Can You Use an iPad, Tablet or Phone for 3D Printing? A How To


You can use a 3D printer in many ways, with the normal process being from starting with your computer, transferring a file to an SD card, then insert that SD card into your 3D printer.

Some people wonder whether you use an iPad or a tablet for 3D printing, so I decided to write about it in this article.

Keep on reading for some more detailed information about using a tablet or iPad for your 3D printing.

Can You Run & Use an iPad, Tablet or Phone for 3D Printing?

Yes, you can run and use an iPad, tablet or phone for 3D printing by using software such as OctoPrint which controls the printer from a browser, along with a slicer that can send files to your 3D printer wirelessly. AstroPrint is a great online slicer to use for your mobile device or tablet. 

The part users have trouble with is getting the direct file to be sent to the 3D printer.

When you just have an iPad, tablet or phone, you need to be able to download the STL file, slice it, then send the file to your 3D printer.

Preparing the G-Code file that your 3D printer understands is fairly straightforward, but the file transfer to the printer itself is another step that is needed which confuses people.

Slicer software that give users the most capabilities and options are the ones you’ll find that require a desktop and operating system like Windows or Mac.

The ones you’ll be able to use on an iPad, tablet, or Mac are ones usually controlled through Cloud software that gives you fairly basic functions, enough to process the file.

You can easily model 3D prints through different modeling apps for iOS or Android (shapr3D), as well as export to an STL file, load the files to the printer and manage prints.

If you want to get into 3D printing seriously, I’d definitely recommend getting yourself a PC, laptop or Mac to set yourself up for the best 3D printing experience. Slicers that are worth your while will be controlled through a desktop.

Another reason why you’d want a desktop is for any new 3D printer firmware changes, which would be a lot easier to do through a desktop.

How Do You Run a 3D Printer With an iPad, Tablet or Phone?

To run your 3D printer with an iPad, tablet or phone, you can use AstroPrint on your iPad through the Cloud to slice files, then plug a USB-C hub into your iPad, copy the .gcode file to your SD Card, then transfer the memory card to your 3D printer to start the printing process. 

One user who does this method said it works really well, but there is sometimes an issue of the file being copied and creating a “ghost copy” of the file which can be hard to identify within the 3D printer’s display.

When you choose the “ghost file” instead of the actual file, it won’t print, so you’d have to select the other file the next time.

Many people advise for you to get a Raspberry Pi, along with a touchscreen to operate it. This combination should allow you to handle basic slicing of models and other adjustments.

Having a separate touchscreen with your Raspberry Pi also allows you to control the 3D printer pretty easily with OctoPrint installed. It’s a very useful app that has many features and abilities that can make your 3D printing experience a better one.

Running Your 3D Printer With OctoPi

To run a 3D printer with an iPad, tablet or phone, you can also attach an OctoPi to your 3D printer. This is a popular software and mini computer combination that can be used to effectively control your 3D printer, similar to how a computer world.

It provides you with a nice interface that allows you to easily manage your 3D prints.

One user mentions how they use OctoPi to control their 3D printer, as well as send it STL files from any device that has a web browser.

It requires a few items:

When set up correctly, it can take care of your slicing and sending G-Code to your 3D printer.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Format an SD Card and transfer OctoPi on it – input the relevant settings within the config files by following OctoPrint’s instructions.
  2. Put your SD Card into the Raspberry Pi
  3. Connect your Raspberry Pi to your 3D printer
  4. Turn on the Raspberry Pi and connect to the web interface

You don’t even need an app to make use of this process, just the browser. It has fairly limited slicing function, but enough to get some 3D prints going.

One user talks about how they use their iPad Pro and the shapr3D app to design their 3D prints, then they airdrop Cura to their laptop to slice. Using a laptop or computer does make the 3D printing process a lot easier to handle, especially with larger files.

Another user has OctoPrint running on an old netbook. They have 2 3D printers that are connected to the laptop via USB, then they use the AstroPrint plugin.

What this allows him to do is make designs on an app like TinkerCAD or import files directly from Thingiverse, slice them online, and send it through to the 3D printer, all from his phone.

With this setup, he can also get status updates with images through alerts on his phone on Discord.

Thomas Sanladerer created a newer video on how to run OctoPrint through your phone, so check it out below.

Running Your 3D Printer With 3DPrinterOS

Using a premium 3D printer management application like 3DPrinterOS is a great solution to running your 3D printer remotely.

3DPrinterOS gives you the capability to:

  • Monitor your 3D prints remotely
  • Use Cloud storage for multiple 3D printers, users, jobs etc.
  • Secure and access your printers and files
  • Queue up 3D prints, and more

This can all be done via iPad, tablet or iPhone, where you can easily check the status of your 3D printers, as well as pause, cancel and resume the print job while you do your day-to-day activities.

One of the key features is how you can slice STL files and even send the G-Code to any of your 3D printers remotely. It’s designed to be used for larger enterprises like businesses or universities, but there is apparently a limited trial that you can use.

The video below shows how it’s done using AstroPrint, a mobile phone and your 3D printer.

Is an iPad Good for 3D Modeling?

An iPad is good for 3D modeling all kinds of objects, whether they are simple or detailed. There are several popular apps that you can use to model 3D objects for a 3D printer. They are generally easy to use, gives you the ability to share files and even work on models with other designers. 

Whether you are a pro or a beginner, there are lots of mobile apps on the iOS or android platform through which 3D modeling can easily be executed. Some of those apps include Shapr3D, Putty3D,  Forger3D and so on.

Several users are making use of their iPad Pros to create 3D models successfully, just as good as you could create on a desktop or Mac.

iPads are slowly getting more powerful with each new design. Improvements in processors, jumps, and graphics are easily closing the gap between what a laptop can do, and what iPads can do.

In some cases, iPads have been observed to be even faster with certain 3D modeling apps after you get the hang of it.

Many 3D designers have found the iPad Pro, for example, to be the ideal option for basic remote 3D work.

The apps are mostly free while some are paid (less than $10 ). Rather than using a mouse like you would on a desktop, they come with a precise and versatile stylus which allows you to mash, mix, sculpt, stamp, and even paint using it.

The more you use these features, the better you become at using them.

These apps are all known to be pretty easy to navigate, even for a beginner. You can quickly get the hang of them by either just practicing in the app, or by following some YouTube tutorials to create basic objects and work your way up.

A few reasons why people use iPads and tablets for their 3D designs are as follows:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Ease of sharing files
  • Quick wireless connection to printers
  • Portability
  • Ease way to edit models

Some great 3D modeling apps that are used for 3D printing are:

  • Forger 3D
  • Putty3D
  • AutoCAD
  • Sculptura
  • NomadSculpt

If you do have a laptop or computer that you want to use in combination with your iPad or tablet, there is actually a way to do this.

ZBrush is one of the more popular software programs that you can use on your desktop or laptop, but you can also connect it to an iPad Pro along with an Apple Pencil. This is done using an app called Easy Canvas.

Check out the video below which illustrates how you can get this setup done for yourself.

Can You Run Cura on a Tablet?

It is possible to run Cura on a Surface Pro tablet or other device that runs on Windows 10. Cura is not currently supported for Android or iOS devices. You can run Cura fairly well on a tablet, but it doesn’t work the best with touchscreen devices. You can install a keyboard and mouse for better control.

A tablet that has Windows 10 on it should be able to run Cura, but you are better off using a desktop or laptop for Cura. A Surface 1 or 2 should be more than enough to get slicers running on it such as Cura, Repetier, or Simplify3D.

If you do have a compatible tablet, simply go to the app store, search for Cura, then download the app.

If you just want to print, adjust certain settings for your 3D models before printing, and adjust other simple options, Cura should work well on your tablet.

Best Tablets for 3D Printing & 3D Modeling

Several tablets are compatible with the applications used for 3D printing. Let me give you my recommended tablets, my top 3 list if you would love to connect your 3D printer to your tablet for some awesome 3D printing.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (With Surface Pen)

This is a pretty powerful tablet that runs on a 10th Gen Intel Core processor, which is over twice as fast as the previous Surface Pro 6. When it comes to 3D printing and modeling, you can rely on this device to fulfill your needs.

Multitasking is made faster, along with better graphics, great Wi-Fi performance, and a good battery life. It’s an ultra-slim device that weighs under 2lbs and is easy to handle for your day-to-day activities.

Since it runs on Windows 10, you can implement all types of apps that are useful in 3D printing, Cura being one of the main software. This means you can design your 3D models in a modeling app, then transfer files to Cura to be sliced.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 even integrates with OneDrive, so your files are safe and secure in the cloud.

This bundle comes with the stylus pen, a keyboard, and a nice cover for it. Many users love the adjustable kickstand feature so you can adjust the screen angle with ease, perfect for modeling some new 3D prints.

Wacom Intuos PTH660 Pro

The Wacom Intuos PTH660 Pro is a trusted and reliable professional graphics tablet that was created to be optimal for model design for creative individuals. It can work wonders when it comes to creating 3D models for 3D printing.

The dimensions are a respectable 13.2″ x 8.5″ and an active area of 8.7″ x 5.8″ and it’s got a nice slim design for easy handling. The Pro Pen 2 has some serious pressure sensitivity, as well as a lag-free experience for drawing models.

It has a multi-touch surface, as well as programmable express keys and gives you the ability to customize your workflow to adjust things how you want them. The Bluetooth Classic feature measure that you can wirelessly connect to a PC or Mac.

You’ll have a compatibility with most 3D modeling apps. Most users mention how easy things are to set up and navigate, so I’m sure you’ll have a smooth experience with 3D modeling and 3D printing.

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