Autodesk Inventor Fusion review

Autodesk Inventor Fusion is an innovative, lightweight and free 3D modeller with a feature packed interface based on parent tool Autodesk Inventor.

Autodesk is a big name in 3D design, with the peerless AutoCAD still top of the pile despite debuting in 1982. It’s also responsible for 3D animation behemoth Maya. But AutoCAD and Maya are industrial strength tools with price tags to match so, when we had the chance to try out Autodesk’s free modelling tool, we expected a program with major limitations. How wrong we were.

Inventor Fusion is a “technology preview”. That means it’s still in development and may, at some time in the future, become a commercial application. If you download it now though, you won’t ever need to pay a penny as the Mac version doesn’t expire or have any other trial limitations. 

The application launches into a grey void that will be familiar to any user of 3D creation tools. The interface is cleverly free of clutter, with just three floating toolbars. You can reposition these anywhere you like.

Autodesk’s free 3D modeller is a masterpiece of intuitive interface design and graphic power. With better import and export options, it would be perfect.

The main toolbar is split into six categories. The first two - Sketch and Solid - are all you need to begin creating 3D objects. With Sketch you can draw flat, geometrical shapes and lines, then extrude them into 3D. The easy to use camera cube enables you to switch between views easily, working like a traditional CAD program or in full 3D. You can also create a range of 3D shapes with the Solid category of tools. This menu also gives you a number of commands for editing objects. 

As we explored the main toolbar further, we realised that several commands appear in more than one category. This has the net result of making it easier to find the tool you need at the time you need it. You can also CTRL or right-click on objects to pop-up a menu of contextual commands. 

There are several ways to navigate around the work area. As we previously mentioned, the Camera Cube is an ideal tool for switching quickly between views. There’s also a Navigation bar at the bottom of the screen that gives you free control of the 3D camera - or that can be used to zoom into specific elements.

When creating objects, we were impressed by the simple, descriptive tooltips that guide you through the process at each stage. 3D modelling is notoriously difficult to learn, but Inventor Fusion’s straightforward UI and workflow prompts are a real boon for beginners. Finished 3D models can be made from any number of objects, faces and elements. Inventor Fusion offers a couple of ways to navigate through these too. The Browser pane gives you a list of elements that you can select and edit - or you can mouse over elements, highlight them and click to select.

OUR VERDICT

The best way to think of Autodesk Inventor Fusion is as the Photoshop Elements of 3D modelling. All the essential tools are there, with a simplified interface that suits beginners but is powerful in its own right. Quite simply, this is one of the best free apps we’ve tried - in any category.