Getting Started With LightWave Cheaply

LightWave logoLightWave licence transfers and upgrades – quick, easy, cheap.

Thanks to NewTek’s liberal licence transfer and upgrade policies gettings started with LightWave for less than the standard retail is quite easy. If you’re lucky or patient you can get going with LightWave very cheaply. But first let me start by offering those of you that don’t know much about the program a few reasons why I think it is so great.

On why I think LightWave rocks

LightWave is a great 3D modelling, animation and rendering package, and it has quickly become my tool of choice. This is largely because it has solid modelling tools, a great easy to navigate interface, a fast and competent render engine, a strong community with lots of resources (such as tutorials and free plugins), and the program is relatively inexpensive when compared to the many of the other big name applications. Since releases 10, 11 and the recent LightWave 11.5 it seems clear that NewTek are dedicated to a bigger, better, stronger, faster program that is better able to deliver results and go toe-to-toe with its larger rivals (did I just write a marketing pitch?).

I haven’t even mentioned the rigid and soft body dynamics, particle system, amazing rigging tools such as Genoma, real-time Raytrace preview, instancing, and a powerful node based material editor. Oh, and I forgot to mention it is big with TV. See YouTube vid below for a taste.

But for me in particular I am very happy that NT seem to be indicating there will be some attention to updating their modelling tools in the coming releases. 11.5 brought in some of the time saving goodies that have been kicking around for some time in other apps. The addition of UV seam unwrapping in 11.5 is also a much needed addition to the program’s ancient mapping tools – as much as hardcore LW ninjas swear by their complex black magic. I hope to see more modelling and UV tools and enhancements included in 12.

…but let’s move onto why we’re really here

The final kicker that got me hooked into LightWave was that when it comes to upgrade policies and licence transfers NewTek is very accommodating. Far more so than many other software companies. I doubt this has much to do with the goodness of NewTek’s heart, as holy as it doubtlessly is, but just one small part of their strategy to earn some market share. Whatever the reasons for NT’s liberal policies, it is a definite win for starving artists, and hobbyists. Any version of LightWave, back as far as version 5, can be upgraded for the same price as it would cost to upgrade from 9, or 10. That’s right, you can use a copy of LW that’s almost 2 decades old to get started. Put this up against upgrade policies like what you get from E-on or Autodesk, or just about any software house out there and you can’t fail to appreciate just how great this deal is.

lightwave object fracture and bullet dynamics

All image elements created with LightWave 11.5

Finding a licence or copy for the right price

This is how I got my start with LightWave. I had a chance to pick up version 5 off eBay but given that I wanted to be able to use the program right out of the box without having to upgrade, I wasn’t willing to spend much on such an archaic copy that would have to be upgraded right away. Again, NewTek are very generous with their upgrade price, but it was more than I could afford it at the time. I tried to haggle with the seller, but what I was willing to pay probably just made them laugh. Eventually I stumbled upon a section in the LightWave forum that is actually dedicated to selling unwanted/disused licences. That’s right, not only does NewTek allow users to transfer licences, but they actively encourage it. So, from time-to-time you can pick up older versions of LW for very good prices.

The very same seller that had those LightWave 5 copies up on E-bay is still there trying to unload them. The current price is currently US $335 which, if you’re only looking for an upgrade pathway, is very reasonable. If, like me, you’re after something to use out of the box it would be best to stay clear unless you have a machine running DOS and Windows 95. Of course I can’t say with full confidence that these copies are free from molestation, and still have their dongles intact (yes they are actually called dongles), but the seller has a good customer approval rating. It also says in the product description that the boxes are unopened. Presumably this means unregistered too, which simplifies things. The final good omen is that 3 copies have sold and apparently no one has had cause to call shenanigans.

In best case scenario I’ve seen a version of 8.5 go for about $180 and copies of 9.5 go for just a hundred dollars or so more.

What do you actually need?

So, all you will need to get yourself up and running from an old copy of LightWave is a serial number, hardware lock and a dongle. The dongle is USB device, and LW’s primary anti-piracy protection, which users of some other expensive software packages will already be familiar with. As of 11.03, LightWave can be used either with or without a dongle, though for an older version you will still need one for the transfer/registration process. If a user is trying to sell a pre 11.03 version without a dongle be very suspicious. Contact NewTek if you have any questions about the policy on lost dongles.

If you’re buying a licence second-hand you will need the previous owner to start the transfer process (make sure you get the support ticked number), otherwise you might have trouble convincing NewTek that you obtained the copy without resorting to nefarious means. The process is easy enough. You won’t have to do a thing except set up an account at and send them an email to let them know who you are and what’s going on (the support number probably helps here).

If you’re looking to buy a copy just to get started without the worry of the cost of upgrades I wouldn’t suggest any version before 9.6. As someone who put in some good hours lurking silently in the forums and digging through the wiki it seems stability and rendering issues plague versions before this, particularly 7 and 8. Depending on your current system there could also be compatibility issues.

Protect yourself

While scams targeting LightWave hopefuls are quite uncommon, to the extent I’ve never heard of one, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious, especially if you’re going to be handing over hundreds of dollars for a current licence. I tend to fall into the overly cautions category, so I’ll offer up some of the important things I took into account when considering my options.

Deal with the licence holder

The first thing about buying a pre-registered version of LightWave is to make sure you are dealing directly with the licence holder, as only they can put in the transfer application to NewTek. Secondly, make sure you are getting a dongle with an version before 11.03.

Deal with reliable sources

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is finding someone you can put a reasonable amount of trust in. Like with any purchase, you should try to buy only from individuals and businesses of reputation. Do they have a good customer satisfaction rating, in the case of buying off somewhere like eBay or Amazon? In the case of buying in relation to a post in a forum (anywhere), make sure the poster has been a long time member and has a good number of posts under their belt.

Of course, you can have genuine new members, and genuine long-time users who have never posted to the forums, but knowing you are dealing with someone who is invested in the community, or their business is a good tick in the plus section of your pros and cons list.

Tip – don’t gift with PayPal

If you’re paying for anything through PayPal to an individual NEVER send the money as a gift unless you entirely trust the recipient will do as they agreed. It might save you and the recipient a few dollars, but compared to that 1 or 2 or 3 or more hundred dollars you just handed over, it is nothing. A gift is a gift, and it can be very hard to prove that an explicit deal was made, and also against the terms of service for using the gift service. If you are within PayPal’s terms of service then you will be offered a certain amount of buyer security. Of course, I am not an expert in the matters of consumer protection, so I would suggest you read PayPals terms of services if you have any questions.

Paying via other means I can’t recommend as I am not certain of what protection is available. lightwave sword model by jim willey

All elements modelled and textured in LightWave

Dongle drivers and hardware lock issues.

One issue I encountered while trying to get LightWave 9.6 up and running was a hardware lock error (yes the dongle was inserted) when trying to run the program. According to NewTek this is a known problem for Windows XP users. I run Win 7, so the problem has persisted for at least some of the users. If you encounter this it can most likely be remedied by going to Sentinel Drivers download page on Safenet’s website. You will be looking for the latest Sentinel Protection Installer – SuperPro being the specific drivers you need.


If you’re a student why not save yourself all the hassle and probable extra expense and simply opt for a Student license, which is obtainable directly from the LightWave site for $195.

Bringing life to LightWave

Thanks to the PoserFusion plugin for LightWave (free for Poser Pro holders – 2014 plugin coming soon) you can import animated, posed, fully equipped characters from your Poser Runtime to LightWave. Need a crowd to mill about your architectural visualisation or Sci-fi and fantasy environments? Use Poser’s walk design tools to fully animate just this. PoserFusion makes it easy to bring any number of Poser animations to LightWave – quick and easy. Poser 10 and Pro 2014 full and upgrade are still on sale till the end of the month.

Back In LightWave And Modelling

So after a little break to get some other projects done/underway I’ve been back and modelling in LightWave. I have a few modelling projects to get started, but I thought I’d get back into the swing with something spontaneous. I’ve wanted to try making a fitted prop for a long time and decided to start with something relatively simple like a cyberpunkish VR headset. Somewhere at the start of the project I got distracted and ended up making a retro sci-fi helmet instead.

retro sci-fi helmet modelled with lightwave 11.5

Modelled and rendered in LightWave 11.5. spherical image from HDR Labs/Archive

The character figure is DAZ 3D’s Genesis with a dialled mix’n match morph – obviously the only texture used was for the bump. For a quick project I’m very happy with it. I’m now considering what to do with it next. Maybe I’ll model some additional props and see where that takes me. Or maybe I should get back to the “real work”. Decisions, decisions…

In any case I’m happy I took the gamble and forked out the money for LightWave. I know it isn’t the 3D package, but I’m sure as hell happy with it. The intuitive, no-nonsense interface is so easy to get around, which is a relief after some of the other programs I’ve worked with – certainly makes learning a lot easier. I think the program as a whole has boosted my productivity and creativity when it comes to modelling. Every time I boot it up I feel completely confident to start exploring and experimenting with features I have only the vaguest idea of. I also love the “Layout” component to the package. Well, to call it a component is a serious misattribution as it is an entirely separate and richly featured program – the other half of LW really. The procedural texture system, and node editor is just fantastic. I’m not a texture guy, so it is nice to have something easy to use to get some reasonable textures done quickly. The VPR is also a huge time saver when it comes to setting materials and lighting. Being able to see a high quality image update in realtime is just awesome. Anyway that’s enough LW love.

retro sci-fi helmet model wire frame

Wire frames for anyone interested