3D Printing Essential Software

The use of 3D printing would remain a pipe dream without the appropriate software. While it is true that a particular printer that can produce 3D things is required, you also require a range of crucial pieces of software that can be used to design the actual model and get it into a format that the printer can understand.

The kinds of computer software you’ll want as you start down the road to mastering 3D printing will be covered in this chapter.

3D Printing Software Overview

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You must be aware of the type of 3D printing software you require unless you intend to print anything using pre-made blueprints or models that you get from the Internet. This subject was briefly covered in the chapter before, so we’ll go into greater detail here about 3D printing software.

The Method of 3D Printing

To give you a clear understanding of what you’re working with, it is a good idea to briefly cover the actual 3D printing process before moving further into the discussion of 3D printing software.

Step #1. The Concept

You must first, and foremost, decide what you want to build. It might be anything, from a straightforward ornament to a sophisticated toy. In order to gain confidence in designing more complex items, it is best to start with simpler projects. When the 3D Insider team initially acquired a 3D printer, we practiced on extremely basic objects (like cubes) until our skills developed. Create a variety of ideas and be ready to discard some of them because they are not technically feasible. It’s also crucial to go forward at this point because it might be highly alluring to come up with numerous concepts for the upcoming ground-breaking 3D-printed creation but never actually design and construct anything. You’ll discover that after reading this helpful tutorial on how to stop procrastinating, you get a lot more 3D printing learning and making done if you’re someone who tends to put off your work.

Step #2. Create the Model

The first significant stage is now to develop the real model. Use CAD software (or non-CAD software) that can assist you in creating the model after deciding what you want to construct. It’s not simple to learn how to utilize certain design software, so you should be well-prepared and open to learning.

You can find several excellent tutorial videos on the 3D Insider YouTube channel that walk you through the basics of popular CAD programs, particularly Autodesk Inventor.

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Step #3. Transform it Into an STL

After your model is finished, you must absolutely convert it to STL format. You can export the model as STL using the built-in functionality of the majority of CAD programs you’ll ever use. However, in order to adjust and convert the final design, if you intend to use a non-CAD design tool like Google SketchUp, you will need to install a plugin (in this case, Cadspan).

You’re only halfway to getting a 3D printable file once you’ve converted your model into an STL format.

Step #4. Cut it.

In order for the 3D printer to comprehend how to proceed with making the object, you must divide the model into layers in the fourth phase. After this last step, which involves using computer software, you will have the final G-code file that the printer can understand.

In order to build the model, convert it to STL, and slice the model so that it is ready for the 3D printer, you need software.

Software for Computer-Aided Design

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Software for computer-aided design (CAD) has been available for many years. Because they were initially intended for engineering applications, only engineers with the appropriate training could use them.

CAD software has been widely utilized since the invention of 3D printing technology to produce 3D models of various objects. Because designers can export the model as an STL file, CAD software is better than Photoshop and other non-CAD programs.

Just to remind you, an STL file is a format that contains the information that stereolithography-based 3D printers need to make models.

Because of its intricate capabilities, CAD software is relatively pricey for commercial use, costing anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 for the best available systems. This would obviously be unworkable and expensive for a home user who is just getting started with 3D printing.

Fortunately, there is a ton of free CAD software out there that is almost as good as some of the commercial products. You may get a taste of CAD design and 3D printing without spending thousands of dollars by using the free or limited-licence versions of several professional CAD tools.

Whether it is free or not, bear in mind that learning the fundamentals of CAD software involves a high learning curve. Before you can master the art of creating with CAD software, you will need to invest a lot of time, effort, and patience.

You won’t go very far in the world of 3D printing before the term “AutoDesk Inventor” is mentioned:
Microsoft Inventor

AutoDesk Inventor

AweRobotics.com - 3D Printing Essential Software - Autodesk InventorIn the field of CAD applications, Autodesk is well-known and offers premium, fee-based software. Autodesk Inventor is a robust CAD program with a large selection of tools for digital prototyping.

With the aid of this sophisticated 3D design tool, it is possible to make better items more quickly while spending less money. You will need to invest a lot of time learning how it functions because it is a full-featured, professional CAD program before you can start designing your models. There is a ton of documentation that is accessible to guide you through this procedure.

Inventor 2015 is Autodesk’s most recent model. You can get a trial version before making the actual purchase. A powerful computer with a minimum clock speed of 3GHz for single-core processors and 2GHz for dual-core processors is required. A minimum of 8GB of RAM is needed, while Autodesk advises 12GB of RAM for best performance.

These system specifications are meant for demanding design applications. You won’t be working on highly intricate designs as a beginning in the realm of 3D modeling, and you might be able to run the software on a machine with significantly lower specifications. To test how well it works for you, download the trial version. Autodesk Inventor 2015’s DVD and complete license cost about $5000 as of April 2014.

Visit our “how to” videos if you want to learn how to use AutoDesk Inventor.
Automobile 123D


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Update: Autodesk 123D is no longer available.

Not all Autodesk products require payment. The free, yet effective toolset offered by Autodesk 123D products can be used to create 3D models and prepare them for 3D printing. This collection of CAD and 3D modeling tools for amateurs is based on Autodesk’s top-tier Inventor CAD program and includes built-in STL support.

Even though you might not need all of the apps in the suite, they do include the following:

123D Catch: Using the principle of photogrammetry, this application can produce 3D models from a collection of images that were shot from various perspectives.
123D Sculpt: You can use this program to shape digital clay into a specific model.This is intended for use with an iPad.
Create solid models in the LOM style using 123D Make.
The program in which you ought to be most interested is 123D Design, a less complex CAD design tool that can produce 3D models.

Google SketchUp

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A completely free and simple-to-use alternative to expensive CAD software is Google SketchUp Make. It includes a few straightforward tools that let users build 3D models of homes, decks, home expansions, and many other things. This is an excellent resource for folks who are new to 3D modeling because it will provide them with an approachable way to learn about the challenges of 3D modeling.

Although many people use it to build models for printing, it is mostly used to design objects for Google Maps and Google Earth. There are plugins available, like Cadspan, that can help you put the last finishing touches to your Google SketchUp model before it is exported as an STL file. But because Google SketchUp isn’t a full CAD program, it doesn’t let you export an object as an STL file by default.

You’re better off with SketchUp Pro if you’re serious about using Google SketchUp. With a price of about $600, this program isn’t too expensive, and you can get a free trial.

Software for Printing and Slicing

AweRobotics.com - 3D Printing Essential Software - Software for Printing and SlicingThe two more procedures that the model you create goes through before it is a finished product are known as slicing and sending.

The model is divided into numerous printable levels by slicing, and toolpaths are plotted for each layer. The printer uses these “instructions” from the control software to build an object layer by layer.

3D printers are often managed by a computer via a USB connection or an integrated control screen. This user interface lets the control software, which could be the slicer software itself, send computer code (instructions) to the printer. It also controls key variables like the speed, flow, and temperature needed for each layer.

For instance, the Netfabb engine combines the capabilities of a slicer and a control program. There are, however, pure slicers, pure control programs, or programs that combine the two.


AweRobotics.com - 3D Printing Essential Software - Slic3rSlic3r is a very well-liked program that has the ability to transform a digital 3-D model into a 3-D printer printing instructions. It can divide the model into layers, make the toolpaths that are needed, and figure out how much material needs to be extruded.

Since its inception in 2011, the project has evolved into a platform that is backed by practically all of the major 3D printing firms worldwide.

Slic3r needs extra software to function as a control application because it is only a slicer program. It includes the following programs preinstalled:

Replicator Pronterface Repetier-Host

For those who are new to the realm of 3D printing, http://manual.slic3r.org/offers a thorough manual.

We at 3D Insider have a lot of experience using Slic3r and the accompanying tools; if you have any queries, you can reach us at 3dprinterplans at gmail.com.


AweRobotics.com - 3D Printing Essential Software - SkeinforgeAnother slicer program made for use with RapMan and many other Fab lab engines is Skeinforge. With this program’s improved flexibility, users can set up a wide range of parameters. However, the steep learning curve that comes with this increased functionality means that new users might be better off with simpler tools.


AweRobotics.com - 3D Printing Essential Software - KisSlicerA STL file can be used to produce G Code for a printer using the quick and simple program KiSSlicer. The KISSlicer free edition has every feature a hobbyist using a single-head 3D printer would need. You might need to select the PRO version if you need printing with many heads and different models.


Whatever design software you choose, keep in mind that you will need to acquire a lot of new skills and that even the most basic tools have a somewhat high learning curve. If you’re new to 3D designing in general, you’ll need to be very committed and work very hard. Study the detailed documentation that comes with most programs to learn how the controls work and how they are made.

It is preferable to start out with free software and only make a purchase of commercial software once you feel comfortable with 3D printing and designing.

If you would like to learn more about 3D printing, please check out our main guide on 3D printing here: Introduction to 3D Printing – A Complete Guide.

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