Best Free 3D Printing Software – CAD, Slicers & More


Best Free 3D Printing Software CAD, Slicers & More

It can be hard finding the best free 3D printing software out there from 3D modelling software, to slicers to edit and repair apps. That’s why I decided to put together an nice, easy to understand list of free 3D printing programs that are widely used in the 3D printing community.

3D Printer Slicers

You can set quality, material, speed, cooling, infill, perimeters and several other settings in a 3D printer slicers by yourself. Using the right slicer can make a huge difference in the final quality of your prints so try a few out and choose a good one that suits your needs.

Cura

This is Ultimaker’s free slicing software, probably the most popular one due to it’s open-source nature and beginner-friendly features. You have the simple beginners side of things, and the more advanced custom mode that gives users complete customization of your objects.

Cura allows you to upload a 3D model file then slice it, creating usually an STL file that is broken down into G-Code so the printer can understand the file. It’s easy to use, fast and is one of the best options for 3D printer hobbyists to get started.

The main features of Cura are:

  • Fully open source software that can be used with most 3D printers
  • Supports Windows, Mac & Linux
  • Most optimal profile settings for your 3D printers are available on the software
  • Very easy to use and allows you to manage important 3D print settings in a great interface
  • Ability to precisely control settings in custom mode
  • Cura can act as a 3D printer host software for direct machine control
  • Up to 400 advanced settings to refine prints
  • Great fail-safe measure against your models, to indicate problems such as structure that could cause issues

The main downsides of Cura are:

  • Due to being open-source it’s open to many bugs and issues
  • Sometimes default settings don’t show, leaving you to figure out problems

If you’re in the 3D printing industry, you most likely have heard about this software already. It gets the job done very effectively and is very useful to getting your prints just how you want them.

Slic3r

Slic3r is an open source slicer software which has a great reputation for modern features that are unique and hard to find in other slicers. One example of this is the honeycomb infill function within the app, which creates sound structural shapes all through the print internally.

The newest version is 1.3.0 which was released in May 2018 and it includes many new features such as new infill patterns, USD printing, experimental support for DLP and SLA printers and much more.

It has direct integration with Octoprint so when you slice files from your computer, you can directly upload them to OctoPrint and get printing quickly.

Slic3r has an extensive manual that gives information from print configurations to troubleshooting and advanced topics like command line usage.

The main features of Slic3r are:

  • Modern infill patterns
  • Control and print from USB direct and queue/print to multiple printers simultaneously.
  • Adaptive slicing where you can vary the layer thickness according to slopes
  • Can turn off automatic centering and alignment in Z axis
  • Tells you the cost of materials after G-code is exported
  • Experimental support for SLA/DLP 3D printers

The main downsides of Slic3r are:

  • Although it has many features, it doesn’t get updated as often as other slicers
  • Generates good results but the settings need initial tweaking

Supported file formats: STL

Slic3r is known to be a flexible, fast and precise slicing program while being one of the most used 3D printing software tools out there. It’s a great choice to go with and will give you the control you need.

AstroPrint

Astroprint is a great cloud-based slicer with easy accessibility whether through your browser or the AstroPrint mobile app. You’ll have your basic slicer settings, printer profiles, material profiles and be able to manage and monitor your 3D printers.

You can slice 3D models straight from your smartphone then send it directly to your 3D printer remotely. It’s easy to do with its internal function which allows you to use 3D CAD files directly from Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory.

Most features can be done with the free account, but there are more advanced features such as creating print queues, adding extra printers and storage, priority email support and more.

You’ll need to pay ($9.90 per month) for some of the more advanced features, but creating a free account will grant you with instant access to some useful tools that will help manage and optimize the 3D printing process. Also akin to 3DPrinterOS, AstroPrint also supports large-scale networks, such 3D printer farms, businesses, universities, and manufacturers.

The main features of AstroPrint are:

  • Remote printing through WiFi with the AstroPrint mobile app
  • Live monitoring for real time progress of prints, as well as time lapses/snapshots
  • User permissions to give levels of security in your operations
  • Print queues
  • Analytics that give great details
  • Cloud library to store your 3D designs in one place
  • Smart slicing straight from the browser, no software to install
  • Great for 3D printing farms and should increase your productivity

The main downsides of AstroPrint  are:

  • Incompatible with a number of 3D printers but they can be changed in the future
  • Not compatible with Smoothieware

This is a great choice if you printer management is high up on your list. It has a very responsible user interface making it simple to use from any device and has a great reputation for giving users great results.

3DPrinterOS

3DPrinter OS is another beginner level, cloud-based app which really has an extensive package. It gives you the ability to upload & print G-Code, monitor printing progress remotely, view toolpaths and much more.

This app is best suited to institutions and companies rather than for a 3D printer hobbyist, being used by the likes of Bosch, Dremel & Kodak. It’s mainly used to control and manage a network of 3D printers and their whole process.

There are extra functions that you can implement under the premium account which is $15 a month. You have features such as simultaneous slicing and project sharing.

The main features of 3DPrinterOS are:

  • Edit & repair designs
  • Slice STL files from the cloud/browser
  • Allows for real-time central management of users, printers & files from any web browser
  • Send files for printing from anywhere in the world
  • Kick off jobs from any web browser, with the ability to automatically record print
  • View your previous videos in your project dashboard to see how past prints have performed
  • Share CAD files with others
  • Much more advanced options available if needed
  • Good support

The main downsides of 3DPrinterOS are:

  • More suited to institutions/organisations/companies rather than individual 3D printer users
  • Not very user-friendly compared to other apps with steep learning curve
  • No option to make a skirt, but you can make a raft and brim
  • Can get quite laggy

Supported file formats: STL, OBJ

I wouldn’t recommend 3D printer hobbyists to use 3DPrinterOS unless they are looking to expand their operations, and have a pretty good idea what they are doing. It may have beginner-level features but it’s quite difficult to learn the more advanced features.

IceSL

IceSL has an aim to apply the latest research in modelling and slicing in one powerful, accessible application.

Many modern features and new unique ideas have been put together within this software such as cubic/tetrahedral infills, optimal adaptive layer thickness optimization, bridge support structures and much more.

Many other slicers out there have taken after this app in particular so it’s quite influential. IceSL is surprisingly free so benefit from the latest advances now.

The main features of IceSL are:

  • Unprecedented control over prints with per layer settings
  • Optimal adaptive slicing with slice thickness to maximize part accuracy
  • Cubic, tetrahedral and hierarchical infills for excellent speed, strength and weight
  • Progressive infills which can smoothly vary in density along height
  • Advanced bridge support through powerful support techniques
  • Brushes that allow for different local deposition strategies (parts of model)
  • Can avoid tessellation by exploiting printer’s resolution so prints don’t look simple
  • Offsets feature that can erode/dilate the most complex models
  • Better dual color prints through clean color algorithm to improve print quality

The main downsides of IceSL are:

  • More geared towards programmers but still suitable to the average 3D user
  • Not open-source as preferred by most in the 3D printing community

The pre-configured, beginner-friendly slicer settings are a great feature which opens up the app to be quick and easy to use. On top of this ease you have the option to be in-tune with the advanced side of this app, where you have several tricks to use to your benefit.

SliceCrafter

SliceCrafter is a browser-based slicer that doesn’t have the most features, but focuses more on it’s simple process. You can upload STLs, paste web links to pull STLs for slicing, as well as prepare G-code for printing quickly and easily.

It’s a great choice for beginners who want to print as soon as possible, avoiding having to download and set up a complicated slicer program.

This software is actually a simplified version of the IceSL slicer but it’s main feature is being able to be run entirely from a web browser.

The main features of SliceCrafter are:

  • Unprecedented control over prints with per layer settings
  • Optimal adaptive slicing with slice thickness to maximize part accuracy
  • Cubic, tetrahedral and hierarchical infills for excellent speed, strength and weight
  • Progressive infills which can smoothly vary in density along height

The main downsides of SliceCrafter are:

  • A less powerful version of IceSL
  • The interface isn’t the most aesthetic but easy to get used to

I would recommended app if you don’t want to have to download a slicer and just get the job done. Since you can use it from a browser, you can use it on a Mac, Linux etc. It’s great for your everyday 3D printing needs. Developers admit it’s less powerful than IceSL and offers less features.

OctoPrint

Octoprint is another web-based 3D printer host which gives you a great amount of control of your printer and it’s printing jobs. It’s main feature is being able to control your machine remotely using a Raspberry Pi or other WiFi enabled device.

You can choose to slice STL files from within the OctoPrint app, accept G-code from most 3D printer slicers out there and even visualize G-code files before and during printing.

You’ll have several tools handy with OctoPrint and it can send you notifications or alerts through different messaging apps. It’s a great way to keep track of the progress of each print.

The main features of OctoPrint are:

  • Free & open-source with a prospering community behind it
  • Ability to expand functionality through extensive plug-in repository
  • Great control of your 3D printer wirelessly, removing the need to use your desktop for it
  • Many add-ons are being created by it’s experienced users that you can make use of
  • Connect a camera to your 3D printer to monitor prints remotely

The main downsides of OctoPrint are:

  • Can be quite complex to get up and running but great once you do
  • May lower quality of prints due to sending G-code slowly but can be fixed
  • Can cause issues if you go with the Raspberry Pi Zero as it doesn’t have enough power
  • Raspberry Pi parts can be quite pricey
  • You may lose your power loss recovery function

Many 3D printer users say that this is an essential upgrade if you want to enhance your 3D printing experience, and it’s true in many ways. The elements the OctoPrint software gives you really do outweigh the initial installation.

There is a wide community of people who use a Raspberry Pi and OctoPrint with their 3D printer, so it isn’t too difficult to find info to help you.

KISSlicer

KISSlicer is a simple yet complex cross-platform 3D app that slices STL files into printer-ready G-code files. It prides itself in giving users control over the whole process if desired.

It is a freemium model meaning you can use the free version with limited features or the premium service which gives you several more features.

The free version will be enough for most users out there. The best thing about KISSlicer is it’s simple slicing profiles, with material optimization. You are always getting a refreshed version of this app regularly as they refine and improve the printing process.

One feature for example is ‘Ironing’, which enhances the top surfaces of a print, or ‘Unload’ which reduces stringiness.

The main features of KISSlicer are:

  • Ability to control the entire process so settings can get complex
  • Cross-platform app that generates excellent slicing results
  • Intermediate-level slicer that newbies can still use
  • Profile Wizards and Tuning Wizards for simpler navigation and settings changes

The main downsides of KISSlicer are:

  • Need the PRO version for multiple-head machines
  • User interface is somewhat dated and can get confusing
  • Can get pretty advanced so stick to the settings you are comfortable with

Supported file formats: STL

With the regular updates, arsenal of features and it’s ability to control many aspects of your print, this is a great slicer that is well liked in the 3D printing community. It’s a good slicer to get used to because you will find yourself learning a lot of new things, which should translate into great prints.

Repetier-Host

This is a proven all-in-one host has more than 500,000 downloads and works with almost all popular 3D FDM printers. You have several features with this app to make your 3D printing experience as best as can be.

  1. Object Placement – import one or more 3D models then place, scale, rotate on the virtual bed
  2. Slice – use one of the many slicers to slice your optimal settings for great results
  3. Preview – have an in-depth look at your print, layer by layer, regions or as a complete object
  4. Print – can be done directly from the host via USB, TCP/IP connection, SD card or Repetier-Server

It’s a cross-platform host being the favored choice in many 3D printing communities due to it’s great capabilities for slicing and 3D printer control. The Repetier software includes the Repetier-Server, Slic3r, CuraEngine, Skeinforge.

There is a lot of customization and tinkering that you can do with Repetier, so be prepared to learn about the software and put your knowledge to good use!

The main features of Repetier Host are:

  • Multi extruder support (up to 16 extruders)
  • Multi slicer support
  • Easy multi-part printing
  • Gaining full access over your 3D printers with an easy to use interface
  • Access and control from anywhere with Repetier-Server (browser)
  • Watch your printer from a webcam and create smooth time-lapse videos
  • Heatup and Cooldown Wizard
  • Price calculation of production costs, even split by extruder
  • Repetier-Informer App – get messages for events such as print started/finished/stopped and fatal errors

The main downsides of Repetier Host are:

  • Closed source software

Repetier-Host is on the cusp of intermediate to advanced in terms of usability. It essentially does everything you need it to plus a lot more. You’ll have the option to go deeper into the process or just stay on the surface with the basic functions.

ViewSTL

ViewSTL is an online and open source program that displays STL files in an easy platform. Previewing your 3D models can be done using three different views, flat shading, smooth shading or wireframe, each having their own unique benefit. It’s a great software to use, especially for beginners.

If you want a simple 3D model surfaces shapes and nothing else, it’s the perfect thing to use. Many users don’t want to have to install software on their device and have to run it just to view a file. If you work with several STLs using a simple viewing program can definitely be in your benefit and save you time.

Use any browser to view your STLs quickly. Nothing will be uploaded to the server, being all done locally from your computer so you don’t have to worry about your files being published online.

The main features of ViewSTL are:

  • Simply view STL files from your browser
  • Doesn’t upload files to a server so your files are secure
  • Can order prints easily from Treatstock within the app
  • Three different viewing

The main downsides of ViewSTL are:

  • Not many unique features to use
  • Very minimalist but easy to use

Supported file formats: STL, OBJ

This software isn’t going to change your 3D printing journey, but it will simplify things if you have a need for viewing several STL files. It’s very beginner friendly so you won’t need much experience or tinkering to get this working at its best.

Best Free 3D Printing Software to Edit and Repair STL Files

3D-Tool Free Viewer

The 3D-Tool Free Viewer app is a detailed STL viewer that gives you the ability to analyze structural integrity and printing capabilities of your files. Sometimes your STL file will contain errors which may ruin prints. It is also made to open DDD models published by the 3D-Tool CAD Viewer, but it also has it’s functional STL viewer.

Rather than continuing with it, this software will tell you whether you can print successfully, all in a convenient and easy to use interface. You’ll have a detailed view of each part of your model and be able to measure distances, radius and angles easily.

You can easily check the internal model and wall thickness with the Cross-Section feature.

Once your 3D model has been checked by the 3D-Tool Free Viewer, you can have confidence that your file can be moved to your slicer.

The easy to understand instructions are a great feature of 3-D tool file viewer.

The main features of 3D-Tool Free Viewer are:

  • Gives you a dynamic 3D representation without needing an expensive CAD system
  • Measures and analyzes 3D models and 2D drawings
  • Exchange different CAD data between different CAD programs
  • Gets regular updates, user improvements and bug fixes
  • Easy to understand instructions

The main downsides of 3D-Tool Free Viewer are:

  • Can only be used on one computer
  • Can’t create 3D models from 2D drawings

Supported file formats: EXE, DDD, PDF, STL, VRML, 3DS, PLY, OBJ, U3D (most need license key)

Meshmixer

Meshmixer is a free software from Autodesk that has a variety of tools to optimize your 3D CAD designs for printing.

There are many simple tools on this app, but you also have higher-level features for more advanced designers. You do things from check your models for holes and easily fix them in real-time to using the multi-material design feature letting you create objects with multiple materials.

If you want to sculpt organic 3D models, Meshmixer is a perfect option as it uses triangular mesh to create flat, even surfaces. Preparing your designs is what it does as well as giving you the tools to slice, analyze for problems in the design and generate supports for a stronger structure.

You may not be able to create a product from scratch but it has a wide range of features that will help you enhance pre-existing models to be the best they can be.

Many users of Meshmixer say it’s easy to use and comes with tools that are designed for fixing 3D designed objects. You can get files from Fusion 360 and it can handle surface triangles pretty easy meaning you have a seamless solution.

The main features of MeshMixer are:

  • Drag-and-drop mesh mixing
  • Robust convert-to-solid for 3D printing
  • Automatic print bed orientation optimization, layout, and packing
  • 3D sculpting and surface stamping
  • Remeshing and Mesh Simplification/Reducing
  • Advanced selection tools including brushing, surface-lasso, and constraints
  • Hole filling, bridging, boundary zippering, and auto-Repair
  • Extrusions, offset surfaces, and project-to-target-surface
  • Automatic alignment of surfaces
  • Stability & thickness analysis
  • Robust convert-to-solid for 3D printing

The main downsides of MeshMixer are:

  • The shaders are pretty limited in their variety
  • The tool doesn’t have the best viewing capabilities
  • Sculpting could do with improvements and it reportedly crashes often
  • Heavy files can cause issues and make the program stop working
  • Can’t create models from scratch, only modifications
  • Requires a powerful computer for the best performance or it may lag
  • Could do with more tutorials as the interface isn’t designed for a beginner
  • Not compatible with many file formats

Supported file formats: STL, OBJ, PLY

Meshmixer is almost an all-in-one solution with the amount of tools and features it has, whether you want to clean up a 3D scan, do some home 3D printing or design a function object, this app does it all. 3D surface stamping, auto-repairs, hole filling and hollowing are just a few of the many things it can do.

MeshLab

MeshLab is a simple, open-source system that helps you repair and modify STL files so you can print them with your 3D printer. It’s great for people who constantly work with 3D printers and download 3D objects which may need modifications.

The main function is it’s ability to edit, clean, heal, render, do texturing and converting your meshes. You have the ability to re-mesh your 3D models making it easier to slice and prep for 3D printing.

It’s easy to use on a low-specs computer as it’s a light program that runs nicely on most operating systems. With MeshLab you have reliability, and many useful functions that make it a good choice of software.

Great for repairing models with issues and making quick adjustments. There are many built-in features that allow users to make quick changes to a model, making it a highly recommended software to use.

The main features of MeshLab are:

  • 3D reconstruction of surfaces and subdivisions
  • 3D color mapping and texturing
  • Cleaning the mesh by suppressing doubles, eliminating isolated components, automatic filling of holes etc.
  • 3D printing, offsetting, hollowing and closing
  • Very high-quality rendering that can go up to 16k x 16k
  • Measurement tool that can linearly measure the distance between the points of a mesh

The main downsides of MeshLab are:

  • Some users don’t like the interface
  • Lacks many options that other 3D modelling software have
  • Quite rough to navigate and hard to move your 3D object on the platform
  • You can’t create models from scratch only modify objects from other software
  • There are many tools but aren’t utilised much due to its low functionality

Apart from some minor downsides, this software really does an amazing job putting tools and features together to create one very functional app that gives users the ability to modify objects exceptionally. It’s widely used for a reason and is a good option for a software to get in-tune with.

ideaMaker

ideaMaker is a free slicer that Raise3D distributes which gives users a simple and fast slicing software, compatible with most 3D printers.

You can create supports automatically or manually, and have several features and tools at your disposal to maximize print quality and minimize time spent printing. Many users make use of the adaptive layer height tool, which adjusts layer heights depending on the level of detail that a model has. Remote monitoring is available with this app, as well as control over your printer.

It’s a fairly powerful software with a friendly interface, and has the ability to prepare files seamlessly.

The best thing you can ask for in a slicer is the freedom to tinker with options that you find useful and being able to save the options to use later. Building specific settings for different printers, models and filaments is easy to do and saving them for future use.

ideaMaker has a great OFP directory which has preset profiles of several certified and tested materials, so you can select them to quickly get the most optimal results.

The main features of ideaMaker are:

  • Custom and automatic support structures that look great and are precise
  • Adaptive layer height with speed & quality combined
  • Comprehensive repair features for repairing poor-quality models
  • Natively-compiled, multi-threaded, 64-bit, high-efficiency slicing engine for even faster slicing speeds
  • Sequential printing giving you better looking and faster prints
  • Manage multiple printing profiles to easily switch between different print settings
  • View cross-sections of models
  • User-friendly interface, within 2 clicks to make a print
  • Remote monitoring and print job management

The main downsides of ideaMaker are:

  • Some users have reported the app crashing when trying to use certain features
  • Not open source

Supported file formats: STL, OBJ, 3MF

ideaMaker has several functional features that their 3D users love because it really makes a difference. From the user-friendly interface to the fast and precise performance, this is definitely software that you’ll want to make use of.

3D Printer Modelling/CAD (Computer-Aided Design)

TinkerCAD

TinkerCAD is a browser-based CAD app that is great for beginners. TinkerCAD runs completely on the cloud so it can be accessed from any computer and it’s very easy to use.

It is basically designed to be easy enough for kids to use.

It’s one of the most accessible 3D modelling programs out there.

The main gist of it is you start with simple shapes, then drag and drop them to add or subtract to an object to create more complicated shapes.

Even though at first it seems you can only create simple objects, you can create really high detailed objects with the right techniques in TinkerCAD. Below is an easy-to-follow guide to design within the app.

The main features of TinkerCAD are:

  • Great CAD app for beginners
  • Easy exporting of your CAD models to an STL file.
  • Can send your print model directly to a printing service
  • Can create 3D models from 2D shapes.

The main downsides of TinkerCAD are:

  • It’s connection to the Cloud means no access without the internet connection
  • You need a fairly good connection to make sure it runs smoothly
  • Quite feature-limited compared to the more advanced apps out there

If you have no 3D modelling experience it’s a great option to go with because it doesn’t have a steep learning curve. You can be in TinkerCAD creating usable models in just hours.

SketchUp Free

If you are interested in architecture or interior design, SketchUp is a software that fits the bill. The main procedure to create models is by drawing lines and curves, then joining them together to create the surface of an object.

SketchUp is a great app for creating prototypes and functional objects for 3D printing.

This method makes it easy to create customized, precise models which can be quite difficult in other CAD software.

Beginners thrive with programs like this because it has such a simple, functional user interface that lessens the learning curve for designing objects. People that are advanced in designing definitely benefit from SketchUp and it’s one of the more popular design tools out there.

It’s browser-based, with an optional premium desktop version and it gives you what you require for modelling great objects.  You’ll get 10GB of cloud storage and a range of other things like the 3D warehouse that has designs and projects created by other users

The main features of SketchUp Free are:

  • Browser based with 10GB free cloud storage
  • SketchUp Viewer so you can view models from your phone
  • 3D Warehouse which is a massive 3D model library
  • Trimble Connect to view, share, and access project information from anywhere
  • User forum to give tips, teach and communicate with more knowledgeable people
  • Imports several file types like SKP, JPG, PNG and export SKP, PNG, and STL

The main downsides of SketchUp Free are:

  • Can experience a ‘bug splat’ which is when you lose your work due to a fatal error but can be fixed
  • Has trouble opening up bigger files as it cannot handle the information

Support file formats: STL, PNG, JPG, SKP

It’s a great software when you have a basic design idea in your head and want to get it out. You can go from basic level designs to more complex, high quality designs at your desire.

Blender

Blender specializes in Polygon Modelling which is where your 3D object is sectioned into edges, faces and vertices giving you a high level of precision over your object. Simple change the co-ordinates of your vertices to change the shape of your models. Although the precision and detail is great for control over your object, it also means this CAD software is hard to operate at first.

It’s widely known as software tailored to professionals and requires a lot of time to get comfortable creating 3D models to your desire. You’ll be happy to know that there are several video tutorials to help you get over these hurdles and get to a good level of design.

If you’ve never used modelling software or you’re in the early stages, I wouldn’t recommend this app, but if you are ready to develop you expertise to create detailed models, it’s a great choice to get familiar with.

Blender does go through updates from time to time to make it more powerful and beginner friendly. The community behind this software are very helpful and since it’s open-source, many people are creating helpful additions that make things easier for you.

You really have access to almost every process you’ll desire in terms of a 3D CAD program from modelling, animation, rendering, texturing and tons more.

The main features of Blender are:

  • Photo-realistic rendering that gives an amazing preview of your objects
  • Open-source so several extensions are being created all the time
  • Very powerful software that incorporates several functions into one app
  • One of the best software to create detailed, precise and complex 3D models

The main downsides of Blender are:

  • It has many features that can make it look intimidating
  • Has quite a steep learning curve but worth it once you overcome it
  • Can be difficult to manoeuvre around the program

Although being known to be difficult to master, it’s a software that incorporates every feature you’d want in a CAD program and can be used to much more than just modelling. Once you’ve learnt how to use Blender, you’ll be at the top of your 3D modelling game.

Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is a cloud-based CAD, CAM & CAE program, packed full of features which is ideal for anyone from amateurs to professionals to create and sculpt models. Lucky for us it’s free for hobbyists (non-commercial) and it’s a very popular program that people are taking advantage of.

It combines speedy and simple organic modelling with intricate solid models to create a final design capable of being manufactured.

You can handle free-form files and convert STL files to models that can be adapted within the app. The cloud stores your models and their entire history of changes.

It’s possible to get the whole process of planning, testing and implementing a 3D design. The design of Fusion 360 involves a solid usability factor and has a wide range of tools and features to create detailed designs.

If you don’t want to be limited by a program’s abilities, Fusion 360 is a no-brainer. Through each stage of production, you’ll know that the possibilities are endless with what you can create.

Users of Fusion 360 say that what used to take days can merely take hours with this powerful software.

The main features of Fusion 360 are:

  • Direct modelling so you can easily edit or repair non-native file format and make design changes
  • Free-form modelling to create complex sub-divisional surfaces
  • Surface modelling to create complex parametric surfaces for repairing, designing and patching geometry
  • Mesh modelling so you can edit and repair imported scans or mesh models including STL & OBJ files
  • Essential assembly modelling using effective techniques that users can easily make use of
  • Build supports, generate toolpaths and preview slices
  • All data is stored within the cloud which can securely be accessed from anywhere
  • Connects your entire product development process in one app
  • Wide range of features in preview that you can test out like

The main downsides of Fusion 360 are:

  • The massive amount of tools and features can be intimidating
  • It’s recommended to have better than average specs as it can run slowly
  • Reportedly has crashing issues on large assemblies
  • Historically has had some issues after updates

Fusion 360 incorporates so many functional features into one, cloud-based software that users can quickly get used to. It’s a great choice if you plan on creating complex models in the future, so you can build your way up in one of the best apps out there.

This powerful program is now available for free for students, enthusiasts, hobbyists, and startups. It combines the professional capabilities of a high-end CAD program with an user-friendly interface and workflow. That’s why Fusion 360 is such a popular program among industrial designers.

Sculptris

Sculptris is the CAD software to go with if you want something simple to use that can create beautiful 3D sculptures. The features aren’t difficult to learn even if you have no previous experience with design.

It’s design process is made to mimic modelling clay where users can push, pull, twist, and pinch virtual clay with emphasis on creating cartoon character models and such. Opening up a new process for creating models can expand your creativity, and allow you to create some interesting, unique models

You’ll be able to create basic base models which can be made more advanced and refined through other, more intricate software.

When you start the software, a ball of clay appears at the center of the app. The controls on the left-hand side are your tools to manipulate the clay and form shapes.

The main features of Sculptris are:

  • Lightweight application so it’s pretty efficient
  • Clay-Modelling concept through virtual software
  • Specialises in cartoon character creation or animated video games
  • Great app for people to get started with designing

The main downsides of Sculptris are:

  • It is no longer in development but you can still download it

Practice will be needed to get to a good stage, so put in the effort and you’ll see some good results soon enough. It isn’t going to make you an amazing artist but you’ll create some beautiful models through Sculptris.

3D Builder

This is Microsoft’s in-house 3D builder which lets you view, capture, repair, personalize and print 3D models. You have the choice of starting from scratch by joining simple shapes together, or by downloaded a 3D file from databases found online.

3D Builder can do many things but it’s best for viewing and printing rather than for building and designing your 3D models.

The main features of 3D Builder are:

  • It’s fast, simple and efficient with easy to understand icons which has everything labelled
  • One of the best apps to view 3D models and print images from
  • You can convert 2D images into 3D models, but the conversion isn’t the best
  • You have a snapping feature
  • Can scan and 3D print images

The downsides of 3D Builder are:

  • It’s not designed to be 3D-model heavy in terms of creation, so not good for building models
  • You don’t have the ability to select individual parts of a model meaning it’s difficult to create complex models
  • You also don’t have robust viewing features which allow you to view your models in distinct ways
  • Doesn’t have a lot of features
  • Popular 3D rendering files aren’t supported

Support file formats: STL, OBJ, PLY, 3MF

So just keep in mind this is a very simplified program, which does have it’s uses but don’t expect to be able to create the most detailed models.

OpenSCAD

OpenSCAD is an open-source, regularly updated software that uses script files and a 3D-compiler to translate information into a 3D model. It’s quite a unique way it making a 3D model that focuses on the modelling.

The great thing about this software is it’s level of control that it gives the user. You can easily modify and configure the parameters of your 3D model and has many features that make the process seamless.

One of these features is being able to import 2D drawings and extrude them into 3D. It does this by using a part profile from a sketching in an SXF file format.

Being a unique program does have its challenges. OpenSCAD has a modern, programming focus on it’s process where entry-level CAD users can learn the intricate details of how 3D models are created from the foundation.

Learning the programming focused language and tools can be difficult. Instead of the usual modelling interface, you write code within a script file that details the parameters of your 3D model. You then click ‘compile’ to view the shapes you’ve made.

Be aware that even though there is a learning curve, you have a great community behind you that are willing to help you along the process. It’s definitely easier to learn OpenSCAD through a video tutorial like below.

The main features of OpenSCAD are:

  • Very unique way of creating 3D models through coding and scripts
  • Open-source and constantly being updated based on user feedback
  • Can import 2D drawings and make them 3D
  • Many tutorials to guide users through the process
  • Gives users much control over their 3D models

The main downsides of OpenSCAD are:

  • There is a fairly steep learning curve to create great models
  • Not something that many people will be used to so it can be confusing but isn’t too bad

If coding/programming isn’t something that interests you or you want to be in-tune with, then OpenSCAD probably isn’t for you. It’s suited to many people who have a more mechanical focus on their creative side so it definitely does appeal to some people. It’s a free, powerful piece of software that many users love and use regularly.

3D Slash

3D Slash is a pretty unique browser-based 3D printing software that specialises in designing 3D models and logos using a building blocks format. What you do is start off with a big block and gradually remove parts of it using the cutter tools, or build up a model using shapes on an empty plane within the software.

You can use images as the template by importing an image or text then converting it into a 3D model or 3D text. It will break down your uploaded 3D models into 3D building blocks.

You can choose to subscribe to a paid service which gives you access to an online version rather than in a browser. You’ll definitely want to try this out if you are starting out in the CAD process as it’s a very simplified version of 3D design.

Even though it’s a simple software, you can still work towards creating objects with detailed designs at a good level of precision. There are some limitations on the free version but you can still do most things.

It’s definitely a software you want to use if you want to get from idea to finished 3D design as quick as you can.

Funnily enough, it’s created was actually inspired by Minecraft, where you’ll see quite the resemblance.

The main features of 3D Slash are:

  • VR mode using a VR headset that gives a clear picture of how your model will look
  • Very simple interface to use compared to most programs out there
  • Many different tools to shape designs and transform them from a picture
  • Great 3D modelling app for people of all ages and non-designers
  • Logo and 3D text maker

The main downsides of 3D Slash are:

  • The building block style can be quite limiting in what can be created

3D Slash is software you’ll enjoy whether a beginner or an expert. The speed that you can create objects is a useful benefit so try out this browser based solution and see if it’s a good fit for you.

FreeCAD

FreeCAD is a software you’ll love, with several features that are ideal for developing your design skills. It’s known as an open-source, parametric CAD software modeller meaning that models are created according to parameters rather than traditional methods of manipulating and dragging objects.

It may seem like an unusual way of designing objects but it works pretty well and you can change all aspects of your object by adjusting the parameters. Beginners will see this app as a good fit for getting into the modelling world. You can adjust individual elements and browse the model’s history to make a different model.

Being a completely free app, you won’t find any features that are blocked by way of a premium service so you can enjoy the program to the fullest.

Many people find this type of modelling easy, but it’s not tailored to professionals, more so a great training tool to get your basic designing skills down and create some cool objects. There is space for advanced users to create designs that are geometric and precise, like replacement and technical parts, gadgets, prototypes and cases.

It’s a software more suited to people who alter existing objects rather than building something from scratch. Also great for mechanical engineers that want to explore the 3D modelling world.

The main features of FreeCAD are:

  • Fully parametric models which are recalculated on demand
  • Robotic simulation along a trajectory to simulate robotic movements
  • Path module for Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM)
  • Enables you to sketch 2D shapes as a foundation then build extra parts
  • Tailored to many design industries like mechanical engineering, architecture, product design and so on
  • Has a model history so you can edit existing designs and change parameters
  • Great at precision design which is ideal for replacement and technical parts
  • Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tools to predict how a product reacts to real-world forces

The main downsides of FreeCAD are:

  • Has quite a steep learning curve but once learned, becomes easy to navigate
  • Unique style of design takes getting used to
  • Can’t create objects from scratch, rather more of an edit and manipulation of an image

Even though it’s a free program, FreeCAD doesn’t skip out on the powerful, functional features. If you want a solid CAD program that has amazing precision then I would try it out and see if it’s a good.

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