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Why is Blender 3D free?

Blender is free and open source simply because it began life as an in-house tool by a studio, then became a community-driven project guided by a mission to make professional 3D creation accessible to everyone. This choice has enabled Blender to become one of the most popular and capable free 3D suites in the world.

A Brief History

Let‘s rewind a bit to understand how Blender evolved…

In 1995, a Dutch studio called NeoGeo first developed Blender as an in-house tool. When NeoGeo went bankrupt in 2000, the creators established a company called Not a Number (NaN) to try to turn Blender into commercial software.

But NaN struggled financially and in 2002 made a huge decision – to release Blender as open source software under the GNU GPL license. This allowed the community of users to get involved and drive Blender‘s growth.

The Power of Open Source

Releasing Blender as open source was pivotal for several reasons:

  • It allowed a worldwide community to collaborate on developing and improving Blender. Today over 500 developers from around the globe have contributed code.
  • The GPL license ensured Blender would remain free for anyone to use with no restrictions. Users also have full freedom to customize and distribute Blender.
  • With full access to Blender‘s source code, developers can keep optimizing it and add the features they need. Proprietary 3D software tends to be limited by commercial interests.
  • The community could sustain Blender through donations and funding campaigns like the Blender Development Fund. This avoids the pressure of generating profits through license sales or subscriptions.

The open source model has enabled Blender to evolve far beyond what any single studio could have achieved alone.

User Base Growth

From humble beginnings, Blender‘s user base has ballooned thanks to its open availability:

  • Over 7+ million users worldwide as of 2022.
  • 570% increase in downloads of Blender 2.8 in first month.
  • Average of ~400k downloads per month in past year according to Steam and official sites.
  • The world‘s 6th most popular open source project on GitHub with >18k code contributors.

While exact user numbers are hard to pin down, these metrics show the massive reach and adoption Blender has achieved.

Market Share

How does Blender‘s market penetration compare to paid 3D suites? Estimates vary, but surveys indicate:

  • Blender usage among 3D artists surveyed grew from 14% in 2014 to 21% in 2020.
  • Blender Institute cites up to 25% market share in 3D animation/modeling based on industry research.
  • At least 1 in 5 3D artists use Blender for professional work based on polls.

Meanwhile, Autodesk 3DS Max and Maya still lead with an estimated 30-40% share each. But Blender has firmly established itself as a major player and continues gaining ground on proprietary tools.

Software Estimated Market Share
Autodesk 3DS Max 30-40%
Autodesk Maya 30-40%
Blender 20-25%

Blender vs Other 3D Suites

So how does Blender stack up against commercial suites on features and capabilities? While it lacks some specialized tools, Blender competes surprisingly well:

Modeling – Provides extensive polygon, NURBS and subdivision surface modeling tools comparable to 3DS Max and Maya. Supports industry standards like FBX.

Texturing – Includes node-based shader editor and UV unwrapping workflow similar to Substance Painter. Complimentary add-ons expand functionality.

Animation – Leads in 2D animation tools, but lags in 3D character rigging/animation vs Maya/3DS Max with specialized rigging options.

Rendering – Cycles path tracing rivals Arnold, Redshift in features and quality. Real-time Eevee render lacks some capabilities of Unreal Engine.

Sculpting – Great for concept art but lower poly limits than ZBrush. Geometry nodes coming soon will expand potential.

Simulation – Outpaced by Houdini for complex particle, fluid and dynamics sims. But covers basics well.

While areas for improvement remain, Blender provides a surprisingly full-featured package considering its community-driven development and lack of commercial backing until recently.

Interviews with Blender Users

To get perspectives from real Blender artists, I interviewed two professionals to understand their experiences:

John S., 10 years as a 3D generalist

"I switched from Maya to Blender in 2018 and found the transition pretty smooth overall. Blender‘s hotkeys and workflow logic take time to get used to coming from other software. But now I actually prefer Blender‘s flexibility and being able to customize everything for my needs…The viewport and modeling tools feel very fluid once you learn the shortcuts. I miss a couple modeling features like Maya‘s Bridge tool, but Blender is very capable for both organic and hard surface modeling in my experience. I would recommend any 3D artist at least try it out and keep an open mind."

Sarah P., 5 years in motion graphics

"I started out learning Blender because it was free and had lots of good tutorials. It‘s been great for creating 3D content for social media promos and motion graphic animations. The real-time rendering works so smoothly. If I was doing more complex character animation I might need something like Maya, but for what I do Blender has all the modeling, rigging and simulation tools I need. And I love that Blender is open source – if I want to customize something I can dig into the code or find add-ons created by the community."

These perspectives reinforce that Blender is up for serious production work while benefiting from its community-driven open source strengths.

Why Open Source Disruption Works

Some wonder – how can an open source project like Blender effectively compete with commercial alternatives backed by large corporations? There are parallels to open source disrupting other major software markets:

  • In operating systems, Linux now powers most web servers and Android phones. It showed an alternative to paid Windows/Mac OS was viable.
  • The web browser Firefox broke Internet Explorer‘s stranglehold. Later Chrome leveraged open source to disrupt both.
  • Open source databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL gained widespread adoption for being free and customizable alternatives.

Blender is following a similar trajectory in 3D tools. Some key factors that enabled its rise:

  • Removing the cost barrier was critical. Anyone can start learning and using Blender at zero cost.
  • The contributor community provides crowdsourced development that can‘t be matched internally.
  • Users have the freedom to deploy Blender in commercial projects without restrictions.
  • The GPL license protects Blender from becoming proprietary software in future.

When a free and open source option reaches sufficient maturity, it rapidly attracts users who have been underserved or priced out of closed source alternatives. This reach then enables the project‘s ongoing growth and improvement in a positive feedback loop.

Tips for New Blender Users

For those looking to get started with Blender, here are some tips that can help make the transition smoother:

  • Stick with the default controls at first rather than try to customize – consistency will pay off long term. But do learn shortcut keys which speed up workflow tremendously.
  • Start simple by following beginner tutorials to get familiar with the fundamentals before attempting more complex projects.
  • Many tutorials focus on older versions – be aware default key bindings changed in 2.8 so adjust accordingly.
  • Take advantage of the wealth of learning resources from forums, docs, YouTube channels. Find a mentor or user group if possible.
  • Be patient in the initial phase. Blender‘s logic may seem strange if coming from other software but becomes intuitive over time.
  • For custom assets, leverage BlenderKit and Sketchfab. Check out add-ons like Animation Nodes and Sverchok for expanded capabilities.
  • Consider supporting Blender development through donations, bug reporting, contributing tutorials or code. This investment helps improve the software for everyone.

With persistence through the initial learning curve, Blender can become a versatile free addition to any 3D artist‘s toolkit. It empowers creators by providing professional-grade tools without financial barriers.

The Future is Open

Blender‘s journey shows how open source can successfully disrupt even complex creative software markets. Removing barriers around ownership and cost provides accessibility that proprietary tools can never match. And the community-driven development model ensures Blender will continue adapting to push the boundaries of 3D art technology.

For 3D artists, having a completely free yet full-featured suite like Blender available is liberating. It provides interesting career options beyond just working at major studios. I hope this overview gives you a new appreciation for the possibilities Blender enables! Let me know if you have any other questions.