Written By: Anna Lucas
So you’ve chosen your first 3D printer! This is a huge step to take in any wannabe-engineer’s engineering journey, so props to you for making moves to enrich your career and knowledge! However, choosing your printer is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to printing. Now, you need to choose the software you are going to use to create your prints and customize them to fit your specific printer.
Similar to printers, there are thousands of different softwares out there, with so many different abilities, features, and costs. Whatever your needs are for your prints, there are definitely softwares out there to accommodate them, you just need to choose which one to use! But, similar to our printer list, for the sake of keeping this list within a manageable length, we will only be listing five of the best, most popular, and most versatile softwares out there, while still giving you a range of prices, and abilities.
Cura Ultimaker is a great 3D printing software/slicer for beginners and pros alike. The software is very straightforward and easy to understand and navigate, even if you’ve never used a slicer before. Cura also has some great features, such as being able to change the size of your print easily, being able to customize the software to fit your specific printer, being able to see the estimated time your print will take, and seeing exactly how much filament it will use. However, Cura is only a slicer and not a design program, so you can only use this program to put the finishing touches on a pre-designed print.
Many Cool Features
Easy to Use
Not a Design Program, Only a Slicer
AutoCAD is a great program for designing 3D prints. AutoCAD is definitely one of the most popular designing programs out there, and for good reason. The program has many features that allow the designer to create their print file to fit exactly how they’d like it to. However, AutoCAD can be confusing to use as a beginner (we recommend taking our Introduction to CAD mini course to get started with AutoCAD), and so it’s better used for intermediate or advanced printers.
Best Designing Program
Many Features to Customize Designs
Expensive (however there is a loophole to get it for free if you’re a student, look up “AutoCAD free for students”)
Hard for Beginners
Houdini is a great 3D printing software for those who are interested in 3D printing because of its applications in art, or if you are planning on making very detailed 3D prints. Because of this the software can be pretty hard to learn, but if you have any experience in programming, coding, or 3D printing already, it’ll be quite easy. Houdini can be used for smaller, less intricate prints, however you would be wasting the software's many features for detail. Houdini comes in two separate softwares, Houdini FX and Houdini Apprentice. Both are good, the only difference is Houdini FX has a few more features than its counterpart and is a little pricey, while Houdini Apprentice has fewer features but is free.
Great for Detailed Prints
Hard to Learn for Beginners
Not Great for Simple Prints
Modo, similar to Houdini, is a great software for those interested in the art aspects of printing. Modo allows artists to paint directly onto 3D models and even paint instances of existing meshes onto the surface of an object. Because of this, it’s great for adding extra detail to pieces already designed on the prior design softwares mentioned. This software is easy to navigate for everyone, and offers the unique feature of adding color, texture, and depth onto pieces of your print that you couldn’t use other forwards.
Great for Artists
Able to Add Texture and Depth to previously hidden/inaccessible places
Not a Design software nor Slicer
Blender is a great 3D printing software, arguably the best all around program on this list. Blender gives you access to top of the line designing equipment for creating 3D printing files, for free. It is similar to AutoCAD, but much easier to navigate and MUCH less expensive. Blender is great for beginners and advanced printers, as it can grow with you as your prints begin to advance.
Great for Beginners or Advanced Printers
With Grow With You
Steep Learning Curve at First