Add some razzle-dazzle to your life with cool 3D printing projects. We’ve compiled a list of the best 3D printing software, both paid-for and free, and for every skill level.
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Let me guess, you’re tremendously excited by the possibilities afforded by 3D printing. You want to build something cool. But there’s only one hurdle – you need sophisticated software to create and print the intricate designs you want. And you haven’t a clue where to start.
We get it, it’s hard picking out the right tool for the job. After all, there is a multitude of choices available that cater to a diverse range of applications. Drumrolls please, for the star 3D modeling tools this year.
- Ultimaker Cura
- 3D Slash
- Autodesk Fusion 360
Top 10 Best 3D Printing Software
TinkerCAD is an excellent web-based 3D modeling and design software. It comes with an easy-to-use interface that allows beginners to take their first 3D printing steps. Yep, you get to design complex models by using shapes and shape groupings.
TinkerCAD is not a full-fledged design suite, but it has enough features for a hobbyist or a STEM teacher. It is one of the best 3D printing software for beginners. The software is easy to use, and it’s compatible with most 3D printers.
Overall, TinkerCad is a handy 3D printing software that allows you to design basic objects. But it doesn’t come with sculpting or animating features. You should try another software if you’re looking to do advanced 3D modeling and printing.
- Easy to use
- Free 3D models
- Electronics and coding features
- Doesn’t work offline
- Not suitable for advanced 3D modeling
- Limited rendering options
FreeCAD is an open-source, customizable 3D modeling software that you can use for mechanical engineering and design.
The software is scriptable and extensible, and users can expand it to deal with a spectrum of design functions such as architectural and electrical engineering. You can craft real-life objects of various sizes. FreeCAD is one of the few 3D printing programs suited for hobbyists, programmers, educators, and experienced CAD users.
The static architecture of FreeCAD allows you to deliver additional functionality without changing the core system. The software runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac. It supports multiple file formats, including DAE, STL, STEP, DXF, OBJ, IGES, IFC, etc.
FreeCAD has an active developer community that works on new features and provides support.
- Active developer community
- Available on Linux, Windows, and Mac
- Complex UI
Ultimaker Cura is a slicing application trusted by millions of users worldwide. The software allows you to prepare prints with only a few clicks. It integrates with CAD software for easier workflows and comes with custom settings for in-depth control.
Ultimaker Cura is opensource and has been built over the years by a team of in-house experts and user contributors. Designed to work with Ultimaker 3D printers, it will also work with other printers in the market.
Overall, Ultimaker Cura is an excellent choice for both casual and more advanced users.
- Free to use
- Frequent updates
- Set up can take a long time
- Processing of models can be slow
Blender is a free 3D modeling and animation software. It is an opensource 3D printing design software, and it costs nothing to use. You can use this software to create 3D printed models, animated movies, video games, or even artwork. Unlike other 3d design tools, Blender is suited for programmers and gamers and is the least engineering inclined software on this list.
Blender covers all the bases in 3D Design. This includes animation, modeling, rigging, rendering, video editing, simulation, motion tracking, and compositing. Knowledge of Python scripting can help you with the customization and writing specialized tools for yourself. But you don't need scripting skills to use the tool effectively.
Overall, Blender is an excellent 3D printing software with tons of functionality. Unfortunately, beginners can find it hard to get started. But there are tons of tutorials online that help make the process easier.
- Skin-modifier for quick mesh generation
- Tons of addons
- Customizable UI
- Overwhelming for beginners
Meshmixer is one of the most popular tools on our list. It comes equipped with capabilities to work with triangular meshes. Meshmixer also features tools that allow you to edit and sculpt 3D models efficiently.
Meshmixer is the perfect tool for creating 3D models with a combination of easy to use tools. You don't need to be an expert to use the software. But you need to master the software's basic functionalities before you get started.
- Tons of tutorials available
- Access to prefabricated objects
- Easy to manipulate and customize
- File can be published to Shapeways
- Can be challenging for beginners
Looking for the best 3D printer software for artists? Sculptris is a user-friendly and interactive digital sculpting software. The tool is perfect for people just getting started with digital sculptures. It's easy to use and has a highly navigable interface. Even then, it remains a robust 3D software that artists and engineers can use.
Sculptris allows you to create 3d models by shaping in a mesh through different brushstrokes. The process is very similar to shaping a lump of clay in real time.
- Great for beginners
- Streamlined geometry
- Limited functionality for pros
- Can’t create complex 3D models and prints
- It’s no longer in development
MeshLab is yet another open-source 3D design tool that is suited for processing and editing 3D meshes. You can use the tool to edit, provide texture, render, and convert models into meshes easily.
You can also slice and prepare designs for 3D printing. This software is perfect for cutting edge 3D triangular meshes.
- Easy to use
- Can run on nearly all working frameworks
- Navigation is rough
- Multiple function buttons
8. 3D Slash
This 3D Slash is a Minecraft inspired tool for non-technical people who are interested in 3D modeling and printing. This tool takes a straightforward approach to 3D modeling and is fun to use.
It comes with advanced features and an intuitive user interface that makes it easy to print 3D models. It is the best 3D printer design software for beginners who have limited technical know-how.
- Simple user interface
- Easy to learn
- Great tutorials and examples
- Simple models that print well
- Designs are exclusively composed of cubes
- Limited teacher dashboard
- Few bells and whistles
- Limited documentation
SketchUp is one of the best 3D printing software. The tool is mostly used for architecture or design. But it's rich set of tools can be used for just about any type of 3D modeling. The pro version of SketchUp costs $299. But you can also get the free version of the app - it's referred to as SketchUp Free.
With the free app, you can pretty much do everything the pro version allows you to do. Note that the export and import options of the free version have limitations.
- Practical and easy to use
- Library of free 3D components
- Limited SketchUp library
- Saves time
Autodesk Fusion 360 is a robust cloud-based 3D printing software. That is a preferred choice for machinists, designers, and mechanical engineers. The tool seamlessly combines the power of engineering, manufacturing, and design into one.
Fusion 360 streamlines the 3D modeling process and ensures faster and smoother delivery of a high-quality product. It is ideal for the production of efficient mechanical parts. Many people consider this tool to be the best 3D modeling software for 3D printing.
- Excellent precision modeling tools for technical design jobs.
- Easy to use
- Free with full features
- Steep learning curve
- Can get laggy with a slow internet connection.
- Uses a lot of memory
How Does 3D Printing Work?
The first step in the 3D printing process is making a graphic model of the object using 3D printing software. This is usually the most labor-intensive part of the process. After that, you transfer the model to a 3D printer that does the rest of the work.
We’ll go over the step by step process below:
Step 1: Create a 3D model using CAD software such as SketchUp.
Step 2: Use the CAD software to convert the drawing to STL (standard tessellation language) format. This is the format recognized by most 3D printers. Some printers use formats such as ObjDF and ZPR. Make sure to find out the formats the printer supports.
Step 3: Transfer the STL file to the computer that controls the 3D printer. You’ll then designate the size and orientation in preparation for printing.
Step 4: Set up the 3D printer. The setup process varies from one printer to the other. But generally, you’ll have to refill the binders, polymers, and other consumables.
Step 5: Turn on the printer and wait for the build to complete. Keep checking the printer regularly during the printing process to make sure there are no errors.
Step 6: Remove the printed object from the printer.
Step 7: This is the post-processing stage. You’ll need to brush off any remaining powder or wash the object to get rid of soluble supports. Curing may also be necessary.
Key Features to Look for in a 3D Printing Software
Ready to take a deep dive into 3D printing? We’ve compiled a list of features to look for in 3D printing software.
Look out for customization features like edit history, sculpting, and the ability to use 2D models to create 3D models. Software with the right features will allow you to create more elaborate 3D model prints.
If you’re working with a team, you want to look out for collaboration features. 3D software with cloud capabilities allows you to collaborate with others more efficiently.
Supported File Formats
Look for a tool that supports as many file formats as possible. This makes it easier to import new elements into your 3D models.
Software with simulation features through VR can help you find errors and gaps in your design early on. It allows you to view model histories. This helps save resources and time.
Look for 3D modeling software that comes with powerful adjustment tools to help scale your 3D models to any limits. This way, you can create 3D models of any size and shape.
How to Choose the Best 3D Printing Software?
We’ll be the first to admit; choosing the right software can be a nightmare if you don’t know what to look out for. Here are the three key considerations you should make to determine what tool works best for you.
Consider Your Budget – If the software comes with a subscription fee, find out whether it falls within your budget.
Features – Go for software with features you will actually use. You might pay a premium for features you’ll never have use for.
Learning curve – How hard is it to learn how to use the software. This is particularly important for 3D printing novices.
Trends Related to 3D Printing Software
So, what are some of the things we can expect in the future with regard to 3D modeling software?
3D printing is moving towards a faster and simpler design preparation workflow. Software integration is the only way to achieve this.
Move to Replace STL
The STL file format is now over 30 years old. It has remained largely unchanged since the 1980s. As the 3D printing industry evolves, the limitations of STL will become apparent, especially for the design of complex production parts.
Focus on Workflow Management Software
Workflow management is experiencing enormous growth in the 3d software industry. The driver of this trend is the need for more scalability and automation of production AM (Advanced Material) simulation flows.
AM Simulation Software Growth
Simulation software plays an ever-increasing role as 3D printing transforms into a more production capable technology. Simulation is used to digitally reproduce the look and behavior of the material during the printing process. It is particularly important at the design stage since it helps minimize print failures.
Potential issues with 3D printing software
3D modeling tools are becoming more and more popular. With advances in technology, they’re also becoming easier to use. But there are still issues that make 3D printing inaccessible to everyone. They include:
Some tools are expensive and subscription can cost several thousand dollars a year.
3D tools often require extensive training to get users going. This can take up a lot of time and resources.
3D software is resource-intensive. You need expensive hardware to run most tools.
Most 3d modeling tools are rigid, which makes it almost impossible to execute projects creatively. You’ll be forced to make design decisions early in the project due to software constraints.
Some tools do not visualize 3D models accurately. You get a poor overly-detailed representation of your design.
Best 3D Printing Software FAQs
What is the easiest 3D software to learn?
TinkerCAD is one of the easiest 3D software to learn. It’s easy and fast, you’ll build your first 3D model in no time.
Is TinkerCAD better than Ultimaker Cura?
TinkerCAD is perfect for beginners. It’s a great tool for teaching school students how CAD works. Ultimaker Cura is more suited to the more advanced users. It’s feature-rich and is compatible most 3D printers.
What is the most popular 3D modeling software?
Here’s a list of the top 10 3D modeling software for 3D printing:
- Ultimaker Cura
- 3D Slash
- Autodesk Fusion 360
Is 3D printing expensive?
There are many variables in 3D printing. The cost largely depends on the size of the object, the materials used, number of items, and the printer being used. Post-production finishing also affects the cost. For instance, you might want the object polished or varnished. You must include this in the overall cost of production.
Generally, 3D printing small items can be cheap while 3D printing large objects are usually expensive.
What skills do you need for 3D printing?
You need some soft and interpersonal skills that include logical thinking and problem-solving. You’ll also need to understand how to operate a 3D printer and have a grasp of the types of materials used in the process. Finally, you need to learn how to use 3D printing software.
3D printing software allows you to get ideas out of your head and onto a screen, and finally into your hands. Our guide to the best 3D printing software will get you up to speed on using the right tools for the job.