Understanding Blender’s Free License: What You Need to Know

In the vast and ever-evolving realm of 3D modeling and animation, Blender stands out not just for its impressive features but also for its pricing model — or lack thereof.

Unlike many professional-grade software tools, Blender prides itself on being freely accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. But what’s the catch? How can such a powerful tool be available at no cost?

If you’ve ever pondered these questions or are curious about the intricacies of Blender’s licensing we aim to unravel the mystery behind Blender’s free license, exploring its origins, the philosophy that sustains it, and what it means for both amateur and professional artists who use Blender 3D to create their art.

Is Blender Free To Use?

Blender 3D, in the panorama of 3D modeling and animation software, is in a unique position for being a fully featured professional suite of tools, while also being completely free to use.

Not just in terms of zero cost, but it’s also “free” in the sense of being open-source. This means that not only can you download, install, and use Blender without any financial investment, but you also have the freedom to delve into its source code, modify it, and even redistribute it if you so desire.

This cost-free model is sustained by the Blender Foundation, the organization behind the software.

They are committed to providing a robust, professional-grade 3D tool that’s accessible to everyone, from individual hobbyists to large production studios, from animators to game developers.

The Blender Foundation is funded through donations, grants, and revenue from the online Blender Store, ensuring the software remains free for all users.

The open-source nature of Blender not only democratizes access but also fosters a vibrant community. Users from around the world contribute to its development, report bugs, create plugins, and share tutorials, making Blender not just a software, but a dynamic ecosystem that continuously evolves to meet the needs of its diverse user base.

Is Blender Completely Free?

Blender is free to the extent that you can download the application onto your device, install it as you would any other application, and then begin using it.

At no point in this process will you find any prompts asking you for either your personal or your financial information. Blender does not care who you are or what you plan to use it for (sort of).

In addition to using the application, its licensing even permits you to redistribute it if you want. You can change the source code to your hearts content if you know how to and make your own version of Blender available to other users.

There is however one small caveat to this, and that is the restriction of cost. Because of the licensing structure, even the Blender Foundation itself cannot sell the Blender software in any form.

This extends to users of the software who change the source code and then look to redistribute it themselves. You can grant access to your version of Blender, but you cannot sell it, no matter how much the source code may have been altered.

Do You Need To Pay To Use Any Of The Tools In Blender And Is Their A Pro Version?

To follow up on the previous section, the fact that you cannot sell the Blender software means that there is no pro version to worry about that has special features to make the application complete. The version of Blender that you download from the main website is the full, stable version of Blender with all the bells and whistles needed for it to fulfill its purpose, whatever you decide that to be.

This does not extend to external applications that are related to Blender. For example, courses that teach users the various tools and workflows of Blender may be free, or that may cost an amount specified by the course creator.

From the Blender Foundation itself, you also have the opportunity to access learning resources from the Blender Foundation itself.

The Blender studio is an extension to the main Blender site that grants you access to numerous courses and resources but requires you to pay 12 euros a month (Price at time of writing).

Will Blender Be Free Forever?

A common question that is asked is ‘Blender may be free now, but how long will it remain free? Sometimes a tool, application, or product may start out as free, but over time when new features are added then the developer decides to start charging for either use or ownership.

The question of whether Blender 3D will remain free forever is a topic of interest for many in the 3D design community, given the software’s unique position in the market. While no one can predict the future with absolute certainty, several factors suggest that Blender will continue to be freely available for a long time, if not indefinitely.

First and foremost, Blender’s foundational philosophy revolves around open-source principles. Established by the Blender Foundation, the software is deeply rooted in the ethos of democratizing access to high-quality 3D tools. The foundation’s mission is to ensure that Blender remains free and open, ensuring no barriers to entry for anyone interested in 3D modeling, animation, and design.

Furthermore, Blender’s development and sustainability don’t rely on a traditional business model of selling licenses. Instead, it’s backed by a combination of community donations, grants, and revenues from services like the Blender Cloud and the Blender Store.

This model has proven effective for years, enabling continuous improvements and updates without the need to charge users.

Lastly, the vibrant community around Blender, consisting of thousands of dedicated users, developers, and enthusiasts worldwide, serves as its backbone.

The Blender community is deeply invested in Blender’s open-source nature, often contributing to its codebase, creating plugins, and offering tutorials. Such a collaborative ecosystem is self-sustaining and is likely to resist any moves away from the open-source model.

How Does Blenders Licensing Work And How Did It Come To Be?

Blender’s licensing is a result of its history and its philosophy. It reflects the vision of its creator,

Ton Roosendaal, who wanted to make Blender a free and open software for everyone to use and improve. It also reflects the values of its community, who supported Blender’s development and freedom through donations and contributions.

Blender 3D’s licensing structure ensures that Blender will always remain free, accessible, and adaptable for its users and developers. It also allows them to create amazing artwork without any limitations or obligations.

But how does Blender’s licensing actually work and how did it come to be? The history of Blender as a software is strongly tied to its current licensing, so this may come across as a little bit of a history lesson.

Blender’s Origins and Early Licensing Structure

Blender was originally a product of a Dutch animation studio by the name of NeoGeo. Founded in 1989 by Ton Roosendaal and Frank van Beek, NeoGeo was one of the largest 3D animation studios in Europe at the time. 

Roosendaal, who was also a self-taught software developer, wrote the first source files for Blender on January 2nd, 1994, as an in-house tool for NeoGeo. The name Blender refers to a song by a Swiss electronic band, Yello.

Blender was designed to be a flexible and efficient software that could handle the demands of complex 3D projects and multiple revisions from clients. 

Roosendaal invested his savings in a Silicon Graphics workstation, which cost the equivalent of thirty thousand US dollars, to develop Blender 1.0, which was launched officially in January 1995. 

Blender 1.0 introduced some innovative features, such as a single window that could be subdivided as the user saw fit. This was the first instance of Blender becoming a more user-friendly application.

However, 3D animation was not considered a lucrative market in the mid-1990s, and NeoGeo closed in 1998. Roosendaal and van Beek then founded a new company called Not a Number (NaN), with the aim of further developing and marketing Blender. 

NaN adopted a freemium pricing strategy for Blender: the software was free to download, but users had to pay for keys to unlock more advanced features. 

This business model allowed NaN to fund a booth at SIGGRAPH, a renowned computer graphics conference, in 1999, where Blender received positive feedback and recognition from the professional community.

Blender Goes Open Source

Despite the success at SIGGRAPH, NaN faced financial difficulties due to a harsh economic climate, excess spending, and troubled relations with its investors. NaN closed in early 2002, and Blender’s development ceased. Roosendaal tried to buy the rights to Blender from NaN’s backers, but they asked for too much money. Instead, he came up with a novel plan: he started a non-profit organization called the Blender Foundation in May 2002, with the intention of making Blender open source.

The idea was to create a public monument to Blender and give everyone who had worked on the Blender project the chance to use it for their portfolios.

He also wanted to preserve Blender as free software for future generations. In July 2002, he launched the first-ever crowdfunding campaign: Free Blender. Ton would ask Blender’s community of 250,000 users to donate money to raise one hundred thousand euros, which was the amount needed to regain Blender from its investors.

The campaign was a huge success: in just seven weeks, the Blender Foundation raised one hundred and ten thousand euros, enough to buy back Blender’s rights. On October 13th, 2002, Blender was released under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL), the strictest possible open-source contract. Not only would Blender be free, but its source code would remain free, forever, to be used for any purpose whatsoever. This marked a new era for Blender and its community.

Blender’s Current Licensing

Blender is currently licensed under the GNU GPL Version 3. This license grants people a number of freedoms which includes:

  • The ability to use Blender 3D for any reason
  • The right to distribute Blender for free (Not paid)
  • To study the source code and adapt your version of Blender
  • To freely distribute changed versions of Blender that you create

GPL stands for general public license which gives you a hint about what it entails.

The General Public License also aims to preserve these freedoms by requiring everyone who shares Blender or any modified versions of it to also share the source code of that version of Blender under the same license. 

This behavior is commonly referred to as copyleft and is standard for open-source applications.

The GPL applies to all the source code that is developed at blender.org by default. 

However, some modules or libraries that are used by Blender are licensed under more permissive licenses, such as Apache 2.0 (for example, the Cycles rendering engine), Zlib (for example, the Bullet physics library), MIT (for example, the Libmv motion tracking library), or BSD (for example, the Open Shading Language). 

All these components are compatible with the GPL, and do not affect Blender’s overall licensing.

Blender’s licensing also has implications for its users and developers. For users, it means that they can use Blender for any purpose, including commercial ones, without any restrictions or fees.

They can also modify Blender to suit their needs, or share it with others. However, if they distribute Blender or modified versions of it in public, they have to comply with the GPL and provide the source code as well.

For developers, it means that they can contribute to Blender’s development by submitting patches or add-ons (Python scripts) to Blender.org. 

However, they have to agree to license their contributions under the GPL as well. They can also create their own forks of Blender and distribute them under the GPL. However, they cannot change Blender’s license or use a different one for their forks.

What About My Own Artwork?

One important thing to note is that Blender’s licensing does not affect your artwork. What you create with Blender is your asset and your property. All your artwork, images, movies, .blend files, 3D assets, and other data files that Blender can be used to create are free for you to use as you like.

As the owner, you can share it, sell it, or keep it private. You do not have to provide the source files or license them under GPL.

The same is true for educational content that you create using Blender, which is also your own product or resource to sell. Whatever you create with Blender is yours and yours alone.