres. To achieve a realistic representation, solid modeling is not enough and a more advanced technique is required. This is where wireframe modeling comes in, which represents shapes as a network of vertices, where each face is made up of at least three vertices. The size and shape of the model can be changed by modifying the position of the vertices. The realism of the model is indicated by its polygon count, which is the total number of shapes within the wireframe. All of the most popular programs allow for wireframe manipulation, including the most popular 3D software for 2023, Blender, Maya, and 3ds Max.

Surface modeling

The most advanced of the three modeling techniques, surface modeling, involves the use of guiding lines to define the shape and curvature of a part. The software then creates a smooth surface that connects these lines. Surface modeling was specifically used in aerodynamic and thermodynamic designs where the flow around solid shapes is critical. Some programs use control points or control planes instead of guiding lines, but the emphasis on surfaces can result in visual representations that are impossible to produce in the real world.

Key principles of modeling manipulation

For manipulating the mesh of your 3D models, you are usually applying one of the 4 main manipulation techniques. The most commonly used manipulation techniques are the Boolean process, Pick & Place process, Parametric & Procedural modeling processes and last but not least, Sculpting.

Boolean process

The boolean process is a technique used in 3D modeling to create complex shapes by combining or subtracting one or more objects or shapes. In 3D modeling, the boolean process is used to create a new shape by "cutting" or "joining" two or more shapes, based on the boolean operations of union, difference, and intersection.

The process combines two or more objects or shapes, creating a single object that contains all the volume of the original objects. It subtracts one object from another, creating a new object that includes only the volume of the remaining object. The intersection operation creates a new object that includes only the volume where the two objects intersect.

The boolean process is particularly useful for creating complex shapes and for subtracting or adding shapes that have a complicated geometry or intricate details. However, it is important to note that the boolean process can sometimes create non-manifold geometry, which can cause issues during the 3D printing process or when exporting the file to other software. Therefore, it is important to use the boolean process with care and to ensure that the resulting geometry is clean.

Pick & Place process

The pick and place process may be as simple as its name suggests, but is one of the most common ways to manipulate your 3D mesh. To perform a "pick and place" operation in 3D modeling, you need to first select the object or component that you want to move. This can typically be done by clicking on the object with the mouse, or by using a selection tool to choose the object from a list or menu.

Once you have selected the object, you can then use a tool such as the "move" tool to adjust its position within the 3D space. These tools typically allow you to move the object along one or more axes, such as the X, Y, or Z axis, and you can specify the distance or direction of the movement using numerical values or by dragging the object with the mouse.

In some cases, you may also need to rotate or scale the object as part of the "pick and place" operation. For example, if you are positioning a component within a larger composition, you may need to rotate it to fit the correct orientation, or scale it to match the size of the other components.

Overall, "pick and place" is a fundamental operation in 3D modeling, and it allows you to create complex and detailed models by manipulating individual objects and components within the 3D space.

Parametric and procedural modeling

Parametric and procedural modeling are two unique approaches to 3D modeling that can be used to create complex and detailed models with greater efficiency and flexibility.

Parametric modeling involves using parameters, or mathematical equations, to define the properties of a 3D object. This can include things like size, shape, and position, as well as more complex properties such as texture, material, and animation. By using parameters to define these properties, you can create objects that are highly customizable and can be easily modified or updated as needed. For example, if you wanted to create a parametric model of a screw, you could define the pitch, thread diameter, and overall length as parameters, and then adjust these values as needed to create screws of different sizes and shapes.

Procedural modeling, on the other hand, involves using algorithms and rules to generate 3D objects automatically. This can be particularly useful when you need to create large numbers of objects that are similar or have similar properties, such as trees, buildings, or landscapes. By defining a set of rules or algorithms, you can create objects that are highly detailed and realistic, and can be generated automatically based on the input parameters. For example, a procedural model of a tree might include rules for generating the trunk, branches, leaves, and textures based on parameters such as the tree species, size, and environment.

Overall, by using these techniques, you can save time and effort by automating many of the tedious or repetitive tasks involved in 3D modeling, and can also create models that are highly customizable and can be easily updated or modified as needed.


Sculpting in 3D modeling is the process of creating and manipulating digital 3D objects by adding or subtracting material in a manner similar to sculpting with clay or other materials in the physical world. It involves the use of specialized software, such as ZBrush or Mudbox, that allows artists and designers to shape and mold virtual objects using a variety of tools and techniques.

In sculpting, artists can work at different levels of detail, starting with a rough shape and gradually adding more refined details such as wrinkles, pores, and textures. The process involves manipulating the surface of the digital object in a way that mimics the physical process of sculpting, using tools such as brushes, knives, and smoothing tools.

One of the advantages of sculpting in 3D modeling is that it allows for a high degree of creative freedom and artistic expression. Artists can quickly experiment with different shapes, forms, and textures, and make changes on the fly. Additionally, sculpting is often used in character modeling and creature design, where the ability to create realistic and expressive facial features and body shapes is critical.

Overall, sculpting is a powerful technique in 3D modeling that allows artists and designers to create complex and detailed 3D objects that can be used in a variety of applications.

Stay tuned for the next part of the series

Thank you for reading the part 1 of "The absolute fundamentals of 3D modeling" series. In this first part we mentioned the basic blocks of any 3D model, the main types of modeling distinction and the key principles and processes of model manipulation. Soon the part 2 of the series will be published in which we will talk about the most common topology issues every new designer faces, the different types of material any workflow requires along with more tips from our experienced team here on CGTrader.

Until then, happy modeling!