We take a closer look at free 3D printing software which you can use to create and materialize your projects.
3D printing is still on the rise as a popular innovative hobby and business type. This is very much, thanks to printers becoming more affordable as well as higher quality at lower prices. Even if you’re just starting out, there are plenty of models to use from crowdsourced sites. Although you can print the designs from others all day long, chances are you have invested in a 3D printer so that you could make your own designs. In that respect, your investment doesn’t do a whole lot of good without the right 3D printing software to run it.
Recommended user level: Beginner.
To start off, 3D Slash is a great way to begin learning how to build designs and test them. 3D Slash is a Minecraft-esque browser-based design tool that with a block by block mechanics. However, it does have some tricks up its sleeve other than easy learning, such as importing other models, and the ability to overlay images. With this option, you can simply chip away blocks until you re-create the item from the chosen image. Much like taking a chisel to marble.
On the other hand, don’t expect 3D Slash to do anything close to professional 3D printing software. For starting off, or teaching a young person, this is the software to spend a week or two with. As an added bonus, because this program is so simple, most browsers have the ability to view models from it in virtual reality. A unique gimmick to such a playful builder.
Recommended user level: Beginner to Intermediate.
Much more flexible, Tinkercad is made by Autodesk and definitely shows it. Although it may be another browser-based solution, this 3D printing software doesn’t get left behind in the ranks of free builders. With being able to access your account from anywhere, import crowdsourced models and templates, use both solid and negative space shapes, Tinkercad can create nearly any functional design with relative ease and a little creativity.
With that said, this is still not a professional 3D printing software. Its efficiency does strongly depend on your internet connection and can get very laggy at times. This occasionally results in needing to mash the undo option. Even so, the versatility to ease-of-use scale warrants this browser model builder to consistently hold the title of my personal favorite.
If there was one thing to change, it would be that when exporting a model, the negative shapes and everything removed by them does not affect the file size. If this builder could only export what is visibly left out of the model, it could possibly be one of best free 3D printing software available. Especially with an offline mode.
Recommended user level: Intermediate.
Sketchup is a unique type of 3D builder that feels a bit like molding clay. Although you can add multiple objects in one scene, this 3D printing software is designed around manipulating one shape into a solid and complex design by selecting areas of the base shape and pulling or pushing them.
Seemingly geared more towards architecture, this is a rather impressive program. On the downside, it will take some time getting used to it. Somewhat similar to being a Windows user operating on a Mac for the first time. Another perk of this unique 3D printing software is the ease of scaling your model and adjusting the relativity of areas to align wherever you need them to. Downfall, while this is a free 3D builder, there is a purchase required for the full Pro version.
Recommended user level: Expert.
From creating models for 3D printing, animations, game characters and objects to even YouTube intro animations, Blender is a very powerful free program, however, that comes at a price. Blender is a highly challenging 3D builder to learn and the interface doesn’t help much.
At least few hours is needed to learn how to use the provided templates for a cube, cylinder, ring, and monkey head. Yes, for some reason there is a monkey head, call it a quirk or an easter egg maybe. But to create other shapes and manipulate them like you can in Tinkercad, it takes some serious learning.
On the bright side, Blender does have a detailed and easy-to-follow tutorials to help users take advantage of this amazing tool. If you take these lessons (sadly, some of them require you to pay), or learn in another way, you may find yourself creating incredibly detailed models that other programs can’t even dream of competing with. Just make sure not to create such fine details that your 3D printer cannot materialize them.
In which, you can quickly prepare your 3D models for printing.
Voxelizer is not a builder or 3D modeling program but an example of the slicer, another type of essential 3D printing software. Slicers allow you to prepare 3D models for printing by choosing proper settings and generating a G-code file for the printer. You can choose from various free slicing programs like Slic3r and Cura, but Voxelizer offers the widest range of workflows and presets besides the standard 3D printing.
Voxelizer runs on voxel data which allows you to view the printing path, modify your model by thickening or filling empty spaces, and take advantage of print reviews. This program can import STL, images, and 2D schematics in DXF, medical DICOM files, G-codes and nearly any other type of 3D file to make sure it will print the way intended. It also offers some advanced and innovative features like image mapping, which enables you to place images on 3D models and print them using color blending.
Additionally, this tool is as versatile as Blender as it can work not only with 3D printers but also with CNC milling and cutting, 3D dremels, and laser cutters. Making this the perfect prep program for manufacturing to all owners of ZMorph multitool machines and others. Regardless of the builder you use, Voxelizer is dependable for ensuring a clean creation process for your designs. Between the building capabilities of Blender, and manufacturing versatility of Voxelizer, combining the two may leave limitless possibilities.
Don’t spend a fortune on 3D printing software
While some of these may include paid features, and some don’t hold up to the most expensive software, any hobbyist and maker should be able to make nearly anything they desire without investing another dime after buying their machine.
3D printing is becoming more and more accessible for everyone. With a small amount of savings, the hardware is affordable and tutorials mostly available for free. Even professional quality is attainable with some comprehensive post-production guides. These days, everyone’s creativity and ingenuity are allowed to become a reality in front of their eyes, and in their hands. What is stopping you from materializing your ideas?