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Few things are more exciting than a shiny new 3D printer, but there is more to 3D printing than plugging in the printer. You need 3D printer software to make models, translate them into code the printer can understand, and then perfect the code before printing it.
Whether you are new to 3D, in need of tips, or are a professional 3D printer and want to assess your software options, you’ve come to the right place!
This is your ultimate guide if you want to know what software to use for 3D printing. Keep reading for an overview of 3D printer software and the top recommendations.
Table of Contents
Overview Of 3D Printing Software
Before diving into the various software and the best options, it’s important to understand the basics of 3D printing software. The first thing to know is you 100% need software to execute your 3D prints.
Your new 3D printer may already have dedicated software, which you can easily install. But if you purchase a 3D builder without dedicated software, you need to download the appropriate software. This is also true if you built your own 3D printer with your handiness skills!
3D printing software is essential for your printing journey because it allows you to design 3D models from scratch and much more. With the right software, you can create your models, slice them into G-code, manage projects, and remotely control printers and desktops together.
Think about how an old-fashioned 2D printer requires software to connect to a computer or phone, whether downloadable or Wi-Fi-enabled. 3D printers are no different and are much more complex, so you need the right combination of printing software to execute your projects successfully.
3D Printers That Come With Software
Before recommending and explaining some of the best open-source programs or purchasable software, you should be aware of dedicated software programs you may already possess.
Some 3D printers come with software, meaning you can start printing without additional software. The two most common printers that feature dedicated software are below:
- ChiTuBox slicer (Anycubic resin 3D printers)
- PrusaSlicer (Prusa 3D printers)
If you have a Prusa or Anycubic printer, ensure you set up the dedicated software and play around with it before adding other software to your setup. You may not want any additional features. Or you may feel the dedicated software is lacking.
Open Source Software
If you’re printing on a budget, open-source software is the best. Many of the recommendations on this list, if not most, are open-source options, meaning they’re free to use and are highly flexible and customizable.
Technically, G-code is all you need to make a 3D print. But it’s creating and implementing the G-code, which requires software. G-code is short for Gemotric Code, referring to the plotted points in a space that directs the printer to complete the model.
Every model needs its own G-code to come to life, and not every model’s G-code is suited to each printer. The software enables you to create the appropriate G-code for your printer and desired model.
In simple terms, you can print a G-code without any other software, but you need software to create the model and translate it into a printable G-code!
Types of 3D Printing Software and Recommendations
Now that you understand how important software is to the 3D printing process, it’s time to explore different types of software and the best choices!
This section will discuss CAD, slicing, and SLT repair, the three most important programs for 3D printers. Some people go without STL repair software, but best if you want to avoid printing errors and wasted materials.
CAD software helps you design your model on a computer. CAD stands for computer-aided design and can work on 2D and 3D creations. It’s used in many industries, such as engineering, architecture, science, design, and more.
A 3D printer may not need this software to function, but most people need this software to manufacture their design model. Some tech wizards may be able to create a model that can be sliced into G-code on their own, but most printers don’t have the technology or knowledge to do this, so check out the top CAD software for 3D printing below!
Fusion360 is one of the most precise CAD software choices. It’s ideal for creating intricate models such as mechanical parts or small machinery. It’s cloud-based software from Autodesk.
It combines parametric, surface, mesh, direct, and freeform modeling features, giving the user extreme versatility during the design process. This software is one of the more modern choices, filled with effective production tools. The cloud-based functionality makes file sharing and collaboration easy, but it is paid software, not open-sourced.
3DS Max software comes from Autodesk and is mainly for 3D character models, like toys, action figures, or similar projects. It’s a popular 3D printer software in industries like gaming, animation, and film. Designers or engineers often use it to create rapid prototypes, making tiny adjustments as they print new models.
Models created in 3DS Max can be transferred to STL and other popular 3D printing formats, making it easier to send or export. It can also create special effects or modern graphics, making it an animator’s dream. But this is definitely not open-source software, as it costs a pretty penny.
TinkerCAD is also from Autodesk but is a browser-based program. So you don’t need to download it, but you need internet access to use it. This open-source software is ideal for beginners using 3D printers and 3D printer software for the first time.
It has an intuitive design, guiding you through the model design process with ease without limiting your creativity and flexibility. It all starts with building blocks, literally. You stack graphic blocks to curate your model, making it easy to get started. While this is likely the best CAD 3D printer software for newbies, it doesn’t satisfy more experienced 3D designers.
Blender might be one of the best-known and most-used open-source CAD software. It’s 100% free to use and compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux. The robust mesh-based direct modeling is not parametric, making it slightly less suitable for mechanical engineering. It’s better suited to design projects, like model homes or toys.
Blender is a beautiful software for rendering, fast modeling, and artistic sculpting. It boasts impressive accuracy for a free tool, making it one of the most popular choices among artists or designers using 3D printers.
Another excellent 3D printer software to consider is Solidworks. This software is not a decent option if you 3D print as a hobby on a budget, but if you use your 3D printer for business and work, this software is top-shelf. It offers a professional suite of design tools catering to academic, commercial, and research projects.
The software handles 2D and 3D design, making it helpful in several industries. Of the many CAD software on the market, this may be the fanciest and most modern option, as it’s consistently updated and improved to keep up with professionals’ needs and expectations. You can also use it to test performance and safety features on products before you even print them!
Slicing software is an integral tool for 3D printing. Remember the G-code from earlier? Well, slicing software takes the model design you created using one of the CAD software recommendations above and slices it up into G-code!
As mentioned, the G-code is a set of plotted points your 3D printer can read and turn into the model you designed. The slicer software is important, as if you can’t create a geometric code from your computer-aided software design, you can’t print a 3D model.
Cura 3D or Ultimaker Cura is one of the best open-source slicing software you can use. It’s simple for newbies to use and understand, with a quick-learning curve and simple navigation. But it also has over 200 hidden settings advanced users can access if they need more complex slicing capabilities.
Depending on your comfort and familiarity with slicing designs, you can select a basic, advanced, or expert mode. The software program is free to use and works with Windows, macOS, or Linux! This open-source software is suitable for all levels of 3D printers, from first-timers to experienced people.
One of the best premium slicer software is Simplify3D, which does make things super simple for you! While it is not open-source, it is a reasonably priced program, so it won’t break the bank and is an appropriate purchase for passionate printing hobbyists or people who use it infrequently for business.
It can vastly improve the quality of your prints, as it’s incredibly accurate, reliable, and efficient. The accuracy is not only due to its impeccable slicing into G-code, but it also corrects and repairs errors in the design as it slices!
Essentially, it corrects any little mistakes you made while designing so they don’t appear on the printed model, acting as a design editor for you. It’s widely compatible, working with most printer models and brands, and is excellent at switching remotely from printer to printer.
Another open-source software you can use completely free is Slic3r. If you’re new to 3D printing, this is a great software to give you a feel for the slicing process and what G-code means. As the program slices, it allows you to preview the horizontal layers, generated toolpaths, and the amount of material needed.
This information is extremely helpful when you aren’t sure how much printing material a project will require, as attempting to print with insufficient material can create problems. Slic3r is actually a non-profit project created by a 3D printing and slicing community. The goal is to create free software where people can experiment with advanced printing features and enhance their skills.
You can access more modern and impressive features on Slic3r, including brim, micro-layering, bridge detection, and multiple extruders. Typically, these features are only on premium, paid slicing software.
A lesser-known but equally efficient slicing software is KISSlicer. This software has a free basic version that anyone can use, but it also offers more advanced options for pricing plans. However, for most people, the basic version offers plenty of tools and features to accurately and quickly slice computer-aided designs.
The free version only works for single-head machines, which is what most hobbyists or infrequent users have. But the advanced version is still reasonably priced!
The software is straightforward and works rapidly across multiple platforms and applications, helping to slice STL files and other formats into printable G-code files. The software is relatively basic but offers exquisite results even if you have little design, slicing, and printing experience.
A popular open-source software you should consider is Repetier. Like Slic3r, this software is a community-based project. It is free to use, but it’s suggested you donate to support the project if you’re financially able and appreciate the work they do.
The software is suitable for all levels of 3D printing experience. It allows you to scale, place, rotate, and eventually slice your object with precision. It offers previews before printing so you can catch errors before you waste time or printing materials.
The program offers plenty of customization options, which can become overwhelming for some. But if you’re patient and willing to do some exploring and testing, you can get the hang of the software relatively quickly.
As mentioned with Simplify3D, there are often errors in a computer-aided design that will show up in the final printed product. To avoid wasting time and materials by printing items with small errors, you can use an STL (or SLA) repair tool.
These tools can help ensure your model is error-free before you print it. STL repair tools may work before, during, or after the slicing process; it depends on the tool you use and other software installed. STL stands for stereolithography, which is a fancy term for the mapping of G-codes.
Repairing an STL file can mean separating shells, closing holes, bridging gaps, filtering out doubles, stitching edges, remeshing, exporting, and more. Because so many tasks go into fully repairing a file, repair tools can save you time and work better.
Meshmixer is one of the most popular editing programs because it is user-friendly and versatile. With this software, you can optimize triangle mesh, resculpt entire model sections, choose different stylizations, and incorporate additional features.
Meshmixer goes beyond what most CAD software can do, helping you trim the fat on your projects and perfect everything before you press print. With analysis, shading, and x-ray features, you can closely inspect your project from all angles.
MeshLab is similar to Meshmixer but specializes in mesh operations concerning scanning data. It assists with triangulation and repair algorithms, helping the program find errors and smooth them over.
You can perform all sorts of mesh repairs, from advanced to rudimentary. The depth of this software is impressive, and you need to explore the features to understand its capabilities.
More 3D Printing Software
The three types of software discussed and recommended above are the most important. However, if you use your 3D printer often, such as for work, you may want to have printer hosting and print management software.
These programs offer more control over your printer and printing projects, so serious printers should use them. But casual 3D printers can stick to the three software types highlighted above.
3D Printer Hosting Software
3D printing hosting software allows your printer and computer to communicate faster. Some printers come with this software, and some of the software programs above have built-in hosting features.
The best hosting software lets you simultaneously control and communicate with multiple 3D printers. With these tools, you can set priority prints, set up sleep modes, and configure printers to different G-code files. Below are the top 3 programs to use for printer hosting.
Print Management Software
3D print management software is a must for busy printers juggling many projects. These programs typically work in tandem with hosting software, helping delegate projects and designs to specific printers on a schedule.
But even without the hosting software, the best 3D print management programs below can help you track projects and monitor productivity!
- Polar Cloud
Wrap Up On 3D Printing Software
The world of 3D printer software can be slightly overwhelming, but once you get in the groove, you’ll see how beautifully these different programs work together to print anything you can imagine.
These programs seem to get simpler with every iteration, making 3D printing accessible to everyone, not just the most tech-savvy professionals.
If you’re just dipping your toe into 3D printing, start with open-source software that won’t cost you a penny. Even though they’re free, they have many advanced features and can help you make 3D magic!
Hopefully, this article gave you valuable insight into the 3D printer software you need to bring your ideas to life!