As technology continues to develop faster than most can fathom, printers are now being used to fabricate 3D objects. 3D printing can be used to create objects from food to buildings (and beyond). But to create them, you’ll need some help from 3D printing software. We’re going to break down these tools and discuss some of the leaders in this software space.
What is 3D printing software?
3D printing software helps facilitate the creation of real, physical objects that were first designed and created with 3D modeling software. 3D modeling solutions translate the object from the digital realm into data the 3D printer can read. (Think of this software as instructions for the printer.
These instructions help 3D printers generate an actual object by taking the instructions from 3D printers and joining or solidifying material to print the 3D object layer by layer.
3D printing can be leveraged in a wide range of professional fields and industries. (For example, it can be used to create musical instruments.) But this technology is most often utilized in industrial fields. 3D printing software can and has been used to create mechanical components, objects and even buildings.
3D printing definition
3D printing software facilitates the printing of 3D objects created inside of 3D modeling software by translating the model into data a 3D printer can understand. 3D printing software is also sometimes called slicer software because it breaks down a 3D model into sections, enabling a 3D printer to create the object slice by slice.
The history of 3D printing
Believe it or not, 3D printing is not brand new.; it was born in the 1980s. Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute is credited with developing a rapid prototyping technique in 1981. He was the first person to develop a manufacturing process in which an object is created layer by layer.
3D printing technology continued to evolve throughout the ‘80s. Various engineers and companies filed patents for different processes involved in 3D printing in the early part of the decade. The true breakthrough came in 1988 with the creation of fused deposition modeling, the technology that powers the majority of 3D printers today.
In 1993, the term “3D printing” arrived in the mainstream. Two years later, the research academy Fraunhofer Institute developed a selective laser melting process that would later be used in modern 3D printing. In the 2000s and 2010s, the development of 3D printing software really took off. 2012 saw the creation of a system that allowed 3D printers to print with a wide range of plastics. Since then, 3D printers have become more affordable and organizations continue to work to create more efficient ways to print 3D objects.
How does 3D printing work?
Now, onto one of the most pressing question — How does 3D printing work?
It starts with a design, which is created with the help of 3D modeling software. Once a design is fed into a 3D printing software program, the tool “reads” the design and translates it into data that the 3D printer can “read.”
After the 3D printer reads that data, it has the ability to turn the data into thousands of tiny slices of an object. These thin slices are then printed layer by layer from the bottom up. The material used in 3D printers allows these different layers to stick together, forming a single and cohesive object. Some printers have the capability to print complex objects like an entire bicycle. Some printers can even create moving parts like hinges and wheels.
What are the pros and cons of 3D printing software?
As with any software, 3D printing solutions have benefits and disadvantages, such as the following:
Pros of 3D printing software
Enables decentralization — 3D printing allows businesses to print various components of a product. That means in certain cases businesses can print parts themselves on site.
Reduces costs — Because 3D printing software allows users to print components on site, businesses do not need to spend money to ship them from manufacturing plants.
Allows for rapid prototyping — Products inevitably undergo many changes during the design process. 3D printing lets users quickly and easily print a 3D model at any point in the process.
Improves warehousing — Because 3D printing works quickly, warehouses can print products or components whenever needed. That means businesses won’t face an excess of inventory, as they may have historically.
Advances modern medicine — 3D printers have gone beyond simply fabricating mechanical components — this technology is now capable of manufacturing fully functioning human organs.
Cons of 3D printing software
Limited materials — While 3D printing produces a large variety of products, the technology is not perfect yet. Right now, they can only print using certain materials, such as plastic and a few metals. Without access to those materials, 3D printing cannot happen.
Eliminates jobs — 3D printing technology has the ability to automate jobs now worked by humans, and directly contributes to an ongoing decline in manufacturing jobs.
Copyright issues — As 3D printing becomes more common it becomes easier to counterfeit items via 3D printers. For example, a user can create a copy an existing product virtually indistinguishable from the original, creating potential copyright issues.
3D printing software
If your business could benefit from the features and capabilities of 3D printing technology, you’re in luck. The following 3D printing programs can help bring your 3D designs to life.
Tinkercad effectively doubles as both a 3D design and a 3D printing program. Users can create their model and translate the design into data a 3D printer can understand, all in one platform.
· Create your own shapes
· Group together a set of shapes to create models
· Import 2D and 3D models
· Use with any 3D printer
Contact Tinkercad with pricing inquiries.
What users like:
“Tinkercad is a very simple-to-use CAD software, and provides downloadable STL files suitable for a 3D printing slicer software. Tinkercad on the web + Cure on your local machine is a great path to 3d printing for beginners. The interface is very straightforward, and the tutorials are just enough to get you going.”
“There are some limitations as to what my students can create. Since this program uses geometric shapes, it can be difficult for the students to get too creative as they cannot draw what they want to make.”
This software prepares a 3D model for 3D printing, meaning you can take a digitally created design to a fully realized physical object in no time. Ultimaker Cura offers multiple software integrations to streamline your workflow for maximum efficiency.
· CAD integration
· 3D file export
· Ability to monitor print jobs
Contact Ultimaker Cura with pricing inquiries.
What users like:
“Extremely wide feature set, very easy to use, intuitive UI, and very fast slicer algorithm.”
This 3D printing software focuses on working with triangle meshes. Its wide-ranging toolset facilitates the creation of a variety of objects, making it ideal for 3D printing across many fields, such as design, health or more creative industries.
Drag-and-drop mesh mixing
A wide range of selection tools, such as brushing, surface-lasso and constraints
Remeshing and mesh simplification and reducing
Free for Windows and iOS.
What users like:
“Meshmixer is easy to use. It comes with magic tools like hollowing and repairing. You could also use it as a slicer for 3D printing. Meshmixer is directly integrated [with] Fusion 360 which is one of the best 3D creation software on the market.”
Brynne is the Buyer Inquiry Team Lead at G2 Crowd. In addition to writing, she leads the research specialists in providing personalized software and services recommendations to buyers. She wishes she had interesting hobbies to include in this bio.