What Software Do I Need for 3D Printing?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: September 20, 2021

The 3D printing software you use depends on your application, experience, and the expense you are ready to incur.

What Software Do I Need for 3D Printing?

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you make a purchase after clicking on a link I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

While some 3D printing tools may have the best features to customize your model and get a detailed and highly realistic outcome, they may not be best for beginners.

Modeling software allows you to design your own models while slicing tools slice CAD models to relay instructions to your printer.

Below are the best 3D printing software reviews to help you pick the right tools for your job.

What Is 3D Printing Software?

These are programs that convert 3D CAD layers into commands that your printer uses to extrude materials according to a defined pattern. The materials and software to use vary based on your application.

3D printing software includes many products that facilitate the 3D printing process. Examples include slicers, CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), design automation, and CAD (computer-aided design) technologies.

CAD software like SOLIDWORKS 2019 is a popular 3D printing software that enables the designing of complex models sliceable into small layers to form instructions for your 3D printer.

What Software Do I Need for 3D Printing?

The software type you should use varies based on your 3D printing workflow.

Once you have a 3D model, you will require software to slice your model or the 3D printing process to proceed. You may also want software that allows you to manage your printer remotely.

Nevertheless, you can skip the slicing process if your CAD tool features 3D printing integration.

Another way to avoid using slicing software is accessing 3D printable files like USB sticks and G-code. This way, the digital files are ready for printing.

So, which is the best 3D printing software?

3D Modeling Software

3D modeling software enables you to create your 3D printing models. While some are super-easy to handle, others are best-suited or pro 3D printer users.

1. OpenSCAD

This free software has many features and a distinguished means of creating models. OpenSCAD software takes a unique approach to the modeling process that involves programming making it stand out from other software.

Rather than the typical interactive modeling interface, OpenSCAD allows you to write code in script files that detail the specifications of your 3D objects. Upon inserting your code, you can click on the compile button to see the shapes you created.

Another aspect making OpenSCAD a great tool is that it can import 2D drawings and print them in 3D.

Pros

Cons

2. Tinkercad: Free CAD Software

This browser-based 3D modeling software with an intuitive block-building concept is excellent for beginners. Tinkercad enables users to develop models using basic shapes.

The software features many tutorials that allow new users to have the designs they seek with ease. File sharing and exporting is also a cinch.

It allows you to find shapes that best fit your application and manipulate them to get your desired results. Tinkercad also integrates with other 3D printing services. As a result, it enables you to print with just a button press.

Pros

Cons

3. Rhino3D

You can download this powerful tool in a preferred package from its assortment that comes at different prices. Rhino3D employs a precise, mathematical model called NURB (see the book on Amazon).

As a result, it allows you to customize aspects like curves, points, solids, surfaces, and meshes in many ways. Given its numerous design features, it is one of the best software for 3D printing.

That said, Rhino3D has a pretty complicated interface making it challenging for new users. Although this design software isn’t the most precise at nailing user intent, it still has many features making it an ideal tool for advanced users.

Price: from USD 231

Upgrade from USD 112

Pros

Cons

4. FreeCAD: Open Source Software

FreeCAD is an open-source, parametric 3D printing software suitable for designing objects of any size. Editing is straightforward as it only requires you to access your model history and tweak your model.

Being a wholly-free 3D printing software, it allows you to adjust your model as you wish with its different tools.

While it is not the best software for professional 3D printing, it is suitable for educational purposes. FreeCAD is an excellent choice for newbies who are not ready to commit to paid software tools before testing them.

It is ideal when you need to print parts for larger assemblies and prototyping. With its features to enable engineering simulations, FreeCAD allows you to confirm that your assembly functions as per your expectations.

Pros

Cons

5. Blender

Blender features many attributes, including simulation tools, animation tools, and modeling tools. Although Blender has a steep learning curve, it is open-source software and ideal if you want to design more complex models.

This free tool was initially for 3D rendering and animation using polygonal modeling methods. Amongst its outstanding features is photorealistic rendering. This aspect makes models look life-like than other free alternatives.

Pros

Cons

6. Sculptris

This tool employs digital sculpting to create 3D models. Sculptris allows you to develop objects by shaping meshes using different brush strokes. In other words, model creation is akin to modeling objects using clay.

The software begins as a sphere. You can slowly smooth, stretch, and dig your model to get your desired results. Because of this, it is a superb choice in video games and animated character creation.

Although it’s a good choice for beginners, it may be incompatible with the latest operating systems as it no longer gets updated.

Pros

Cons

7. Solidworks

Solidworks is a good choice for industrial applications. It has powerful tools ideal for additive manufacturing, simulation, 3D printing, CAM, cost estimation, and assemblies.

This CAD program is popular amongst experienced 3D designers. Solidworks offers many advanced 3D printing features like reverse engineering and design validation. It is available in three packages, each price based on the features on offer.

Most software tools incline flat objects to mimic curves. On the other hand, Solidworks employs a set of NURBS, which come up with edge averages. This leads to the creation of well-detailed curvatures.

Rather than polygonal modeling, Solidworks opts for dimensional sketching. This way, resizing becomes simpler.

Price: from USD 5,290, including a year’s subscription

Pros

Cons

8. AutoCAD

AutoCAD is an excellent 3D printing tool for professional use by Autodesk. This 3D printing software is highly versatile, giving you many 3D model customization opportunities.

With AutoCAD (see the book on Amazon), you can import and attach data from PDF documents, include annotations to your drawings, and extract data on your objects into tables. Thanks to these attributes, this tool allows real-time analytics and good data presentation.

You have access to both Mac and Windows tools upon subscribing.

Moreover, an AutoCAD subscription grants you access to other features like AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD Plant 3D, AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Electrical, AutoCAD MEP, and more.

This software is better suited for mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, architectural design, and other professions requiring detailed and complex shapes given its extensive toolset.

Price: Monthly subscription – USD 220

Yearly subscription – USD 1,775

Pros

Cons

9. 3DS Max

This 3D printing program is ideal for seasoned 3D printer users. It centers on animation and provides great 3D modeling features like parametric mesh modeling, polygon modeling, and shading tools.

It only works on Windows systems.

3DS Max (see the book on Amazon) is popular amongst TV commercial studios, architectural visualization studios, and video game developers.

Price: Monthly subscription- USD 215

Yearly subscription- USD 1,700

Three-year subscription- USD 4,590

Pros

Cons

3D Slicing Software

Slicing software enables you to easily transition from your 3D models to printed works as they take your CAD model, slice them into layers, and convert them to G-code.

Slicer software also has other settings like layer height, temperature, and printing speed. Your 3D printer interprets the G-code and creates the model in layers based on the provided printing instructions.

1. Simplify3D

Simplify3D (see the book on Amazon) is a powerful slicer that allows you to improve your 3D prints immensely. Besides slicing, it rectifies issues on your models and enables previewing of the expected outcome.

Advanced users should consider whether spending on its premium features is worthwhile or whether they should seek open-source slicing software tools.

Price: USD 149

Pros

Cons

2. Ultimaker Cura

As it is an open-source slicer, Ultimaker Cura is compatible with most 3D printers. And while it has a simplistic user interface, it has many valuable features. This open-source software is ideal for more advanced users as it has up to 200 settings for print manipulation.

Pros

Cons

3. ideaMaker

This slicing software offers you full free access. It allows you to manually or automatically place and share supports and print profiles. It has an adaptive layer height feature that enables it to alter layer height based on the degree of intricacy of your model.

As a result, it maximizes print quality while reducing print time. ideaMaker also supports remote control and monitoring.

Pros

Cons

4. 3DPrinterOS

3DPrinterOS is a paid software specifically designed to control the whole 3D printing process on one platform. You can repair and edit designs, send files to print from wherever, and slice STL files. This software also allows the sharing of CAD files.

Pros

Cons

5. OctoPrint

This open-source software enables you to control and monitor your 3D printers remotely. It works with many 3D printers and lets you watch your prints, thanks to a built-in webcam feed.

Plugins allow tracking of print statistics, and they forward notifications on the state of the printing process.

Pros

Cons

Does Software Come With 3D Printers?

Most 3D printers feature software suites containing everything needed for 3D printing. These suites come either on a disk or are accessible by download.

Software suites usually offer programs to control your slicer and printer. The programs organize the object in layers depending on factors like resolution in preparation for 3D printing.

Some suites also feature programs tasked with troubleshooting problems that may arise as you print. Some 3D printers allow you to select the programs to download instead of contending with what the suite provides.

What Is the Easiest 3D Software to Learn?

After exposure to the different 3D printing software above, you should be able to identify the easier ones to handle. But just to recap, these are the best 3D printing software for beginners that want a smooth time:

Conclusion

As you decide on a printing tool, consider the extent of customization you get. Some aspects to consider are the edit history, sculpting, and using 2D designs to extrude 3D models. An excellent 3D printing tool allows you to collaborate with others.

Get a tool that provides you with various file formats. This way, you can apply new elements to your models.

Simulation is crucial in identifying errors early enough. With simulation, you can check model histories and save your resources and time.

Finally, pick a program that allows you to tweak the scale of your models to desired limits. This way, you can create models in all sorts of profiles.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.