I recently got myself the 2017 iPad Pro (10.5″). This was a conscious decision. The Pro line packs so much GPU power that the A10X SoC is actually faster than the A12 in the iPhone XS Max in 3D performance while driving only slightly more pixels. Along with strong GPU, it also packs 120 Hz display which is god-send when it comes to 3D modeling
The logic’s clear: Whatever work’s on Apple’s highest-end iPhone should work on this too. As I found out over the course of writing this feature, that assumption was accurate. The iPad Pro 10.5 delivered stellar performance in all the apps tested. Wherever limitations existed, they weren’t hardware-bound. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the best 3D modeling apps on iPad Pro.
Best 3D Modelling Apps For iPad Pro
1. Sketchup Viewer
Who it’s for: Users who want to take a look at Sketchup models and present them
Let’s start with the easy stuff first. Sketchup Viewer isn’t a 3D modeling tool in the strictest sense. It doesn’t actually let you create new models. What it does do, however, is give you a great, interactive platform to showcase models made in Sketchup. Google sold its iconic modeling software top Trimble several years ago. But even though the IP changed hands, Sketchup remains a great entry-level modeling tool that places emphasis on ease-of-use.
Sketchup Viewer makes things even more simple. You get an interface with a variety of movement tools in the side panel. These include pan, orbit, and look around. The onscreen gestures will change your perspective differently depending on the movement tool you’ve selected. This makes it possible to display the model at exactly the angle that you want, and also to go into model interiors.
The display hidden lines option allows you to gain a finer appreciation of the shapes being used in the model and their alignment, though at the cost of making some models look a bit “busy” because of all the lines.
AR functionality can spice up presentations
Lastly, Sketchup viewer makes great use of the iPad Pro’s back camera through its AR view. You can point your camera towards any flat surface and Sketchup viewer will try to place a scaled version of the model on top. We had mixed results with this feature, although we did try it out at night-time with the lights on. Scaling and perspective weren’t perfect Nevertheless, you do get a sense of what your model would look like in the real world.
- Multiple display options make it easy to present Sketchup models
- Can’t use it to actually edit Sketchup models
Download SketchUp Viewer
Who it’s for: Professionals who want a full-fledged modeling solution running on their iPad
The Apple Pencil is one of those good-to-have, yet optional tools. Of course, the pressure sensitivity makes handwriting look more natural and allows for complex artwork. And the general experience of using the Pencil to jot down notes–which get saved on iCloud–is just nice. It would definitely enhance precision in 3D modeling apps.
Apple Pencil required: and that’s a good thing
Honestly, I was surprised to see that Shapr3D actually requires an Apple Pencil to function. Seriously, try tapping the interface with your finger and nothing will happen. Forcing you to use Pencil is both a good and bad thing. It’s bad because, clearly, you’re locked of using Shapr unless you’ve spent the extra $99 on the Pencil peripheral.
But it’s good because, as we’ve found out, Pencil is kinda required if you want to make anything more than the crudest of models: finger tap and drag just isn’t precise enough. Shapr costs an eye-popping $300 per year. It may possibly be the most expensive app on the App Store. Don’t worry I didn’t buy it. The app comes with a 14-day trial. We’d expect nothing less, considering the huge outlay for the full version.
The trial’s fully-featured and it showcases how Shapr is different from the competition right from the outset. CAD’s traditionally been thought of as complex by necessity, something you have to spend months learning. Similar to SketchUp (and unlike other desktop CAD solutions), Shapr generates 3D surfaces, not solid objects. This makes it a bit easier to highlight object dimensions.
Shapr is the iPad Pro CAD tool
We couldn’t find anything wrong with Shapr. The price might seem steep, but it’s actually quite reasonable by enterprise CAD standards. The performance was phenomenal. The iPad Pro has a Pro Motion 120 Hz high refresh rate display. It can display twice as many frames per second as your standard mobile display. If you thought 60 Hz was smooth, well this is a whole different ball game. Apart from making UI interactions feel smooth, I’ve always felt that Pro Motion was a bit gimmicky until seeing it implemented in Shapr.
Pro Motion is supported in Shapr and the resulting interface smoothness is jaw-dropping. When rotating an object, the program responds to your swipes instantaneously. It feels like you’re actually rotating an object, instead of just swiping your Pencil across a touchscreen. Together with the Apple Pencil 2’s improved latency, the moment-to-moment modeling experience in Shapr is mesmerizing. Modeling isn’t just something that has to be done: it’s a joy to work on.
- Real, full-fledged CAD suite for iPad Pro
- Makes full use of Pro Motion and the Apple Pencil for great UI interactions
- Very high subscription cost
Who it’s for: Users who want a simpler, yet still robust alternative to Shapr
Umake is like Shapr and Sketchup, but a bit simpler. This is reflected in the cost, too. With an annual subscription of just over $100, it’s not cheap by any means, but a lot more affordable than Shapr and, well, almost any PC CAD solution. Umake doesn’t let you do quite as much as Shapr. However, its multiple perspective views make it a viable option, even in complex use cases like architecture modeling. Instead, it focuses on ease of use.
Umake’s tutorials can turn you into an expert in 15 minutes
Umake tries to help you hit the ground running with some surprisingly intuitive tutorials. You get brief video explanations of what each function does. After about 15 minutes, you’ll have familiarized yourself with most of the key UI functions and you’ll be all set to start modeling. Unfortunately, this is where things get a bit ugly. Umake has a 14-day trial but it requires you to set up payment and then cancel later.
If you forget, you’re in for some hefty charges. Without doing that, Umake only lets you use viewer mode. But even with usability this limited, it’s easy to see why Umake’s such a great option. Just like Shapr, it features native support for Pro Motion, so you get incredibly smooth and responsive UI interactions (and a better Pencil sketching experience). And the tutorials, as we mentioned, go a long way towards simplifying the CAD experience. This, in turn, broadens the market a little. If you’re looking to dabble in some 3D modeling but can’t afford a premium solution, you could just get a month’s subscription to Umake for $20 and sketch away to your heart’s content.
- Easy to use, with intuitive tutorials
- Native Pro Motion support
- Trial limits you to viewer mode unless you add a payment method
Each of these 3D modeling tools makes a great case to get an iPad Pro, whether you do professional CAD work or just dabble in 3D modeling. Although SketchUp Viewer doesn’t actually let you create models, it gives you a great platform to showcase premade SketchUp models. You could pass the iPad around a conference table with SketchUp viewer loaded up and get everyone’s eyes on the model.
Shapr is prohibitively expensive for most people, but the $300 annual subscription is small money for enterprise users. For that amount, you get one of the most feature-rich CAD solutions on mobile, making full use of the iPad Pro’s unique strengths.
And if you want a Pro-centric modeling tool but aren’t quite ready to splurge on Shapr, Umake is a fine point of entry. A slightly more limited toolset is offset by a lower purchase price and native Pro Motion goodness makes it a treat to use.