by Dušan Cvetković
Dušan Cvetković
Published September 20, 2023

Introduction to Rhino 3D Modeling World

If you’re interested to hear about the amazing Rhino 3D modeling world and it’s incredible capabilities that are impacting different design industries all around the world, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we are going to uncover what Rhinoceros 3D is, its origins, why it is so popular, what types of work we can use it for, which industries are using it and what are the best methods to learn it. So if you have 10 minutes to spare, let’s go on this journey together.

Rhino 3D modeling Interface

The Origins of Rhino 3D Modeling Software

Rhino 3D modeling software has a very long history. It all started with a founder called Robert McNeel, whose background wasn’t in computer science or architecture, but actually in accounting.

He used to work as an accountant for a couple of years, but then an architectural company that Robert’s wife was working for needed help with their accounting software, and Rebert helped them with writing new software for them.

One thing led to another, and pretty soon Robert got involved in writing more efficient drafting plugins for AutoCAD and even started reselling AutoCAD. 

Robert McNeel with How to Rhino - Barcelona, May 2023

Soon after that, McNeel & Associates started developing their own application for marine clients who needed help with spline-based 2D curves, and around 1992 a company called Applied Geometry approached McNeel to help them with integrating NURBS geometry library into AutoCAD, and later that year, together they developed a tool called AutoCAD - AccuModel that had NURBS capabilities.

After that in 1992, Michael Gibson was hired by McNeel and Michael brought a certain type of mesh modeler that was called Sculptura, and later on with NURBS enabled it became Sculptura 2. 

Old AutoCad

A couple of years later, Alias System Corporation (today Alias Autodesk) bought Applied Geometry. This meant that their joint effort for software AutoCad - AccuModel had potential trademark issues, so that project wasn’t developed any more and instead McNeel decided to continue developing Sculptura which was renamed in Rhinoceros. The first official version of Rhino was released in October 1998 and the rest is history.

Now, let’s see what Rhino 3D modeling software makes so special. You’ve probably heard this many times - NURBS, let’s demystify it once and for all. 

What are NURBS?

Since NURBS played such an important part in Rhino’s development, we need to explain what they are. This acronym stands for Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines and simply explained, it’s a mathematical representation of a curve or a surface.

Rhino 3D modeling - NURBS Curve

These curves are defined by a set of control points, weights and knot vectors. The control points determine the general shape of the curve or surface, while the weights influence the influence of each control point.

These factors allow us to control our curve/surface with total precision and this is why industries such as automotive design, industrial design, architecture and others are using Rhino.

NURBS data is interactive, we can modify the geometry in real time and it’s very flexible allowing us to use a wide range of shapes, from simple arcs to highly complex double-curved surfaces. 

Rhino 3D modeling - NURBS Surface

It’s really important to make a distinction between mesh-based geometry and NURBS geometry. Mesh-based geometry is not going to give you a perfect visual representation of the geometry.

Once you zoom in, it would look like it’s jagged and it has edges. In other words, it doesn’t look smooth like a NURBS geometry. Mesh-geometry is also harder to edit and control but on the flip side, mesh geometry usually means smaller file size. 

Mesh vs Nurbs Explanation

© Miloš Dimčić

I would encourage you to check this video from our friend Miloš Dimčić and his YouTube channel, since it gives a lot more details about the mathematics of NURBS and he even has a complete course that explains all of the nuances when it comes to the differences between Meshes and NURBS.

It’s also important to mention that Rhino is not the only software that is based on NURBS, there are other popular tools like Catia, Autodesk Alias, Mol, Ayam, but it’s safe to say that Rhino is the most popular NURBS tool in the architecture industry. Now, let’s see some of those tools in action.

Rhino 3D Modeling Tools

Command Line

When it comes to Rhino 3D modeling tools, one of the first things I noticed when I opened Rhino for the first time is that it has this command line at the top of the user interface. That looked so familiar to me because I was using AutoCAD regularly at the time.

When you start to type something, you’ll be able to see what commands are available within the program which is extremely useful because this way you can also discover new commands that you didn’t know existed before. 

Rhino 3D - Command line

By just typing a word “Copy” or “Move” or “Mirror” you get exactly the same functionality as you would in AutoCAD. The execution of the commands works either by hitting enter and then following the instructions from the command line.

Curve Tools

Rhino has a wide variety of tools we can use, but let’s start with the Curve Tools. With these guys, we can create any type of curve, whether it’s a single line, polyline, arc, rectangle, eclipse, arc, or circle, but also we can create curves on a surface, curves on a mesh, spirals, parabolas, helixes and much more.

Rhino 3D  - Curve Tools

Once again, think about using these tools not only in 2D, but also in 3D where necessary.

Curve on Surface - Rhino 3D Modeling

Surface Tools

Then we have the surface tools that allow us to create 3D geometry starting from commands like Plane, Box, Planar Surface, Loft, Patch, Sweep all the way to the more advanced like Drape Surface, Ribbon, Network Surface.

Surface Tools

Some of these commands require 2D lines and inputs in order to create the surface while others can be executed on their own. A great feature of Surfaces in Rhino is that they are mathematically correct and precise, which means that we have such a big degree of control using control points, so this feature allows us to modify and create any type of surface.

Mesh Tools

Among Rhino 3D modeling tools, we have Mesh Tools as well. Even though Rhino is NURBS based program, it supports mesh files as well. Mesh files are extremely useful in certain workflows that we use in the industry such as architectural visualization and 3D printing.

Mesh Tools in Rhino 3D

Mesh tools in Rhino allow us to create meshes from scratch, but also edit existing meshes, rebuild them and optimize them for further use. Maybe one of the most interesting and useful commands here is called QuadRemesh. It allows us to optmize the existing mesh geometry, and control the topology of the polygons, count of the polygons and even transform if further into a SubD object.

Quad Remesh Tools

SubD Tools

SubD Tools are fairly new. They were released with Rhino version 7 and its fair to say that they were one of the missing pieces within Rhino’s features.

SubD Rhino 3D Tools

Back in the days, we used a tool called T-splines that worked with Rhino 5 and was really revolutionary when it comes to organic and amorphic shapes. Now, SubD tools have the same capabilities and they allow us to create any kind of fluid-form geometry in an easy way.

We have a dedicated section on our website only for Rhino SubD Tutorials, so if you’d like to know more about these tools, make sure to check it out.

Fluid Form Geometry Rhino 3D

Grasshopper 3D

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the Room, yes, you guessed it - Grasshopper 3D. This is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) feature of Rhino. Grasshopper used to be a plugin for Rhino, but since Rhino version 6, it became an integral part of Rhino 3D modeling tools.

Grasshopper 3D Interface

Grasshopper is a graphical programing interface within Rhino that we can use to create algorithms that we use to generate 3D geometry. With the use of input parameters in Grasshopper, we can create many different design iterations of our project in just a couple of clicks.

That’s why we use in architecture today and if you’d like to understand it on a deeper level, check out our Grasshopper Tutorial that explains the complete concept behind it.

Documentation Tools

Other Rhino 3D modeling tools worth mentioning are documentation and drafting toolsThese include layouts, annotations and make 2D drawings.

Even though, these tools are sufficient for architectural drawings, they are far from idea, and there are still lots of room for improvement which will hopefully happen in the next release of Rhino which will be Rhino 8.

Rhino 3D modeling - Layout

One of the commands that is quite useful within the drafting tools is called Make 2D. This command can take any 3D or 2D view of your geometry in the viewport and convert it into a 2D drawing that we can further use for editing.

This is particularly useful when creating architectural diagrams because we can combine the vector lines from Rhino with the rendering taken from the same angle.

Architectural Diagrams in Rhino 3D

Rhino Render

Rhino has its own rendering engine called Rhino render, but I have to be brutally honest - it’s not that good.

Rhino 3D Render

© Kyle Houchens / McNeel

However, we can definitely use Rhino’s materials, we can create lights, modify the environment and use various display modes to present our project. I would particularly like to emphasize Arctic Display mode in Rhino which is the best when it comes to creating those nice clay-like visualizations.

Arctic Display Mode in Rhino

If you’re serious about architectural visualizations and want to have great renderings for your presentations and competitions, we would recommend Vray for Rhino. In my opinion, this is one of the best visaulization plugins for still images. If you’re interested in knowing more about, check our Rhino Vray tutorial, it’s going to be enough to get you started with it.

Vray for Rhino

Compatibility with other applications

The last important feature that I’d like to point ot is Rhino’s compatibility with other applications. Believe it or not, Rhino supports more than 50 file types (both for import and export). Some of these file types include .3ds, .dwg, .ai, .skp, .stl, .pdf, .step, .fbx, .sldprt and many more. It’s safe to say that you can use files from any software used in design and production industries.

But, when it comes to industries that are using Rhino, let’s see what they are…

Industries that use Rhino 3D Modeling Capabilities

Rhino is used across many industries for design, prototyping, and manufacturing. In architecture and engineering, Rhino allows architects to create complex curved surfaces and explore different building forms.

The Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

© Hufton Crow

It is used to design structures like stadiums, airports, and concert halls. Engineers use Rhino to design industrial parts and equipment. The software helps streamline collaboration between architects and engineers on construction projects.

Milos Dimcic Airport - Fukksas

© Miloš Dimčić  -

In industrial design, Rhino enables designers to model consumer products like electronics, appliances, and furniture. Its tools allow for fast iteration which aids the design process.

Rhino Industrial Design

© Aman Rai Agrawal

Jewelry designers use Rhino to model intricate jewelry pieces and castable wax models for jewelry production.

Rhino 3D Jewelry Design

© Shinya Takanashi

In furniture design, Rhino is used to design furniture with complex curves and shapes. The furniture models designed in Rhino can be used for prototyping and manufacturing.

Rhino 3D - Furniture Design Bench

Rhino is also used in automotive design to create concept cars with smooth curving bodywork. It allows designers to quickly model different design iterations.

Rhino 3D Automotive Design

© Sabino / Rhino Forum

In shoe design and fashion, Rhino provides tools to design and model shoe lasts as well as prototype footwear. It is also used to design clothing patterns and drapes.

Rhino 3D Modeling - Shoe Design


All of these industries are using Rhino because of its capabilities and NURBS precision. No matter what your industry is, your next logical step would be to decide if and how you want to learn more about Rhino 3D modeling capabilities. I’ll try to give you some pointers here…

Where to start learning about Rhino?

Learning Rhino like any other software requires your time and dedication. That’s really a must-have if you’re serious about learning it. However, we are all different and we all have our different reasons why we want to learn Rhino 3D modeling.

So, I would say that based on our goals and personal preferences, we should choose the best method of learning. Some people like to learn from books and prefer a slower pace, while others prefer straight-to-the-point video tutorials (this is what we prefer).

Rhino 3D - Official Guide

If you prefer to learn from instructions or books, the best place to start is the official Rhino user’s guide. The information here is very condensed and it will give you an overview of the software and how to get started with it, but it is not going to be really focused on details.

Secondly, make sure to visit the official Rhino forum. It’s a great place where a lot of professionals from different industries hang out. You can always learn something new there.

Rhino Forum

Another great place to start is YouTube, but you need to be careful with filtering good from bad tutorials. Rhino is widely used in many different industries, so if you’re interested in learning Rhino to create jewelry, you definitely don’t want to watch a tutorial from someone who’s teaching how Rhino is used to create architecture and vice versa. That wouldn’t do you much good.

Rhino Learning on YouTube

However, if you’re into architecture, we have a dedicated How to Rhino YouTube Channel where we cover many different topics for free including Rhino, Grasshopper, Vray, SubD, and other topics.

We started posting Rhino and Grasshopper tutorials back in 2018 and we have more than 170+ tutorials on there, so feel free to check those resources out.

How to Rhino YouTube Channel

YouTube content that we offer is not really structured, we cover many different topics and ideas, so it’s not the best way to learn if you don’t have a lot of time and if you’re in a hurry to get going with the software as soon as possible.

If that’s the case, I’d recommend that you check our Rhino for Architects Masterclass Training right here. We put so much time and effort into creating this training so that you can see the potential of Rhino and Grasshopper in architecture and see how you can easily start using them even today.

Rhino and Grasshopper Masterclass

It’s around one hour-long video packed with valuable tips, tricks, and explanations that will allow you to better understand the software and implement what you learned right away on your projects. And the best thing, we’re giving it away for FREE!

Rhino 3D Modeling - Free Training

Lastly, there will be some of you who would want to see the results fast, because you don’t have time to waste and you have other projects on the table.

If that’s you and if you’d like to work with us closely to help you learn both Rhino, Grasshopper and even Rhino Inside, we have a special set of Rhino and Grasshopper Courses that will get you from a complete beginner to an advanced level in the shortest amount of time possible.

Rhino and Grasshopper Courses

If you’re in architecture and if you need to learn Rhino for your job or you’d simply like to improve your skills, Rhino for Arhictects Course would offer you a step-by-step learning process and would teach you everything about basic and complex organic 3D modeling, rendering, visualizations, animations and architectural diagrams.

Rhino for Architects Course

We’ve helped more than 600+ architects so far to master Rhino with this course on our own learning platform with over 60+ hours of video material, step-by-step video tutorials, homework assignments, and personal support from us, so you can implement everything you learned right away.

How to Rhino Students


Now, it’s your time to dive into the world of Rhino 3D modeling. I hope this helped you get a better idea of what Rhino is, how it’s used, what it’s capable of, and how to get started with it if you find it interesting.

Keep in mind that Grasshopper is totally a different beast and it requires much more time to learn, but again, if you’re determined and you know why you need it, there is a way to do it. I guarantee you!

About the Author

Dušan Cvetković is a professional architect from Serbia with international experience in the industry. Collaborated with numerous clients all around the world in the field of architecture design, 3D modeling and software education. He's been teaching Rhinoceros3D to thousands of architects through How to Rhino community and various social media channels.