Dental 3D: commercial, pay-as-you-go, free and low-cost software. Let’s find out the strengths and weaknesses

Recent developments in 3D technology in the biomedical sector are changing the production processes of some specific sectors such as dentistry and dental technology.

Doctors are forced to switch from the silicone impression to the intraoral scanner. Dental technicians are forced to switch from manual labor to 3D printing. It is an irreversible process from which one cannot “escape” as we have repeatedly reiterated on these pages.

However, the diffusion of 3D technologies is still fragmented and not transversal: a very high number of dental offices and dental laboratories have not yet adopted these technologies. The main motivation is the learning curve which, for some, seems to be too slow and the high commitment that is necessary to change one’s well-established working method.

Another important reason that determines the delay in the adoption of certain technologies, however, concerns the costs of software and tools to be used such as scanners and 3D printers.

In this article we will deal with a general analysis of the software that have a fundamental role also with regard to the definition of the expenses to be faced in order to go digital 3D.

On the market there are commercial software, consumer, low-cost and free software, all more or less suitable for use in the field of dental 3D. Let us try to evaluate them in general terms one by one. To avoid free advertising I will not mention the names of commercial software (on which by the way I am not even very prepared).

The red indicate the defects and the green indicate the merits of the various types of software.

Commercial Software

They are software that are created specifically to be used exclusively in the dental sector and, for this reason, sometimes have a considerable cost and, normally, provide for the payment of annual fees and / or fees for periodic updates.

They are generally very expensive software with prices ranging from € 2500 to € 5000 only for basic packages to which extra modules must be added that extend the functionality of the software base.

On the other hand, however, they are complete software, easy to use, immediate that always guarantee an adequate result. They generally have a very fast learning curve and allow you to work even without in-depth training.

All commercial software usually contains the same features found in low-cost or free software and condense them into a single platform that can be easily used by the technician or doctor. It is very difficult for commercial software to find particular and innovative functions that cannot be replicated (with greater operational difficulty) in free or low-cost 3D software.

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Consumer Software

These are software that can be downloaded and used for free but which require the payment of a fee when saving the 3D .stl file of the project.

The policy of these software is to favor its use without initial investments (in fact the software is completely free) and to allow the doctor to pay only and exclusively for the service he uses.

These programs have no upgrade costs and do not require the purchase of additional paid modules. Basically, the programs are provided in complete form and each update and / or module is always free of charge.

The companies that produce these software (very few in reality) have managed to intercept a very widespread need which is to avoid heavy investments at the beginning of a transition to digital which is, in itself, full of uncertainties, including economic ones.

The flaws of these software mainly lie in the quality of support compared to paid software. You will not find a call center that answers your problems and assistance will be provided via email or through dedicated facebook groups.

Consumption software is divided into two categories:

1) Consumer software that ask the user to pay a fee for exporting the 3D .stl files.

2) Consumer software which instead asks the user to pay a fee to be able to open the original stl file (eg an intraoral scan) within the program and then allow unlimited and free exports.

BlueSkyPlan, consumable 3D software for guided surgery (surgical templates) and for orthodontics (invisible aligners) of which I am an authorized trainer in Italy, belongs to category 1: this software in fact requires the user to pay around € 15 for export the 3D .stl file of the surgical guide you have designed. If, on the other hand, you do not want to export the surgical guide, you can use the software for free and indefinitely without paying anything.

I take this opportunity to tell you that if you want to learn how to use this software in a complete and advanced way, you can follow one of my online courses .

BlueSkyPlan also offers the basic export of 2 free cases (which become 8 for those who follow one of my courses).

Currently, in my opinion, this is the best CE certified surgical planning software in the world and I reiterate that I have no agreement with the BlueSkyBio company therefore I do not earn anything in advertising this program.

However, I am a licensed trainer of the software and therefore I speak well of it because I appreciate the complete functions of this program, I appreciate the programming effort behind it and the fact that it allows everyone to do guided surgery without large upfront investments.

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DDS Ortho is instead a consumable 3D software for orthodontic planning and for the production of templates for indirect bonding that belongs to category 2: this software in fact requires the user to send the stl file of the intraoral scan to the company that produces the program. which converts the file into a proprietary file and sends it back to the user who can open it with dds ortho. This operation costs around € 15.

Free Software

This category includes software that can be downloaded for free and does not require the payment of any fee to be used or to save the projects created.

They are freely downloadable without limitations in the number of licenses or seats that can be used.

They have a fairly fast learning curve even if, at times, they can be a bit difficult at first due to graphical interfaces that are not really user friendly.

Some of these software allow you to create the vast majority of dental applications required for certain types of 3D processing (with a little effort and patience to learn). The main flaw is the discontinuity in the updates that the manufacturer makes on these software.

Those that can be used in the dental sector are very few but the most appreciated of all is undoubtedly MeshMixer.

MeshMixer is the most popular free 3D modeling software in the world for its simplicity and immediacy. It is primarily oriented towards dental technology and includes an overwhelming majority of the functions normally found in very expensive commercial 3D software used in the dental industry.

The main difference between free 3D software and commercial ones in the dental and dental technician sector lies in the simplicity in performing some operations: commercial software normally allows you to perform operations in a very simple and fast way for the user, often through step by step guided procedures.

Free software, on the other hand, sometimes allows you to obtain the exact same results but with a higher number of steps and with a slightly higher complexity, as they do not require the use of wizards.

Blender : is a numerical 3D modeling program that works through the use of 3D meshes. It is a complete software, probably the best completely free 3D modeling software. On the other hand, however , it is very difficult to use and has a very high learning curve: it is necessary to take at least one course to start using the program.

The graphic interface of the program is not very intuitive and the commands are difficult to interpret. The latest version (still in Beta phase) is much improved and seems to be much more “user-friendly” than the previous ones. I will keep you updated because Blender could become a valuable resource for those involved in dental 3D.

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Software Low Cost

In this category I include all 3D software that cost less than € 1000 and that can be used successfully in the dental field.

These are professional software generally used in mechanical engineering but which have potentially very interesting uses also in the dental sector.

They have the advantage of allowing unlimited 3D modeling: anything you want to model with some of these programs can certainly be done. This type of software (together with the free ones) break down the limits of simplified step-by-step procedures which are sometimes useful but other times they are a bit limiting.

The defect of low-cost software that is not created specifically to be used in the dental sector is that it requires a learning period that can vary from 1 week to 1 month depending on the commitment and interest of the user. They are not difficult software to use but neither are they simplified software like dental commercial software.

is certainly among those that I think are most suitable for dental Rhinoceros.

Rhinoceros is a mathematical modeling software which, unlike MeshMixer and Blender, does not base its work on meshes but on so-called parametric surfaces . Parametric surfaces are 3D surfaces constructed from curves drawn in space. Normally commercial 3D software have both the functions of drawing curves and meshes. In the free (MeshMixer) and low-cost (Rhinoceros) software these two functions are instead separate. With Rhinoceros it is possible to model and produce all models that require precision and detail (abutments, implants, bridges and other similar applications).

The cost of the full license of Rhinoceros (without annual fees, without updating fees) is approximately € 900.


There are basically two categories of dental professionals:

1. those who do not want nor time to devote themselves to learning more than a 3D software and therefore immediately prefer to purchase a commercial software even paying several thousand euros;

2. those who prefer to invest less economically and more in learning consumer software, free and low-cost with which (if used appropriately) they will be able to produce most of what they could produce with commercial software.

There is no better choice than the other: it depends on one’s predisposition to use IT products, on one’s passion for digital 3D, on the curiosity to know “alternative” ways to obtain the same result.

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