The Best Way To Learn 3DS Max

Most people wanting to learn 3DS Max will fall into one of two categories. They're either a seasoned Maya user starting a job that requires Max. Or, they're just starting out and keen to demonstrate their expertise to potential employers. Either way, the software remains hugely popular within the industry, which raises the question, what's the best way to learn 3DS Max?

Start by learning the fundamentals of volumetric drawing. Install a free trial version of 3DS Max and take an online course with an experienced instructor. Try and replicate free video tutorials from websites like 3DTotal.com. Finally, use AutoDesk's forums to ask questions and find answers.

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In the next few paragraphs, we'll take a closer look at each step. We'll go through some of the best free tutorials and online resources, and recommend one or two courses that provide a more structured learning path.

If you are already working in the graphic design space and have access to 3DS Max, you may want to skip ahead to Structured Learning Programs in 3DS Max.

As with studying any subject, the information provided in a course is only as credible as the person teaching it. Many people purport to be knowledgeable. If you find a course online that interests you, always take a moment to review the credentials of the tutor, especially if it costs money. All the courses in this article are taught by instructors who are top of their field.

Installing The Free Trial


You can download a free 30-day trial of the software from here. Note that 3DS Max is only available for Microsoft Windows; there is no Mac version. Also, be aware that the free trial begins as soon as you first open the product, so hold off installing it until you're ready to dedicate the time. If you run over the trial period, you can pay on a month-to-month basis. However, it's not cheap, and the subscription is set to auto-renew, so remember to cancel the subscription to avoid any unwanted charges.

If you are a student, you might be eligible for a free copy of the software, purely for learning purposes, which you ​can download here. The license key is pre-entered and is valid for 3 years. Just bear in mind, you should not use the educational license for commercial work.  

Structured Learning vs Follow Along Tutorials


A quick google for 3DS Max tutorials will provide a plethora of useful videos and sites that will teach you how to create amazing models and landscapes. Following along and copying can be a great way to learn. But, if you haven't had any formal education in 3D or graphic design, then following random videos might not be the best way to start out.

Many of these random tutorials often require a level of expertise that takes time to acquire. It's the old adage - don't run before you can walk. With this in mind, the next section is dedicated to those entirely new to the game, with zero experience. If this isn't you, feel free to skip ahead.

Foundation Courses in Art and Graphic Design


For complete newbies, I highly recommend taking a foundation design course. The good news is that everything you need is available online and isn't prohibitively expensive.

I don't consider Graphic Design and 3D Design to be one of those careers that demand a formal degree. Many 3D artists are self-taught. Your show-reel will demonstrate your ability to future employers better than any piece of paper. There are, however, certain concepts and a vocabulary that all artists and graphic designers should know.

Art & Science of Drawing - Form & Space

If you do nothing else, I recommend working through this mini-course on Form & Space. The classes are taken from a larger set of courses called the Art & Science of Drawing by Brent Eviston. 

In this mini course, you learn the art of volumetric drawings, or drawing in 3D. By the end, you'll understand how to draw cylinders, cubes and spheres - the three building blocks of more complex forms. You'll also appreciate concepts such as perspective, light and shade, which are crucial to creating the illusion of 3D.

Form & Space is available on the Udemy platform and is self-paced. It's not free, but Udemy often heavily discount their courses, so it's rare you need to pay full price.

Brent Eviston, the instructor, has several courses relating to 3D drawing on the Udemy website. It's well-worth checking out all of them.

Level - Introductory

Cost - Check the website

Duration - Self Paced


California Institute of Arts - Graphic Design

The other two courses I recommend are provided by the California Institute of Arts. The first - Graphic Design Specialization - is hosted on the Coursera learning platform. It is a collection of 5 separate classes. Not all the lessons may be relevant, depending on which area of 3D design you want to specialise in. Start with the Fundamentals of Graphic Design and Introduction to Image Making. If you decide to complete the whole course and the assignments, you will receive a certificate.

In the course, you will learn the principles of composition, scale, colour, light, shade and texture. The course is free for the first 7 days and $49 USD a month after that. You are required to enter credit card details upfront. However, if money is a concern, you can whizz through the classes that interest you within 7 days and cancel your subscription before being charged. You'll miss out on the certificate, but you'll have the knowledge. The course is self-paced, so you can watch the tutorials at your convenience.

Level - Introductory

Cost - Free on a 7 day trial (requires CC details)

Duration - Self Paced


California Institute of Arts - Game Design

The other course offered by the California Institute of Arts is 'Game Design: Art and Concepts Specialisation'. Focusing on game design, you'll learn the fundamentals of story-telling and narrative, principles behind designing 'worlds' and 'characters' and key concepts that underpin game design. Again, the course is free on a 7-day trial, $49 USD a month thereafter, and requires credit card details upfront.

Level - Introductory

Cost - Free on a 7 day trial (requires CC details)

Duration - Self Paced



With these courses under your belt, you'll have the confidence to apply your new-found knowledge to your designs. You're in a much stronger position than someone who just learnt to use the software.


Structured Learning Programs in 3DS Max

Once you have the theory down pat, it's time to get practical. I recommend taking a structured course in 3DS Max taught by a professional 3DS Max user.

The 3DS Max "Area" mini-site on the AutoDesk website has tutorials, troubleshooting guides and the 3DS Max forum. It also has the 3DS Max Learning Center located under the 'Help Guides' section. It provides a structured path to learning the Max platform and is completely free. The guide is designed for 3DS Max 2016, but the principles are the same for current releases of the software.


3DS Max Mastery in 7 Hrs: Project Based Intro for Beginners

3DS Max Mastery in 7 Hrs is a comprehensive introduction to 3DS Max and 3D graphic design by  Adam Zollinger. It explains concepts that all 3D artists should know and uses 3DS Max to demonstrate their application. Win-win.

The course, available on the Udemy platform, includes 7.5 hours of video tutorials, during which you'll work through 3 different projects in 3DS Max. The projects are designed to accommodate fields of 3D design, whether it be game design, architectural design or animation and VFX. All the files used by the instructor are available to download.

You'll receive a certificate upon completion and coupons for Adam's other excellent courses. To date, nearly 5000 students have taken the course, and it has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5. The course is not free but is regularly discounted.

Level - Introductory

Cost - Udemy courses are often heavily discounted. If a course you're interested in is not on sale, it likely will be in the future. 

Duration - Self Paced


Becoming Proficient

If you've followed the steps outlined so far, you're well on your way to mastering 3DS Max. At this point, you can confidently tackle random projects and tutorials that we spoke about earlier.

I recommend going back to AutoDesk's 3DS Max mini-site, where there is a multitude of video tutorials. The same videos are available on AutoDesk's 3DS Max Learning YouTube channel, where they are categorised into playlists. Here is the first of 25 videos in the Getting Started With 3DS Max playlist

If you manage to exhaust all the learning materials on the AutoDesk website, there are plenty other websites worth trying out. My favourite is 3Dtotal.com.

3Dtotal.com is a fantastic resource for 3D graphic design in general. They have a dedicated page for 3DS Max tutorial videos suitable for all levels of expertise. The tutorials are generally broken up into several parts. My only gripe is that it's not always easy to find the first video in a series but, hey, it's free! All videos are tagged, so clicking on a tag will usually direct you to the other videos in a series.

Aside from the tutorials, you can also upload your own work and have it critiqued by the staff at 3Dtotal and fellow artists. Each month the best artwork will receive a prize. They have an online shop where they sell design books in hard and soft-copy, and anatomical models, among other things. But their catalogue of detailed free tutorials is where this site excels. You can view them here.


3ds Max + V-Ray: 3ds Max PRO in 6 hrs

This is another course on the Udemy platform offered by 3D Artist Adam Zollinger. Adam specialises in Architectural Visualisation (Arch Viz) but what you learn in this course can be applied to various fields of 3D design.

The course introduces the use of plug-ins, in the form of V-Ray, to 3DS Max. V-Ray is a rendering engine used to create light effects and materials. As you become more proficient, you will learn to use various plug-ins to enhance your designs. Although the course is a few years old, Adam continues to add more content using the latest versions of 3DS Max and V-Ray. And with Udemy you get lifetime access to the course. You won't pay any extra to receive the updated content.

Level - Introductory

Cost - Udemy courses are often heavily discounted. If a course you're interested in is not on sale, it likely will be in the future. 

Duration - Self Paced


Other Ways To Learn & Things To Be Aware Of

It's no exaggeration to say your expertise will grow exponentially by working for a company with other 3DS Max designers. This is the quickest and easiest path to mastering the application. If that's not possible, take advantage of forums to ask questions. AutoDesk has one specifically for 3DS Max.

For those just starting out, you should be aware that 3DS Max is only one of several applications you'll need to be familiar with. You should also look to use and learn apps such as Adobe Photoshop, among others.

As touched on earlier, don't be afraid to copy, it's a great way to learn. Always attribute the original author and never palm something off as your own that isn't.

Finally, more than anything else, commitment and consistency over time will help you to learn anything. I hope this article has been helpful and I wish you the best of luck! If you know of any other great resources or you have anything to add, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!