Almost 60 years ago the first CAD tool was a type of stylus created by Ivan Sutherland at MIT. In Sutherland’s “Sketchpad” you could draw virtual shapes in a virtual space. Even though it was revolutionary, I’m sure early x-y point plotter users were considered eccentric for talking up the novelty of the virtual world.

Ivan Sutherland drawing on the “Sketchpad.” 1960s
Ivan Sutherland drawing on the “Sketchpad.” 1960s

Little did they know back then, a new generation of these eccentrics would go on to create a multibillion-dollar industry of software for manipulating geometry in virtual space. VR CAD apps are being called the next phase of this great endeavor. Case in point–a London-based startup named Gravity Sketch, creators of the Gravity Sketch iPad app, have created a new 3D creation tool, Gravity Sketch VR, which lets users generate 3D geometry in a VR environment.


One key capability of Gravity Sketch is, once you have finished your design, the ability to export directly to Sketchfab or as an OBJ or STL to bring into other 3D CAD apps or over to a 3D printer. They’re also one of the first to show VR used for applications outside of gaming and architecture. Have a look:

To use Gravity Sketch VR, you will need either an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive with accompanying hand controllers. The modeling process is a more fluid and, shall we say, more active approach to creating geometry with the capabilities to move, edit, scale and manipulate the 3-dimensional sketch lines you lay down in space with the controllers.


There’s no linear workflow here; no step-by-step process of select plane, start sketch, select shape. Size doesn’t matter as you can sketch something the size of your palm up to the size of a bus, then scale, move and adjust as needed. This allows you to get inside your model–Personally, one of the coolest aspects of VR I have experienced.

Gravity Sketch may seem familiar, though. Another free-form modeling tool is Google’s Tilt Brush, which looks nearly the same with users donning an HTC Vive and sketching in 3-dimensional space. However, there are differences between the two that set them apart.

Google’s Tilt Brush lets users design 3D objects in a virtual space using paint, textured materials and even fire.
Google’s Tilt Brush lets users design 3D objects in a virtual space using paint, textured materials and even fire.

One of the main differences between the two apps is how Tilt Brush lets you design your creations using any number of virtual materials including paint, textured fabrics or even fire and ice, while you’re limited to one sketch material in Gravity Sketch. You can also create your geometry with a myriad of different brushes and tools, including a handy pallet that you can use to mix the myriad of colors to your liking.

Tilt Brush, as you might imagine, is catered more toward digital artists, but does allow for the export of both OBJ and FBX, that can then be imported to other 3D applications. If it comes down to price for you, Tilt Brush is available for $29.99 on Steam and has support for HTC Vive only, while Gravity Sketch is currently in closed beta and requires a minimum contribution of $25. However, Gravity Sketch can be paired with either an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. You can access Gravity Sketch Beta here.

Considering Gravity Sketch has the option to export STL format for 3D printers suggests it’s perfect for 3D modelers who need to prototype their designs. Tilt Brush, with more materials and tools, is perfect for those who want to explore ideas with more variation. Have you used either? HIt the comments to tell us which you prefer, why and what you hope to see in VR/AR/MR for 3D product development.


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