(Free) Software for 3D Printing

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There are multiple steps that are necessary to turn ideas in your head into actual 3D printed physical objects. In those steps, specialized software or applications are needed to perform the tasks. For this article, we would explore the overview of the steps to 3D print an idea into reality. List of software relevant to 3D Printing would be provided in each of the step as well. Detailed functionalities of the software are in the future articles.

Steps to transform idea into reality:

  1. Hand Sketching
  2. 3D Modelling
  3. Slicing 3D model

1. Hand Sketching

Paper and pencil: Easiest way to capture ideas

This is when the magic first happens. You have the idea in your head and you need an easy way to capture it and to draw it out. Often the easiest way is just to take pencil and draw it out on a piece of paper. There are platforms that allows you to draw digitally, like Wacom tablet, Samsung Notes, Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface. Unless you can come up with ideas all the time (which is rather challenging), the humble paper and pencil is your best bet and cheapest way to capture ideas easily and quickly.

  • Paper and pencil
  • Wacom tablet
  • Apple iPad
  • Microsoft Surface
  • Samsung Notes

2. 3D Modelling Software

3D Modelling on a computer

Due to the long history this field has gone through, there are plenty of solid software available in this category. Some software are for certain purpose/ industry and mostly towards professionals. For example: software specialized to create 3D animation, for machinery parts, architecture and for industrial designs. However, due to the increasing popularity of 3D printing, more software are being created for the beginner for general use, with the expectation that the 3D model would be printed eventually. Here are the 8 most well-known 3D modelling software (for any purpose- free and paid).

  1. TinkerCAD
  2. SketchUp
  3. Blender
  4. FreeCAD
  5. Autodesk Fusion 360
  6. Solidworks
  7. zBrush
  8. Meshmixer

3. Slicing 3D Model

Slicing software is the bridge between the digital 3D file and 3D printer. Once the 3D file is created by the 3D modelling software in whatever format, it needs to be exported to .stl format for the file to be ready for 3D Printing. Slicing software would take the .stl file, slice the file as per required by users and as per defined printer’s settings, then export it to .gcode. File format .gcode is the format readable by the 3D printer. ‘Slicing’ is the process to slice 3D file into very thin layer for 3D printer to understand and follow.

Here are the 5 most common Slicing software for 3D printing that I know of.

  1. Cura
  2. Slic3r
  3. PrusaSlider
  4. Repetier-host
  5. OctoPrint

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