Last Updated on January 5, 2022 by Tracy Jackson
3D printing is becoming more advanced – and more popular these days.
With applications in industries like technology, healthcare, and education, 3D printing software is still young, with a huge potential for growth in the coming years.
3D printers require the best 3D printing software or CAD software to create complex designs and models.
In this post, I will round up the best 3D printing software – from free CAD software with a simple user interface for beginners to 3D modeling software with advanced features with a steeper learning curve for more advanced users.
So, if you’re looking for the best 3D printing software to invest in for your 3D printer, then read on!
Disclaimer: If you buy something using the links in this article, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Know that I only promote stuff that I use and trust for the sake of my readers and the reputation of this website.
What is the Best 3D Printing Software?
1. Autodesk Fusion 360.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is a unified CAD, CAM, and PCB software built for designing sophisticated parts electronic and mechanical engineering.
Machinists, mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, and electronic engineers.
- 3D design and modeling
- Cloud-based 3D modeling
- Integrated PCB, CAM, CAE, and CAD software platform for product design and manufacturing
- High-efficiency roughing with Adaptive Clearing
- User-friendly control of multi-axis machines with Tool Orientation
- 2.5, 3, 4, and 5-axis milling, probing, turning, mill-turning, and profiling operations
- Schematic design, PCB Layout, and routing capabilities
- User Management
- File Export
- Version Control
- Cloud Storage
- Fused Filament Fabrication
- Associative Programming
- Metal Additive Manufacturing
- Steep learning curve for inexperienced users
Autodesk Fusion 360 has a 60-day free software trial with access to all features.
The monthly paid plan is $60 per month, and the yearly plan is $347 per year ($42 per month).
You can also contact them to customize your plan based on your requirements.
2. Autodesk AutoCAD.
AutoCAD is one of the best CAD software that is used for designing 2D and 3D drawings for architecture, engineering, and construction.
Architects, engineers, and construction professionals
- 2D drafting, drawing, and annotation
- 3D modeling and visualization
- Share and reuse data from PDF files and DGN files
- Faster and customizable installations with a simplified installer
- Rendering with lighting and materials
- Cloud rendering for 3D models
- Data linking and extraction
- Expensive startup costs and steep learning curve
AutoCAD has a 30-day free trial with access to all its features.
For the paid version, it costs $220 per month (monthly), $1,775 per year, and $4,795 every 3 years.
3. Ultimaker Cura.
Ultimaker Cura is one of the most popular 3D printing software that can be integrated with CAD software.
- Open-source software
- Slicing features
- CAD plugin integration with SolidWorks, Siemens NX, Autodesk Inventor, and more
- Backup & sync your materials & plugins
- Save projects to the Digital Library
- Access 3D printing e-learning courses
- Community of 40,000+ active users
- Very slow processing of complex models
Ultimaker Cura is free and open-source software.
Ultimaker enterprise software edition has a free version (Ultimaker Essentials) and 2 paid versions – Ultimaker Professional (starting at $600 per year) and Ultimaker Excellence (starting at $12,000 per year).
TinkerCAD is a browser-based 3D modeling software that helps users create simple and complex shapes.
Beginners (teachers, kids, hobbyists) and advanced users for creating models that are simple or complex
- Free educational software
- STL files compatible
- Import 2D and 3D models for printing
- Cloud storage
- Detailed tutorials to help you use the CAD program
- Since it is an educational tool, it lacks certain traditional features found in other CAD software, such as compatibility with various file formats.
TinkerCAD is a free browser-based CAD (computer-aided design) software.
Meshlab is open-source software to process and develop models for 3D printing.
Processing and editing 3D triangular meshes
- 3D Acquisition: Aligning
- 3D Acquisition: Reconstruction
- Color Mapping and Texturing
- Visualization and Presentation
- Color Processing
- 3D Printing: Offsetting, Hollowing, Closing
- Simplification, Refinement, and Remeshing
- The user interface is not intuitive and takes a while to learn.
Meshlab is free, open-source software for 3D printing that is available for all to use.
FreeCAD is also an open-source, free 3D modeling software available to all users.
Ideal tool for training in 3D modeling and printing
- Parametric components for efficient 3D model editing
- Design objects for the real world with units like microns, inches, or feet
- Modeling tools to produce, export, and edit solid, full-precision models
- Easy export for 3D printing or CNC machining
- Advanced geometry engine based on Open CASCADE Technology for constructive solid geometry
- Supports multiple file formats
It lacks an intuitive user interface and has a steep learning curve
FreeCAD is a free CAD software
- Reverse engineering
- Validation tools to create 3D models
- Dimensional sketching for easy resizing
- 3DEXPERIENCE for managing all aspects of development
- Simple, user-friendly design and simulation
- Inability to download or edit STL files
You will need to contact them for a custom quote, depending on your needs.
Blender is a free and open-source software for 3D printing that you can use for all aspects of 3D and 2D rendering and printing.
Video game developers for realistic rendering of 3D and 2D models and video editing
- Modeling tools for sculpting, retopology, and curves
- High-quality rendering
- Digital sculpting tools
- Animation and rigging
- VFX and simulation
- Video editing tools
- Scripting and customization
- Customizable user interface
- Blender can be overwhelming to new users
Free open-source software
OpenSCAD is open-source software that helps users create solid 3D CAD objects. The software focuses more on the CAD aspects of 3D modeling as opposed to its artistic aspects.
Professionals with sound knowledge of CAD design software
- 3D compiler founded on a textual description language
- Definitive modeling method based on the extrusion of 2D lines and constructive solid geometry (CSG)
- Leverage total control of the design process with configurable parameters and script files
- Solid community of 3D designers for support and help troubleshooting
- Designed for use by professionals, not beginners. (Lack of a user-friendly interface).
OpenSCAD is free open-source software.
10. Rhinoceros 3D.
Rhinoceros 3D is the best software for versatile 3D modeling capabilities. It uses a mathematical model called NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) to help users to manipulate meshes, curves, surfaces, points, etc.
Versatility in 3D modeling
- Create, edit, analyze, document, render, animate, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces and solids, subdivision geometry (SubD), point clouds, and polygon meshes
- Uninhibited free-form 3D modeling tools
- High accuracy allows users to design anything from plane parts to jewelry
- Compatibility with other design, drafting, CAM, engineering, analysis, rendering, animation, and illustration software
- Read and repair meshes and complex projects and IGES files
- Easy to learn and has a simple user interface
Limited sheet layout tools
Rhinoceros 3D pricing starts at $995.
BlocksCAD is a browser-based training software to helps people use OpenSCAD. It has a simple user interface and is designed for beginners and kids.
Educational purposes and classrooms
- Web-based programmatic CAD tool
- 3D shapes can be manipulated into any object
- Intuitive block building concept
- Transforms tools and StepOps tools for manipulation of 3D objects
- Math and programming functions help users make more complex shapes
- Imported STL file formats that are not exported correctly to OpenSCAD files
BlocksCAD is free to use.
12. SketchUp Make.
SketchUp Make is 3D modeling software that helps users design their own models for architectural purposes. The software offers innovative features for designing models in 3D.
- Browser-based 3D modeler
- Cloud storage
- SketchUp app for mobile viewing
- Unlimited access to Pre-Built 3D models
- Augmented Reality Mobile Viewer
- Unlimited Cloud Storage for paid versions
- Robust desktop 3D modeler
- 2D design documentation
- Quick insights for design research
- Experience reality (XR) headset viewing
- Access to plugins for extending SketchUp Pro Desktop functionality
- The tool offers limited design features
SketchUp has a free version as well as paid versions.
SketchUp Pro starts at $119 per year.
Sculptris is a free 3D modeling software based on the concept of clay modeling.
The software is used for designing models by starting off with a piece of clay that the users manipulate by pushing, pinching, and twisting.
Creative professionals and artists
- Digital sculpting of 3D models
- User-friendly interface that is easy to learn how to use
- Symmetry mode allows you to work on both symmetrical sides of an object simultaneously
- Mask system allows you to cover certain areas while you work
- Variety of materials available for simulation
- The software is no longer in development. That means there will be no more updates to it and it may not compatible with recent versions of operating systems.
- Sculptris has limited software features and cannot be used to create complex objects and 3D models.
Sculptris is free for use.
14. 3D Slash
3D Slash is a simple 3D modeling software that is fun to use, It is designed for beginners and experts, and has many advanced functions.
Non-technical users and beginners
- High definition mode for precise modeling and editing of 3D models
- Syringe tool to apply colors below a block
- Insertion of rounded basic shapes in 3D models
- Not powerful enough for industrial use.
3D Slash has a freemium plan as well as paid plans that start from as low as $2 per month to $20 per month.
What is 3D Printing Software?
3D printing software helps you in the 3D printing of objects created using 3D modeling software or CAD software.
3D printing software converts the object or model into data that can be read and understood by 3D printers. It is also sometimes called slicing software because the object or model is broken down into ‘slices’ or sections, and then created slice by slice.
Most 3D printing software has a simple user interface without a steep learning curve. However, there is also more advanced software designed for use by advanced users.
How Do You Choose the Best 3D Printing Software?
There are many considerations you need to make before you choose the best 3D printing software for your needs.
In this section, I will list down the things you need to check before you choose your 3D printing software.
Make sure that the 3D printing software you are looking to buy is compatible with the 3D modeling software or CAD software that you use to make your models. This means that the file formats from your modeling software should be supported for 3D printing by your printing software.
Also, check to see if your 3D printing software is compatible with the operating system of your computer or laptop. Most 3D printing software is compatible with both Windows and macOS, but it is better to double-check.
The best 3D printing software will obviously cost much more than basic software. If you want the highest quality 3D printing, then it is well worth the investment.
If, however, you are satisfied with the basic features of cheaper 3D printing software or even free software, then you can choose the cheaper or free options instead.
3. Industrial application
Another aspect you need to consider is the type of industry you belong to or will be using the 3D printing software for.
Most CAD software is designed to suit the needs of industries like the aerospace or automotive industries that require the 3D printing of parts that fit together functionally.
If you belong to a more technical field (such as mechanical engineering) that requires advanced software to design mechanical parts and machines, then you will need more advanced printing software.
If, however, you need 3D printing software to print jewelry or other hobby items or items for educational purposes, then you can choose one of the more basic software choices.
4. Experience level
Some 3D printing software is much simpler to use than other more advanced ones. However, it is important to note that the simpler software choices are most often pretty basic, without advanced features.
Advanced 3D printing software has a steeper learning curve, so you need to make a choice depending on your experience with this kind of software.
5. Customer support
Check whether the 3D software you want to purchase has a good customer support team. Even the best printing software can have its bad days, and if you have no clear-cut way to reach out for support, then it is going to cost you a lot of time and money.
Also, check if there are online guides and tutorials available easily either on the software’s website or on Google/ YouTube.
6. Printer type
Make sure that your printer type is compatible with the 3D printing software you would like to purchase.
So, which 3D printing software is best?
After carefully considering the features, pricing, and printer compatibilities, I consider Autodesk Fusion 360 to be the best 3D printing software overall.
With advanced features and high precision, Autodesk Fusion 360 definitely stands out from the rest.
Which 3D printing software do you use?
Did I miss putting it on this list?
Let me know in the comments! 🙂
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