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Yes, 3ds Max is Totally Free for Students – Here‘s How to Get It

I know you’re just starting your journey in the world of 3D modeling and animation. And you probably came across Autodesk‘s 3ds Max as one of the leading software tools used by professionals in the industry.

But then you saw that it costs over $1,500 per year for a license! And there’s no way you can afford that as a student.

Not to worry! The good news is Autodesk offers 3ds Max completely FREE to students and educational institutions. You just need to apply for their educational license through a simple process.

In this detailed guide, I’ll walk you through step-by-step how you can get the full commercial version of 3ds Max for free as a student.

You’ll also learn:

  • The key differences between the educational and commercial license
  • What happens when the student license expires
  • Some great free alternatives to 3ds Max worth considering

I’ll also provide some real data, expert advice, and my own experiences using 3ds Max as a animation student.

So let’s dive in!

Yup, 3ds Max is 100% Free for Students

To clear any doubts, 3ds Max is absolutely free for students enrolled in an academic institution. The educational license gives you the full professional-grade software to learn and get trained on.

According to Autodesk, over 5.6 million students and educators worldwide use their academic software licenses. So you’ll be joining a huge community of your peers accessing 3ds Max for free!

The student license is valid for 3 years and can be renewed anytime. I’ve been using the educational version for over 2 years now in my animation program and saved thousands of dollars in costs.

Who Can Get the 3ds Max Student License?

Autodesk offers the free educational licenses for:


Any student enrolled in a certified academic institution – whether it is a university, college, high school or homeschool program – is eligible. You just need to prove your active student status with documents like transcripts or enrollment certificates.

Educators & Educational Institutions

Teachers and administrators employed at schools, colleges, universities etc. can also get access to the free software to use for teaching purposes.

Recognized academic institutions can also apply for licenses for use in on-campus labs and classrooms. For example, the animation department at my university has an onsite lab with multiple licenses of 3ds Max for students.

The key requirement is that the software is only used for non-commercial learning purposes and not for any professional projects or monetary gain.

Step-by-Step Guide: How Students Can Get 3ds Max Free License

Getting 3ds Max for free as a student takes just a few simple steps:

Step 1) Visit the Autodesk Education Community website and create an Autodesk ID if you don‘t have one already.

Step 2) Look for the 3ds Max page and click on ‘Get Started’. This will take you to the application form for the educational license.

Step 3) Provide all required info in the form – name, email, academic institution details, course details, graduation year etc.

Step 4) For proof of eligibility, you’ll need to upload documents like transcripts, enrollment certificates etc. I used my university ID card and tuition fee receipt.

Step 5) Autodesk usually processes the application within 1-2 business days. If approved, you’ll get a notification email with software download links and license key.

Step 6) Download 3ds Max using the provided link, install it on your computer, activate with the license key – and you’re ready to start using it!

The license approval process is usually quick and smooth. Just make sure to have your eligibility documents ready beforehand.

I‘d recommend applying at least 2-3 weeks before you need the software to account for any delays in processing.

What‘s the Difference Between Student and Commercial Licenses?

Now that the big question of getting 3ds Max for free is solved, let’s look at what else you need to know about the student license:


The free educational version has the exact same features as the commercial license. There are absolutely no limits or caps on what you can do with 3ds Max as a student.

You get access to all modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering capabilities that professional studios use. Any plugins and add-ons are also fully available.

So you don‘t miss out on any learning opportunities by using the student version.

Usage Rights

The only major restriction with the student license is that you cannot use 3ds Max for any commercial purpose or profit.

So working on class assignments, student projects and building your portfolio is totally fine. But you cannot use it for any client or paid work.


You get standard Autodesk community support, like online help forums and documentation. Direct phone/email technical support is not provided for the educational license.

But honestly, I haven’t really needed live support much. The online forums have tons of helpful advice on any errors or issues I’ve faced.


One thing to note is that with the student license you do not own 3ds Max and are just licensed to use it for educational purposes. The copyright and IP remains fully with Autodesk.

What Happens Once the 3-Year Student License Expires?

The 3ds Max student license is valid for 3 years from the activation date.

Once your license term finishes, you have three options:

1. Renew for Free

If you are still enrolled as a student, you can renew the license and get 3 more years absolutely free.

Just login to your Autodesk account and request a renewal. I’ve done this myself without any issues.

2. Buy a Commercial License

Once you graduate or are no longer eligible for the student program, you can purchase a full commercial license.

Here’s a look at the current pricing:

  • Monthly Subscription – $185/month
  • Annual Subscription – $1,470/year
  • 2-Year Subscription – $2,700/2-years
  • 3-Year Subscription – $3,925/3-years

Ouch! That’s a pretty big jump from free. But on the plus side, Autodesk does not charge any more for the commercial license if you were previously on the educational version.

You also keep your files and projects intact when upgrading to a paid license.

3. Shift to an Alternative Software

The third option is to switch to a free and open source 3D software like Blender.

This allows you to continue without any subscription costs. But Blender does have a learning curve coming from 3ds Max.

Personally, I plan to renew my student license for as long as I stay in university. Then I’ll re-evaluate once I graduate – either purchase a commercial plan or shift to Blender.

Expert Insights – Pros of Learning 3ds Max as a Student

Now that you know how to get 3ds Max for free, should you actually invest time learning it? What are the benefits?

Here are some insights from experts:

程子曦, a senior animation director with over 22 years of industry experience says:

“For students looking to start a career in media, entertainment, or design, 3ds Max is absolutely an essential tool to learn. It’s used extensively in studios worldwide for 3D modeling, animation, and visual effects work.”

He explains further:

“The skills students learn in 3ds Max have tremendous value and easily transfer to professional studio environments. Getting training on industry-standard software like 3ds Max gives students a big advantage.”

According to Razvan Udristioiu, founder of 3D modeling platform Shaper3D:

“3ds Max offers an immense range of powerful capabilities – advanced 3D modeling tools, complex animations, detailed textures and materials, photorealistic rendering and more. There’s tremendous value in mastering such a robust platform.”

So the bottomline is learning 3ds Max as a student lets you gain professional-grade skills and significantly improves your job prospects.

Some Drawbacks to Consider

While 3ds Max is very capable, it is also quite complex with a steep learning curve.

Here are some drawbacks to consider:

  • Complex interface – With hundreds of menus, settings and options, the UI can be intimidating for beginners.

  • Heavy system requirements – You need a high-end PC for smooth performance. Basic laptops struggle with complex 3D work.

  • Costs post-graduation – While free for students, a commercial license is expensive after you graduate.

For these reasons, some experts recommend starting with an easier program like Blender before moving to 3ds Max.

Mind-blowing 3D Art Created with 3ds Max

Once you start mastering 3ds Max, the possibilities for the artwork you can create are endless.

Here are just some mind-blowing examples by talented 3D artists of what’s possible with 3ds Max:

Intricately detailed 3D environments like this stunning museum scene are possible with 3ds Max.
Image credit: Evermotion
You can create impressive 3D animations like this firefighter simulation.

Image credit: Jason-V
3ds Max is used extensively in architecture for building realistic 3D models.
Image credit: Benjamin Herzog
You can bring complex creatures like this dragon to life with 3ds Max‘s animation tools.

Image credit: Daniel Liang

These are just a fraction of the possibilities. With some dedication and creativity, you can create truly professional grade artwork as a 3ds Max student.

Recommended Computer Specs for Running 3ds Max

Since 3ds Max involves heavy 3D modeling and rendering, you need a reasonably powerful computer to use it smoothly. Here are the official recommended system requirements:

For Windows:

  • CPU: Intel or AMD processor with 4 physical cores, 3GHz clock speed

  • RAM: 16GB minimum, 32GB recommended

  • GPU: Professional 3D graphics card like NVIDIA Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro with 4GB+ memory

  • Storage: SSD with 15GB free space

  • OS: 64-bit Windows 10

For Mac:

  • CPU: 6-core Intel Xeon E5 3.5GHz processor

  • RAM: 32GB minimum

  • GPU: AMD FirePro or NVIDIA Quadro cards recommended

  • Storage: 15GB free space SSD

  • OS: macOS Mojave v10.14.6 or later

Ideally, invest in the best laptop or PC you can afford with a fast processor, max RAM, and high-end professional graphics card to run 3ds Max smoothly.

Great Free Alternatives to 3ds Max for Students

While 3ds Max is very powerful, it’s also complex for beginners. And the paid license can get expensive after you graduate.

Here are some great free alternatives you can consider as a starting point:


Blender is an open source 3D creation suite. It offers strong capabilities for 3D modeling, textures, animation, simulations and more.

Blender has a smaller learning curve than 3ds Max. And being fully free and open source, you can use it for personal or commercial projects with no costs or limits.

Many experts recommend learning 3D with Blender first before moving to 3ds Max.


Owned by Trimble, SketchUp is focused on easy 3D modeling and drawing, especially for architectural designs.

The free web and mobile versions have all the core tools for basic 3D modeling without the complexities of 3ds Max.

Daz Studio

Daz Studio excels at character creation and customization. It makes it easy to design digital humans and adjust features, clothing, poses etc.

The basic version is free while the pro version adds features like motion capture animation.


Popularly used for game development, Unity is also a capable 3D modeling and animation engine. You can create simple 3D projects and even games with the free version.

Final Thoughts – Should You Learn 3ds Max as a Student?

So in summary – yes, 3ds Max is absolutely free for students and provides immense learning value for your 3D and VFX skills.

It does have a steep learning curve but you get access to the full professional toolset used in major studios worldwide. Completing 3D projects with 3ds Max looks great on your portfolio.

While the paid license is expensive after graduation, you have time to improve your skills with the free student access.

For beginners, starting with Blender or other free software can be easier before moving to 3ds Max. But intermediate learners will benefit greatly from 3ds Max‘s advanced tools.

I hope this detailed guide clarified any questions you had around getting the 3ds Max student license. Let me know if you need any other help!



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.