A Complete Guide to 3D Printing Software
3D printing software provides instructions and consolidates information to create realistic and real-life 3D models with a 3D printer’s help.
It is crucial for designing, monitoring, and 3d printing in high-quality. You need to know that a 3D printer without any software is just a machine that doesn’t have any direction.
If you’re inspired and motivated to create something exciting and 3D print and want to try and know about 3D printing software before investing in a 3D printer, this guide will help you as we’re going to cover most of the software used in 3D printing.
As the 3D printing industry matures, the capabilities of 3D printing software are growing too. When we are talking about 3D printing software, we most often mean 3D modeling software or CAD software; however, it can also refer to software for slicing 3D models, simulation and optimization software, 3D printing management software, quality assurance software, software for editing and repairing STL files, and other programs that we’re going to look at in this article. We’ve made things easier for you by breaking the 3D printing software down in an understandable manner. We’re going, beginning with the 3D modeling software.
#1 3D Modeling Software
A 3D modeling software is useful in designing the 3D models that are ready for 3D printing. Until recently, most 3D programs available were not optimized for 3D printing. One would only use them for designing general 3D models, but those designs were not ready for 3D printing.
Software meant for designing for additive manufacturing offers unique opportunities and challenges not found in the traditional design techniques. This is because it’s aimed at the exploration of intricate design features and material reduction. Hence, this requires choosing a relevant tool to help one take advantage of AM’s flexibility.
When it comes to 3D modeling programs, users have three main options: solid, organic, and surface modeling. So the type of options one will have to use and the rendering needed for the final design determines the type of CAD software to be used. However, 3D printing technology and the type of 3D printing material used is of great importance.
Let’s have a look at these three categories.
i) Solid Modeling
In this option, CAD software is the one most used, and the type of software you will choose will depend on your level of experience and expertise. If you’re a beginner, you need to go for easy-to-use software because 3D modeling can sometimes become challenging and complex. And the industry you work on also will determine the kind to go for. Finally, you will have to choose between an online 3D modeling software and the one that needs installation.
This 3D modeling technique uses a parametric design. A 3D model is defined by replacing the parameters easily. 3D modeling takes form through programming rather than drawing. Like the angle, length, and coordinates, a part’s characteristics can be changed with respect to a point or distance.
This design technique is more rigid than direct modeling, and mechanical and industrial designers use it. The 3D modeling software that uses this technique includes SelfCAD, Fusion 360, Solidworks, FreeCAD, Catia, CREO, Rhino, and AutoCAD.
ii) Surface Modeling
In surface modeling, the surface of the object is first defined and not the solid interior. This 3D modeling technique is usually used in artistic sectors like in animation and 3D compositing markets. An excellent example of CAD programs used in this category is CATIA, Blender, and Rhinoceros.
iii) Organic Modeling
Organic modeling allows one to create free form surfaces that have intricate details like sculptures and characters. The most widely used software here is SelfCAD, ZBrush, and Autodesk Mudbox.
There are other categories of 3D modeling software that are worth noting. That is, those that are easy to use and the complex ones. Examples of easy to use software include TinkerCAD, 3D slash, vectary, and SketchUp. There are complex programs that are mostly used by professionals, and these include Cinema 4D, AutoCAD, Solidworks, Inventor, Siemens NX.
We’re not going to look at each of these tools, but we’re going to look at SelfCAD as it can be used in each of the above options and can also be used by beginners and professionals.
SelfCAD is an online 3D modeling software designed for both beginners and professionals in 3D printing. This 3D printing software has a straightforward user interface. The average number of available tools has been significantly reduced compared to other programs to include only the most commonly used tools. And the tools available can be reused, making SelfCAD one of the programs whose tools can be mastered much easily. It’s the only 3D modeling software with combined artistic, technical, Rendering, and 3D printing features all under one program!
SelfCAD is optimized for 3D printing in various ways. There is a Magic fix tool that ensures that the geometry of the model is fixed. An in-built slicer helps you slice your models and generate the G-Code you can send to your 3D printer.
It’s the most affordable professional 3D printing tool used by both beginners and professionals. You can sign up for the free account and use it to try the program, and if it’s okay with you, you can continue subscribing to the premium version.
Websites to Download STL files for 3D printing
Suppose you’re not proficient with CAD software, and you’re not in a position to design your models from scratch. In that case, you can choose to download STL files from website databases, import them to an easy to use program like SelfCAD to customize to fit your requirements. Here are some of the websites you can use to get both free and paid models.
- STL finder
You can learn more about the above websites in 3d natives article.
STL Fixing 3D Printing Software
Though most STL files can be edited in CAD programs, there are websites that specifically do editing STL files. They include:
MeshLab is a free open source 3D printing tool used to clean 3D scans and enhance 3D models before 3D printing. It supports color improvements in the 3d prints based on contrast, the sharpness of colors, and saturation. This is very helpful for color 3D printing and arranging and improving raw 3D scans.
For those who save on the material cost and do now want to mind on the lower strength part, MeshLab also allows one to hollow out their models. The bottom section of the model can be flattened to improve the print bed’s layer adhesion during the printing process.
MeshLab is a beautiful tool for editing STL files. Image source: Mac Softpedia
Meshmixer is an excellent tool for cleaning and editing STL files. Image source: All3dp
Meshmixer is a great 3D printing software owned by Autodesk. It’s useful for cleaning up the models for 3D printing and can also be used for fixing 3D scans made using a 3d scanner.
It has exciting features like tools for editing specific mesh elements, aligning surfaces, and resculpting surfaces. You can even fill holes in the models, detect and repair errors, and smooth and repair meshes.
With meshmixer, you can also re-orient models to minimize overhang during 3D printing, reducing the number of supports required. Meshmixer also allows you to trim the top and bottom parts of your 3d model if you don’t need it. This is helpful if one doesn’t have enough filament.
Large models can also be split into smaller slices and each printed one at a time. This is helpful if one has a small 3D printer.
Autodesk Netfabb makes it easier to add build support to your models. Image source: Youtube
This Autodesk product allows editing, repairing, and arranging STL files and even optimizing them for 3D printing. It also has topology optimization features for the creation of strong parts that are lightweight too. Autodesk Netfabb is ideal for industrial use and additive manufacturing, and instead not for hobbyist projects.
It’s only $30/m or 240/year for the standard version, 550/m, or 4, 415/year for the premium version.
The only disadvantage of the above fixing software is they have complicated navigation, though they are pretty good, they are not much intuitive. Hence I would prefer one to use SelfCAD software as it's very easy to get started and it's intuitive too.
3D Slicing Software
There are various slicing software available that you can use. These includes:
In addition to SelfCAD being an excellent program for designing 3D models, it also has powerful slicing software. If you would like a program that you can use to create, slice, and prepare your designs for 3D printing all in one package, then SelfCAD is a great fit.
The slicer can be accessed at a click of a button. Once you access it, you can then choose your 3D printer, and if your 3D printer is missing, you can easily add it. Once done, you will be prompted to save the G-Code that you will later send to your printer.
SelfCAD slicer interface is simple and easy to use, and beginners can get started much quicker.
PrusaSlicer is a reliable and accurate slicer. Image source: All3dp
PrusaSlicer is a free, accurate, and reliable slicer. It has a user-friendly interface that can even handle different 3D printers and over 60 other filaments.
PrusaSlicer generates automatic supports; this is helpful to beginners. The advanced users can also make fair use of support generation features based on their requirements. Users can even 3D print with the Resin printers like Prusa SL1 using this 3D printer.
Simplify3D is one of the best 3D slicing software available though it’s not free. It’s compatible with a wide range of 3D printers like SelfCAD. Simplify3D is mostly used in rapid prototyping, industrial applications, STEM education, and hobbyists too.
Once you buy it, you will be able to use it on two separate computers, and it also comes with advanced support settings for customizing the thickness, material, and layout of your prints. Customization improves the overall design as the design’s shape is maintained, and applying surface finishes after it is better, and removing support is more comfortable.
Rafts and brims useful for tougher filaments can be created using Simplify3D and the option to preview your design and correct things that can cause the print to fail.
d) Repetier - Host
This is a free 3d slicing software that lets you reshape, edit, and resize STL files before they are 3D printed. It has a versatile multi-support extruder, and it is compatible with various types of 3D printers.
Though it’s not a beginner-friendly 3D slicer, it has exciting features like a remote control. You can monitor the 3D printing process using a phone or tablet. It can handle any type of 3d slicing project, and it’s a beautiful program for those who already have experience.
3D Printing Management Software
With the advancement of technology, various software for managing the 3D printing process has been developed. Here are some of the fantastic 3D printing management tools that have gained popularity among the 3D printing community.
This is a simple and powerful 3D printer management platform. It makes it easier to manage a 3D printer using your phone or tablet at a minimal cost. It achieves this by making the 3D printer wireless, cloud-aware, and touchscreen.
The users can store files, slice, and print models from the phone, tablet, or computer.
AstroPrint is compatible with the majority of 3D printers in the universe. You can view the progress of your 3D printer in real-time. You only need to add a camera that will capture snapshots, time-lapses, and live videos. You can also monitor the temperature of the print bed and the extruder.
This is a workflow management software for additive manufacturing. Dyndrite speeds up the computation of the workflow using the GPU. It’s applied in big industries like the automotive industry, aeroplane, medicine, and other industries.
Dyndrite has a custom tool pathing API that improves repeatability and productivity of 3D printed parts.
Octoprint is a web interface that monitors every aspect of the 3D printer within the browser. There is an embedded webcam feed to allow one watch to observe how the 3D printer performs remotely. It provides constant feedback on the progress of the 3d printing job.
Octoprint also has an integrated GCODE visualizer to see the rendition of the GCODE being worked on. The print bed and hotends temperatures can be easily monitored and adjusted accordingly.
The current 3D printing process can be started, paused, or stopped at any time as one has full control. Octoprint is compatible with most of the available consumer 3D printers and 100% open source.
This is an open-source software created by Kliment Yanev. In addition to PrintRun being an excellent tool for editing and modifying STL files, it’s also a powerful tool for managing a 3D printer. It has a simple Graphical User Interface, and that is straightforward and easy to use.
A user can make user-controlled buttons, and they can send the M and G commands by clicking those buttons. Another great unique feature of PrintRun is that it allows full control using the command line.
3D Printer OS
3D Printer OS is another 3D printer management software. It allows central and real-time management of 3D printers, users, and files within the browser. It is also used in tracking the quality of 3D prints, and it offers an easy to use workflow interface.
Users of any skill level can get started easily and quickly. Its reporting tools make tracking, auditing, and monitoring of every part of the 3D printing process.
Mattercontrol is an open-source program that allows one to manage and organize 3d prints. It has an intuitive interface that will enable you to queue multiple 3D printing designs, even without pre-slicing. It gives users also the ability to organize and search for files.
Mattercontrol touchscreen tablet, called Mattercontrol Touch, can be used to connect a 3D printer to the cloud.
This is another excellent 3D printer management software that runs on the cloud. It makes it easier to manage different 3D printers, materials, files, and even slice profiles. It has an integrated database that makes it easier to download whatever one requires effortlessly and wirelessly.
Having looked at the 3d printer management software, we would like to look at the simulation and optimization software.
Simulation and Optimization Software
Simulation and optimization software makes it easier to distribute materials during the design and 3D printing process. For example, these programs help remove materials from a specific part when necessary to function correctly.
Optimization software makes it easier to respect resistance and load constraints, reducing the entire design’s final weight. This software offers weight savings and complex geometries, therefore increasing performance in industries like automotive and aeronautics.
Simulation software, on the other hand, helps predict the outcome of the 3d printing process. This software can show how the material will behave when it’s 3D printed too.
This helps save on time and the general 3d printing cost as errors can easily be detected at an early stage and fixed. Some of the things that can be simulated include temperature, distortion, and post-processing.
The majority of the simulation software is majorly used in metal 3D printing, as it comes with many technical challenges. This software helps analyze the design during the metal 3D printing process and uses the data simulated to plan on the build. Examples of simulation software include:
ANSYS simulation. Image Develop3d.
ANSYS is a simulation company based in the United States. This software predicts the various elements of the 3D printing process hence validating the designs of the parts. ANSYS also provides additive science and additive suite software packages, including thermal analysis and topology optimization.
The latter is used to understand as well as explain the final properties of the 3D printed part.
Dassault Systemes Simulia
Excellent simulation software that predicts residual stresses, part distortions, microstructures in composite parts, and metals. It can capture any changes in the material when the design is being 3D printed. The final results of the simulation can then be used to know which material fits which purpose.
Netfabb can predict the mechanical and thermal behavior of designs and detect any deformations in a virtual environment. The cloud-based capabilities of Netfabb ultimate and Netfabb premium can do simulation much faster than when in local solvers.
d) Additive Simufact
Additive Simufact is a cloud-based simulation software developed by Simufact. It has various tools for reproducing key metal additive manufacturing processes and subsequent steps like heat treatment.
It helps users optimize support structures, build orientation, and identify potential issues that can arise on the parts. Addparts’e Simufact can define tolerable deviations and automatically optimize the distortion and generate geometry with less deformation. This helps reduce costly test prints.
Other simulation software available includes Amphyon from Additive works, Digimat-AM from e-Xstream’s, GENOA 3DP from AlphaSTAR Corporations, and also the simulation tool of ESI Additive Manufacturing.
Quality Assurance software
The aim and purpose of this software are to qualify 3D printing for production. The two commonly available ways to achieve this and ensure the part meets the QA requirements are CT scanning and destructive testing. And these methods are usually wasteful, expensive, and time-consuming, and most of the time, they don’t give accurate results.
The best way to ensure that the QA process is effective is through process monitoring. This is where a combination of cameras and sensors is placed in a 3D printer; then, a specific software can then be used to analyze the sensors’ data and the cameras and deliver it in a meaningful and understandable way.
An excellent example of a quality assurance software includes the PrintRite3D from Sigma Labs. It features the modules ANALYTICS, CONTOUR, and INSPECT. Each of these modules has its functionality. For example, the INSPECT module can measure the metal liquid produced when the laser is heated to predict and detect anomalies.
More quality assurance software is expected to be developed in a few years. This is now the new watch in the additive manufacturing world as companies are now aiming to reduce variations and accelerate part validation in the printing process.
Post Processing Software
Post-processing involves all the activities involved after the 3D printing. They include activities like support and powder removal, surface finishing, sanding, etc. There are three main types of post-processing programs. These includes:
PostProcess has developed intelligent and automated approaches that address the post-printing steps of 3D printing. There is also complimentary chemistry and hardware to solve post-printing challenges specific to materials and the industry’s demands through its software.
PostProcess has an automated surface finishing and support removal for 3D printed parts. The program is automatic, intelligent, and comprehensive, and this boosts productivity and allows industries and individuals to realize the full potential of 3D printing.
Their automated surface finishing and support removal has been created to be compatible with various 3D printing technologies, metals, and plastics.
Prodways offers great post-processing techniques. Image source: 3d Printing industry
Prodways have integrated innovative new technologies in their MOVINGLight Promaker 3D printers to produce functional parts with high resolution and speed.
Prodways is improving the quality of the 3D printed parts while at the same time reducing the production times. This is because it’s combining machines with software intelligence and treatment processes.
They have a 3D Super-Resolution technology that provides improved surface finishing services while reducing the manufacturing time. Prodways also uses centrifuge, an innovative post-processing technique that produces a perfect finished product by cleaning clear aligners.
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