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Best 3D Printing Software

Best 3D Printing Software | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone

/

June 30, 2021

What sets a 3D printing software apart? The best (TinkerCAD, Rhinoceros 3D, FreeCAD, etc.) are characterized by some of the features we shall cover below.

There are several factors and features we considered before settling on the best 3D printing software outlined below. Most of them are efficient, have a quick learning curve, and are user-friendly depending on the user’s level of expertise.

This article covers the features, pros and constraints of some of the best 3D printing software. Besides, it covers a general but detailed overview of each software, its popularity and everything you ought to know. Meshmixer, TinkerCAD, Ultimate Cura, FreeCAD, among others, are some of the software covered.

According to 3D industry experts, key players like mechanical engineers, machinists, and designers below are software they consider the best. The selection criteria were dependent on the ease of use, learning curve, efficiency of the software, among other factors outlined below.

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Table of contents:

Factors to Consider When Choosing a 3D Printing Software

The type of software you use will determine the quality of output and performance of your organization. Therefore, it's crucial to identify and compare different software before settling for one with characteristics and capabilities to serve you well.

In addition to performance, design, metrics and scalability, below are some of the essential factors you need to consider.  

Ease of Collaboration with Key Industry Players

The 3D printing software you choose should allow easy collaboration with the suppliers, manufactures and customers. In addition, the sharing process of files should not be long and tedious due to the long conversion processes.

Choose a software that is popular with your industry to avoid the inconveniences of files that are not compatible. Besides compatibility, choose one that can import and read files without the need to translate them from other systems.

Finally, the software should be of international standards, easy to use, and work efficiently with diverse files from most brands.

Capability to Deliver according to Your Organization’s Needs

The 3D printing software should efficiently meet all your organization’s needs. This includes designs, smooth finishes and original appearances. Choose the most efficient one in creating the type of product your organization deals with. Be keen on the special modeling aids and automatic generation of patterns.

While at it, the production cost should be cost-effective and at the same time adding value profitably.  

Necessary Tools from the Concept to the Manufacturing Process

Choose a software that offers all the prerequisites to turn your concepts into products without much need for manual labor and minimal errors. This should include abilities like machining, testing and cost estimation.

The software should have physical simulating properties like kinematics, deflection, vibrations, and dynamics to reduce physical tests. Such characteristics help in quick and efficient productions.

Full Integration with the Organization’s Infrastructure

The relationships between 3D files and systems are complex. Choose a 3D printing software that can fully integrate all the designers in your organization. A fully integrated software allows for easy project coordination and your team’s sanity.

It prevents designers from overwriting each other’s work, reduces the number of errors and production of defective products. This will save your company time and unnecessary additional production costs.

Ease of Learning and Continued Support

Learning how to use 3D printing software requires training from experienced personnel. It’s a complex and time-consuming process, so choose software with a consistent interface. This will save you from hidden procedures that can frustrate you as a designer.

Learning never stops, therefore choose a reseller that offers continued support. New hotkeys, reduction of production steps, and increasing efficiency are some of those learning processes that are continuous in 3D printing.

What are the Best 3D Printing Software?

Below are the best 3D printing software that are currently available in the market.

TinkerCAD

It is a good software for beginners that uses CSG in creating solid models. It allows you to make complex models by adding shapes. In addition to that, you can add electronic circuits to the designs. The software also allows you to test how the results will look.

Key Features

  • It uses CSG in creating 3D model
  • It saves the models in 3 formats, OBJ, SVG and STL
  • It allows for file editing and presets
  • Allows addition of electronic circuits
  • File explorations and Codeblocks
  • Cloud storage to store the designs and models
  • Available learning tutorials

Pros

  • It’s a user-friendly software.
  • Highly compatible hence giving solid 3D printing files
  • It’s a good tool for collaboration and easy sharing of designs
  • Its coding and electronic features are available in a proper manner

Cons

  • It is an online tool hence you can’t use it without the internet.
  • Its capabilities are limited to students and beginners. The touch screen features are also limited
  • Limited rendering options; close to none
  • No lighting feature; hence you can only allocate your model plain colors

Autodesk fusion 360

It’s one of the best and most preferred software for products by designers and mechanical engineers. It combines power and seamless design in manufacturing products, delivering smooth and high-quality designs.

Key Features

  • Easy real-time collaboration with other designers using the same software
  • The History Tree feature allows accurate and fast object editing
  • It allows full and efficient control of shape designs during the printing of objects
  • It’s integrated with CAD, CAM, PCB and CAE
  • Leverage simulation for functionality simulation and testing

Pros

  • Easy collaboration with other designers
  • Several tools that generate clean and detailed models
  • Fast, accurate and simulation-tested productions
  • It’s free for non-commercial projects.

Cons

  • Functionality change amidst projects which changes the workflow
  • It is complex and can be confusing for beginners

Ultimaker Cura

It’s an open-source 3D printing software that easily integrates with 3D printers. The software is perfect for beginners since it offers relevant recommendations during the workflow. On the other hand, the customization model has highly customizable features for depth control and other requirements as required.

Key Features

  • It prints in multiple networks and is compatible with X3D, 3MF, STL and OBJ.
  • It allows the addition of printers and custom materials to its exhaustive library.
  • A single user interface to monitor the printing jobs
  • Easy-to-use software that has a quick learning curve
  • Leverage adjustment tools
  • It supports additional plugins

Pros

  • Easy and quick software to learn for beginners
  • High compatibility hence possible use in multiple networks
  • It’s a free-to-use, open-source software

Cons

  • Limited angles of view from the 3D viewer
  • It a slow software hence takes long time to print the models

Meshlab

It’s an open-source printing software that is suitable for processing and editing 3D meshes. Its numerous functionalities allow users to provide texture, render, edit, and covert designs to meshes easily. Besides, you can slice as well as prepare designs for printing.

Key Features

  • The 3D reconstruction capabilities create stunning designs efficiently
  • It has 3D texturing and color mapping
  • High-speed printing workflow
  • Convenient mesh cleaning options
  • Linear reading options to calculate distance between two mesh points
  • Best offsetting, closing and hollowing features

Pros

  • Quick and efficient 3D mesh prints
  • Convenient mesh cleaning options
  • A free and user-friendly software
  • An easy-to-use software with numerous features

Cons

  • Single buttons with multiple functionalities
  • It lacks many essential options hence rough navigation

3D Slash

It’s a free, simple and user-friendly 3D printing software. It’s composed of tools that make its use straightforward and fun for new non-technical users. The advanced features are also easy to use, making the process of printing the models easy.

Key Features

  • Efficient editing of STL files
  • A VR mode for visualizing the 3D models in virtual reality
  • A High Definition mode for precise creation and editing of models
  • The syringe tool for easy underneath color application
  • New versions with combined expert and basic features
  • It allows users to insert rounded shapes into the models

Pros

  • It’s a free and user-friendly 3D printing software
  • It has learning tutorials with examples
  • Precise and efficient creation of 3D models

Cons

  • It’s not efficient for industrial use
  • It’s only suitable for beginners and not professionals because of its basic features

FreeCAD

It’s a free and open-source 3D printing software suitable for both novice and professional designers. Users can leverage the 2D design feature in creating 3D models. Making it is one of the best tools for easy training and learning.

Key Features

  • Allows import and export of different formats, including IGES, DXF, SVG, STL, IFC, among others
  • Its technical drawing feature allows monitoring 2D views of all 3D designs
  • It stores the 3D editing history hence making the 3D productions easy
  • The robot simulation feature allows the insertion of annotations as the designer draws,
  • Sketcher feature for creating 2D bases useful in 3D modeling  
  • Numerous important features  like geodata workbench, BIM, Element Analysis, experimental CFD, among others
  • It supports different platforms like Windows, OS X, Linux and MAC

Pros

  • A user-friendly interface that is easy to understand
  • It works with most platforms
  • It’s a free software with beginner tutorials for learning

Cons

  • It only has the basics
  • Lacks specific functions for mechanical designs

OpenSCAD

It is an open-source 3D printing software that is reliable and efficient in creating and printing 3D models. It is suitable for professionals working on elaborate and complex projects. Programmers can also use it for coding purposes.

Key Features

  • It is available on Windows, Mac and Linux
  • It has 2D Extrusion outlines and is equipped with Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG)
  • Has a community of designers that discuss issues, offering instant solutions
  • The option to leverage on 2D CSG in creating 3D models

Pros

  • It’s a free 3D printing software
  • It offers high accuracy in its models
  • The large community that offers support and instant solutions
  • It allows modeling by the use of algorithms

Cons

  • The software isn’t user-friendly due to the descriptive language
  • Not efficient in creation of complex shapes

Comparison Between OpenSCAD and FreeCAD

FreeCAD OpenSCAD
It’s unstable sometimes It offers high precision modeling
A complex UI Non-standard UI
Full functionality 3D previews Limited previews
No support community Large support community
Standard modeling High levels of precision modeling
No algorithmic Modeling Allows algorithmic modeling

Rhinoceros 3D

It’s a complex 3D printing software that is suitable for professional use. It has several features that allow users to design, render, analyze, edit, translate, among other 3D processes. The software is versatile and uses NURB (mathematical representations) in creation of models as well as printing them.

Key Features

  • It’s compatible with products like CAD, CAE, CAM, among others
  • Different tools of model creation in points, curves meshes, etc
  • The grasshopper feature helps users generate codes without using algorithms
  • It has subscription plans where the minimum is above  $400
  • History recording feature that allows users update their projects
  • Performance analysis feature to provide project insights
  • Abilities to interpret as well as repair meshes and IGES files

Pros

  • Use friendly and highly compatible
  • It doesn’t require specialized software
  • It has numerous features
  • Quick and precise editing of both complex and simple models

Cons

  • Its relatively expensive
  • Has some accuracy issues
  • It’s complex hence suitable for professional designers

Autodesk AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a famous professional 3D printing software from Autodesk. It’s a paid software with real-time performance analysis with numerous functions, which enable it to produce any 3D model.

Key Features

  • The mechanical design feature allows modification
  • Annual subscription, which is priced above $1440 with a free student learning version
  • Usable preloaded templates and information
  • The software allows users to annotate as they draw, which gets the models ready for printing
  • Data imports and PDF sharing feature
  • Abilities to transform 3D models to STL files

Pros

  • A free version is available for students and learning institutions
  • Available for both web and mobile users
  • A number of mechanical features are available
  • Preloaded templates and information available for its users

Cons

  • It’s a complex software to understand
  • Relatively pricey

SketchUp Make

It is a versatile 3D printing software best suited for architectural designs. It allows easy transformation of ideas to 3D models. So professionals like architects, engineers, builders and designers can leverage what it has to offer to showcase their designs to clients.

Key Features

  • The user interface is not only engaging but also intuitive
  • Useable templates that can be used as a base in creating designs
  • Collaborative workspaces for sharing information and 3D designs
  • Leverage pf 2D designs in creating 3D models
  • It offers both free and paid subscription programs

Pros

  • A user-friendly interface suitable for beginners
  • Usable templates
  • The collaborative workspaces make sharing and communication easy

Cons

  • Expensive paid versions
  • It’s limited to simple 3D design models

CATIA

The software was developed by Dassault Aviation for their internal requirements. Due to its multi-platform suite nature, it has gained a lot of popularity with time. It is well equipped with Dassault Systems and is best for the automotive and aerospace industries

Key Features

  • Collaborative workspace for easy sharing of designs and models
  • Efficient data management in the product development process
  • History tracking feature to record changes for efficient product revisions
  • A wide range of 3D modeling tools hence meeting different specific organizational requirements  

Pros

  • Efficient 2D drafting models eliminating the need for AutoCAD
  • Highly developed surface modeling modules
  • Easy sharing of information and 3D designs

Cons

  • It a complex software hence not suitable for beginners
  • It’s among the most expensive software in the 3D printing industry

SolidWorks

It’s another development by Dassault Systems, which is efficient for industrial 3D modeling purposes. Moreover, it comes with numerous unique and highly detailed features to enhance the innovation and creativity of designers.  

Key Features

  • This software is available in free and subscription versions.
  • A simple and straightforward workflow for easy design, manufacturing and simulation
  • 3DEXPERIENCE® for efficient management and smooth product delivery
  • Validation and reverse engineering tools
  • It uses the unique NURBS  system
  • Dimensional sketching for easy resizing

Pros

  • Straight forward workflows
  • Produces detailed curvatures from the unique system
  • Numerous usable features for easy and efficient 3D printing

Cons

  • Requires secondary programs for downloading and editing STL files

OnShape

It is a robustly built, easy to use and cloud-based software, with most modeling and 3D printing options. The software is entirely built on cloud, and this aspect saves users on the storage aspect. Due to its cloud-based nature, it is an efficient software for collaborative teams.

Key Features

  • Built on cloud and offers designers an end-to-end kind of collaboration
  • It compatible across all devices and platforms
  • Detailed and capable tools for the production of immersive 3D models
  • It’s a single CAD master version eliminating software license issues and difficulties in copying files

Pros

  • It’s a portable, reliable and stable software that has been professionally tested and proven.
  • The support team is understanding and quick to provide the required fixes
  • Easy sharing of files and designs for collaborative teams

Cons

  • It’s challenging to find commands in Onshape products.
  • It lacks offline caching hence, difficult to use with a poor network.
  • The printing process is a little bit cumbersome.

BlocksCAD

This software was specifically designed to train users, and it ensures this through its YouTube tutorial channel. As a result, it’s among the most suitable software for beginners who want to learn how 3D printing processes work.

Key Features

  • A user-friendly interface
  • Color block represented commands that are similar to LEGO and construction toy blocks
  • YouTube channel with tutorial videos
  • Has an OpenSCAD compatible software  for advanced finishing 3D models
  • It has a CSG geometry engine

Pros

  • It’s a free software that is very easy to use
  • Its compatibility with OpenSCAD allows for professional 3D modeling finishes
  • It offers text-based descriptions hence easy file merging and storage
  • Easy definition of variables that can be used in lines of code

Cons

  • Limited feature hence not applicable for professional users
  • It doesn’t allow drawing components that are partly inside others

Meshmixer

It’s a popular 3D printing software with editing and sculpture functionalities. It has tools that can work on triangular meshes hence its high popularity.  

Key Features

  • The latest model has autosave functions
  • Advanced selection tools alike brushing, surface-lasso, among others
  • Ease of making .obj files from .stl files
  • Straightforward and user-friendly interface
  • Conversion of any messy to solid 3D models

Pros

  • Easy to use functionalities (drag-and-drop)
  • Advanced lattices and 3D patterns
  • Provides great detail 3D prints

Cons

  • It’s susceptible to abrupt crashes, which are very frustrating
  • At some points of the workflow, the 3D parts become complex hence making it difficult or inspect

OctoPrint

OctoPrint mainly works by controlling printers from a computer. This is through monitoring and adjusting settings necessarily during the printing process. The adjustments are made remotely from the computer, and you can terminate the printing process in case of an emergency. The connection for monitoring is made through cameras programmed with both the printer and the computer.

Key Features

  • It’s available for different operating systems, Linux, Windows among others
  • Full remote monitoring and control of all printing processes
  • Highly compatible and extendable features
  • It’s a 100% open-source 3D printing control software

Pros

  • The software, slicers and all its plugins are free
  • The many plugins eliminate the need for more programs for the 3D printing process
  • An easy-to-use software that doesn’t require much knowledge

Cons

  • Some of the plugins are only efficient for smaller projects
  • The printers don’t send filament information to the printer, which can cause issues after it’s used up
  • It’s difficult to control multiple printers from this software

About THE AUTHOR

William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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