This is the last article in the series of design tools that focuses on creating physical products. Especially for digital designers who want to get into business with physical products and have no idea what to use and where to start.


In case you missed out the previous articles:

Part I: The Most Essential Tools And Resources For Every Designer

Part II: Essential Tools and Resources to design DIGITAL Products


The biggest downside with tools to design physical products is the higher learning curve and the entry price. Professional tools such as Solidworks can cost quite a bit of money.

But there are some good and free alternatives that should be enough for many people.

Why do you need 3D Software? Many manufactures rely on 3D files to build the tools.

To build prototypes using 3D Printers you will also need special file formats(.STL)

Furthermore the process of designing physical products is a bit different and can get very complex. Compared to Digital Products you cannot make changes very quickly once your product goes into manufacturing.

Changes would require the creation of new tools which can get expensive very quickly. Therefore you will spend a lot of time designing and prototyping the product upfront to see if it really works before going into mass production. Keep that in mind!

Also you need to consider the manufacturing process. Whereas anything is possible in the digital world, you are limited by physical constraints in the real world.

I will list the software that I personally use the most but also include software that is available for free so you don’t need to make big investments.


The following is a list of go-to places that I use most to get product inspirations from. Pinterest is probably my #1 because it is a huge library will all kind of products with nice images.


Pinterest – My #1 resource foe physical as well as digital products.

Behance – Loads of cool product concepts created by an outstanding design community.

Yanko – One of the greatest blogs for industrial design and architecture.

Kickstarter – This croudfunding platform is also a great resource to get inspirations from. You can get a feeling where the industry is heading and what trends are emerging.





For Advanced Users

Solidworks – One of the best professional tools that is used in many established design companies


Free CAD Software

123D Design – A free 3D Modeling software by Autodesk created for beginners, hence the name 🙂

TinkerCAD – A browser based modeling tool that was build for everyone who wants to create 3D prints.

FreeCAD – An open source parametric 3D modeler

SketchUp – 3D Modeling Software which is very easy to learn



Cinema4D + Vray – Besides 3D max the best 3D Modeling and Render Tool out there.

Keyshot – Less complex than Cinema or 3dMax, but you will still get amazing results.

Kerkythea – Free Rendering Plugin for SketchUp



Not all physical products require 3D modeling. If you decide to design T-Shirts or craft jewelry, you probably won’t need this section.

If you want to accelerate the process and don’t want to spent time on learning new software, consider the following:

A) Hire an industrial design student from the university in your town to create the 3d model for you. It’s cheaper than a professional service and you can sit down face to face to discuss the details.

B) Hire someone from Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr or 99Udesigns to get your products done.

Many times for simple products you only need technical drawings or photoshop renderings of your product to communicate with manufacturers. In this case you can hire a good graphic designers and don’t need to build a 3D model with photorealistic renderings.



3D Printing

Depending on the product, you can use 3D printing to build prototypes. To print you product you need to submit STL files that you create with your CAD software.

I found the following services very useful if you don’t want to buy your own 3D printer:


3D Hubs – A platform where you can choose from independent 3D Printer owners. Nice user experience and very transparent in terms of pricing.

Shapeways – You cannot only print your products but also sell them to the community. Loads of materials available!


If you want to learn 3D Printing : 3D Modeling for 3D Printing Tutorial for Beginners



What if you don’t want to 3D print and build the product yourself? Make use of the Makers Community in your local area. Some spaces are available across the world and you can pay a monthly fee to access all kind of machines. Checkout:





Finding a manufacturer

Now you need to make your product real. To create technical drawings you can use your CAD tool. Many have those features integrated to create 2D sheets. If not, use Illustrator or any vector tool. The downside of not using a CAD tool is it gets very cumbersome when you want to make changes such as changing measurements.

Scan for local manufacturers first. If you cant find any, look here:




Calculating Costs

This simple calculator has a limited product choice but it’s a good starting point to get a rough feeling for costs.

Product Cost Calculator

Start learning how to make a physical product from scratch


Now you have all the tools you need to get started.

I wrote an in-depth series of how you to design and build a physical product from scratch in order to sell online and make money on the side.

If you are interested in creating your own products, make sure you checkout this tutorial:

How To Make A Product To Sell Online