It’s kind of incredible to think about far 3D printing has come in just the last decade or so. In this guide, we are breaking down the best 3D printing software on the market today. Highlight all the top options you’ll want to consider going forward.
With all the significant advancements and breakthroughs in 3D printing, it’s difficult to remember that this technology is still in its early infancy stages.
Already, though, we see remarkable new developments made possible by 3D printing technology.
From the world of healthcare to high tech to manufacturing and prototyping, and everything in-between – as well as a dedicated hobbyist community – 3D printing is very much the wave of the future.
At the same time, you’ll only be able to unleash everything that 3D printers have to offer with the software’s help.
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Below we highlight the very best 3D printing software options available in 2021, the kinds of software you’ll want to make the 3D printed projects of your dreams a reality!
Let’s dive right in.
Table of contents
Certainly one of the most feature-rich pretty printing software options available right now, this suite of 3D printing tools includes everything (and we mean everything) you need to create 3D models from scratch and export them directly to your printer.
A full-blown AutoCAD program and a 3D design center, the beauty of this particular suite of tools is that it allows for easy integrations with most popular 3D object libraries.
This means you’ll not only be able to create your very own 3D print files from scratch (if you’re interested), but you also be able to use proprietary and third-party 3D object libraries to speed up your workflow and improve your results.
Best of all, this AutoCAD program also works as a “slicer” – sending your files to the printer in such a way that your hardware will know exactly how to produce your files accurately and efficiently.
If you’ve got the budget for this suite of software, you’ll never be disappointed!
Autodesk Fusion 360
Considered by many to be the very best all-around 3D printing software money can buy, this particular software suite is a slightly scaled-down version of the Autodesk software we highlighted a moment ago.
But don’t let the fact that it is missing a handful of rarely used features confuse you into thinking that this software is somehow unworthy of your attention or investment.
Super simple and straightforward to use (and built explicitly with entry-level 3D printing enthusiasts in mind), the Autodesk Fusion 360 platform’s whole workflow is intuitive and very easy to grasp.
This workflow means you’ll have a much easier time cranking out 3D printed projects in this software while validating them way before they head over to the printer.
This ease saves you a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of filament, all while giving you the chance to troubleshoot things before they are printed into reality.
Under the hood of this software are some of the most powerful 3D modeling tools you’ll have access to right now.
You can quickly and efficiently create highly detailed and very “clean” models from your imagination, but can also essential scans of objects from the “real world” and have them accurately reproduce inside the software for scaling, too.
Combine all of that with smart collaboration tools to work with designers worldwide on projects in real-time, as well as some of the best virtual simulation and functionality tools of any 3D printing software today, and this suite of tools is a no-brainer.
Believe it or not, this particular set of 3D printing tools was created by an aviation organization that want something for their in-house designers to tinker around with.
However, soon after, the organization recognized exactly how powerful the tools they had created were and released them as a multi-platform suite of tools unlike anything else out there.
Giving you total access to easy to use CAD, CAM, and CAE design capabilities (many of them tailored to work in the aerospace, automotive, and industrial worlds), this particular software is probably best-taken advantage of by those that want to use their printers in commercial applications.
Many of the capabilities are tuned to the kind of work that engineers would do with this software.
Even still, the workflow is relatively straightforward and easy enough to navigate. The software is robust, and whenever you see that companies like Boeing are using a suite of software to create with the odds are pretty good, you can make good use of it, too.
Suppose the 3D projects you’re going to be working on have a lot of mobility, need structural elements engineered within, or have specific thermal tolerances that need to be met. In that case, this is the 3D printing software you’ll want to use.
Providing access to a deep catalog of 3D printing elements and objects that you’ll be able to use while modeling, the surface in tools, finite element analysis options, and overall tuning capabilities of this software are other obvious standouts.
Manufacturers are going to appreciate the way that the software is organized.
Multiple toolsets are available to design in different dimensions, and this software also includes some of the best topology optimization solutions you’re going to find anywhere in the industry today.
The only thing that some people will likely have trouble with is figuring out how to take advantage of all the tools this software squeezes “under the hood”.
You’ll need a pretty modern and snappy PC to run this resource-intensive software as well.
Totally and completely open-source, the odds are pretty good that if you have been looking into 3D printing software for any amount of time, you’ve come across FreeCAD.
Regarded as one of the “industry standards” in large part because of that totally open-source nature, it’s hard to find anyone that hasn’t tinkered with this software in the 3D printing space.
One of the things that people love about the software is how often it is being updated. New modelers, new libraries, new tools, and capabilities are always getting added to the platform – all of which are free, with lifetime access included.
Because of the software’s open-source nature, though, the user interface is a little clunky, and the overall toolset remains somewhat limited compared to commercially available options.
That’s to be expected with this kind of software, though.
Give it another year (maybe 18 months) and check back. The odds are pretty good that this software will be even better!
If you will be doing a lot of work with 3D meshes compared to some of the other types of models out there, this has to be the software you move forward with.
3D mesh assets are a completely different animal compared to more traditional models, and you’ll need software that doesn’t just know how to handle them now and again – but is specifically designed to take advantage of 3D triangular meshes from top to bottom.
There are a handful of software options built with meshes in mind. None of them are as complete, as feature-rich, or ready to go “out-of-the-box” the way this software is.
Reconstruction tools from the software are fantastic. The ability to quickly and accurately color map texture, offset, and hollow with just a few clicks of your mouse is another big bonus.
Combine all of that with easy AI influenced mesh cleaning tools (and a handful of other “software superpowers) and this software becomes a bit of a no-brainer.
This software used to be a little more impressive than it is today many people used to consider it the “gold standard” of what 3D printing software could be.
Over time, however, some of the other options we have highlighted above have push forward and innovated beyond all that this software offers.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking that this software isn’t worth purchasing in 2021, though.
Still, the absolute industry standard for serious professionals working in 3D environments every day, if you are looking to unleash the full power and potential of your 3D printer, this is the software you want to master ASAP.
The dimensional sketching tools, the inclusion of NURBS technology, and the super impressive reverse engineering and validation options still help separate this software from the rest of the pack.
Sure, the interface is a little clunky and feels less than polished.
But if raw horsepower to create in 3D is essential for you, this is undoubtedly the way to go.
3D Printing Software FAQs
If you are going to print anything aside from projects you download online (complete projects that are already sliced, no less) the odds are pretty good you’ll want to get your hands on some of the 3D printing software options we highlighted above.
You don’t have to become a master in the digital CAD environment to use your 3D printer as a hobbyist. But the more mastery you have over these software options, the more you’re going to be able to create.
Slicer software does (basically) exactly what it sounds like, it slices and dices your 3D models into a project workflow that your 3D printer follows to produce the model in the physical world.
Almost all of the best 3D printing software on the market today includes built-in slicer technology, but it’s still worth double-checking that your choice includes these kinds of capabilities as well.
Nobody wants to have to add an extra step to their workflow by importing 3D files into a separate slicer and something potentially going wrong along the way.
It’s easier today than ever before to scan and then print physical objects in the “real world”, but that goes above and beyond just using the best 3D printer software.
You’ll need something to take digital scans of the items you want to reproduce. We are not able to snap a picture without phones and 3D print the object (not yet, anyway).
If this is something you’re interested in doing later down the line, though, consider investing in software that interfaces with popular scanners and modelers or includes those kinds of features themselves.
Keep these things in mind when it’s time to go invest in high-quality 3D printing software, and you’ll always be happy with the setup that you choose moving forward!