VR Design Tools – Design in Virtual Reality

This post is also available in: Italiano

New 3D technologies are proposing increasingly stimulating creative horizons in various areas of design, thanks in part to the new VR Design Tools which make the concept & sketching phase streamlined and intuitive. The goal of these tools emerges unequivocally from the words of Daniela Paredes, co-founder of Gravity Sketch VR, one of today’s most popular tools in this area: “In the past, designers were forced to start from 2D sketches; today they can create their concept in 3D, totally revolutionizing the creative process“.

Born as painting and sculpting tools, the VR Design Tools are also beginning to play an increasingly important role in disciplines such as car design, an area where it is common to find favorable opinions about their use. Michael Smith, a design manager at the Ford Motor Company, has no doubts. “Thanks to VR the approach to design has changed completely, now I’m able to skip the 2D sketch phase entirely, starting work directly in 3D with an accuracy born from the ability to edit control points on the curves. Jama Jurabaev, one of the art directors at Industrial Light and Magic agrees: “VR offers many advantages compared to traditional 3D, one of these is undoubtedly the ability to scale, move and rotate simultaneously. You can decide exactly where to place any element. This intuitiveness saves a lot of time“.

Creating 3D content right from the concept stage is becoming an increasingly recurring request, also due to the fact that projects today are increasingly cooperative. To be able to have a 3D model right from the start allows all stakeholders to better understand the idea and possibly to propose changes and suggestions to the designer / concept artist.

To truly grasp the potential of this software, let’s look at the main VR Tools that are currently available and what they can create.


The natural successor to a tool, Gravity Sketch, which was created to sketch content directly in a 3D environment, the VR version creates NURBS surfaces as apps for Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Its functions and the ability to rather easily import and export content to and from other 3D software make it particularly suited to product concept and to car design.

The first approach to creative tools in VR cannot be separated from getting comfortable with the immersive experience, conditioned by a strong subjective component. Once the necessary familiarity with the controllers has been developed, the working environment is very intuitive since all content is interfaced within the same space in 3D. Gravity Sketch VR includes all major modeling and management tools recurrent in all 3D software, with the possibility of direct editing of the generated NURBS curves/surfaces. The presence of a layers manager that can support projects with a wide variety of items is fundamental. The ability to import 2D/3D content to be used as reference for sketching is very useful. As already pointed out, the content generated by Gravity Sketch VR can be exported in formats that are compatible with various design software and can also be used as a reference point for product engineering.

To have an overall vision of a project developed with Gravity Sketch VR it is useful to refer to the series of tutorials by the vehicle designer James Robbins concerning the creation of a car concept.


Oculus Medium is a VR software designed specifically for 3D sculpting. Its ability to create Voxel geometries embodies the practical essence of shaping volumes of matter. Though it is not yet a complete tool like ZBrush (the reference 3D sculpting software for many years, Ed.), Medium offers the same kind of creative approach with all the advantages of the immersive experience.

The direct exports to .obj makes Medium a software that can be easily integrated into production pipelines, ensuring an intuitive and straightforward resource to artists in the sketching phase, with the option to finalize and optimize all aspects of the geometries within “traditional” 3D software. Its ability to 3D print a concept at this stage is very interesting as it offers designers a convenient and fast tool to get a physical first idea of their creations.

The Artist Spotlight series by Oculus Medium displays a series of artists at work with the VR software in the creation of a wide range of content, useful in gaining an overview of the possible applications.


Masterpiece VR is an alternative to Oculus Medium and is one of the most interesting items launched in 2017. Designed specifically for 3D sculpting, Masterpiece VR offers some really impressive features, above all the ability to create a collaborative environment where multiple artists can collaborate in the creation of a virtual model. In addition to the creative aspect, Masterpiece VR is thus able to incorporate social and “multiplayer” logics that let us intuit the enormous potential of this kind of software, ready to overcome physical distances when designing.


Tilt Brush is a VR tool born to create 3D content with an essentially pictorial approach and has become the first app of this kind to draw considerable mass-media attention. The support given by the behemoth from Mountain View gives it high visibility to the point of making it the go-to VR Painting Tool. Google also invests in the involvement of artists to create content that can show how Tilt Brush is not just a technological pioneer in VR but a tool that is capable of supporting a digital vision that can express art in the true sense of the word. The outcome of this initiative can be found in the project Artist in Residence, a constant source of inspiration.


The Oculus creative arsenal is not limited to Medium. Among other software by Facebook’s VR brand we find Quill, used by the Story Studio division for producing Dear Angelica, a short VR film that has received excellent feedback from audiences and critics since its presentation at the Sundance Festival. Referring to the striking quote with which Oculus presents it, the distinction of Quill is to support a narrative VR experience, painting and illustrating in 3D “on an infinite canvas”.

The following video shows how it is possible to make Quill and Medium interact and helps us to comprehend their creative synergies. Both apps are of course exclusive to Oculus Rift.


In the vast ecosystem of 3D software, VR tools are a great novelty factor, guaranteeing new releases almost every week. Outlining a comprehensive map of available products is therefore virtually impossible. In addition to those that we have proposed, we could mention many others, such as Verto Studio VR and VSpline, each with their own unique characteristics. Furthermore, we must consider the fact that the reference platforms for VR development, such as Unreal Engine and Unity, offer modalities to directly create content in Virtual Reality.

Given the range of solutions, one might say that in the future (soon?) designing in VR will become essentially a practice and not a mere possibility. The most curious aspect is therefore recognizing the extraordinary applicational variety of VR software, which can provide solutions in fields ranging from math (Calc flow) to music (LyraVR), from street art (Kingspray VR) to viewing data (DataViz VR). DataViz is one of the contexts where computer graphics will have plenty to say in the next few years, so why not also approach it in VR now?

Note – the sources consulted for the drafting of this article refer to the products mentioned during the show.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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Francesco La Trofa

Architect and journalist with 20 years’ experience in 3D technologies.
Consultant to public entities and 3D businesses for aspects relating to design and communications.
Head of editorial content at Treddi.com and co-founder of Digital Drawing Days, the only event of its kind in Italy.
Actively involved in research and teaching at Milan Polytechnic.
Edits 3D STORIES for Protocube Reply.