One of the most important 3D printing software is modeling software. It is the first step in every 3D printing process and forms a crucial element of the entire 3D printing workflow. But there are various forms of modeling and different applications that require different techniques and subsequently different software applications. We will go through each of them in this section.
Solid modeling refers to the branch of modeling that deals with designing solid objects and like cubes, cylinders, cones, spheres, and other shapes. This is a very easy approach to modeling and designing objects for 3D printing and hence it is mostly used for learning and training purposes. It is an ideal tool to introduce designing concepts to kids, school students, new learners, and academics for teaching modeling.
However, solid modeling software has limitations when it comes to designing complex parts. Since the base is a solid object, the complex features are next to impossible to capture.
Popular Solid Modeling Software in 2021
Tinkercad is the most popular solid modeling software. It has a browser-based user interface that eliminates the need to download and install the software. Being browser-based it can run on any computer system without any lags. Moreover, users can access their saved designs and models from anywhere across the internet from any device they use from anywhere in the world.
This free design software is an excellent software learning tool for kids and school students, but sometimes it is also used by professionals to create quick models. One of the top limitations of the software is that it is not able to create highly complex parts as needed by industrial designers.
Solid Edge is a Siemens solid modeling software for 3D printing. Solid Edge has a set of tools that perform solid modeling, assembly modeling, simulation, and manufacturing. It is easy to use and delivers unparalleled flexibility to designers and engineers with cloud capabilities. It operates on synchronous technology which means that the user has the freedom to change between direct and parametric modeling. This shift does not affect the functioning of the whole product assembly.
Solid Edge works on synchronous technology which is unique to this software. It simply blends both history-based and direct modeling approaches to give better control, increased speed, and ease of use to the software.
Mesh modeling, or also known as polygon modeling is an approach to design objects based on vertices, edges, and faces. Polygons are shapes with 3 or more sides and defined by three-dimensional vertices and lines that connect them called edges. The area enclosed by this shape is called a face.
In mesh modeling, these vertices are manipulated to design any object. Each vertice acts as an individual entity and does not affect the adjacent vertices. This helps in capturing every minute detail of a model. Since this type of modeling is not based on dimensions, it is difficult than other types of modeling techniques. It is generally employed in the animation and computer graphics industries.
Popular Mesh Modeling Software in 2021
Blender is now widely used for designing 3D printable models. It has a steep learning curve but is very handy to create detailed models like characters, figures, and other freeform designs. It is open-source software and so it is regularly updated by a dedicated community wanting to make it better and better.
While it can be difficult for beginners, once you get a hold of it, it can be really fun to use this powerful polygon modeling software.
Owned by the software giant Autodesk, Maya is the most popular and widely used polygon modeling software out there. It is a 3D visual effects software with powerful character creation, rigging, rendering, animation, and simulation tools. Maya is mainly used for animation projects or in the cinema industry. This advanced 3D modeling software is also used for character creation, virtual reality, and animations.
Over the years, Maya has evolved into a behemoth and this can overwhelm new users as the vast toolset can get them confused. It requires significant practice to get a hold of this software.
As the name suggests, surface modeling deals with designing the surfaces of products. It is highly crucial for many surface-dependent products like aircraft, spacecraft, ships, vehicles, and even products like windmill blades. This unique approach helps in optimizing any product and getting the best performance out of the overall system. However, such software is also fully capable of creating three-dimensional objects like other modeling software.
Surface modeling is highly mathematical in its approach and is complex but is an excellent way to design smooth, organic, and continuous objects.
Popular Surface Modeling Software in 2021
CATIA is a software suite developed by Dassault Systèmes, a French software corporation that performs computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, computer-aided engineering, PLM, and 3D modeling. It is sometimes referred to as a 3D Product Lifecycle Management software suite.
It is one of the most powerful 3D software that is based on a modeling method using curves. This makes CATIA the most accurate modeling technique in the world. The unmatched accuracy ensures that it is used by leading companies across industries such as automotive, architecture, space, aeronautics, and railways.
CATIA also has a cloud platform called 3DEXPERIENCE, which provides a lean and intuitive environment for all design and engineering activities.
Rhino or Rhinoceros 3D software is a CAD and computer graphics software developed by Robert McNeel & Associates in 1980. Rhino is a professional modeling software that can create complex geometrical models. It is because of this that the software is widely used in architecture, industrial design, and jewelry industries.
Rhino also uses a curves-based modeling method and this mathematical approach offers greater flexibility and accuracy than most of its competitors. Though surface modeling software is not preferred for 3D printing, Rhino is an exception and it readily supports 3D printing. In addition to modeling, Rhino also offers excellent analysis tools to determine the quality of the model to be used for 3D printing. The designed models can be exported in IGES, SKP, and 3DS formats besides its default 3DM format.
Parametric modeling is also a complex modeling software approach generally employed for new product development where modifications and iterations are frequent things. Though complex, it is also a reliable method of designing models. It delivers accurate and consistent results enabling designers and engineers to rely on this software.
In parametric modeling, all actions (extrude, hole, thread, etc.) are recorded and a part history is maintained. In case of any revision, any past action can be easily revisited and modified. All features are interlinked with mathematical formulae and so any modification, even in the part history, will modify the entire part or assembly as per the ruleset.
Such real-world behavior is highly desirable as it allows a designer to easily incorporate any changes required at any time in the designing process.
Popular Parametric Modeling Software in 2021
Autodesk Fusion 360 is a revolutionary next-generation 3D software that combines Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM), and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) tools to deliver a complete product innovation and development platform. It integrates the design, engineering, electronics, and manufacturing process in this universal platform. The Fusion 360 tools enable designers to perform various tasks like all types of modeling including sketching, direct, parametric, surface, mesh, and freeform modeling, also allows for PCB design, generative design, simulation, finite element analysis, and rendering of models.
Moreover, Fusion 360 is a cloud-based software thus eliminating the need to download and install, and constantly upgrade the software. The cloud-based approach helps in easier collaboration with remote teams.
PTC Creo is a group of software solutions offered by PTC, the American computer software and services company. Creo Parametric is its software that enables parametric modeling to create, analyze, view, and share designs downstream using 2D CAD, 3D CAD capabilities.
In addition to the basic 3D modeling, Creo is also laced with new-age capabilities in additive manufacturing, generative design, smart connected design, and augmented reality. This is complemented by its streamlined workflow to offer an intuitive user interface.
Every 3D printing process starts with a CAD model. This CAD model is saved in popular formats, namely, STL, OBJ, STEP, IGES, and others. But these formats are not understood by a 3D printer.
Among all the 3D printing software, the slicing software or simply a slicer forms an essential element of 3D printing that converts the digital CAD models into a machine-readable format/file. This file lists down a set of instructions for the 3D printer to follow that will enable the printer to successfully print the desired object.
A slicing software also controls a range of parameters that impact the quality of the 3D print. A user can control these parameters and as per the model, printer, and material used, he enters the optimum values to ensure a successful print. These parameters include the layer height, printing speed, extruder and bed temperature, support structures, infill, and hundreds more. A slicer combines all these parameters into a set of guidelines for the printer to follow and print out the solid object.
In the simplest terms, a slicer slices the 3D model into multiple horizontal 2D layers that the printer can print one at a time. A slicer enables 3D printing by printing 2D layers one above the other to ultimately form the 3D object.
Popular Slicing Software in 2021
Cura, developed by a software engineer David Braam, and later employed by Ultimaker is a popular slicing software offered as a standard application for all Ultimaker 3D printers. Cura is fully open-sourced and can also be used on almost all other FDM 3D printers. Over the years it has released printer profiles that optimize its compatibility with other brands.
Cura also offers a built-in set of material profiles so that users do not have to set the change parameters every time they change the material. This enables ease of use and user can concentrate on getting the job done rather than keep tweaking the settings and wasting valuable time.
It also has a huge range of settings that can be controlled to optimize the print and print out the best quality parts. This wide array of settings help the most advanced users to gain total control of their prints and is one of the reasons why the software is also popular with professionals.
Due to all these features and so many others, Cura has over 600,000 active users per month and handles more than 2 million print jobs per week. With its highly active open-source community and in-house software team, the software is constantly upgraded to include more and more user-friendly features and tools.
Slic3r is an open-source slicing software that has a reputation for developing some of the most advanced and cutting-edge features that are now commonplace in all slicers. One of its most notable developments has been the introduction of the honeycomb infill pattern. This pattern creates a structurally strong part than any other infill pattern. It is now found in almost all the slicers.
This software is also run by an active and dedicated community that keeps on upgrading the software even as the number of competitors rises and sometimes offer better solutions.
Now, it also offers direct integration with Octoprint, a host software, so that when 3D models are sliced, they can be uploaded to Octoprint and then be sent for 3D printing instantly.
Host software is an application that enables users to take control of their 3D printer through a PC. Traditionally, the axis movements, print control features, and other aspects related to printing are controlled through the printer itself, but with host software, these actions are connected to a PC application and a 3D printer can be controlled through this software. The real advantage of such 3D printing host software comes from the fact that they can be connected to an array of 3D printers and can be individually controlled. This supremely eases the job of running a print farm where the printers have to be managed, print has to be queued and monitored. Moreover, through cloud-operated host software, printers can be controlled from anywhere and from any device like a PC, tablet, or smartphone.
Popular Host Software in 2021
Repetier Host is one of the oldest open-source host software that offers the user the capability to control their 3D printer. It is also capable of slicing the models and making them 3D print-ready.
This 3D printing software targets intermediate to advanced users who want to take control of their 3D printers and 3D prints. It is an all-in-one software solution that offers multiple-extrusion support of up to 16 extruders, multiple slicer support via plugins, and works on almost any FDM 3D printer.
However, it is not fully refined software and users will have to do a lot of tweaks and employ trial and error methodology.
Lastly, with Repetier Host, users can control their 3D printers from anywhere across the globe through a PC, tablet, or smartphone.
AstroPrint is a cloud-based host software that also allows users to control, monitor, and manage their 3D printers. It also offers slicer support besides having printer and material profiles for easing the job of its users. Being a cloud-operated software users can access their 3D printers and run and monitor print jobs through any browser.
Another interesting feature of AstroPrint is that it has built-in compatibility with digital design repositories like MyMiniFactory and Thingiverse, CAD software like 3D Slash and Leopoly, and with a cloud, slicing software engine to slice the models before printing. This entire ecosystem ensures that the user does not have to visit multiple websites and applications and streamline his workflow.
The software is available for free with basic features but for advanced features, users will have to pay a price, which certainly is worth it.