Exploring the Best 3D Printing Software of 2024: Enhance Your Projects and Maximize Printer Efficiency


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If you’ve purchased a 3D printer, you probably received all the necessary software to begin printing immediately. However, the software included with 3D printers often lacks certain qualities.

The encouraging news is that there are a variety of alternative options that may better suit your requirements. You are not confined to using the software provided with your printer!

We’ve selected some of the top alternative 3D printing applications available, but before we dive into that, let’s discuss why a superior printing app is crucial.

A 3D printing app’s main function is to process a digital 3D model, prepare it for printing, and then manage your printer to ensure the print is completed successfully. The 3D printing app you utilize plays a significant role in the printing process. The disparity between one app and another could be the difference between a botched print and a successful print that withstands the test of time.

It’s typical for enthusiasts of 3D printing to rely on diverse apps for managing distinct phases of the 3D printing process. This is due to the lack of comprehensive features in a single software.

The majority of people often find the software that accompanies their 3D printers challenging to use due to its non-user-friendly nature. Considering 3D printers are no longer a specialized, tech-nerd product, it’s unreasonable to require an engineering degree just to comprehend the functions of your app.

What we’re looking for are apps that can commence your print within a few minutes and still allow for manipulation and adjustments underneath the hood when required.

If your intention is to use an app directly in conjunction with your 3D printer, there’s a need for the software to support that printer. Conversely, if you have discovered a 3D printing app that suits your needs but is incompatible with your printer, it should at least have the capability of exporting your model in a format fathomable by your printer’s proprietary software.

The .STL file format is most frequently used for 3D printing, hence it’s expected that all relevant software should be compatible with it. .OBJ files are also frequently utilized; many times, these are imported from sources not primarily meant for printing. Hence, the support of this file type is essential. G-Code and FBX files are also worth taking into consideration.

NEXT: Top 3D printers

Review Price: Free | Autodesk Download

The Meshmixer application is often the first choice when it comes to preparing 3D models for printing. Regrettably, recent news reveal that Autodesk is no longer developing Meshmixer. Despite the cessation in development, the program is still remarkably proficient and operational, but won’t be seeing any future updates.

Meshmixer has been an invaluable tool in the 3D printer kit for many years, providing the capability to prepare models for real-world printouts. By using Meshmixer, users can ensure that their models are solid enough for slicing, or possibly scale or hollow them out to conserve filament, or even generate a support material among other things.

This software has been present in the market for so long that there is an abundant number of tutorials and supportive material available on the internet. Plus, it is backed by a helpful community. Being a free software, future users who have just purchased their 3D printers and are not satisfied with the software that came with it can use Meshmixer as a start.

Essential Details – Functionality: Preparation & analysis of 3D models;

Supported file formats: STL, OBJ, PLY, AMF, 3MF, OFF;

Features: Generation of support structure, smoothing meshes, model hollowing;

Precision: Varies on model complexity;

User Interface: Interactive 3D model manipulation;

Connectivity: Direct export to printing software.

Price Range: Available for free or up to £66 per month |

Download from Autodesk here.

When you navigate to the Meshmixer site, you’re immediately greeted by a prominent message letting you know that Autodesk is now focusing its attention on Fusion 360. The fully equipped professional version of this cloud-based tool bears a significant price, but in true Autodesk fashion, they have a complimentary version for individual users.

Although the CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) attributes of the free version are somewhat restricted, this might be beneficial for the average hobbyist. The reduced range of tools and settings could serve as a stepping stone to more intricate software, or you might find that this program meets all your needs without needing further exploration.

The complimentary offering allows users to export files in STL and OBJ formats. If you prefer not to use additional tools, you’re also given the option to print directly from the software.

Key specifications – Features: Fully-integrated CAD, CAM, and CAE with 3D printing preparation; Supported file extensions: STL, OBJ; Included tools: Generative design, in-depth simulation, 5-axis CAM; Detail: High-accuracy modelling and simulation; User Interface: Based-in-the-cloud and includes an extensive suite of design tools; Integration: Direct 3D printing

Reviewing price: Free to £30 | Shapr3D Download

Shapr3D provides a comprehensive platform for you to bring your conceptual sketches to life as fully-formed 3D models. The subscription includes access for Mac, Windows, and iOS, effectively letting you work at your desk and make adjustments onsite via your iPad.

The limitations of the free version mean it functions more as a sophisticated demo than a standalone tool, offering only two projects and low-resolution prototyping. However, the reasonable monthly and annual fees make it an accessible tool for professional modelling if the basic version suits your needs.

After creating a 3D model with Shapr3D, you can export it in multiple commonly-used 3D printing formats to turn your virtual design into a solid object. The Pro license is freely available for students and educators and includes a 14-day free trial.

Key specs – Functionality: CAD modelling from sketch to production; Supported file formats: Exports STL and other formats; Feature tools: Direct modelling with Apple Pencil and touch; Precision: High-resolution prototyping and manufacturing; Interface: Intuitive on Windows, Mac and iOS; Connectivity: Cross-device seamless integration

Price when reviewed: Free | Download from UltiMaker

“Slicing” is a crucial part of the 3D printing process, as the model is broken into virtual layers representing each layer that the 3D printer will physically lay down, one atop the other. That’s what UltiMaker Cura is designed for, with over 400 settings to prep and adjust your 3D model so that it slices perfectly.

Not that you have to mess with any of those hundreds of tweaks; you can prep your model in just a few minutes by using the recommended settings. So if you really don’t know what you’re doing, you should be just fine letting the software make all the important decisions for you.

Key specifications – Functionality: 3D model slicing and print preparation; Supported file formats: STL, OBJ, X3D, 3MF; Feature tools: More than 400 configurations for slicing customization; Precision: Precision slicing layer by layer; Interface: User-friendly and includes recommended and custom modes; Connectivity: Supports various 3D printers

Cost at time of review: Free | Download OctoPrint

3D printing requires a lot of time and administration, hence leaving your printer operational overnight, or letting it run unsupervised in a room where the noise (and fumes) won’t disturb anyone is common. However, it can be frustrating to check your print and discover it has failed hours earlier.

While some contemporary printers feature applications that allow you to track your printer’s status, OctoPrint brings this concept to the next level. It’s a free and open-source software that offers the ability to regulate and monitor your printer remotely. Additionally, you can set up a webcam feed to observe the printing progress, view temperature statistics, manually control the printer remotely, and update its firmware.

Despite the moderately steep learning curve and more features than we can detail here, the strong community and additional plugins make this tool indispensable. It’s worth considering a donation to OctoPrint as it relies solely on this funding for development.

Key specs:

  • Functionality: Remote 3D printer monitoring and control
  • Supported file formats: G-Code compatibility
  • Feature tools: Comprehensive plugin system, webcam feed for monitoring
  • Precision: N/A
  • Interface: Browser-accessible web interface
  • Connectivity: Via Raspberry Pi, USB, Wi-Fi

Review price: Free | Download from MeshLab

MeshLab holds many similarities with MeshMixer, but operates at an elevated level. This app can process 3D data from multiple sources, each requiring their own unique preparation to print a successful model.

A “point cloud” created by laser scanning a real-world object needs to be consolidated and solidified before it can be printed effectively. This process also requires polishing. While MeshMixer can achieve this, MeshLab provides the opportunity to refine every aspect of your model before printing it.

MeshLab is an open-source application that is accessible on various platforms such as Windows, Linux and macOS. Although it may not be the most straightforward tool for beginners, there are plenty of thorough tutorials available. A notable example is the Mister P. MeshLab Tutorials which you can find on the official MeshLab site.

Key specs – Functionality: Processes and edits 3D triangular meshes; Supported file formats: Assorted 3D data formats like PLY, STL, OFF, OBJ, 3DS, VRML 2.0, X3D, COLLADA; Feature tools: Editing, cleaning, healing, inspection, rendering; Precision: Detailed mesh processing and refinement; Interface: Advanced, complete with a suite of tools; Connectivity: File export for 3D printing

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”


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GCode-Guru

Meet the mastermind behind NozzleNerds.com: GCode-Guru, a 3D printing wizard whose filament collection rivals their sock drawer. Here to demystify 3D tech with a mix of expert advice, epic fails, and espresso-fueled rants. If you've ever wondered how to print your way out of a paper bag (or into a new coffee cup), you're in the right place. Dive into the world of 3D printing with us—where the only thing more abundant than our prints is our sarcasm.

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