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Why isn't formz more popular?


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I've been a formz user for many years, but I don't use it very intensively.  I'm an EE, and I've been using it primarily to make component models for my 3D circuit boards.  I also use it for home and hobby projects now and then.  I don't have much experience with other 3D CAD programs -- I originally bought formz because it didn't cost multi-thousands of dollars, it seemed capable, and it had the STEP export I needed.

The past few weeks, though, I've been doing a pretty sophisticated mechanical design with it, dusting off my skills and using many more of its features.  I've always liked formz, and I'm liking it more and more now.  But when I look into the market formz is a tiny piece of the overall mechanical CAD market, a small fraction of 1%, in spite of being around for decades.

Why is this?  Why should such a cool, extremely capable, and affordable CAD system be relegated to such a tiny piece of the market?

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Yeah, I ask myself that question a lot, too.

I myself have been using this software since 1995. I got to know it during my studies.

And that's probably where the problem lies:

In the early years, they offered discounted license sales.

We students were able to purchase the software relatively easily and affordably - and thus remained loyal to it.

Later this offer was stopped (at least in Switzerland).

The younger generation switched over to Rhino.


Other reasons in my opinion:

The UI catastrophe that came with version 7.

Unfortunately, the UI will not take itself to the next level with v9 either.

Also the communication / PR is unfortunately very neglected.

Hardly any news about upcoming updates, no tutorial channels on Youtube...

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The independent thinker and distinguished modeler very often walks a separate path from "Consensus reality".  We have a chance of solving our needs on these forums or convincing other members and subsequently the developers of what are really better tools, or at the least a much better chance than with bigger name apps.

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Well, I certainly like to consider myself an independent thinker and a distinguished modeler.  😁  But don't you think more than 0.1% of the market would consider themselves similarly?  Formz is also a perfectly fine tool for those who are not so independent and distinguished.  It's priced right and very capable.  I just don't get why it is so widely ignored, and has been for so long.  What am I missing?

Edited by CADulator
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If you want more people to use this program the company needs to get it taught in schools.  Right now it is not in any meaningful way.  Part of the problem is what happened when Chris Yessios decided to let the program die several years ago and also when the main programmer Paul Helm  actually died.   If it weren't for a single  programmer that wanted to keep it alive it would have ended a while back.  Now it is a challenge to both keep it going and create new and exciting buzz about its capabilities and its future.  The introduction of V-ray was an important first step but it does feel that it might be too little too late.  I personally am doing everything I can to promote Form.z through the images I submit to the website along with tagging it everywhere I can.  All of us can help in that regard.  

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Andrew, they used to be very active in this area, with their "Joint Study Program". I have in front of me a copy of "Partnerships in Learning 5" which runs to 168 glossy pages plus CD, showcasing the wonderful work of many-many students in various categories such as architectural design, urban and landscape design, to name just two. The inside front cover indexes over 100 participating schools/ universities. No more!

As I wrote in one of my other recent posts, there also used to be a much more open feel, almost a buzz, about form.Z and it's future. This is also gone, and that's a real shame! Although there is still great expectation for every new version, disillusionment soon follows.

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Recently a new ArchViz magazine was released and it solely involves the use of 3D Studio Max. I never understood how anybody could rely on 3DS Max solely for ArchViz. For what it does I prefer Lightwave 3D. The latter actually has a special 3rd Party plug-in that does parametric modelling. It's called LWCAD. Except for the awesome roofing tools, (terracotta roofs, please) Form Z is better focused on doing the same things. With this latest upgrade loyal Form Z users can pay the same amount as LWCAD. If I wanted more animations I'd still end up exporting the model to another software but that does better than 3DS Max. If you're just compositing the model for film and video you'll end up using software like Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve. They have plugins that will do the effects better than 3DS Max. 

I think Autodessys needs to prove how Form Z can be incorporated into different workflows. I'm interested in seeing how well it can export into Unreal Engine for presentations. I also plan to see how well it can export models into Lightwave but I'm waiting for the latest developments. As users of Maxwell Render may have read, future updates will include integration with Substance Painter.  Form Z > Unreal Engine + Substance Painter. Or Form Z > Maxwell Render + Substance Painter. Those are promising options. 

It's better to promote Form Z for what it does best than being everything for everyone. I believe Form Z was used for conceptual artists, like the late Syd Mead. But whether artists are designing the future or something historical, Form Z needs to be visible in doing it well. 

Edited by BernieB
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Paul was a valuable member of our team as our tech support lead for many years and we miss him professionally and personally. Paul was enthusiastic and always someone who would be the champion of the end user to our team. However, he was never a developer of form•Z. False rumors like the lead programmer is dead simply do not help our situation. form•Z was created by Chis Yessios and David Kropp. Chris has retired but is still a valued advisor. David continues as president and leads the development team (not the rumored sole developer). 

The Joint Study Program still exists and between this program, the form•Z student edition and form•Z free there is a solid install base in schools (but it could always be better). We stopped the Partnerships in learning publication as it became increasingly difficult publish, as a younger generation of faculty became less interested in providing the student feedback that made the publication interesting. In general schools no longer teach software leaving the student to pick their own solution often without much guidance. We give the software to students and faculty for free (in Switzerland as well), yet others charge (some significantly).

We are not sure where these market share numbers come from, but form•Z is used at a lot more than 930 companies, this number is at least an order of magnitude off.

Are we a small team at the moment? Yes. But we challenge you to find another group that is as dedicated and believe in what they do. Do we make mistakes, sure, but we will always try to address the issues as fast as possible. Are we great are marketing? No. Andrew has provided some stunning images and kindly allowed us to use them in promotional material. We need to get better at marketing and ideas are always welcome.  

Thank you for everyone’s feedback, it will only make us better and we believe that the best is yet to come.



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20 hours ago, Andrew West said:

"...Part of the problem is what happened when Chris Yessios decided to let the program die several years ago and also when the main programmer Paul Helm  actually died.   If it weren't for a single  programmer that wanted to keep it alive it would have ended a while back..."

Andrew, if you know these to be factual, please substantiate them, otherwise, please, lets do our best to keep to the facts. Your description is contrary to the actual course of past events as I understand them (and Support describes them above). If you are correct, I apologize in advance.


Gary Helfand

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I'd rather look at it this way:

How can we make formZ more popular? 

Please share your ideas so that perhaps we can come up with a collective idea or two that may make a positive impact.  Sharing renderings is a great start, but it doesn't really highlight why so many of us prefer formZ, which for many is the simple yet powerful and flexible Modeling!

  • In addition to providing free formZ software to students (give them 1 year out of school for free too), we need faculty on board who can support and teach formZ hands on.  That means getting more faculty trained and fluent in the power and flexibility of formZ.  I propose a yearly training conference at each school. It should be free for faculty and students to attend.  We can use their computer labs with formZ installed, or simply send out the install the week before to all that have registered so they can bring a laptop with it installed.  Maybe even a couple of formZ champions (marketing term) experts can travel to these schools and help to instruct and answer questions while editing a live, relevant, project for the particular school.  These are either Autodessys staff or professionals that could be paid for the trip.  Showcasing the workflow and modeling is an important step to wider adoption.  The final image results are inspiring, but they are in so many other platforms as well.  So we need to highlight what differentiates formZ from the other 3D packages.
  • I also propose a formZ Extension Store.  Similar to the Extensions people buy for other software packages like SketchUp.  This would open up formZ to further development from other software developers using the formZ SDK.  I suspect that some existing extensions for other software can easily be adapted to formZ, making it easier for developers to get a wider audience for their extensions and make more money.  This would add to the formZ development team without actually adding staff.  I do love how powerful formZ is out of the box, but for some looking for more, like BIM for example, a paid extension could get you there like it does for other 3D software packages.



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I believe as a small user that many of the FormZ users are individuals or small companies. My guess is many that dabble in the 3d realm search for free software like Blender. Schools tend to push Autodesk products who have aggressive advertising. Very large machine shops and product design shops go for integrated packages like PTE and Solidworks. Ideally maybe make the Free FormZ version a little more robust and start targeting the small individuals that often have 3d printers. Alternatively maybe develop a 3d printer application that can do model repair and slicing for many of the popular desktop printers might get some good market recognition.


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Form Z and the team who makes it, are simply amazing !

It is hard to even start to describe how amazing Form Z is.

I have never seen a company who puts so much attention to customer support and actually address each and every issue users raise.

I have never seen a company who actually answers the phone, allows you to converse with an actual tech/sales team live member, and spend the time with persistence and dedication to assist you with anything you can think of. Paul BTW.. helped me personally with tech issues on many occasions. 

I have been using FormZ since my architecture school days on 1996 and up until this day. Back then it was offered as a full semester course, thought by one of the studio instructors.

I got hooked right away and never found a better tool to portray and communicate my vision as an architect, to my clients and to the world.

I think you guys at ADS are doing an unparalleled job in providing us one of the most sustainable, capable, smart, logical and intuitive 3d tool. And for that I am grateful !!!

FormZ is an important integrated key element in my design process and thanks to its amazing openGL visual capabilities, also in our presentation proficiencies. And in many ways shaped my approach to 3d modeling. It has become part of the language we are using in the studio.

I wish there was really something we can do to help distribute this magnificent tool to the rest of the world. I am ready to assist in any way I can. I feel we owe it to ADS team.

ADS Thank you for continuing developing FormZ. I hope it will linger for many more years.

Ariel Franco – Architect


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Well said, @ariel!  Paul and the forum archives have been immensely helpful to me too.  Like I said at the beginning of this thread, I think formz is a terrific CAD system and highly under-appreciated.  I'd like to hear from ADS what we users might be able to do, and maybe what their plans are to spread the word more effectively.

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One of the reasons I chose form.Z was the consistent rave reviews it used to receive when compared to other software. I do not see those anymore.

How about some head to head videos on YouTube, for example, in addition to the current tutorials, that will drive home its strengths and benefits?

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I love FormZ!!!  I'm very impressed with the v9 release.  Yes, less "sexy" with more under the hood improvements, but so many were so necessary.

I was first taught it in the early 90's in school.  I would love to help promote the program as I want to see it succeed.  I haven't found another program like it.  I explain it to other architects as a love child between SketchUp and Rhino.  Speed of SketchUp + power of Rhino.   (minus Grasshopper, which would be great to see addressed)

Some ideas:

Updated YouTube channel would be great.  More short tutorials on how to use each tool. More tutorials on how to produce a specific thing or rendering look.  Perhaps guest vlogs with real Z users illustrating how they use the software.

An Instagram channel.  

An improved showcase on the website.  Maybe a showreel video each year.  

All efforts should be targeted at the target users of the program.  The more specifically targeted the better.

I now teach architecture at the University of Colorado.  Happy to help implement there if I can in some way.  SketchUp, Rhino, AutoCAD (hard to believe anyone still teaches this), and REVIT dominate.  I don't have any input into the software options students use, but if there is a way to get a foothold there I would do it.  Perhaps if someone from Autodessys came out for a free training for students I could help facilitate that.  It may be hard to convince the faculty given Z's small market share currently, but maybe they just don't know how great it is.  Most of the faculty still think of it as a program from the 1990's and can't believe I still use it.  sadly.

This year I finally have my work in order to start producing some great renderings and animation!  

The more we can produce as users the more Z has to work with.  Hopefully I can start pulling my weight.




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To all

I apologize if I made a wrong assumption about Paul and Chris.  I was told not long ago that "the main developer was willing to let this program die but another developer decided to step in to keep it alive".  That was obviously David stepping in.  Over the years Paul was an invaluable help to me in both technical know how and guidance on how to improve the program.  I falsely assumed that he was also a main developer.  His knowledge of the program was unmatched by anyone I encountered.  After he was gone things got real quiet for quite a while which was unfortunate and led to a lot of assumptions.  

Moving forward with suggestions on how to improve Form.z I have a general question for everyone.  One thing that makes programs like 3DS stand out to me are the plethora of third party plugins available that can be integrated directly into the interface.  Plants (x-frog) Environments (like Vue) Smoke, fire, particle systems, Rendering engines, etc.  I don't know how one would even go about convincing third parties to expand their offering to include Form.z but it is worth discussing here.  I also can't help but wonder if Autodesk has any legal restrictions on these third party plugins that make it exclusive to their platform.  Given how aggressive they can be it wouldn't surprise me a bit.   It is also worth noting that many of the features in Max were actually introduced as plugins before they were totally integrated into the main program.  This is actually one of their great short comings as the program certainly feels like a collection of plugins.  

Here are a few  that I would love to see in the future in my perfect program:

Any plant generator along with an environment generation tool similar to Vue x-stream

A cloth generator similar to the one in Max

A gravity tool that allows one to drop an object onto any surface below.

A  tool for creating UVW maps directly

Integration into Unreal or Keyshot that maintains all texture maps properly

A tool similar to Turbo Smooth in Max that can smooth out any geometry and optimize it.  It would also need a Pro Optimizer tool for reducing geometry interactively by the number of points

A tool to "paint" texture maps directly onto geometry in selective areas.  

A tool for sculpting meshes with a touch sensitive brush (similar to Vue and Z-brush).  We had something somewhat similar in 6.7 where we could push and pull meshes a bit more interactively.  

And the list goes on and on but those are the ones that I use outside of Z most regularly.  

Open to suggestions


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Understood!  Paul was essentially the face of ADS to many of us.  It was explained to me that the forum was Paul's "Baby".  The only reason I knew who the lead developers and Chris Y. were, is that I went on location to take a programming class when the SDK was first introduced in v5.x

That being said, yes Paul knew his stuff.


Great ideas!  Not sure if they all could be implemented as the SDK sits now. Or if it would need additional features added to it so that they could be accomplished.  Regardless, I too think that the SDK is the ticket.  ADS can then focus on the the program as a platform and the third party devs can build tools.   Now with scripting back (soon) in the mix, we users can add the specifics that we need that ADS and other developers may not feel the need to tackle.  I am convinced Python can do a lot in this regard.  Yes, something like Grasshopper would be outstanding.

There may be a little overlap of some of your list and some planned projects of mine.  But, not knowing the full extent of the SDK, can't say if I will be able to pull them off or not.

I have been digging as best I can without the documentation, and am currently creating my first tool (ok, utility: as I don't see any examples that are for anything other than utility scripts)  This is a new script, not one of my old ones and it is about 90% done. All that from a couple of evenings this weekend.    There are a couple of things I need to figure out though, that the examples don't cover...  most of the time spent on it was me rattling around the code blindly to see why something wasn't working.  As right now, when a fZ encounters a script with an error, it just quits executing the script.  No indication of what, why or where.   Too, there doesn't appear to be any way of outputting readable values (other than resulting geometry), or non that are obvious to me.  Lastly, no debugging.     I do get tripped some on the differences between python 2.7 and 3.x. As I am only familiar with 3.x  but so far, nothing too damning.

For me, the end of the month can't be soon enough. ;)         Thousand questions...



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Honestly I have a hard time seriously recommending formZ to other designers.  Yes I am very fast in creating models but find a seasoned 3DS/C4D/Sketchup/Rhino user and they could likely build the same model within a comparable time frame. 

Unfortunately speed isn't the only thing that matters.  3DS and C4D might lack a level of precision that formZ inherently has, but there's a level of parametric modeling that formZ doesn't have i.e. live booleans.  Couple this with NUMEROUS 3rd party plugins and rendering engines and you have a hard time trying to pry a visual artist from those programs.  Blender and Modo can be tossed in this mix too. 

C4D also has one of the cleanest interfaces in the business, especially considering the scale of the program.  Blender and Modo both have VERY nice interfaces that are modern and sleek.  3DS is a little behind in this category but they have the backing of Autodesk so it plays well with everything else that is popular from Autodesk (Revit, Maya, Inventor...).

Sketchup is extremely basic and intuitive right out of the box, which is very attractive, but the program has the ability to grow with the user because of the extension warehouse.  Don't want to manually fillet that edge?  Well there's a plugin for that.  It was also free for a very long time and was initially backed by Google.

Rhino, IMHO is the most comparable program to formZ but I find it a bit more flexible.  The Rhino for Mac interface is super clean and the more I work with the program the more aware I've become of it's expansive tool set.  However it's not inherently a solid modeler so there always seems to be an extra step or to to get what I need to the engineers in my office.  It also has a LOT of 3rd party plugin/rendering engine support.  Oh, and Grasshopper is awesome.

I feel like formZ is best with users who know it best.  I know that if I recommend it to someone they would undoubtedly come across one of the many "quirks" of formZ and I'd have to steer them away from certain tools or actions to prevent a crash (i.e. components).  Having known a number of people who work in these other programs and having worked in them myself I can see why they are so popular and why many never return back to a previous program.  

The unpopularity of formZ isn't because it's a bad program.  It's not.  It's a very GOOD program..... BUT.... the many other 3D modelers/visuallizers that have a number of pros that outweigh the cons compared to formZ.


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