3D printing technology has come a long way, evident by the power-packed 3D printers that specialize in delivering detailed results. While the 3D printer plays a key role, the software used to design and operate 3D printers is just as important.
You will need software that complements the hardware to get the best results. If you are wondering how to pick the best 3D printing software, this article is for you. Let’s get to it.
Overview of 3D Printing Software
Any application that facilitates designing to print something from 3D printers can fall into 3D printing software. You can broadly categorize them into three categories: modeling, slicing, and operating software. As the name shows, modeling applications are used to design a 3D model on your desktop or laptop. Within modeling applications, there are two types, including CAD software and 3D modeling software.
While both types can be used to design a 3D model, one is better at specific models than the other. For example, CAD software works the best for models involved in automotive, aeronautics, architecture, and every other area where details of mechanical parts are essential. 3D modeling software, on the other hand, offers more creative liberty, and these designs typically do not have a mechanical function.
The second type of 3D printing software is “Slicer,” which translates the 3D model into a language the 3D printers can understand. Typically, Slicers break the model into multiple layers, which are then printed layer by layer. That said, some modeling software comes with G-code integration, eliminating the need for a second application to slice the model. You can print directly from these applications.
The third type of software is an operating program, which is not essential but adds more convenience. You can use these applications to connect the printers with a mobile phone or other smart devices to print directly from them. These applications will also help you track progress when a model is being printed remotely.
While these applications are important, you may not need them to start 3D printing. You can source a G-code for a 3D model directly in a USB stick and use that to print 3D models. The mentioned software suite is essential for those who want to design the models themselves.
Best 3D Printing Software
No size fits all; it is the same with 3D printing software. You have to pick the one based on the printer type and the models you design. That said, there are some applications that will be suitable for most users because of their versatility and extensive range of features. These include;
Ultimaker, a 3D printer manufacturing company, developed Cura. It is an open-source platform considered the benchmark for other software mainly because of its ease and use and plugin extensions. Cura is a slicer, and since it is one of the most popular software, it is likely that you will easily find a profile tailored for your 3D Printer.
Essentially, you can start right away with this application. It is compatible with all major operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and Linux. The application works best for filament-based 3D printers and does not need you to be appropriately trained. You can easily use the platform even if you are new to 3D Printers.
2. Prusa Slicer
Prusa is another popular slicer for 3D printers. It is also an open-source platform that works just as well for resin-based three printers. Prusa has become popular mainly because it offers comprehensive features and tunable settings. You can adjust support structures, change layer height functions, and get multi-material support from this software.
It is also one of the easiest software to use and offers settings based on your skill level. Depending on your skill set, you can go from basic to expert. You will get more customizable options for the 3D models as you go higher. The only downside to Prusa is there are not many pre-built settings. You will have to import custom settings or build one yourself. Fortunately, it is easy and does not take much time.
3. Shapr3D CAD Modeling
Shapr3D CAD Modeling is an incredible option for those trying to find their footing in 3D model designing. It offers two versions, a free basic version and a premium with an annual subscription fee. You can use the basic version to see if the software matches your skill set.
The platform interface is intuitive and allows beginners to design with precision. It has visualization features that enable you to look at the previous models in AR to ensure that the design is suitable for your printer.
The software is compatible with major operating systems, including Mac, iPad, and Windows. Best bit? The files will be synched in all locations if you use the same account.
4. Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is another popular model designer that offers solid modeling. It is suitable for experienced and beginners alike and offers a suite of features for sculpting, modeling, assemblies, 3D printing, and simulation. While it is free for personal use, you will have to purchase it for corporate use. The interface of the applications is simple but intuitive, making it a good fit for people with all skill sets.
While it offers a suite of features, one is particularly useful, allowing you to see all the changes in the design. You view and modify the edit history without building the new design from the ground up. Furthermore, it is a cloud-based platform that is helpful if several teams work on the same project.
How To Select The Right 3D Printing Software
We have mentioned some popular and effective 3D printing software, but they may not be suitable for everyone. Everybody has different needs and desires, which warrants software to be picked accordingly. Thus, while looking for 3D printing software, you have to consider a few factors, which include;
1. Understand Your Printing Needs
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of printing software that are designed for varying functions. You do not need a modeling application if you import the model because the slicer will be enough to get the printer up and running. In contrast, modeling software is a must if you want to design a model yourself.
Furthermore, you have to figure out which types of design you want to model. Software for models that involve complex mechanics differs from those that are not and must be picked accordingly.
2. Compatibility with Your 3D Printers
3D printers use different technologies and materials used to print 3D models. Some software is better at one technology and material than others. For example, Cura works best for filament-based models but would not work as well with resins. So, if you want to print resin-based models, it is best to avoid it and look for slicers that work the best with resins.
3. Software Features and Tools
While beginners will be fine working with almost all software because basic features are available, experts may find them inadequate. Hence, looking for features based on your skill level is essential.
Experts should look for features that allow a higher degree of customization. In contrast, beginners should look for applications that offer a simple but comprehensive interface.
4. Budget Consideration
Some 3D printing software is free, but you must purchase a premium version to unlock most features. While these applications do not cost much, they cost a decent amount, high enough to warrant a sensible purchase.
You should narrow down the most needed features and then look for appropriately priced software. Do not subscribe to expensive software only because it offers more features as there is no use for them.
Tips For Using 3D Printing Software
While using 3D Printing Software, you must be mindful of a few basic things to avoid any inconvenience.
- While most software automatically saves the progress, some do not and require saving manually. You must never forget to save it after every step because occasional crashes will occur no matter how powerful the software and hardware are. So, if you have not saved the design, the entire design will have to be built ground up.
- Instead of experimenting with the applications, it is best to follow their guidelines.
- Always check whether your software is compatible with the material you want to print.
- If you have purchased a subscription, ensure to release the payment regularly because otherwise, all of your progress will come to a halt.
Future of 3D Printing Software
3D printing is evolving rapidly, and with the inventions of powerful printers, just as much powerful software is needed. It is expected that 3D printing software will become more affordable, efficient, and faster as time goes on.
Furthermore, a lot of work is being done to make the use of 3D printers simple, and the results are promising. You have some software that uses codes instead of the traditional method to build a design. In the future, it can become even simpler and allow users with a basic skill set to participate in the booming market.
3D printing software is just as important as your 3D printers. You must pick software based on different factors, like 3D printers. Understand the benefits and shortcomings of different software and find the right balance. Never decide in haste because once you get used to a particular software, it will be very challenging to switch to a new one and start everything once again.