Ever wondered what your creations would look like in real life? Thanks to advancements in printing and resin technology, more and more 3D printers are coming to market every day. An important link in this process is 3D printing software. 3D printing software is a piece of technology that allows your computer to interact with the 3D printer in the way that you want it to.
3D printing is no longer limited to just professionals in labs experimenting with new technology trying to push the boundary for 3D printing, 3D printing has now made its way into all applications.
Doctors use 3D printing software to show the results of the operation, this way you can see and understand the procedure undergone. Doctors also use 3D printing software to model and print small bones and other critical parts which need to be printed according to the patient’s exact specification.
In motor design, 3D printing has been at its core since its inception. In recent times 3D printing software has come to the forefront as more companies use Artificial Intelligence to design cars that can help us transport faster and more efficiently. Every design of the chassis needs to be printed and tested so that the information can be fed back into the Artificial Intelligence implementation to train the algorithm further.
3D printing is even reaching down to commercial users. People are experimenting with printing everything in between furniture sets to screws to match their measurements so that there is no wasted space.
3D printing software is used on a daily basis by organisers who want to visualise the decoration before working on it.
Looking at the future, our houses on mars could be 3D printed. A team of dedicated engineers are currently working on it to make this plan a reality and it goes without saying how big of a role 3D printing software will play in this plan.
It might not be long before 3D printing software becomes a part of the standard syllabus in schools and colleges.
You can see how knowing and using the right 3D printing software can help you stand out from the others, no matter which field you’re working in.
How to use 3D printing software
Most of the 3D printing software is fairly difficult to use and you can very easily get confused. To break it down to the basics, you can compose every design using simple cubes and perform various operations to union or subtraction spaces to design things the way you want them to be.
You can also use spheres or cylinders. These will only act as the basic shapes to build your model using, you can use more advanced tools as well such as special planes and more funky stuff.
Some 3D printing software has command-line interfaces too, which means that you can design using just your keyboard, without having to go to your mouse. This does seem difficult in the starting but later this becomes your saviour, going back and forth to your mouse just seems to be a waste of time eventually and you can save a lot of time just sticking to the keyboard.
Nonetheless, you should always refer to the instructions on the website on how to use the software, in case those aren’t clear enough, you can head over to their youtube or other YouTubers.
Top five 3D printing software
Autodesk fusion 360 is the go-to option for many engineers and has now become almost synonymous with 3D printing and 3D modelling.
The one thing that Autodesk fusion does better than anyone else is integration. All their apps integrate with each other to work in perfect symphony.
Just like adobe’s suite of software dominates the content creation industry, Autodesk dominates the engineer tools market which is why fusion is the go-to printing software for most engineers.
One of the downsides to this software is the complexity of the program, new users often find it very intimidating to use this software and can easily get lost in the thousands of operations and shapes.
- This is one of the few 3D CAD, CAM, CAE and PCB tools available in the market
- Free for hobbyists and students
- Runs on both Mac and Windows
- Boasts a 60% improvement in time to market
- Supports a wide variety of printing devices and printing techniques
- Test out your designs in test simulation to see how the product will function in real life
- Inbuilt support for collaboration with a wide variety of options as well
- Use plugins to further improve your workflow
A lesser-known 3D printing software, MeshLab is perfect for printing and editing detailed 3D meshes using mesh data.
One of the best parts about the software is that it’s free and open-source which means that anyone can use the software without having to pay for it.
Where MeshLab shines is analysing meshes and tweaking meshes, you can even go down to every individual node and change the values for every node. You can’t really design much in this software but you can use mesh data to create something new out of an existing mesh and print that or even just print the original mesh.
- You can align meshes by bringing the two meshes to a singular coordinate system
- You can visualize a model using the shaders that can help you render the parts between the node to be able to see the entire model without any problems
- Change the colour of the model with the help of MeshLab’s colour filters with finetuned controls for alpha, gamma, Red, Green and blue channels
- Clean out your mesh data with the help of MeshLab without having to go through the process yourself with automatic and semi-automatic cleaning tools
- Compare models and find differences using different difference measurement techniques
- Use advanced analysis tools to measure and analyze your designs
- Prepare your models for printing by hollowing out your models, offsetting them, closing them off
- Scale, rotate and orient them in space to make sure that you’re ready for them
This list wouldn’t be done if we don’t mention Solidworks, over time Solidworks has built a reputation of being one of the best 3D modelling and printing software available in the market.
Solidwork, created by Dassault systems is another very popular 3D printing software and for a very good reason too, Solidworks is arguably one of the best values for money. You get all the tools that a professional CAD software or 3D printing software would have at a cheaper rate than others, you can spend $99 a year to get access to their tools.
Solidworks also has an amazing community of designers. Solidworks themselves maintain the community which shows how they value their customer and to what extent they listen to them.
The name Solidworks is equally popular among both professionals and hobbyists. The easy layout of the software makes the 3D printing software less intimidating to new users which some of the other communities lack.
Solidworks was built with the goal of always being relevant to the users which it has always delivered on. Solidworks is one of the few 3D printing tools that can connect to the cloud and save your work on the cloud, allowing you to access your designs from wherever you want, whenever you want to. This is the kind of vision that sets Solidworks apart from the other 3D printing software.
- Use easy to use cloud-connected CAD tools to make and store your designs
- You can even use Solidworks from your browser and get the same functionality
- Tap into the great creator community and share your experiences with them
- Use the vast ecosystem of tools to quickly develop and launch your products
- Forget starting from scratch, you can use other creators models to use as your base and expedite your creation process
Last on our list we have free cad, a free alternative to the paid CAD options. Perfect for any hobbyist or beginner. You can get your feet wet in FreeCAD and then decide whether you want to pursue modelling or not.
Even though FreeCAD is free, it does not lack any of the features that professional CAD tools have.
FreeCAD was designed to model simple geometric real-world models and it works flawlessly.
If you happen to know a bit of code, you can directly inject python code into FreeCAD to make designs, which makes this tool perfect for anyone who is procedurally generating 3D models.
As for the Printing techniques, FreeCAD has a wide range of supported printer types and file types.
- Free and open-sourced, i.e the software is developed by a group of volunteers
- Design anything you want with a multi-speciality workbench
- Get crazy with the available file formats
- Use python to generate 3D models
- Make fully customizable models with parameters
- Made to mirror real-world geometry
Side by side comparison
|Autodesk fusion 360||MeshLab||Solidworks||FreeCAD|
|Platforms available||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac, Linux||Windows, Web Browser||Windows, Mac, Linux|
In my opinion, FreeCAD is the best for those who can’t spend money. I would advise students and professionals to use Autodesk fusion 360 since that is the industry standard and students also get a free subscription to Autodesk which makes it perfect for students as well.
No, you can use the browser version in case you can’t download it.
No, MeshLab is a tool to view and edit mesh data not create 3D models.
Yes, for sure, it is free and available on most platforms making it ideal for anyone new to CAD.
Yes, students and hobbyists alike can use the free version which has all the features you will need
You can go for MeshLab or FreeCAD or use the web app for Solidworks.