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Best 3D printing software in 2022 - The Ultimate Guide

Introduction

Whether turning your 3D models into physical objects or starting your rapid prototyping process, if you are planning to use 3D printing, you will need the best 3D printing software to meet your goal! What kind of software could be helpful for your 3D printing journey?

We will take you through a selection of the most useful 3D printing software: Slicers, 3D printer control, STL edit and repair programs, and of course, 3D modeling software, etc. You’ll find all the 3D modeling software and modeling tools you might need to bring your 3D project to life. Follow the guide!

What is 3D printing software?

There is a lot of software applications to the 3D printing process. From designing your parts to slicing them into G-code and even controlling a desktop 3D printer while it fabricates your parts, you will inevitably have to choose some 3D programs along the way.  

What is slicer software?

  A 3D printing slicer is a program converting your 3D model into a language your 3D printer will understand to manufacture your object. The 3D slicer will digitally cut your 3D model into flat layers; these are the layers your 3D printer will then print one by one. This slicer software will define the model and instruct the 3D printer to print it. A 3D printing slicer usually prepares the model by generating G-code, the programming language the 3D printer will understand.   Slicer software is only helpful if you 3D print with your own FDM desktop 3D printer or resin 3D printer. When using a 3D printing service such as Sculpteo, no 3D printing slicer is needed!  

What are 3D printer hosts?

  Some slicer software can also be 3D printer hosts, directly controlling your 3D printing machine. For this, you will need to connect your printer to your computer during the whole 3D printing process.   

What are STL editors and repair tools?

  If you want to use additive manufacturing, you need one essential thing: a 3D file and, more precisely, an STL file. You can either design one yourself or find one online. But the files you find might not always correspond precisely to your needs. It might lack some features, have too many elements in it that you don’t need, or even be damaged. Thus, you will need to use an STL editor to fit your needs perfectly.    You can use CAD software (Computer-Aided Design) or a mesh editing tool. They are made for modeling and objects represented by a 2D surface.   

What is 3D modeling software?

  3D modeling software programs are designed to build 3D models of objects. Creating a 3D model is a mathematical representation of a three-dimensional object or shape. 3D models are used for various mediums, including video games, architecture, automotive, engineering, healthcare, etc.    If you want to 3D print an object, you need to design it on a 3D modeling software – or buy an already-made 3D model.

Slicers and 3D printer host

  • Ultimaker Cura

Cura is an open-source software tool developed by Ultimaker. A popular 3D printing slicer and new users can easily use the software with a quick learning curve. It is a fast and intuitive program, but advanced users can access another 200 settings when needing more precise control over print settings by switching from “Basic” mode to “Advanced” or “Expert.”

You can also use Cura as a 3D printer host software to control your machine, but the 3D printer needs to be connected to a PC during the whole 3D printing process. With Ultimaker Cura, users can monitor all the 3D printing jobs from a single user interface!

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

  • Simplify3D

Simplify3D is a premium slicing tool. If you are looking for a slicer tool to improve the quality of your 3D prints, then this might be the right choice for you. Indeed, this tool is not only about slicing your model; it’s also correcting issues and allowing you to preview your 3D objects, preventing any other problems you might have.

Simplify3D is compatible with most 3D printers and quickly switches between multiple machines.

Price: $149

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

  • Slic3r

Slic3r is an open-source software allowing you to slice, preview, and more! Another widely used 3D printing tool. As a good slicing tool, Slic3r cuts your 3D design into horizontal layers, generates toolpaths to fill them, and calculates the amount of material needed to 3D print the object.

Slic3r is a non-profit community project which allows people to experiment with several advanced new features that have become quite common, such as multiple extruders, brim, micro layering, bridge detection, and so on!

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

  • KISSlicer

KISSlicer is an easy-to-use and fast cross-platform app that efficiently slices STL files into printer-ready G-code files. The user interface is basic, but the software will deliver excellent results if you don’t need advanced setting options or customization. 

The free version is only for single-head machines; if you want to use multi-head devices, you must choose the PRO version.

Price: Free for the basic version

System: Windows, Mac

 

  • Repetier

This open-source slicer software will allow you to place, scale and rotate your object as well as slice it. You will also get the opportunity to preview your 3D model before 3D printing. Repetier supports three different slicing engines, Slic3r, CuraEngine, and Skeinforge, and handles 16 extruders. This 3D printing tool offers quite a lot of customization, ideal for more experienced users. 

Price: Free, but you can donate to support the project

System: Windows, Linux, Mac

 

  • PrusaSlicer

PrusaSlicer has been developed by the creators of the Original Prusa 3D printer, Prusa Research. They used the open-source program Slic3r to create their slicing tool. 

This program includes many exciting features, such as customizable support structures, multi-material support, or even smooth variable layer height functions. PrusaSlicer 3D software can be used with both FDM and resin printers, and its various modes will allow you to adapt the settings to your skill level. 

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

  • OctoPrint

OctoPrint is a free, open-source software accessible from your web browser. It is a real web-based 3D printer host that allows for the control and monitoring of 3D printers. Moreover, OctoPrint is compatible with most 3D printers and offers the possibility to start, pause and stop the 3D printing process remotely.

This tool accepts G-code from any 3D slicer software but can also be used as a slicer for your 3D files, meaning OctoPrint can become your all-in-one print preparation package.

Price: Free

System: Web browser

 

  • MatterControl 2.0

MatterControl 2.0 is developed by MatterHackers; this all-in-one program is a 3D printer host, slicer, and CAD software. This software will tackle your entire 3D printing process, from design to actual manufacturing.

This software package targets beginners and advanced users. Many tutorials are available on their website for new users, while experienced ones will have the pleasure to discover the possibilities of advanced settings for customized support generation.

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

  • ISL

ISL is both a slicer and a 3D modeling tool. The developers’ goal was to make a powerful and accessible solution, particularly adapted to beginners. You can find a wide range of slicing settings and pre-configured options if you are not familiar with these programs.

Price: Free

System: Windows, Linux

Tools to edit and repair STL files

  • Meshmixer

MeshMixer is a free mesh editing software. You can download it directly from Autodesk’s website. It’s straightforward to use if you want to edit STL files, especially if you wish to resize your 3D object or change some aspects. It considers all the different issues that you may face with your file. These software tools will allow you to get a repaired file ready for additive manufacturing.

Moreover, it also has a built-in slicer tool. Thus, you can directly send your file from MeshMixer to a 3D printer.

Price: Free

System: Windows

 

  • MeshLab

MeshLab is an entirely free and open-source program to edit your STL files. Professionals primarily use it since they appreciate its multiple mesh and point cloud processing functions. They also enjoy the possibilities it offers to manage massive files.

It has many processing tools like mesh analysis, cleaning of errors, remeshing, surface reconstruction, automatic smoothing, and visual inspection. Thus, it’s extremely powerful to edit your STL files. You can’t create an STL file from scratch, but you can create new models by merging some existing ones.

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

  • FreeCAD 

FreeCAD is a free and open-source CAD software. It uses parametric modeling and can be used by many different users, from beginners to professional 3D designers. Since it’s pretty easy to use, you don’t need to be an experienced CAD designer to use it. Architects and engineers mostly use it because its features were built for mechanical engineers.

Since it was designed for mechanical use and not for modeling, you can’t sculpt a model with it without difficulties. But it will be great to construct mechanical objects or fix your STL files.

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

3D modeling software

  • Tinkercad

TinkerCAD is a browser-based program made by Autodesk, meaning you don’t have to download it; you can access it quite easily and start your 3D design and 3D modeling project. TinkerCAD is an excellent introduction to 3D software, perfect for beginners, and this program is adapted for educational purposes. This program will allow you to give life to your ideas without any previous 3D modeling experience.

This app works by placing blocks one by one to create the object you want. It has a user-friendly interface making it easy to use the different 3D tools and create your 3D project. Keep in mind that you might need to switch to a more powerful 3D modeling tool for more complex and intricate designs.

Price: Free

System: Web browser

 

  • 3D Builder

This 3D modeling application is integrated into Windows. Thanks to a simplified interface, 3D Builder can be used by anyone. A library is available, where you can choose among already made projects. This program is straightforward and doesn’t offer many options but still allows you to work on STL, OBJ, or 3MF files. 

However, if you are looking for a program to initiate 3D modeling and 3D printing, you have to try it out.

Price: Free

System: Windows

 

  • SketchUp Free

With many features and several advanced tools, Sketchup is a well-known professional-grade software. The software is beneficial for professionals who need to create 3D models easily to showcase them to their customers. This 3D software is primarily used for architecture, interior design, or engineering projects but can be used for 3D printing. 

It offers an open-source library with an extensive collection of 3D models you can use and reuse for your projects. This 3D modeling program is free for personal use or students! Keep in mind that the accessible version of Sketchup is a web platform. This free version can already allow you to develop interesting 3D printing projects and is adapted to both beginners and advanced users. 

Price: Free, pro version is $299/year

System: Web browser

 

  • Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is cloud-based software developed by Autodesk, combining parametric, surface, freeform direct, and mesh modeling features. 

This 3D software is gaining popularity among professionals and hobbyists. Fusion 360 by Autodesk combines Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM), and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) software. It has a more modern take on design and will give you numerous design, simulation, and production tools. Fusion 360 will be excellent for 3D printing engineering projects, mechanical parts, and product design. It is also important to mention that Fusion 360 is cloud-based, making it much easier to work in teams.

Price: Yearly 495$ 

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

  • Blender

Blender is a well-known computer-aided design software, and it is a powerful mesh-based direct modeling software and not a parametric one. Professionals even use Blender to develop video games or animation. It is pretty similar to software such as Mudbox or ZBrush, and it is not suitable for beginners. 

This program is fantastic for artistic use, with excellent software tools such as sculpting, rendering, and fast modeling. But it is also a perfect software if you need to create 3D printable 3D models, as it also includes CAD features to repair your meshes. It can avoid bad surprises once parts come out of 3D printers.

Price: Free

System: Windows, macOS, Linux

 

Now that you have this selection of 3D printing software, you are ready for your 3D printing journey. If you don’t want to invest in your 3D printer and need professional quality, try out Sculpteo’s online 3D printing service! Upload your 3D file right now, and you will get an instant quote for your project. 

Any questions about the 3D printing process of your parts? Contact us, our team of 3D printing experts, we’ll help you with your project.

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