What software is available for 3D printing?

From beginner-friendly options to cloud-based collaborative CAD, these are some of the most popular software solutions for additive manufacturing.

Like 3D printing hardware and materials, the options for 3D printing software are myriad. For this reason, it can be difficult to navigate the various brands, packages and capabilities to identify the right software for your particular 3D printing needs. So, as a starting point, here are some of the most popular options for software in additive manufacturing (AM).

Is there free 3D printing software for beginners?

There are lots of free 3D printing software tools designed specifically for beginners. Prominent examples include Tinkercad, which was founded with the express purpose of making 3D modeling accessible to the general public, and 3D Slash, which was inspired by the video game Minecraft. SketchUp Free is closer to professional modelling software, though it’s not intended for commercial use. All three of these tools are web-browser-based, making them widely available for users at any skill level. Of course, their relative simplicity of also means that they’re limited in their design capabilities.

What are the options for professional 3D printing software?

The most popular 3D printing software options at the professional level are mainly tools with which most designers engineers will already be familiar. Autodesk Fusion includes extensions for AM that help engineers efficiently generate support structures and the subtractive machining operations necessary to remove them. Similarly, the Print3D feature in SOLIDWORKS is designed to help users optimize parts for 3D printing.

Do 3D printers have their own software?

Every 3D printer uses some software, but in the case of larger manufacturers, this extends beyond monitoring and control functions to include design as well. There’s UltiMaker Cura, a free slicing application that generates printer-specific g-code and works with most desktop 3D printers. Markforged has Eiger, a cloud-based slicer, along with various simulation and inspection tools. Other companies work with manufacturing software suppliers to support their products. For example, 3D Systems recommends Oqton software for its machines.

What other 3D printing software options are there?

There are more 3D printing software tools than can be listed in a single article, but here are a few more essential ones for engineers:

  • Blender: Free, open-source 3D modelling software, used for animation and visual effects. Supports STL file imports and exports.
  • OnShape: CAD software operating on a SAAS model. Supports STL and OBJ importing and exporting, as well as most other common CAD file types.
  • Slic3r: Free slicer that can generate g-code from STL or OBJ files. Prusa Research maintains an advanced fork optimized for the i3 series called PrusaSlicer.