How to make 3d printer models


Full Guide! – 3D Solved

You bought your first 3D printer and already printed the files that came with it as well as some of the free 3D models available on the web.

However, once you’ve done that it’s time to start designing your own prints, but to do that you’re going to have to learn some 3D design.

So, in this article, I will be giving you a full guide on how to start designing your own 3D models to print afterwards, what software to use, where to find courses for those 3D design software, and much more.

So, without any further ado, let’s get started!

Table Of Contents

  1. Design your Model using a CAD software
    • Free CAD Software
      • Tinkercad
      • Fusion 360 Personal License
      • FreeCAD
      • Blender
    • Paid CAD Alternatives
    • Free 3D Design Courses
    • Some 3D modelling tips
      • Design the parts with a flat base
      • Avoid Steep Overhangs
      • Consider Layer Line direction (Stronger prints)
      • Pay attention to size for dimensional accuracy
  2. Slice the model using a Slicer
    • Free Slicers
      • Ultimaker Cura
      • PrusaSlicer
    • Premium Slicer Alternatives
    • Save the Model to the SD card
    • Use Octoprint as an alternative
  3. Conclusion

Design your Model using a CAD software

Fusion 360 CAD.

CAD software, or Computer Aided Design software, lets you build 3D models on a computer which can then be 3D printed. Of course, these types of software are not only good for designing your prints but are also used for creating any kind of 3D element, be it for video games, animation, and more.

Once you’re done printing the free test prints that come with your printer, you generally download designs that other people made (you can use our own search engine to find amazing designs here). However, the ultimate challenge is to create them yourself using a CAD software, but this is definitely a lot harder to do than it may seem since 3D design can be quite complex.

There are some free CAD alternatives out there that are really simple to learn and use as well as some others that offer way more functionality at the cost of having a steeper learning curve. Of course, if you want to learn how to create your own models via a course, then check out this post I wrote about some of the best online 3D design & 3D Printing courses available (Free and also Paid).

Now, let’s check out some free CAD software!

Free CAD Software

I just want to note that Free software isn’t necessarily worse than their premium counterparts. In fact, Fusion 360, which is the go-to design software used by most 3D printing enthusiasts, offers a free license for personal use with only a couple limitations. However, it’s not the easiest CAD to learn.

Tinkercad

Tinkercad (Link to Review) is a browser-based CAD that is 100% free and that is ideal for absolute beginners since it relies on a drag-and-drop interface where you can select different objects, such as squares, circles, etc., and use those to create the final design.

In addition to this, even though it’s really simple and straight forward to use, it’s also a lot more powerful than it seems and will suit most of your 3D design needs, plus every design you create gets saved in the cloud and you can always access them from any device.

Check out Tinkercad here.

Fusion 360 Personal License

Fusion 360 (Link to Review) is probably the best-known CAD currently being used by 3D printing enthusiasts since it’s extremely powerful and capable of creating every 3D model imaginable.

The learning curve is a lot steeper than the one of Tinkercad, but it’s also a much more professional software capable of creating more complex designs.

It offers a couple different pricing options and let me tell you, it’s not a cheap software, but they offer a personal license that you can use for free for 3 years and that only comes with some minor limitations when compared to the premium version.

If you’re a complete novice when it comes to 3D design, Fusion 360 might not be the friendliest CAD to get you started, but if you follow some courses and if you take the time to learn it, you’ll be able to create much better designs than with something like Tinkercad.

FreeCAD

FreeCAD (Link to Review) is a general-purpose and open-source 3D parametric design software that has a wide range of uses. Its main purpose is for designing mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and architectural objects.

For that reason, it is best used for geometric designs like accurate replacement parts, detailed technological parts, scale models, and edit gadgets.

FreeCAD (link to website) could be considered a middle ground between Fusion 360 and Tinkercad since it’s a bit more powerful than Tinkercad while also being more beginner-friendly than Fusion 360, and there’s also loads of online resources available where you can learn the ins and outs of FreeCAD to design your own 3D models successfully.

Blender

Blender (link to review) is a 100% free 3D design software and it’s the most used software for 3D printing when it comes to creating organic shapes. Otherwise, it is not the most practical software for designing precise and technical objects for which there are better-suited programs, like Fusion 360.

If you want to model organic shapes such as animals, humans, or monsters, Blender is one of the best options available simply because of the fact that it is free, open-source, has powerful features, and a thriving community that is constantly improving the program.

Paid CAD Alternatives

Most paid CADs are not aimed at hobbyist designers but rather professionals and corporations that use this software for commercial purposes, which is why their licenses are usually very expensive and paid yearly.

For 99% of people reading this, none of these alternatives will be of much use to you since you can definitely get by using Fusion 360’s personal license and achieve astounding results with it.

However, some paid CADs include: AutoCAD, Fusion 360 (not the personal license one), Solidworks, Sketchup Pro, Solidedge, ZBrush, and many more.

Free 3D Design Courses

There are multiple free online 3D printing and Design courses available, but here are some of the ones I found to be the most useful:

  • Tinkercad Tutorial Series by Promo Ambitions.
  • Fusion 360 for 3D Printing 2021 by Austen Hartley.
  • Foundations of Blender: Jewelry Design in 3D (By Gesa Pickbrenner).

These three courses are all completely free and you have one for Tinkercad, one for Fusion 360, and another one for Blender, which should cover 99% of your needs.

Note: The Skillshare courses are not free but you can sign up for the free trial that lasts a month and finish all the courses you want.

In the article I just linked, there are many more free courses as well as paid ones, but there’s also plenty of YouTube tutorials out there that provide excellent information for each of those CADs.

Some 3D modelling tips

Here are some tips I thought of that should improve your chances of success while printing the models you designed, since there are some fairly common mistakes you can make that may end up ruining your print.

Design the parts with a flat base
Left: Round base, pool adhesion.
Right: Flat base, much better adhesion.

Probably the most important factor when it comes to a successful print is achieving a good bed adhesion, which means that the surface of the model that’s contacting with the bed should be as big as possible.

Imagine printing a round sphere where the bottom is rounded as well. In that case, there’s not a lot of surface available to achieve a good bed adhesion, which means that the print will detach from the bed and the printer will continue printing in mid-air, leaving plastic strings all over the print surface.

However, if you change the shape of the bottom of the model so that it’s completely flat, and if possible also with a large surface area, then bed adhesion will be much better and your prints success rate will be much higher.

Avoid Steep Overhangs

3D printing is done layer by layer from the ground up and the printer can print at an angle without any issues or loss in printing quality as long as that overhang angle isn’t too steep.

If you look at the image below, you’ll see that it has an angled overhang on the left, a bridge overhang in the middle, and a cantilever overhang on the right. This is an object designed to show you what types of overhangs your printer can deal with as well as which ones it can’t.

The angled and bridged overhangs (left and middle) are no problem for the printer since there’s enough support material available to keep the print from failing. But the right overhang, since the printer would need to print in mid-air, will fail since there’s no support structure for the filament to grab onto.

To circumvent this issue, you should either print using overhangs of no more than 45° or include supports (a setting that is enabled in the slicer) since these will form a support structure under any overhang above a specific angle to keep it from failing.

Consider Layer Line direction (Stronger prints)

Since FDM 3D printing is done in layers from the ground up, we can adjust the position of the model in the slicer before printing it to make it stronger.

Left: Vertical layer lines, much stronger when a “pulling” force is applied.
Right: Horizontal layer lines.

This works because layer lines are very strong but the adhesion between those layers isn’t. So, if you look at the image above where I sliced the exact same model but one gets printed vertically and the other one horizontally, the one with horizontal layer lines won’t withstand as much of a pulling force while the one with the vertical layer lines will be much stronger.  

You should always adjust the position of the model in the slicer so that the layer lines are parallel to the force that the object is going to be subjected to and not perpendicular, this way you aren’t relying on the strength of layer adhesion as much.

Pay attention to size for dimensional accuracy

When first starting out you’ll probably design something that needs to be functional and fit tightly with another object, only to find that the dimensions you set were completely off.

In Tinkercad, as well as every other CAD, you can see the grid (generally in millimeters) which gives you a visual cue of how large the model is going to be. But you can also click on the model and adjust the length, width and height easily by typing it in.

Always make sure to use calipers to take the right measurements and enter those into your CAD to be as precise as possible.

Slice the model using a Slicer

FDM 3D printing works in layers: The printer starts from the very bottom, prints an entire layer and then moves up to the next one, etc. until the printing process is complete. Slicers essentially “slice” the model up in different layers from the bottom up and create a gcode file which contains all the information the printer needs in order to print the object.

Luckily, all free Slicer currently available are absolutely fantastic and work really well, and there’s rarely a case where going with a premium Slicer makes any sense nowadays.

Here’s a list of the best free Slicers:

Free Slicers

There’s probably a dozen different free Slicers out there, however, I’m only going to list two since I think that those will cover all your needs!

Let’s start with the one I use, Cura.

Ultimaker Cura

Cura is the most-used Slicer out there simply because it works, it’s intuitive, it gets consistent updates, and it also feature a huge number of free plugins that you can install and which will make your life a lot easier.

For example: If you are trying to find a way of positioning the model to be sliced so that it uses the least amount of support material possible, well Cura has got you covered.

Definitely check Cura out, it’s a great software.

PrusaSlicer

PrusaSlicer, contrary to Cura, not only works with FDM printers but also SLA (resin printers), which makes it extremely versatile.

However, it doesn’t come with any free plugins that you can install, but it does offer bridge detection and “if-statements”, plus it’s also getting updated regularly, meaning that it’s only going to get better over time.

Premium Slicer Alternatives

I already mentioned that I don’t think that most people will ever need to pay for a premium slicer, especially considering how fast all the free ones are improving.

However, going with something like Simplify3D may make sense if you’re running a 3D printing shop, but I generally recommend going with the free alternatives.

Save the Model to the SD card

This is a very easy and straightforward step, but you need to do it in order to get the information over to the printer if you want to be able to print the model.

Cura automatically lets you save the file to the removable drive and even ejects it for you, but depending on the slicer you might have to do this manually. Make sure to always name the file appropriately so that you know what file you’re selecting from the printer.

However, if you’re running a printing farm or if you want to control the printer remotely, then there’s a more efficient way of doing things.

Use Octoprint as an alternative

OctoPrint is a web interface for your 3D printer that allows you to control and monitor all aspects of your printer and print jobs right from your within your browser.

You can access a webcam feed to make sure the print is moving forward as expected, as well as being able to take a look at temperatures, view reports on the progress of the prints, control the printer itself, create a printing queue, analyze the bed level via the bed level visualizer, and more.

Conclusion

Creating 3D models that can be printed on your 3D printer is a fairly simple process, with the hardest part being designing the actual model itself.

I’d recommend starting with Tinkercad since it’s extremely intuitive and easy to use, and as long as you don’t need to create really complex models don’t upgrade to Fusion 360 since it will take you a lot longer to learn the software.

The rest of the process is extremely simple, really, so I’d mainly worry about learning 3D design.

I hope this was useful!

Have a great day!

We created a recommended products section that will allow you to remove the guesswork and reduce the time spent researching what printer, filament, or upgrades to get, since we know that this can be a very daunting task and which generally leads to a lot of confusion.

We have selected just a handful of 3D printers that we consider to be good for beginners as well as intermediates, and even experts, making the decision easier, and the filaments, as well as the upgrades listed, were all tested by us and carefully selected, so you know that whichever one you choose will work as intended.

Is Tinkercad good for 3D Printing? – 3D Solved

With so many different CAD software out there, some free and some extremely pricy, it’s hard to really choose which one to go for, especially if you’re just starting out.

I got started on Tinkercad and managed to create some pretty cool 3D designs with it which I then printed on my 3D printer, and then moved on to other more fully-featured CAD software.

So, in this article, I will give you an overview of Tinkercad, if it’s easy to learn, and I will also compare it to some other reputable CAD software out there.

In short; Tinkercad can be used to design 3D objects which can then be saved as an .STL file to be printed with any 3D printer, and while it may not be as fully-featured and capable as other design software out there, it’s free, easy to use, and the ideal CAD for beginner 3D printing enthusiasts.

Now, without any further ado, let’s get started!

Table Of Contents

  1. Is Tinkercad easy to learn?
  2. Can you design anything using Tinkercad?
  3. Online resources for learning Tinkercad
  4. Popular Tinkercad alternatives
  5. How to export a file from Tinkercad
  6. Which CAD software is used the most in 3D printing?
  7. FAQs
  8. Conclusion

Is Tinkercad easy to learn?

Tinkercad is a free computer-aided design program (CAD) where users can design, modify, and create 3D objects. Its step-by-step design process is simple and beginner-friendly as it uses constructive solid geometry (CGS), allowing users to create a complex designs by starting with one simple geometric shape and slowly adding other ones, which means that no prior 3D design knowledge is needed.

Tinkercad is available for free and is used by school students, teachers, 3D hobbyists and designers alike. The beauty of the software is that it is user-friendly and is an excellent alternative to other 3D modeling software like SketchUp and Fusion360.

The whole point of Tinkercad is to be as simple and easy to use as possible while still allowing you to create very complex objects by offering a very generous learning curve, which means that you will be creating incredibly difficult designs in no time.

A big bonus with Tinkercad is its growing community of designers which is always very welcoming to new and aspiring tinkerers, and the number of resources available to help you on your way is astounding.

The best part is that there is no cost in learning through being part of the Tinkercad community and there is always someone, or perhaps even a group of designers, that will offer their guidance and support.

Tinkercad is the easiest way for beginners to get started with 3D modelling since it’s designed from the ground up to be as simple and intuitive to use as possible without limiting you too much, since once you get the hand of it you should be able to design fairly complex models.

Can you design anything using Tinkercad?

While you can certainly design almost any kind of 3D model on Tinkercad, there are a few limitations when it comes to complex and extremely precise moving parts, such as the ones designed by industrial designers and engineers , and this is where other CAD software might be better. However, for most people who need to design more conventional models, Tinkercad is more than enough.

However, the more you use and experience the software with all its different tools, the more you realize just how versatile and user-friendly Tinkercad actually is.

As far as general everyday designs go, the sky is the limit, so Tinkercad will be more than adequate to meet the average design requirements for most users. To give you an idea of what Tinkercad is capable of, below are some designs created by a few advanced users.

  • DeLorean
  • Ray Gun
  • Futuristic City
  • Mustang
  • Mad Max Guitarist Truck

Online resources for learning Tinkercad

Tinkercad’s official tutorial.

There are plenty of tutorials available online, be it on YouTube, Websites, Forums, you name it, and performing a quick Google search for “Tinkercad Tutorial” will yield dozens of useful results.

Here are some of the most useful tutorials/guides available:

  • Learn Tinkercad (official Tinkercad Tutorial)
  • Learn Tinkercad in 5 Steps (all3dp tutorial)
  • Tinkercad Tutorial by Promoambitions
  • Instructables Tutorial

For those of you who prefer watching video tutorials as opposed to reading, YouTube has got you covered. Here are a few links.

  • All3DP Tinkercad Tutorial
  • Bai Tinkercad Tutorial
  • Chaos Core Tech Tinkercad Tutorial
  • Makerspace tutorial
  • Tinkercad tutorial by PromoAmbitions (best video tutorial available)

Tinkercad uses rather simple geometric shapes that can be either “solid” or “hole”, and when combining the two you can create new shapes. In addition to this, you can create custom shape generators using a built-in JavaScript editor which can then be imported in three different formats: STL and OBJ for 3D, and 2-dimensional SVG shapes for extruding into 3D shapes.

Tinkercad even includes a feature to export 3D models to Minecraft Java Edition, and also offers the ability to design structures using Lego bricks.

Popular Tinkercad alternatives

As mentioned, there are alternatives to Tinkercad, and each has its own set of pros and cons. The two main alternatives are SketchUp and Fusion360, so let’s see how Tinkercad compares to them.

Tinkercad vs SketchUp

Both Tinkercad and SketchUp are suited to beginners with little to no background knowledge on 3D design programs. This gives users a leg up on the basic understanding of design without first going through a rigorous learning process.

SketchUp was created by Google and had a huge following with 30 million activations in the last year alone, and the idea behind it, and Tinkercad alike, was to create a 3D modelling software that’s accessible to the general public without the need of a prior education in the field.

Is SketchUp free?

SketchUp Free is the free version of the software that has some tantalizing benefits attached to it, including 10 gig cloud storage, a SketchUp viewer app for mobile devices, and the ability to import a number of different file types. However, there are limitations to what you can get for free and the pricing ranges from $119 per year for a simple personal license up to $639 per year for the “Studio” version.

Tinkercad, on the other hand, is 100% free.

Tinkercad vs Fusion360

Tinkercad caters to younger users without any design experience or knowledge, whereas Fusion360 is designed with more seasoned users in mind who have a more advanced knowledge and who need to be able to create prototypes and more intricate parts.

Tinkercad, however, is easy to learn and moving parts can be made relatively quickly. It is interactive and engages young minds in a fun and educational way that provides the opportunity to design and build basic everyday items. However, it is limited to a point with the shapes available. Another downside is that editing is difficult because there is no history tree to refer to.

Fusion360, on the other hand, gives the user complete control over shapes and boasts some powerful modelling tools that are ideal for making complex mechanical parts. Also, having a history tree makes editing a lot easier but with this comes a lot more learning, and because of the range of tools available in Fusion 360, knowing which one to use at any given time will come with experience, or in other words, time investment.

How to export a file from Tinkercad

To export a file from Tinkercad you need to select the object you want to print (if it’s multiple ones then you’ll need to select them all) and then click on “Export” in the upper right corner making sure to select the .stl format, which will immediately download the file.

If you’re going to be printing the model on a 3D printer, you will need to load the .stl file on a Slicer software, slice it, and then load it on the printer (usually via an SD card).

Which CAD software is used the most in 3D printing?

As there are no CAD app statistics available from the 3D printing community, it is best to distinguish between hobbyists and professional designers. Tinkercad and SketchUp are popular among hobbyists, while most full-time professional designers prefer Fusion360.

CAD software is wide-ranging and is preferred for the more technical type of designs. However, here is a list of software programs suited for both beginners and experts alike:

  • Blender: For beginners and is free.
  • Tinkercad: for beginners and is free.
  • Freecad: For beginners and is free.
  • Blockscad: For beginners and is free.
  • Creo: For Intermediate and costs $2310 per license.
  • Autodesk Fusion360: For intermediate and costs $60 per month or free to students and educators.
  • SolidWorks: For Professionals and costs $3995 for each license.
  • Autocad: For professionals, and costs $185 per month or $1470 per year. Students and faculties can download a functional version at no cost.
  • Catia: For professionals and costs $10 000 and up.
  • Openscad: For Professionals and is free.
  • Rhino3D: For professionals and included different bundles that include Rhino 6.0 for windows that start at 995 Euros and Rhino 5.0 for Mac that starts at 695 Euros.

FAQs

Is Tinkercad free to use?

Tinkercad is 100% free to use and doesn’t feature any additional upgrade plans like most other “free” CAD software out there that you would need to pay for. This, however, comes at the cost of being slightly more limited than other similar software.

Can you download Tinkercad (and use it offline)?

Tinkercad is only accessible online and at this time, you cannot download it for offline use. This means that you must always have an active Internet connection and all the projects you create will be saved on the cloud. Periodic requests have been made to Autodesk for an offline version, but so far, there has been no solid commitment besides the fact that they are looking into it.

Can you render objects in Tinkercad?

Rendering an object in Tinkercad is possible but in a very basic form. Here is a five-step process that will guide you through it. Alternatively, it will be best to import into Fusion360 if you want a more realistic scene. Here is a video that shows you how to do it properly.

Conclusion

Tinkercad is a great tool for creating 3D designs that you can then print, and it’s especially good for beginners since it’s got a very gentle learning curve.

Additionally, it’s not as limited as you might think, just check out the designs I linked earlier and you’ll see what I mean.

Most people who are trying to create models for 3D printing will find that Tinkercad is more than enough for their needs.

I hope this information was useful!

We created a recommended products section that will allow you to remove the guesswork and reduce the time spent researching what printer, filament, or upgrades to get, since we know that this can be a very daunting task and which generally leads to a lot of confusion.

We have selected just a handful of 3D printers that we consider to be good for beginners as well as intermediates, and even experts, making the decision easier, and the filaments, as well as the upgrades listed, were all tested by us and carefully selected, so you know that whichever one you choose will work as intended.

Rules for 3D modeling for 3D printing

It is known that a prerequisite for 3D printing is the presence of a 3D model, according to which the printer will grow a three-dimensional object. But, even after simulating an object, you should not assume with absolute certainty that the job is done, and soon the printer will give you the finished product. The fact is that not all models are suitable for 3D printing. There are certain requirements for the dimensions, thicknesses and design of models - and these requirements vary depending on the material used and the printer. In addition to these individual characteristics, there are general requirements that distinguish print models from other 3D models. And now we will talk in more detail about how to prepare a model for 3D printing.

First of all, you need to remember that STL files (for one-color models) and WRL (for color plaster 3D printing) are suitable for 3D printing. Almost all 3D modeling programs allow you to export models to STL, so this should not be a problem. You should also take into account that for online download on our website, files no larger than 50 MB each are accepted, as well as an extended list of formats that are automatically exported to STL: STP, STEP, OFF, OBJ, PLY and directly STL. If the file size is more than 50 MB, then you need to send the model to our email address: [email protected] By the way, one of the easiest ways to reduce the volume of the model and the file size is to create hollow 3D models, we already wrote about how this works in our blog.

Before you start creating a model for 3D printing, it is important to understand what material you want to print the product from. Each material has its own individual characteristics for 3D modeling - maximum and minimum model dimensions, wall thicknesses, distance between moving parts, etc. You can learn more about the requirements for a particular material in the appropriate section on our website.

If you use the online model upload on our website, it will automatically check for standard 3D modeling errors. Models are checked instantly, and if errors that prevent 3D printing were not found, then immediately after uploading the model will appear in your personal account in the "My Models" section. If the model did not pass the test, then you will see a notification that the file cannot be loaded, then you will need to check and refine the model again.

What are the most common errors encountered when modeling for 3D printing?

  1. Inverted normals - incorrectly oriented normals. Normals should always point outward, they define the boundaries of the object and allow the 3D printer software to understand which is the inside and which is the outside of the model. If at least one of the normals is directed in the opposite direction and contradicts the other normal, then this causes a failure in 3D printing, since the printer cannot distinguish between the front and back sides of the object.
  2. Non-manifold geometry - Non-manifold 3D model is a prerequisite for 3D printing. The essence of this concept is that each edge of a 3D model must have exactly two faces.

The following errors are usually included in this concept:

o Mesh with holes - "unclosed" mesh problem. Remember the basic rule of 3D modeling: your model must be "watertight" or "airtight". If a hole is formed, it means that some edge is missing one face, therefore the model is not manifold, and therefore not suitable for 3D printing.

o Presence of internal polygons. There must be no faces inside the model, for example inside walls.

o Common ribs. An error occurs when more than two polygons are attached to the same edge. Each edge in your 3D model should connect only two adjacent faces.

o Matching edges. Occurs when two separate edges are created at the same location and are not connected, such edges must be merged into one common edge.

o Polygon overlap. Occurs when a polygon is created on top of an existing one. Intersecting edges can confuse a slicer - a program that translates a 3D model layer by layer into a control code for a 3D printer.

o Zero polygon thickness. To avoid this error, make sure that each polygon has the specified thickness.

How can standard errors in 3D modeling be corrected?

To do this, it is enough to use the Netfabb program, which, with more than 95% chance to correct all errors. You can download Netfabb here or use the online version of the program.

Read about the basic principles of working with Netfabb in the "Lessons" section of our blog.

3D modeling and printing software

Contents

    • 3D modeling software
    • 3D printing file types
      • Free software
      • Paid software for modeling0018
      • Programs for cutting 3D models (slicers)
        • Free slicers
        • Paid slicers
      • To summarize

    The whole cycle of creating a part on a 3D printer can be fit into three stages: Creating / finding a model, cutting a model in a slicer, printing on a 3D printer. Each stage is tied to its own program. Models are created in special programs, then in the slicer the model is “cut” into steps that the printer will sequentially execute. The resulting list of steps (commands) is either placed on a memory card and run from the printer itself, or sent to the printer via a wired/wireless connection. As a result of all these actions, we get the product. Therefore, looking for a “3D printer program” is wrong: you need to look for a modeling program and a slicer.

    3D modeling software

    Programs for 3D modeling are divided into two large groups:

    Obviously, when creating a drawing, an engineer needs precise tools: a ruler, pencil, compass, etc. But the artist needs more free tools: brushes, pastels, palettes and others. Programs are divided according to the same principle: in engineering programs, there are all the tools that allow you to accurately specify the characteristics of each element of the part, and in art programs, tools are created to give smoother shapes so that the model looks as natural as possible. Of course, in art programs it is possible to model technical products, but this is comparable to drawing a drawing with pastel: it is inconvenient, difficult and inaccurate. Therefore, it is very important to determine why you need a simulation program.


    Tip: It is best to learn one or two programs at a professional level, as this will allow you to create complex models. But you should also know the basics in other programs, since a large circle of knowledge allows you to more flexibly choose the approach to creating models.

    File types for 3D printing

    To begin with, it is worth understanding what types of files are involved in the manufacturing process of the part. The first step is to create a model. It can be saved in the format of the program itself (for example, KOMPAS-3D files have the .m3d extension, while 3ds Max has the .MAX file extension). Such files can only be opened in the programs in which they were created. But we need a universal format - STL. All programs can save models in this format. It stores the polygons that create the model.

    All files are divided into 3 categories:

    • Files that store polygonal information (STL, OBJ, etc.). They are analogues of a raster image. It is possible to increase the quality of 3D models in this format only by smoothing, but in this case small details will be lost, and the file weight will increase greatly.

    • Files that store the steps for creating a part (STEP, STP, etc.). Here you can draw an analogy with vector images. Each element is specified either using simple dot connections (for example, as in a cube or pyramid), or using formulas (any curved, rounded objects). Models in this format can be scaled without loss of quality, while maintaining a relatively small file size.

    • Utility files that store steps for a 3D printer (GCODE, GCOD). These files store the commands that the printer executes and, in some cases, comments (for example, with what settings the model was cut). Some slicers can simulate the movements of the printer, thereby rendering the model, but it is impossible to convert a file from this format to a full-fledged model.


    Be careful! If you are not sure that the GCODE file is intended for your printer, then you should not print it, because the print area for each printer is different. On third-party firmware there is no limit on the maximum travel distance, some third-party software commands may lead to incorrect operation of the control board. If the printer tries to move the print head out of the printable area many times, then it can harm itself!

    If the files are in the same category, then they can be easily converted from one format to another with almost no data loss. The formats indicated in brackets are a kind of “transits”. For example, Inventor has its own file format - itp, and Fusion 360 has its own - f3d. But if you save the file in Inventor in the generic STEP format, you can open it in any engineering program and then save it in that program's format.

    Free programs

    Usually, free programs are either limited in functionality or created by enthusiasts, which is why they have a very crooked interface and a lot of errors. But their functionality is enough to create simple models, and in some cases, such programs can completely replace paid software.

    Tinkercad

    In essence, this is not even a program, but a website, that is, it does not need to be installed on a computer and it opens from any device that has Internet access. But this is its main disadvantage - without Internet access, you will not be able to download any model for yourself, because each project is initially saved in the cloud. You also need to register to use this site. Initially, the site was created for children, so each tool is intuitive. The program is suitable for modeling simple products: gaskets, bushings, adapters, covers, boxes, etc.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    • Inability to work without the Internet

    • Each individual project needs to be downloaded

    • Limited number of tools

    FreeCAD

    This program is designed to create technical products: fasteners, bushings, hinges and more. Since this is an open source project, it is distributed free of charge. At the same time, it has all the necessary functionality for opening and editing files with the .step extension - a universal format for all engineering programs. It is also worth noting the ability to add addons - special subroutines that allow you to perform any actions in a fully automatic mode. For example, there is an addon that makes it easier to create various gears. In this program, you can create more complex products: mechanisms, gearboxes, hinges, etc.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    OpenSCAD

    This CAD is closer to programming languages ​​than to modeling: each object or any action is specified as a code. This allows you to create universal models. For example, a coin sorter: once you write the “model code”, you can create a huge number of variants of this model for different countries, changing just a few parameters. This program, like the previous one, is an open source project, as a result of which it is regularly updated.

    Pros:

    • Works on weak PCs

    • Ease of creating universal models

    • Easy to learn if you have programming experience

    Cons:

    • No Russian interface

    • Is a programming language

    • Difficult to create curvilinear geometry

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    Meshmixer

    Art program for entry-level 3D modeling. There are simple tools for processing STL files and functions for recovering “broken” files. Using Meshmixer, you can conveniently cut the model into several parts, as it is possible to set the size of the print area of ​​your printer. And one of the most useful tools is the installation of tree supports. This function has already appeared in many slicers, but it is in meshmixer that they can be flexibly configured and installed manually. Despite the many tools, this program is rather auxiliary, as there are more suitable programs for creating a model from scratch.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    • Limited functionality for creating 3D models

    • Lack of Russian interface

    • Some operations require a powerful PC

    Blender

    A completely free program with huge possibilities not only for creating models, but also for animation, rendering, simulations and much more. It is mainly used by multipliers, but due to the large number of extensions, this program covers a huge range of tasks. At first glance, Blender may seem too complicated, but everyone can master the basic functionality. Also worth noting are constant updates that improve performance and add new tools. A large community of people working in this program and developing it will help with the solution of many problems.

    Paid 3D software

    This category includes programs for professionals and enterprises, as well as their simplified versions for home use. Many companies have begun releasing a product at a low cost for home use, although initially the designs were intended only for enterprises and were priced accordingly. The common advantage of these programs is great functionality and constant support. For example, Autodesk Inventor was first released back in 1999 and is updated annually. Next, we will look at the most popular of them.

    Fusion 360

    The new product from Autodesk tried to combine several tasks at once: modeling, simulation and rendering. In many ways, it adopted the functionality of the previously mentioned Inventor, but supplemented it with a simple interface: many tools are similar to those that can be used in the previously mentioned Tinkercad. You can also edit STL files in it, albeit with a limited set of tools.

    The main feature of this program is cloud data processing, such as simulations and renders. At the same time, almost all functions can be performed offline using the power of a PC. To process tasks in the cloud, you need to buy additional tokens, but when creating models, they are not necessary. It is worth considering that despite the presence of a native file format (f3d), all files are initially stored on Autodesk servers, and then they can be saved to your computer.

    There is a version for schools and universities, but obtaining such a license requires the educational institution to register and issue you a personal license.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    Price: from 7,123₽ to 25,721₽ for 1 year

    Netfabb

    The program is designed to prepare the model before slicing. In many ways, it is similar to meshmixer, but it does not have the tools to create a model from scratch. Merging several models in STL format can be called a distinctive function, but the most important tool is the “repair” of models. That is why everyone should install this program, even if you have another model editor or model repair built into the slicer. Also in Netfabb it is very convenient to cut the model into several parts for printing separately. At the moment, the Netfabb functionality is built into Fusion 360 and is not officially available separately, but can be found on third-party resources as a separate program.

    Pros:

    • Great functionality for repairing the model

    • Convenient cutting into pieces

    • Easy to learn all the necessary tools

    Cons:

    Price: from 18 024₽ for 1 month

    KOMPAS-3D

    A professional program created by Russian developers for Russian enterprises. It has a huge functionality, but at the same time, each function has a description, and the main tools have explanatory animations, a huge database of standards and GOSTs is built in. The program is free for all students and does not require verification of documents. There is also a paid version of KOMPAS-3D HOME, which, although intended only for home use, retains all the functionality of the “professional” version. Because of this, and also because of the low price, this CAD system is the best choice as the first professional program for creating complex 3D models.

    Pros:

    • Completely Russian interface

    • A large number of tools

    • Availability of a free student version

    • Very low price

    Cons:

    Price: from 1 490₽ for 1 year

    SolidWorks

    One of the oldest programs on the market that has become a standard. If you learn how to work in SolidWorks, then you can work in any CAD. It has a relatively simple interface, an average number of tools that are enough even for professionals, but since the program is designed for production, many functions will only interfere with work. It should be noted that this program is available in Russian, and this is one of the reasons for the prevalence of this program in Russia.

    Pros:

    • Easy to learn

    • The presence of the Russian interface

    • Large community of people using SolidWorks

    • Widespread in Russia

    Cons:

    Price: from 8,431₽ to 292,560₽ for 1 year

    Inventor

    The main program at many enterprises, but due to the simplicity of the interface and the presence of the Russian language, it is easy to learn. In many ways, it is similar to SolidWorks, both in functionality and in purpose. The main distinguishing feature of this program is a large number of high-quality video tutorials and text courses. It is studied at many universities both around the world and in Russia.

    Pros:

    • Prevalence among the Russian community

    • Lots of learning materials

    • Intuitive interface

    • Availability of student version

    Cons:

    Price: from 106 860₽ for 1 year

    SelfCAD

    It is the simplest program for technical modeling. As easy to learn as Tinkercad, but not for kids, but for professional 3D printing. This program is not CAD, so there is no editing history, which allows, for example, to change sketches without entering edit mode.

    You can download this program for free, but this version will have limited functionality. There are also paid versions with monthly payment or a one-time purchase forever. Only paid versions have a simple slicer, but its functionality is extremely limited.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    • Small functionality

    • Big cost

    Price: from 1160₽ ($14.99) for 1 month

    3ds Max

    The program is designed to create 3D models and render images. It has great functionality, but it is extremely difficult to learn due to the lack of the Russian language and a complex interface. This is due to the fact that 3ds Max was originally developed for 3D animation and video game studios. It was to create a simple and free analogue that the previously mentioned Blender was created. Due to the above reasons, this program is not suitable for creating 3D models for subsequent printing on a 3D printer, but nothing prevents you from doing this.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    Price: from 9 791₽ for 1 month

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    3D cutting software (slicers)

    Having any model in STL format, you cannot immediately place it in the printer and start printing, because the printer only executes commands, and these commands form a slicer. According to the etymology of the word, one can understand that the program cuts the model into layers, or rather into separate commands. But the number of cutting options for one model is almost endless. In this regard, a large number of programs have appeared that allow you to fully customize the operation of the slicer, or rather, how it will split the model into separate commands. The slicer itself consists of two parts: the core and the shell. The slicer core performs slicing based on the specified parameters, and the shell allows you to set these parameters and visually evaluate the slicing result before sending the model to print. In addition, many slicers have built-in functionality for direct access to the printer, which allows you to manually control the printer and carry out its settings and diagnostics. Next, we will consider the most popular slicers, which have their positive and negative sides.

    Free slicers

    The availability of free slicers is due to the fact that without them the printer becomes a useless machine that can only heat coffee and play a melody with the help of motors. Therefore, many companies that create 3D printers supply slicers with them, while laying them out in the public domain. Often these are large companies such as Ultimaker, CraftUnique, Prusa, etc.

    Ultimaker Cura

    It was originally created only for Ultimaker 3D printers, but soon became an open-source project. Now in its library of profiles you can find a huge number of printers from various manufacturers. Uses its own core Cura, which has many settings and functions: tree support, wireframe printing, color printing, etc.

    Frequent updates bring innovations and even more profiles for various 3D printers. It is a standard choice for beginners, as it has two control modes: simple and professional. Recently, support for add-ons has appeared that allows you to save backup copies of settings, repair the model directly in the slicer, integrate various programs for 3D modeling, and much more.

    It is also possible to control the printer by sending commands directly from the computer. But there is no feedback from the printer, apart from receiving information about the temperature of the nozzle and table.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    Prusa Slic3r

    Sometimes you can find other names: Slic3r Prusa Edition or Slic3r PE. Prusa decided not to reinvent the wheel, and took the open-source Slic3r project, partially reworked it and began to actively develop it. Like Cura, Prusa Slic3r has many printer profiles, but Prusa's printer profiles are the most optimized. The core of the slicer of our own design, while the number of settings is less than that of the same Cura.

    A distinctive feature is the flexible adjustment of the layer thickness and the support of a special extruder capable of printing 5 different plastics at once (again, produced by Prusa). The program will be extremely useful for people who have more than one 3D printer: all settings are divided into 3 tabs, each of which can be saved to separate profiles. But the printer control console disappeared completely, only the send button for printing via wire remained. In general, this program will be a reliable and convenient slicer, especially if you have a large number of printers.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    Repetier

    This slicer was created more for remote control of the printer, but it can also cut models. One of the few programs where you can choose the slicing core: Cura, Sic3r, Prusa Slic3r. The number of settings for the slicing itself is extremely small, but they are enough to cut the test cube.

    The most important plus of this slicer is the huge functionality for managing and configuring the printer. It is worth noting the convenient interface for sending commands, as well as customizable temperature graphs. This is extremely useful, for example, when tuning the PID or checking the movement of the axes. Even if you choose a different slicer, this program is handy to have in order to 3D print using GCODE from another slicer.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    MatterControl 2.0

    One of the few programs that combine functions for editing stl files and a slicer. You won't be able to create any serious model, but you can add text or cut out part of the model. The slicer has not so many settings, but they are enough for a beginner 3D printer. This slicer can be useful if you need to make art products with minor changes. Supports saving to the cloud.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    3DprinterOS

    This software is designed to remotely manage printers from anywhere in the world. All that is needed is to connect the printer to the computer and install this program on it. From now on, all printer management occurs through the web interface. In it, you can remotely change the model, cut it and put it on print. It is also possible to connect a camera and observe the printing process. There are very few slicing settings, some will not even be enough to calibrate the printer, not to mention serious printing.

    Carefully! It is not recommended to leave the printer unattended, especially if it is no longer new: at any time there may be a risk of fire due to wiring or mechanical problems.

    Pros:

    • Simple interface

    • Start printing from anywhere in the world

    • Ability to monitor printing

    • Availability of tools for editing the model

    Cons:

    IceSL

    It is a combination of OpenSCAD with its “modeling language” and slicer. In addition, models can be edited using a “brush”, like the one in Meshmixer. It has many small pluses that are not found in other slicers, but it is not suitable for everyday use due to an inconvenient interface and a small number of slicer functions. This program can be described in one phrase: interesting, but not recommended.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    Octoprint

    In many ways it is similar to 3DprinterOS, but is an open source project, as a result of which it has many additions. Designed for home use. It is the most popular way to remotely control a printer, and the user community is constantly growing. Therefore, it will be very easy to transfer your printer to remote control due to the large number of lessons and articles. The program itself does not have a slicer, but direct export of files from Slic3r is supported, which is already good in itself. Just like Repetier, it has an excellent printer management and monitoring console. But, unlike the aforementioned analogue, most of the functions will have to be configured manually.

    Pros:

    • Large user base

    • Lots of tutorial articles

    • Ability to create a video broadcast of the printing process

    Cons:

    Paid Slicers

    At the moment, many paid slicers are no longer used, as free ones have either caught up or overtaken them. But some of them are still unique.

    Simplify3D

    One of the first thundered paid slicers. At the time of its introduction, it was the most advanced due to the ability to change the print settings for one model at different layer heights and the functionality of printing with more than one extruder. But at the moment it has been replaced by Cura and Prusa Slic3r. Nevertheless, the convenience of setting up print settings and their number still remain the main advantage of this slicer. Also worth noting is the excellent printer management interface, second only to Repetier host.

    Another difference is the ability to manually install supports and a large number of filling patterns. Viewing models also has several features: changing the way models are displayed, viewing in section, displaying normals to planes.

    Pros:

    • Lots of print options

    • Convenient printer management interface

    • Manual installation of supports

    • Changing print settings at different heights

    • Easy print setup with two extruders

    Cons:

    Price: from 11499₽ ($149)

    Read also: A detailed review of 3D printing slicers: Ultimaker Cura, Simplify3D, IdeaMaker, UP Studio, FlashPrint

    Astroprint

    Many believe that this particular software is a direct competitor to 3DPrinterOS. The most important difference is user friendliness, achieved through a user-friendly interface and easy installation. The program is based on Octoprint, essentially providing only a server, a modified interface and several add-ons that allow you to fully manage the printing process while away from the printer - from finding a model, to cutting and printing. At the same time, the program positions itself as a serious business solution, so the company also provides special PCs and management consoles that make it easy to connect the printer to the system. A trial plan is available where only 2 printers can be connected, but all basic features will be available.

    Pros:

    • Easy connection and setup

    • Trial Availability

    • Interface specially designed for mobile devices

    Cons:

    Price: from 765₽ ($9.90) for 1 month

    KISSlicer

    This slicer is another representative of programs that failed to keep up with the times. Previously, its functionality was a cut above the rest, but now the same Cura has all the same settings as KISSlicer, and also adds its own. Of the useful in this program, we can note the function of joint viewing of GCODE and model.

    There were two versions: free and PRO. The only significant difference between them is that the paid version has support for printing in multiple colors. At the moment the project is dead, even the main site does not work, but the program can still be found on third-party sources.

    Pros:

    Cons:

    Price: from 3240₽ ($42)

    Summing up

    After considering all the popular programs, we can highlight the clear favorites:

    For beginners in 3D printing, Tinkercad is the best 3D modeling software because it combines simplicity with the necessary functionality. The best programs for professional-level 3D modeling are KOMPAS-3D, Fusion 360 and Blender, due to the huge number of tools and a large community that makes it easy to find lessons and guides.


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