Software for 3D printing

What software to use for 3D printing

‘Slicing’ explained | CAD tools | Remote printing


Before starting to 3D print, you will need to make sure you have gathered all the necessary software “ingredients” that will guide you through the printing process, from preparing your 3D model to managing printers themselves.

These include:

  • CAD software to create a 3D model (you can also use an existing 3D model, if you do not wish or need to design one)

  • Slicing software

  • Software to operate your printer remotely (this is optional, but can be convenient)

This article will go through each of these ingredients, and will also touch on how the Ultimaker platform creates a seamless end-to-end flow between hardware, software, and materials, empowering you to unlock the magic of 3D printing and make innovation happen.

What is a “slicer”?

A 3D printing slicer – also known as slicing or print preparation software – is a program that converts a 3D model into a language your 3D printer understands.

Slicing software, such as Ultimaker Cura, digitally cuts a model into flat layers, which your printer can then print one by one. With the Ultimaker platform, however, slicing software is not always needed, thanks to integrations that allow you to print directly from CAD or the Ultimaker Digital Library.

Preparing a 3D print using Ultimaker Cura software

What is the best CAD software to design 3D prints?

CAD, or computer-aided design, software enables you to design a 3D model from the ground, up. There are many types of CAD software, each with its own benefits. AutoCAD, created by Autodesk, is perhaps the best-known among them since it was one of the first CAD software programs available for personal computers when released in 1982. Other CAD platforms include:

  • Fusion360 – great for designing and creating efficient mechanical parts

  • 3ds Max – used in all types of 3D model creation, including video game design, architecture, and 3D printing

  • TinkerCAD – A free, browser-based CAD tool that allows users to build 3D models out of various shapes. Popular with CAD novices and for STEAM education

  • Blender – free, open-source 3D model creation software

  • Siemens NX – for designing and creating advanced 3D models

  • Solidworks – for designing and creating professional parts for industrial use

  • Catia – Advanced design software used for creating surfaces and engineering systems

Before you begin 3D printing, be sure to do your research and pick the CAD software that’s right for your use case. This way, you’ll get the most out of the model you choose to design and print.

Also check which file types your slicing software is compatible with, so you can make your 3D designs into 3D prints.

A design in CAD software (left screen), slicing software (right), and the finished print

How to design parts for 3D printing?

When designing for 3D printing, there are best practices to help you get the best results from your 3D printer and the parts it creates. Design parts optimized for 3D printing will improve print success rates, reduce costs through lower wastage, and boost the speed of your product development cycle.

Consider build volume. Your 3D prints can only be as large as your printer’s build volume. Be sure to know its dimensions, then create a part that can either be printed within those dimensions in one go, or plan to use modularity (printing then combining separate parts). 

Decide orientation early. Because FFF prints layer by layer, determining the print orientation early in the process helps drive design choices, text alignment, and snap features.

Evaluate overhang support requirements. FFF printed parts are self-supporting up to 45 degrees. Overhangs below 45 degrees must be supported from below with support material.

Follow bridging support guidelines. For most basic filaments, FFF printing does not need support when bridging materials within a 10 mm gap. 

Pay attention to nozzle size. When designing small features, you should consider height, wall thickness, and nozzle size. Larger nozzles will print faster than smaller nozzles, but at a cost of increased minimum thickness and height for your models.

Design with hole diameters in mind. Generally, 3D printed hole features should not be smaller than 2 mm. If accurate holes are required, it is recommended to design the holes smaller than intended and post-process with a drilling operation. 

Avoid sharp corners. Sharp corners can be modelled in CAD, but the print may warp. Increasing the area of the surface in contact with the bed will decrease the likelihood of the warpage.

For a deep dive into these factors and more, check out our blog on design for 3D printing.

What software do I need to start a 3D print?

This depends on how much of the 3D printing workflow you need to perform.

As long as you already have access to a 3D model, you will typically need software that can slice that model, so your printer can get to work. Once you have started to print, you can also use software to manager your 3D printer (or printers) remotely.

But as we saw earlier, the slicing step can be avoided if you have a 3D printer integration installed in your CAD tool. If you already have access to a 3D printable file (such as a G-code on a USB stick) you can also go ahead and print without the need for any slicing software, as your digital file is already ready to print.

Remote 3D printing
Controlling 3D printers remotely with Ultimaker Digital Factory software

Managing 3D printers remotely

Ultimaker S-line printers, the Ultimaker 2+ Connect, and the Ultimaker 3 can make use of a network connection to access cloud-based services on Ultimaker Digital Factory. By linking a printer to your Ultimaker account, your printer can then be controlled remotely, from outside of its local area network.

Want to learn more about 3D printing software?

Download our free white paper, “Important 3D printing software features,” which will help you determine the best 3D printing software for your business needs, as well as examine settings, print profiles, and other features that can help you get the most out of your printing experience.

Get the white paper

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