Neil Bettison

It’s time to answer the big question that has baffled Reddit users for years: Who will win the long-standing Blender vs. Maya battle? With the release of Blender 3.0 around the corner, it is time to reevaluate which two of the most prominent 3D applications have to offer. Maya, developed by Autodesk, and Blender, an open-source alternative by the Blender Foundation, have battled for years for the top 3D software spot. 

Whether you are a beginner to 3D modeling or have already become a 3D modeling master, you should think about what Maya and Blender each have to offer you. In this article, I’ll discuss the seven top things to consider as a 3D artist.

Let’s find the right software for your 3D design needs and help you decide on the right software for each project. I’ll evaluate Blender and Maya as a 3D artist, using my first impressions when I first started using Maya and Blender, and the pros and cons of each 3D modeling software option.

Here’s a preview of what I found:

CategoryWinner
ModelingBlender
RenderingBlender
AnimationMaya
VFXMaya
Usability and learning curveBlender
UpdatesMaya
Troubleshooting and supportBlender

1. Modeling  

People who use Maya are just as fast as those using Blender. Although Maya is the industry standard, the workflow is fast in both types of software. Whether you choose Blender or Maya depends on which type of software you prefer and know best. Don’t look at one video and make up your mind that one is quicker than the other. The truth is that each application is slower or faster than the other for certain tasks. This is not universal, however. It comes down to the user’s workflow and experience with each software. 

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There are some things about modeling in Maya that are better than in Blender. For instance, I find that Maya is much better for the shading and creating hard edges without needing to move up your smoothing option or giving it more smoothness. Another example could include filling in faces or edges. To fill in faces in Blender, you need to only press one button, and in Maya, you’d need to complete a series of moves.

3D design using popular 3D art software including Blender, Zbrush, and Substance Painter.

My take on a World Of Warcraft 3D model | Blender | Zbrush | Substance Painter

Someone asked me what my greatest strength as a Blender user is. I don’t think we each have strengths as Blender users. We all have strengths as 3D modelers, and it is up to us to choose the software that helps us stress those. My strength is focusing on all the little details. It’s important to get the details right — even the woodgrain in planks. As you learn new software, you get faster at learning other software since they generally have the same functions (for example, node systems).  

Winner: Blender. Because of its updates, Blender is continuously improving its features, making them more and more available at the tips of your fingers.

2. Rendering

Unlike Blender, Maya has a single rendering engine, Arnold. Its render engine supports interactive rendering from the interface and is fast and memory-efficient. It also includes a physically-based ray tracer, and it is scalable. 

One of the drawbacks of Arnold is that you have to pre-load anything that you want to render. This means that sometimes, your Maya window will freeze until computation finishes, and only then will it show you something. There are many ways of telling which is the fastest render engine when it comes to speed alone. There are different speeds when it comes to large or complex scenes. Volumetrics also play a part here, with some renderers being better at dealing with complex equations.

Blender is more efficient in this regard, and with Eevee, you can render 3D assets in real-time. Eevee gives you a visual image of your model loading in pieces through OpenGL. Unlike Arnold, Eevee focuses on speed. That makes Eevee the render engine of choice for evaluating how well your current progress matches up to your project aims.

I can give the best example in my “Creating a Modular Kitbash in Blender” course. There, you will create 65 medieval castle kitbash parts. By joining this course, you will become a Blender rendering master as we render the kitbash every time we finish a section to make sure everything is going together. You will also render out your scene in both Eevee and Cycles, helping you identify their differences.

Eevee is not only made for rendering high-quality final renders. It is also useful for rendering physically based rendering (PBR) materials. Because of its real-time rendering capabilities, Eevee can also render materials. This will boost your speed when working on details as part of your 3D model texturing progress. In Blender, setting up a material and then clicking the render button is much easier. Maya’s Arnold render engine leaves you wanting more, and previewing your materials for quick on-the-go changes is not an option there.

real-time Eevee render set up in Blender

Real-time rendering in Eevee

New Blender updates involve frequent changes and upgrades to Eevee, allowing you to become better and better at using it. I am always learning as far as rendering goes because things change all the time. Even though Eevee can be your go-to renderer, it is the hardest one to set up. 

Blender 3.0 brought with it another rendering engine, giving Blender users three different rendering engines for their 3D models. CyclesX sounds very promising, but I am not sure yet what new features it will have. You must keep in mind that it takes time to get good at new things. It could take you some time to answer the big Blender vs. Maya question. Like with gaming consoles, the better visual games get released nearer to the end of shelf life.

Winner: Blender. The flexibility of optimizing Blender’s render engines to the demands of each task, including but not limited to real-time rendering, brings it to the top. 

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3. Animation

From the start, I have always tried to animate my 3D models. I have an in-depth knowledge of how 3D animations and rigging setups work. I love creating animated characters, but my focus has always been to animate props. Although Blender includes animation tools, Maya is the go-to place for animation. After all, film studies use Maya for many top films. From “Toy Story” to “Avatar,” you can see the complexity of rigs. Maya inspired people to make more and more add-ons for faster pipelines and workflows. 

Maya, unlike Blender, offers users a great variety of tools to tune every movement. Maya also includes built-in rigs that you can apply to models. If you know Maya’s scripting languages, then you are in for a treat. You can use that knowledge to import rigging tools. So, Maya is more user-friendly for developing video games and VFX than Blender. Like Maya, Blender also has a good set of tools for rigging 3D character animation. You can also build your complex rigs with experience. 

screenshot illustrating how user friendly rigging in Blender is

Building an animation rig set up in Blender

One of Blender’s functionality perks that helps is its on-the-screen feedback when there is no change in an animation sequence. A dark area in the animation sequence means that nothing happens, and you can visually filter that out. Blender is one of the few free software packages that allows you to draw and create 2D animations in 3D space. That is an aspect of Blender you should look into if storyboarding is a part of your art.

Blender lacks many in-house add-ons because it is free. That could potentially impact willingness to produce functionalities that are not marketable. Although Blender is catching up to Maya, Maya is still better at animation because of its variety of tools available.

Winner: Maya. There are simply too many tools and animation add-ons available for Maya that do not allow Blender to compete for more complex animations. 

4. VFX 

Many 3D artists want to jump on visual effects (VFX) and complete simulations, like fire, but they need to know where to stand in the Blender vs. Maya debate. Blender has a good particle system to make high-quality VFX for either film or games. As you will see from my “Blender VFX Liquid Smoke & Fire” course, Blender is very good at simulating smoke, boiling liquids, and fire. 

Blender’s VFX tools allow you to simulate fire realistically, changing the way it looks depending on whether it is candlelight or a massive explosion. You can also use Blender to simulate a moving cloud of smoke which is another goal of this course. 

Maya and Blender each excel at simulating different kinds of things. For example, Maya is better at simulating objects like lava and concrete because of its ncloth simulation tool. Blender can simulate dust and blizzards well. Maya also includes Bifrost, allowing you to simulate liquids falling as dictated by gravity. 

My “Blender 2 .9 Design & Render a Stylized Water Scene” course also involves working on simulations to create a water effect. This course does not involve VFX per se, but I enjoyed the process. Its focus is teaching you how to create underwater god rays using a lightpath node setup utilizing sunlight and a water shader.

The open-source nature of Blender makes it challenging to use all the VFX plugins that are out there. For example, FumeFX, Phoenix FD, Krakatoa, and Thinking Particles are incompatible with Blender. This is because its GPL license makes the plugin source code available to other users. In other words, giving access to those plugins to Blender users threatens the plugin creators with intellectual theft. Since access to the software source code is impossible in Maya, plugins are compatible with the program, allowing you to take your VFX creations to the next level. 

It will take at least two years to become good at Blender, and I think the same is true if you are an aspiring VFX artist. Blender’s tracking tools are good enough to achieve that professional camera tracking effect you need for VFX shots, be it for game cinematics or film. I don’t think that Blender is best for all VFX. It is hard to use, and it could be more user-friendly. Nonetheless, with every new version of Blender, it has become easier and quicker all the same.

Winner: Maya. It is a tragic coincidence that the open-source nature of Blender that makes it so accessible for all 3D modelers is what disallows it from taking advantage of the VFX plug-ins that are available to Maya.

5. Usability and learning curve

To examine the usability of a 3D program and decide between Blender vs. Maya, ask yourself if two or more windows of the same software will crash your computer. Most computers can only handle a single Maya window, but Blender can handle more. In Blender, it is extremely quick to move between renders, material mode, Cycles and Eevee renders. I am comfortable using Blender. It has helped me grow my 3D modeling skills for seven years.

When I was at university for my Computer Games Arts degree, I decided who won the Blender vs. Maya battle for myself. I chose to stop using Maya and switch to Blender against advice. I spent approximately three years creating 3D models in Maya, but I continue learning from other artists and instructors who have chosen it as their tool for creating things. 

Blender: Learning Curve Overview
ProsCons
If you know the keyboard shortcuts, you establish a much faster workflow.First-time users often find Blender hotkeys hard to use because of their inconvenient key mappings.
You can emulate the Maya key mappings in your Blender setup.Blender tutorials using its traditional keyboard shortcuts could become difficult to follow after emulating the Maya key mappings in your Blender setup.
In Blender, everything is behind one menu, out in the open.Blender is highly-customizable, offering too many options to choose from for some users, including but not limited to UI modification. 
In Blender, something as simple as filling a hole is as easy as clicking two edges and then pressing F to fill the face in.You cannot closely emulate a AAA professional 3D modeling pipeline with Blender alone. Since Blender doesn’t specialize, you might need to also use other software for advanced projects.
Maya: Learning Curve Overview
ProsCons
Confusing interface for a new user, requiring them to overcome a steep learning curve.Many of Maya’s amazing tools are hidden behind an immense number of menus.They either do not get used because they are forgotten or are difficult to find for a beginner user.
Maya allows you to fine-tune your 3D modeling skill through a multitude of specialist tools.In Maya, something as simple as filling a hole is not straightforward for a beginner.
You can create 3D models using a more instinctual, layering approach instead of using modifiers.Fine-tuning your scene hierarchy can be challenging for new Maya users if you are not used to working in layers.
Maya’s sculpting capabilities using the Sculpt Geometry Tool allow users to try their hand at a new skill without using specialist software. Maya’s performance can slow down significantly when a user is sculpting polygons that have construction history. Being unaware of that could impact different users’ grasp of and immersion into the software. 

Winner: Blender. The open-source nature of Blender allows for unlimited access to more users than Maya, helping build community-led software tools based on user demands.

6. Updates

With every Blender update, things change. Tiny little things might also get added, and you might not be aware of them at first. All in all, it’s challenging to keep up with the frequent changes in Blender. Yet, once you have mastered the basics of 3D modeling, learning new things speeds up that workflow. Maya is different in that what it offers remains stable.

The way I keep up with the Blender updates is that I focus on the task at hand. Instead of relearning Blender every time there is a new update, I find out what I need to know to fulfill my current goal and to what degree the tools have changed or improved for that. That helps me compartmentalize my learning and improve as a 3D artist faced with ever-changing tools.

To help others, I created my “Blender 5 Quick Tips Version 1 Blender 2.8 – 2.9 Re-topology, Vertice Bevel & Camera Tutorial” just after the Blender 2.9 release. This video gives a brief overview of five different tips and tricks that a lot of 3D modelers and artists might not be aware of: 

Winner: Maya. Maya’s update schedule is a lot easier to follow and allows users to delve into its features with more than a few projects before changes are made. 

7. Troubleshooting and support

No matter which software you use, every day will involve troubleshooting of some kind — an entire game or film project or small parts of it. The only difference is that the further along you go, the easier the troubleshooting is because you are aware of more functions. Take one of the simpler mistakes I made when I first started using Blender as an example. I would send objects out and find that the meshes would be very dark or invisible. This happened because the high- and low-poly meshes had their normal maps the wrong way around. 

In both Blender and Maya, you won’t even be aware of certain functions until you come across a problem for the first time. For example, I could not get my shading to a satisfactory level, and my sharp edges looked lumpy. I couldn’t resolve the issue despite using Blender’s edge smooth tool. That is when I realized that I needed to clear custom split normal data — a little-known Blender option.

My difficulty in finding solutions to issues in Blender is one of the reasons I began my YouTube channel — to offer free to-the-point tutorials to 3D modelers that teach you about common pitfalls. Software usability issues remind me of my recent tutorial about beveling, “Blender Bevel Modifier Not Working | How Do I Fix It?” I show that Blender finds it difficult to bevel edges with triangulated objects. As explained in the free tutorial, all you need to do is turn off the clamp and troubleshoot the geometry. You might also need to bevel the model manually. 

The good thing about Blender is that there are so many tutorials out there. Blender is a bit like Unity and Unreal Engine guides. I always find that the Unreal Engine guides are more comprehensive than the Unity ones.

In Maya, I always find the same problem; there are a lot of tutorials out there, but nowhere near as many as Blender — probably because Blender is open-source software. That makes it more difficult to solve 3D modeling issues, even the simpler ones, such as filling holes.

Winner: Blender. There are a myriad of free troubleshooting videos for Blender online because more 3D modellers can access it, since it’s free. It is also often taught by peers who have gone through the same experience as you. 

The Final Round: Blender vs. Maya

When to use BlenderWhen to use Maya
Starting to 3D model as a beginnerMaking animation for professional showreels
Exploring the opportunities in modeling for 3D printingGetting accustomed to the software gaming studios use

To sum everything up, the question of choosing Blender vs. Maya requires a personalized and project-by-project answer. Blender is great for new users. Many hobbyists use Blender, and it is one of the first pieces of software they will try because it is free. It is also good because it has an easier learning curve. I sometimes feel that the frequency of updates in Blender sheds light on the motivation behind those who build it — they are trying to do everything. I don’t think that any piece of software can do everything. Maya is a lot more stable, and sometimes, I wish that Blender would have a main update only once a year or every two years as well. 
The main competitor to Blender is Maya, but Cinema 4D is also a contender. Cinema 4D and Blender go head-to-head on their texturing capabilities. Should you be interested in finding out more about Cinema 4D vs. Blender, I know just the place for you to start.

Page Last Updated: February 2022