If you are at the beginning of your 3D printing adventure, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information available on the world wide web. Don’t panic; we are here to break it down for you and help you become a 3D printing pro.
Let’s first dive into why 3D printing and design software is beneficial. As the name suggests, 3D printing can create 3D objects that you have designed yourself, scanned, or simply downloaded from websites like Thingiverse or Pinshape. However, the real power of 3D printing lies in the fact it can be used for prototype creation, manufacturing spare parts, prosthetics, architecture, even for creating works of art.
Benefits of 3D Printing Software
Lower Production Costs and Decentralized Production
Let’s say that, to manufacture your product, you need a specific part. You are buying that part from an independent third-party manufacturer. With a 3D printer and design software, you could replicate the required part, produce it on-site, and save money on shipping and purchasing it from a retailer.
The design process always includes prototype manufacturing to work out any rough edges and design flaws. 3D printing makes this step easy since you can quickly print out your design at any point in the development process.
With 3D printing, production limitations won’t influence the complexity of your design. Compared with traditional injection molding, 3D printer software has a different approach to producing an object. Models are created layer by layer, freeing you from the design constraints of conventional methods of production.
Printing on Demand
Unlike standard manufacturing, 3D printing doesn’t require traditional material storage. Whenever you need a part, you can just grab the right file and have it printed. 3D printing can save you space and reduce storage costs.
Since we most often use the same software to create and print our 3D models, it’s quite simple to edit your print beforehand. The best 3D modeling software for 3D printing allows you to change your model’s parameters and customize it with just a few clicks.
3D printing works by adding material to the model you are printing. There is no waste created by removing chunks of material, drilling holes, or sanding the object’s surface to get the desired shape.
Since 3D printing adds material in layers, some models require supports. They act as scaffolding for the model. These supports are the only waste produced by 3D printing and most often can be recycled.
Improved Medical Application
3D modeling software for 3D printing is revolutionizing medicine as we speak. The most obvious uses are for creating casts or prosthetics. They can be easily adjusted to patients’ needs to make more comfortable and higher quality solutions than traditionally applied methods. As science progresses, 3D printing is pushed even further by bioprinting. By using living cells as printing material, scientists have produced artificial living tissues. While we are still far from having 3D-printed organs used in transplantation procedures, the possibilities indeed are vast and seem like something straight from the cyberpunk universe.
When choosing the best 3D printing software for your needs, you need to consider a few things.
While the price is the most apparent limitation for most users, there are still plenty of software solutions to choose from, even if you are on a tight budget. Many programs have trial versions or are free for personal and educational use.
Some software solutions are more user-friendly and therefore more adjusted toward beginners. A more straightforward user interface usually means somewhat limited functionality compared to advanced programs with more options.
Some types of software for 3D printing are better suited for engineers and industrial design, while some are better for artists and more organic models.
Types of Software
There are two basic types of software for 3D printers: slicers and 3D printer hosts.
Slicer software processes the 3D model to G-code, a computer numerical control (CNC) programming language. Various industrial-level machines widely use it. In this case, the software slices the 3D model into 2D layers and sends G-code instructions to the printer.
3D printer host handles the communication between the 3D print program
and your computer. It also serves as a slicer but has additional functionality. It allows you to place multiple objects you are printing on a simulated printer bed, transmit instructions to your printer, and more.
Some software solutions bundle 3D printing functionality with powerful design features. CAD (Computer-Aided Design) programs will let you design anything from nuts and bolts to a helicopter.
Some programs only view and repair 3D models before printing. This is quite useful because if a 3D design isn’t prepared for printing, it may result in a failed print or a defective model.
Our review methodology will take all these features into account to find the best programs for 3D printing. We’ll analyze modeling capabilities, preparation for 3D printing, user interface, file type support, and best use cases for the software. We’ve prioritized software that offers features beyond regular slicers.
Top 5 Best 3D Printing Software
- Fusion 360
What is the best program for 3D printing?
For the program to communicate with your 3D printer, it needs to act as a slicer. It translates your model into horizontal layers that are translated to G-Code. By interpreting the G-Code, the printer creates the model by using the additive method.
The best slicing software for 3D printing will have additional functionality besides communicating with your 3D printer. The best program will help you with positioning models on the printing plate, analyze if the model is printable, repair it, and create supports.
Since there are plenty of affordable programs that can serve as powerful sculpting, modeling, and CAD tools, selecting just one piece of software is a daunting task. In our review, we found the Blender to be the best overall tool for modeling and 3D printing, and Fusion 360 to be the best CAD and CAM software package.
What software do people use for 3D printing?
Depending on what you need 3D print and design software for, you might lean towards more creative or CAD modeling solutions. If you are looking for the most commonly used solution with a specialized focus on printing, we would wholeheartedly recommend Meshmixer. If you prefer just downloading the file you need from Thingiverse, Meshmixer will handle everything.
What is the best free slicer for 3D printing?
The best free slicer-only software we reviewed is Meshmixer. However, most programs we reviewed serve as slicers and 3D printer hosts and have modeling features. Many great 3D printer modeling software solutions are free, with advanced features that you might expect from expensive, subscription-based programs.
Do you need a slicer to 3D print?
You don’t need dedicated slicer software to print your 3D models. Most advanced 3D modeling software comes with 3D printing features and is therefore capable of slicing a model for printing. The model is sliced into layers, and the number of layers will depend on the printing resolution. The higher the resolution, the more layers will be translated into G-Code and sent to the printer. If you are not sure what software to use, check our guide on the best 3D printing software. You will surely find something that’ll fit your taste and printing needs.