One of the biggest barriers to entry into 3D printing is the equipment. Most people, whether they be a hobbyist or professional, use both a printer and a computer to work through the whole process.
Depending on what your end goal with 3D printing is, the costs of getting both a printer and a computer could easily run into the thousands. But is it strictly necessary to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a computer to start 3D printing?
Almost any mobile device from phones to tablets can be used to 3D print. There are several applications available on mobile that make the workflow from mobile possible. However, the limited processing power in mobile devices compared to desktop makes the workflow of printing from mobile slightly harder.
Can you print without a computer or use your phone or tablet to print? If you already have a 3D printer but no computer, keep reading to find out what this means to you
Can You 3D Print Without A Computer?
3D printers are computer numerical control (CNC) machines. This is a machine where a computer controls its processes and output. There are several types of CNC machines including lathes, mills and of course 3D printers. Unlike lathes or mills, however, a 3D printer can be used without a computer.
What Role Does A Computer Play In 3D Printing?
A computer has two primary functions in the production of a 3D print. These are the design of a 3D model and the preparation of a model for printing.
Designing 3D Models
Before you can start printing, you need a model, specifically a 3D model. You can download an existing model if there are existing models for what you plan on printing. This is the simplest way to get a 3D model. Some of the most popular places to download 3D models are Thingiverse, CGTrader and 3D Warehouse.
On the other hand, if you want to create something custom from scratch, you are going to need to design it yourself. This is where software and computer aided design comes in. There are several design software used to create 3D models. The most popular are Blender, AutoCAD, SketchUp and Tinkercad.
Preparing 3D Models
After you’ve created your 3D model you need to slice it. Slicing software turns your 3D model into slices your 3D printer can print. Slicers also set print settings like print speed, temperature, layer height and other important configurations your printer will use.
There are several slicing software, with some of the most favored being Cura, Prusaslicer and OctoPrint.
Once you have designed and prepared your print, the next step is to transfer your file to an SD card your printer will print from. Alternatively you can connect your computer directly to your printer or print over WiFi. But how do you go through these steps with a phone or tablet?
Can I Use My Phone To 3D Print?
Almost any mobile device from phones to tablets can be used to 3D print. There are several applications available on mobile that make the workflow from mobile possible. However, the limited processing power in mobile devices compared to desktop, makes the workflow of printing from mobile slightly harder.
We highly recommend that you check out our post “Can You Use A 3D Printer With An Ipad / Tablet? Simple 3 Steps Process!“
For example, files are transferred from a computer to an SD card and then printed. This is a little harder if you are working with an iPhone as iPhones do not have ports for external storage.
Transferring files to an SD card now becomes a little complicated. One way to workaround this limitation is to transfer your files for printing using a USB-c adapter.
Can You Use A 3D Printer With A Tablet?
The optimal workflow for 3D printing makes use of a computer for the design and preparation phase of 3D printing. It is, however, possible to design, prepare files and print without a computer using a tablet. Although slightly limited compared to a computer, a tablet can still be used to print with.
The biggest limitation with printing with a tablet is the available processing power and software available. In general, a computer will have more processing power than a tablet. More processing power enhances the capability of the software you have at your disposal.
Most software designed for mobile is limited because of the recognition of the limitations in terms of both processing power and hardware. You are highly unlikely to get the full functionality of a desktop app on a mobile app.
With that being said, you can still perform most of the basic design and preparation steps from a tablet. Depending on what platform your tablet device is, you can find both design and slicing software to work with.
Design Software For Tablets
There are numerous applications you can either download or use on the web to design your 3D models. The table below shortlists some of the most popular.
|Morphi||iOS||Free and Paid|
|Moblo||Android, iOS||Free and Paid|
|Shapr3D||iOS||Free and Paid|
|Autocad Web||Android, iOS||Paid|
Alternatively, if you do not need to design and you would rather print from an existing model, there are a number of marketplaces where you can get models for free or to buy. Thinger, 3D Geeks and 3D Collection are a few mobile-friendly 3D model marketplaces you should try. Source
Can You Use Cura On A Tablet?
Cura is one of the most popular slicing software. At present, Windows-based tablets are the only ones supported by Cura. Android and iOS tablets do not support Cura. Although Cura can be run on a Windows tablet, the software was not designed for a touch interface. Consequently, it is limited and difficult to use on a tablet.
The best thing to do is to forego using Cura altogether. If you’re looking for mobile-friendly slicers you will have much better luck using a Cura slicer alternative.
Cura Slicing Software Alternatives For Tablets
Slicers are not as plentiful as 3D design software for mobile. For the most part, you have to make do with using a browser-based slicer. These are the most commonly used slicing software for tablets:
- Cloud 3D Printer
Slicing software for download to your device is at present limited. The only slicer that can be downloaded onto a device currently works for resin printers only.