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Simplify3d vs. Cura: Pros & Cons of Both

Simplify3d vs. Cura: Pros & Cons of Both | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

Craig A Fry

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March 2, 2021

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has constantly been evolving since the first patents were filed on the technology in the late 1900s. As those patents expired in the early 2000s, many rushed to capitalize on this relatively new technology and broaden its accessibility. This spurred an influx of 3D printer manufacturers and slicing software to enable 3D conversion.

Among the most popular slicing software tools, or slicers, are Simplify3d and Cura. While they are both satisfactory products, Simplify3d and Cura differ greatly concerning their cost, user interface, functionality, compatibility, features, and additional updates.

As 3D printing approaches mainstream accessibility and popularity, there has never been a better time to scope out the slicing software landscape. Keep reading to learn more about two of the most popular slicers available. If you are interested in getting into 3D printing, use the information to pick out the right software for you.

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Table of contents:

Simplify3d vs. Cura: An Overview

The greatest difference between Cura and Simplify3d has to do with their owners. Cura is owned by Ultimaker, a 3D printer manufacturer that also provides open-source software like Cura. Simplify3d, on the other hand, is its own company and chooses not to make their software open source.

This distinction plays a major role in each software’s advantages and disadvantages, but there are other reasons for their differences. Before we list their advantages and disadvantages, let’s take a broad look at each slicing software.

First, Cura’s broad look concerning the software’s cost, user interface, functionality, compatibility, features, and updates.

  • Cost: As an open-source platform under the GNU Lesser General Public License, Cura’s software is free to download. Additionally, every subsequent Cura update is free, so there are genuinely no costs associated with Cura’s software.
  • User Interface: There is more nuance to Cura’s user interface that will be detailed later in the article. However, the most succinct way to describe Cura’s user interface is to employ the classic MacOS versus Windows discourse. Like MacOS, Cura prioritizes a sleek look and intuitive design over nuance and complexity.
  • Functionality: As a free to download software that prioritizes a sleek look and intuitiveness, Cura does sacrifice its functionality when compared to its competitors. It has the basics, but if you need customizable supports, editable layer processes, or X3G output support, you will either need add-ons or simply be out of luck.
  • Compatibility: As Cura’s parent company, Ultimaker, is a 3D printer manufacturer, Cura started out being solely compatible with Ultimaker printers. However, as it has expanded, Cura has become compatible with a fairly extensive list of industry-spanning 3D printers.
  • Features: As mentioned in the functionality section, some of Cura’s features do not come with the basic software but are available as add-ons. Cura does have an extensive list of plug-ins that are free to add on to the software, but many of these plug-ins are features that are built into other slicers.
  • Updates: Cura, which recently released its 4.7 updates, updates itself at a consistent, rapid pace. Ultimaker is constantly looking for a room for improvement and, as each iteration of the software is free to download, there is only an upside for the user in regard to this attention to detail.

Now, let’s take a broad look at Simplify3d.

  • Cost: In contrast to Ultimaker’s Cura, Simplify3d is not an open-source platform. The starting price for the software is $149, but there are discounts available for students, teachers, or bulk purchasers.
  • User Interface: Using the MacOS versus Windows user interface metaphor from the preceding section, Simplify3d has more of the nuance and complexity associated with Windows user interfaces. However, as many of its features are built into the software, some argue that Simplify3d is also more intuitive than open-source platforms like Cura.
  • Functionality: Simplify3d’s price does come with its benefits as Simplify3d is one of the most optimized and nuanced slicers on the market. In addition, Simplify3d only requires 2GB of RAM, which is more efficient than Cura can claim for itself after several community complaints.
  • Compatibility: According to its website, Simplify3d supports nearly 95% of all 3D printers on the market. This would make Simplify3d the slicer with the broadest compatibility, and its extensive list of compatible 3D printers makes this a believable claim.
  • Features: Simplify3d has a number of built-in features that make it one of the most detailed slicers on the market. A few notable features are its interactive preview, dual extrusion wizard, and layer modification settings. One standout feature of Simplify3d is its ability to print four different models simultaneously on the same build plate.
  • Updates: Simplify 3d is also on its fourth major iteration, the most recent update being its 4.1.2 update. However, Simplify3d does not update nearly as frequently or consistently as Cura, which means you may have to wait quite a while for bugs or stability issues to be resolved.

Now that we’ve taken a broad look at each slicing software let’s outline the advantages and disadvantages associated with each product.

Cura: Pros and Cons

The subsequent sections will outline the advantages and disadvantages related to each software. Once these advantages and disadvantages have all been exhibited, we will come to a final verdict regarding how these two slicers stack up against each other.

In outlining the pros and cons of each software, this article will use the basic structure of cost, user interface, functionality, compatibility, features, and updates from the previous section.

Cura’s Cost: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Cura’s cost.

  • Free to Download: As mentioned in the previous section, as an open-source platform, Cura is free to download. There is an advanced version of Cura, Cura Enterprise, that does come with a price tag that will be detailed in the cons section.
  • Free Updates: In addition to a free initial download, Ultimaker allows its users to download each updated version of Cura for free as well.
  • Free Add-Ons: Ultimaker also provides its users with an online marketplace for plug-ins and add-ons for Cura software that are all free to download.

Now let’s take a look at the cons associated with Cura’s cost.

  • Expensive Advanced Version: Although Cura’s basic software is free to download, Ultimaker also offers an advanced version of Cura called Enterprise. This version is available through an Ultimaker Essentials subscription, which costs $300 annually, a far steeper price than comparable slicers on the market.
  • Memory Cost: Although Cura’s add-ons and plug-ins are free to download, they still take up space on your computer. Thus, you may have to ration your number of downloaded plug-ins and add-ons depending on your computer’s RAM and storage capacity.

Cura’s User Interface: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Cura’s user interface.

  • Sleek Design: In contrast to what you may expect from a software exhibiting cutting edge technology, Cura’s user interface is minimalistic and direct. The majority of the interface is taken up by a blown-up image of your 3D model. The top of the screen displays the three stages of 3D printing (prepare, preview, and monitor). Apart from these displays remain only two toolbars – one at the top and one on the far left.
  • Intuitiveness: This minimalistic approach allows users to pick up the basic functions of Cura’s software with ease. The top toolbar contains all the essential print setup information, and the left toolbar allows you to modify your 3D model. There are also icons in the top right-hand corner for the marketplace and your Ultimaker account.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Cura’s user interface.

  • Hidden Functions: As a result of Cura’s sleek design, some of its functions are hard to find for the average user. Cura requires users to hover over certain icons to unveil more settings and functions, which can be confusing for first-time users. Furthermore, the 3D model modification toolbar is not displayed until a model is imported into the software.

Cura’s Functionality: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Cura’s functionality.

  • Control and Customization: Although some of its functions may be hard to find, Cura’s built-in functions allow for a great deal of control and customization. Cura allows you to alter model positioning in the preview stage, control layer and line progression in the simulation stage, and customize settings and features like its auto model slicing feature.
  • Marketplace: In case Cura’s built-in functions aren’t enough, the software comes with an extensive marketplace of free downloadable plug-ins. Among these are the extremely popular Streamlined Workflow: CAD Integration and Simpler Slicing: Auto Orientation plug-ins, which save you the trouble of re-exporting each iteration of your model’s design and automatically orient your model before printing, respectively.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Cura’s functionality.

  • Fewer Functions: Ultimately, even with its extensive marketplace, Cura does not possess the complexity or nuance of the slicing software options that are not open source. Cura is missing the customizable supports of slicers like Simplify3d, and its variable layer height feature has been experiencing functionality issues.
  • RAM Issues: Some users have reported memory issues on their computers linked to Cura’s software. While most of these issues were resolved in the 3.03 update, earlier versions of Cura were reported to use up between 2-4 GB of RAM while running for just several hours at most.

Cura’s Compatibility: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Cura’s compatibility.

  • Wide Range of Compatible Printers: Although Cura started out exclusively compatible with Ultimaker printers, the software is now compatible with a plethora of 3D printers. Additionally, new printers are constantly being added to this list, so check Ultimaker’s GitHub list for updates on Cura’s printer compatibility.
  • 3D File Support: A somewhat under-the-radar trait of Cura’s software is its support for a wide range of 3D file formats. These file formats include STL, OBJ, X3D, and 3MF.

There are no major cons associated with Cura’s printer or file compatibility. It is among the best in both regards and has rarely experienced issues connecting with various printers or loading various file formats.

Cura’s Features: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Cura’s features.

  • Customizable Settings and Scripts: Although briefly mentioned earlier, Cura has a number of customizable settings such as the draft shield and adaptive layers, which grant users more room for experimentation. Cura also allows for custom scripts, which allow you to pause prints in action to insert additional components like magnets.
  • Marketplace: Of course, Cura’s brightest feature is its marketplace, updated for the community by the community via cloud storage. The marketplace is essentially just a feature that provides accessibility for a greater number of features, but it being community-driven places it above other slicers’ attempts to replicate the marketplace.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Cura’s features.

  • Limited Built-In Features: Although Cura’s marketplace makes up for most of Cura’s shortcomings, it is still tough to ignore the software’s limited built-in features. This isn’t just to say Cura doesn’t possess a comparable number of features relative to other slicers. Cura’s features like its Support Blocker tool and processes arrangement are not as intuitive or functional as other notable slicers.

Cura’s Updates: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Cura’s updates.

  • Consistently Updates: Everyone in the 3D printing world can agree that nobody updates more frequently and consistently than Cura. Since its version 4 update in early 2019, Cura has undergone 11 updates thanks to its active community. There is currently another update in beta to fix several of its functionality issues.
  • Community-led Updates: As Cura is an open-source platform, its community is able to study the software’s source code and make changes to benefit the software. These community-led updates are a major reason why Cura can stay on top of bugs and glitches. Cura can update consistently, which is likely a major reason for the software’s popularity.

There is genuinely nothing bad to say about Cura’s update process. It is consistent, community-led, and works toward improving functionality over flashy, shallow changes. Therefore, there are no cons associated with Cura’s updates.

Simplify3d: Pros and Cons

Now that we’ve delved deeper into the pros and cons of Ultimaker’s Cura let’s assess the pros and cons of Simplify3d with a similarly detailed approach.

Simplify3d’s Cost: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s cost.

  • One-Time Payment: Although its price may seem steep, Simplify3d’s $149 price tag may end up cheaper than the recurring payments other slicers require. Cura Enterprise and SelfCAD use annual or monthly rates that accumulate quickly. Cura Enterprise’s annual rate is $300, and SelfCAD’s monthly rate would surpass $149 after only 15 months.
  • Discounts: In addition, Simplify3d also offers various discounts for students, teachers, administrators, and bulk purchasers. The student discount is 10% off of $149, but the teacher, administrator, and bulk purchaser discounts are only disclosed by contacting a service representative from Simplify3d.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Simplify3d’s cost.

  • The Price: As much as we can dance around it, the most glaring negative associated with Simplify3d is its price. Even keeping in mind the one-time payment and assortment of discounts, $149 is a lot to fork over, especially for beginners who won’t even require the heightened functionality and additional features that warrant the price tag.

Simplify3d’s User Interface: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s user interface.

  • Practical Interface: Using the MacOS versus Windows metaphor yet again, Simplify3d has that classic Windows, “practicality over artistry,” look to it. However, practicality is crucial to the success of the platform. All of Simplify3d’s customizable settings and processes options are divided into 12 tabs, making the software incredibly intuitive.
  • Meticulous Detail: In addition, Simplify3d’s interface is also meticulously detailed. Each of the 12 tabs mentioned above is organized into subsections that represent 3D printing parameters such as supports, infill, layers, and temperature. These parameters all have short descriptions that appear when hovering over them.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Simplify3d’s user interface.

  • Clunky Navigation: The one negative associated with Simplify3d’s user interface is its disregard for multitasking. If you are performing a simulation and notice a potential issue, you must first exit the preview mode before making the necessary changes. This bridge between working and preview modes can feel annoyingly repetitive over time.

Simplify3d’s Functionality: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s functionality.

  • Meticulous detail: I promise you are not experiencing déjà vu. The people at Simplify3d are just extremely dedicated to their platform’s detail. Simplify3d exemplifies this through its advanced mode in Edit Process Settings, which allows users to modify essentially every aspect of their print.
  • Effectiveness: In fairness to Cura, it has attempted to replicate many of Simplify3d’s impressive features. However, these replications are no match for the real deal. To use specific examples, Simplify3d’s Manual Placement tools and printing processes arrangement performs far more effectively than Cura’s replications currently do.
  • Adequate RAM Usage: Also, unlike Cura, Simplify3d users do not experience issues with RAM related to the software on their computer. The software maxes out at 2GB of RAM and, even as powerful as Simplify3d is, that is a difficult number to reach.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Simplify3d’s functionality.

  • Lack of Plug-Ins: It is a minor issue, but Simplify3d does not come with an extensive cloud library of downloadable plug-ins. Thus, if you are looking for a feature that Simplify3d does not have, you will simply have to sit and wait for the next update.

Simplify3d’s Compatibility: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s compatibility.

  • Extensive List of Compatible Printers: According to their website, Simplify3d is compatible with nearly 95% of all 3D printers currently available on the market. This makes Simplify3d the most printer-compatible software on the market.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Simplify3d’s compatibility.

  • Limited File Format Compatibility: While Simplify3d is the most printer-compatible software on the market, it cannot say the same for its file format compatibility. The software supports STL, OBJ, and 3MF files but does not support X3G or X3D file formats. The software is able to export these file formats to your printer along with a GCODE file.

Simplify3d’s Features: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s features.

  • Exclusive Features: One of Simplify3d’s biggest draws is its list of exclusive features. Included is the interactive preview, which allows you to check every step of the printing process on screen, the dual extrusion wizard, which simplifies two-color prints, and multi-part printing, which offers a single process, continuous, and sequential printing.
  • Intuitiveness: Although Simplify3d is a more complex and nuanced software than most other slicers on the market, it has a relatively low learning curve. Every processor setting you need is presented on a screen, and navigating each feature is relatively frictionless.

Now, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s features.

  • Marketplace: This was mentioned in the “Functionality” section, but in addition to what was stated there, the absence of a constantly updating marketplace of plug-ins will continue to negatively impact Simplify3d as the 3D printing landscape starts to grow. The software will have to continuously update itself to keep up.

Simplify3d’s Updates: Pros and Cons

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with Simplify3d’s updates.

  • Jam-Packed Updates: With each Simplify3d update comes an impressive swath of new features. Version 4 of Simplify3d is what brought interactive print preview, variable print settings, and dual extrusion customizations to the software. The updates also tend to contain patches that resolve bugs and stability issues, maintaining Simplify3d’s stellar functionality.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with Simplify3d’s updates.

  • Infrequent Updates: The version 4 update for Simplify3d was made available in 2017. Since then, the version 5 update has been rumored for several years, but nothing definitive has been released. Not even a beta for the highly anticipated update has surfaced. Simplify3d may not be built to last if they continue to update infrequently.

Simplify3d vs. Cura: The Final Verdict

After a thorough examination of the advantages and disadvantages of each slicing software option, it is time to pit the two against one another. Let’s take a look at each section and see which slicer stacks up better against its competitor, inevitably reaching a final verdict regarding Simplify3d versus Cura.

Cost

Ultimately, the free version of Cura is hard to beat, especially for beginners looking for an entry point into the 3D printing world. Simplify3d’s price is warranted for more seasoned printers, but in general, Cura delivers the most bang for literally no buck.

Advantage: Cura

User Interface

While the user interface of Cura is far sleeker than Simplify3d’s, the intuitiveness of Simplify3d’s interface ranks it slightly above Cura’s. The detailed approach that the software chose to employ benefits seasoned users who prefer the apparent complexities to the software as well as beginner users who desire to learn the software by doing.

Advantage: Simplify3d

Functionality

Cura does provide a great deal of control and customization for a free, open-source platform. However, there is no other slicing software that competes with Simplify3d in terms of functionality. Cura also gets docked a couple of points for its previous RAM issues.

Advantage: Simplify3d

Compatibility

Simplify3d is compatible with more 3D printers than any other slicing software on the market. However, Cura is also compatible with a considerable number of 3D printers and is constantly expanding that number with each update. Cura is also more compatible with various file formats than Simplify3d.

Advantage: Cura

Features

Simplify3d offers several exclusive features that Cura has been unable to replicate thus far. However, Cura does have an extensive marketplace featuring free, downloadable features that are being constantly updated. Although Cura may be able to replicate Simplify3d’s exclusive features one day, for now, the edge goes to Simplify3d.

Advantage: Simplify3d

Updates

Cura updates on a more consistent and frequent basis than Simplify3d, and their updates are qualitatively comparable. Additionally, Cura’s updates are community-led, which encourages more interactivity with Cura’s software and, in turn, creates faster turnaround times for each update.

Advantage: Cura

Final Thoughts

After pitting them against each other, Cura and Simplify3d have come to a draw. It is tough to say which is truly the better option, but it is safe to say that Cura is the quintessential option for 3D printing beginners, whereas Simplify3d is the option for seasoned 3D printing veterans.

Ultimately, these two slicing software options are generally regarded as the two best options currently available on the market. As long as you pick one of these two options, you will come away with satisfactory slicing software for your 3D printer needs.

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Simplify3d vs. Cura: Pros & Cons of Both

Craig A Fry

Craig A Fry

Craig 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 the author

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