Make sure you get the right 3ds Max

At first glance, it may look like the only difference between 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design is the colour scheme. But dig deeper under the skin of the modelling, animation and rendering software, and you’ll find the feature sets differ more than cosmetically. Both suites share the same code base but are tailored for users in different industries, so it’s important to know which product is the right one for the work you’re doing.

Simply put, 3ds Max Design is for architects, designers and visualisation specialists, and 3ds Max is for the games, film and TV industries. So you can see which features you’ll need to help you get the most out of your workflow, I’ve picked out the major differences between the two.


3ds Max Design, unlike 3ds Max, includes Autodesk’s Exposure technology for simulating and analysing sun, sky and artificial lighting. This is very useful for architectural design, as the data is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified for green building design.

Software Development Kit

Another main area where 3ds Max Design differs is that it doesn’t include the Software Development Kit (SDK) that you get in 3ds Max. The SDK (pictured below) allows developers to create their own plug-ins, extending the powerful toolset on offer and allowing more flexibility in your workflow.

3ds _max _2012_sdk _1400x 846

Interface and settings

They may look similar, but 3ds Max Design is subtly optimised for visualisation while the user interface and application defaults in 3ds Max are more suited to entertainment pipelines. Icons in 3ds Max Design are also more similar to Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Revit architecture solutions, so can be more easily recognised by AEC users.


All the tutorials, sample files and documentation are customised to the relevant industries, so whether you work in visualisation or entertainment, there’s a wealth of content and helpful resources to draw on.

To sum up – if you work primarily in the architecture, civil engineering or manufacturing sectors, and don’t need to create your own plug-ins, choose 3ds Max Design. With all the features of 3ds Max (except for the SDK), it also includes the Exposure lighting analysis tool which is handy for LEED 8.1 certification. You can of course install both 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design on the same machine if your work requires you to use both, and a single binary ensures there’s full file compatibility, but you’ll need a unique serial number and product key to activate each.

To find out more about Autodesk 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design, get in touch with me and the team on 03332 409 306 or email You can also keep up with the latest CAD news by following @Jigsaw_CAD on Twitter and ‘Like’-ing our Facebook page.

Call us: 03332 409 306

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