Do 3D Printers Come With Software? Can You Get Them For Free!


Software has become a part of almost everything we touch. Virtually everything runs on code from the cars we drive to the devices we communicate with. But does everything we use need software?

3D printers are one of those sophisticated pieces of machinery that require software to operate. Consequently, desktop 3D printers come with slicing software that allows the user to control settings like print speed, layer thickness and more. 

Slicing software is basically the operating system of a printer. Without it, your printer will not print a coherent model. In this guide, we look at some of the basic functions of a slicer. We also look at other important software you may need if you want to develop your printing skill. 

Do you have to buy software or can you get it for free? This is a popular question most beginners have which we will look into. We also explain what computer-aided design (CAD) is and whether you need it.

3D Printing Is Here To Stay

If you are new to 3D printing and are not sure what type of software you need to get started then this guide will point you in the right direction.

Does A 3D Printer Hardware Or Software Matter?

A 3D printer combines both hardware and software to produce a 3D model. The hardware is the physical components of the printer such as the extruder and the print bed. The software is the slicer and other software used to design and map out the model. 

3D printers are computer numerical control (CNC) machines. A CNC machine creates a finished product by adding or subtracting material (metal, plastic, wood, ceramic or composite) by following a set of programmed instructions. They are called CNC machines because the process is automated and controlled by a computer. 

3D printers are one of several types of CNC machines that also include mills, lathes and plasma cutters. 3D printing is, however, different from other types of CNC machines in that it is additive and not subtractive. Source

How Does A 3D Printer Work?

A 3D printer works by adding successive layers of material to create an object or prototype in a process known as additive manufacturing. This is different from subtractive manufacturing in which material is removed to create an object. Software is used in both additive and subtractive manufacturing to control the process through which the object is created.

Which Software Is Used For 3D Printing?

Slicers are mandatory software for 3D printers. They provide the instructions the printer uses to print an object. Optional software like 3D modeling software can also be used with a 3D printer but they are not strictly necessary except for custom designs.

3D printers use 3D models to print. If you want to print your favorite star wars character as a 3D figure you need a 3D model to do it. You can download an already-made model or you can create your own from scratch. We will cover what software you need to make models from scratch later in the article.

Also, check out our post “Do 3D Printers Need Internet or Be Connected To A Computer?

Slicing

3D models are available for free or for a price in an STL or OBJ file format. You cannot however, just print directly from those files using your printer. A printer on its own cannot interpret the files. Slicers are file interpreters that translate the 3D model in a STL or OBJ file into “slices” or layers your printer will print. 

But that is not all a slicer does. It also allows you to set:

  • The speed at which you print.
  • The thickness of the layers in your print.
  • Print temperature.
  • Layer height.
  • Infill density or how solid your model is.

Design 

If you decide you want to take things up a notch by designing and creating your own models from scratch then you are going to need 3D design software.

Computer aided design or CAD software allows you to turn your designs into 3D printable files. 

File Repair

Files can have errors which may make it impossible to print from them. In this case you need mesh repair software to fix the errors and make them printable. Some design software will have a built-in mesh repair tool which means you will not need a standalone.

Design software with mesh tools includes:

  1. Blender
  2. Fusion 360
  3. SketchUp
  4. FreeCAD
  5. File management

Print management software is an essential tool for power users. If you anticipate long print runs that may stretch over days, then you are going to need software that can oversee the process without your input.

This is especially for circumstances where you need to leave your prints unattended or you want to monitor them remotely. 

Now you have an idea of what type of software you need. But which should you buy and which can you get for free?

Do You Need To Buy Software For A 3D Printer? (Free options listed)

3D printer software has both paid and free open-source options. 3D printers typically come with free slicing software while additional software like 3D design software is at the discretion of the user. 

3D printer users are fortunate to have an array of free software options to choose from. You can buy a printer and not have to spend any extra money on software. Here are some of the 3D printing software solutions that are available for free.

Slicers

NAMEPLATFORM
CuraWindows, Mac, Linux
PrusaSlicerWindows, Mac, Linux
IdeaMakerWindows, Mac, Linux
OctoPrintWeb, Windows, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi
Lychee SlicerWindows, Mac, Linux
List of Free 3d Models Slicer Software

Design

NAMEPLATFORM
BlenderWindows, Mac, Linux
FreeCADWindows, Mac, Linux
VectaryWeb
Fusion 360Windows, Mac
TinkercadWeb browser
List of Free 3d Models Design Software

File repair

NAMEPLATFORM
MeshmixerWindows, Mac
MeshLabWindows, Mac, Linux
IdeaMakerWindows, Mac, Linux
List of Free 3d Models File Repair Software

File management

NAMEPLATFORM
MatterControl 2.0Windows, Mac, Linux
AstroPrintWeb browser
OctoPrintWeb, Windows, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi
CuraWindows, Mac, Linux
List of Free 3d Models File Managment Software

Source

Do All 3D Printers Use CAD?

Most 3D prints start as a computer aided design (CAD). It is one of three steps in producing a 3D print. The second and third steps are slicing and of course printing. AutoCAD is one of the most popular CAD software for 3D printing and is used in everything from aerospace design to architecture.

CAD is not mandatory for using a 3D printer. You can still print using existing designs. It is only necessary where you want to create your own unique designs from scratch. 

sherifjallad

I am a very well experienced techie civil engineer who's extensively interested in 3D printing technology and even more captivated by the potential of 3D printing livable structures

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