A 3D slicer is one of the main components that make printing 3D models possible. Slicers are 3D printer software programs that you import models into, either in .STL, .GCODE, or .OBJ file format. 3D printer models from the basis of your print, containing the heights, edges, and all the information and details about your print.
Needless to say, what 3D printer slicer you go with matters. But how do you know which one to choose? This is a particularly tough question, as most slicers are free, and most deliver the same, high-quality results.
Well, we’ve attempted to answer that question and hopefully make your decision a little easier, with a list of 10 of the best slicers out there. Most of these are free, meanwhile, some are paid with free versions available. You’ll also find a buyer’s guide that tells you what to look out for in a good 3D slicer, as well as the answers to some frequently asked questions.
Best 3D Printer Slicer
Great support technology
Produces excellent pre-print simulations
Precise and advanced settings for extruders
One of the more expensive slicers
The most expensive and technical option, Simplify 3D is one of the most compatible 3D printer software out there. It can be used for education settings, as well as business settings for rapid prototyping, and is recommended by beginners and experienced makers alike.
While it is one of the more expensive options out there, you definitely get your money’s worth with the benefits provided by Simplify3D, especially in the supports department. A lot of 3D slicers struggle with supports, but with Simplify3D you can effectively customize your support thickness and material, and also remove them easily. This is not only time-saving but leads to a better surface finish, unmarred by post-processing.
Simplify3D also gives you access to incredibly precise and advanced settings for extruders, infill 3D printing settings, extruder temperatures, cooling and fans, rafts and brims, retractions, as well as supports. It also produces great pre-print simulations that highlight any weak points that could cause the print to fail. This helps you save potentially hundreds of dollars on wasted filament from failed prints. Instead, you can use Simplify3D’s advanced tools to pinpoint errors and fix them.
While there are many free options for 3D slicers that do an excellent job, sometimes a paid 3D slicer is a worthy investment and Simplify3D is no exception.
Premium option lets you combine multiple STL files into one print
Even with the free version you have access to new print styles and filaments
Not very beginner-friendly
Our choice for experts, the KISSlicer – or Keep It Simple Slicer – is incredibly detail-oriented, focusing on technical aspects of 3D printing that experienced makers will appreciate.
The free version of KISSlicer only offers single extruder 3D printing. It costs $42 to access dual extruder 3D printer tools and the Premium $82 option gives you access to more advanced tools, like the ability to combine multiple STL files into one print.
New types of print styles, mesh topologies, and filaments are frequently added, and you have access to all of these even if you opt for the free version.
However, KISSlicer is one of the less beginner-friendly interfaces.
Print quality, supports and materials are easy to adjust
Unable to access your models if your internet crashes due to the slicer being cloud-based
A versatile slicer, SelfCAD combines artistic, technical, and 3D printing features under one 3D modeling software tool, and is suitable for both beginners and professionals.
However, what makes the SelfCAD stand out is that it’s a completely cloud-based 3D slicer. You don’t need to download anything, to connect and edit your STL files all you need is an internet connection. Of course, there is a downside to this as you’ll be unable to access your models if your internet crashes, or if you’re on the move and can’t connect to the internet.
You can easily adjust print quality, infill, supports, and materials for your preferred print settings with SelfCAD.
Analyzes and repairs files
Simulates DMLS and other powder bed fusion prints
Cuts down on any errors in the printing process
Some functions are limited unless you pay for them
Now acquired by Autodesk and complementing their Fusion 360 software, Netfabb is an advanced 3D slicing and 3D file preparation software that specializes in 3D file analysis and some very advanced extras.
It not only prepares and slices 3D models but analyzes and repairs files based on any difficulties it detects that could occur during the printing process and based on Netfabb’s analysis of the files.
Not only can Netfabb easily create weight-saving lattice structures, but also simulate DMLS, other powder bed fusion prints, DED, and more to detect part distortion, any areas that will come under too much pressure during the printing process, or that may not fuse properly. This is not only an impressive feature but a money-saving one too. Metal 3D printing is expensive and the more errors that can be prevented over time the better it is for your wallet!
Open-source and free
Compatible with most desktop 3D printers
Ability to estimate printing time
Ability to make use of third-party plug-ins
Cura takes twice as long to process prints compared to other slicers
Developed by the famous Ultimaker, Cura is open-source and free and is used by Ultimaker’s large community of users. Even if you’re new to the world of 3D printing, you’ve probably heard the name ‘Cura’ before.
It is compatible with most desktop 3D printers and works with the most common 3D formats such as .STL, .OBJ, .X3D, .3MF. It also works with most image file formats like BMP, GIF, JPG, and PNG.
Cura’s other features include material usage, the ability to estimate printing time, and showing a tool-path. Experienced users can also make use of third-party plug-ins.
Now that you have an idea of what the best 3D printer slicers are and what you can expect from them, you may be wondering what the best slicer is for you and what features to prioritize. Below, we’ll break down the essential features of a high-quality slicer.
Easy to use
Extremely advanced tools are only an asset to you if you can use them, or if learning how to use them is fairly simple. The interface of a good 3D slicer should be simple and easy to learn, with appropriate guides available for you to learn how to use professional 3D slicing tools.
An important component of a good 3D slicer is automatically generated supports that ensure your finished print is as accurate and precise as possible, especially over wide-angle 3D printing.
Repairing and warning features
If there are any errors in your file that could affect the print, a high-quality 3D slicer will alert you to these errors and fix them for you if necessary. This not only prevents wasteful, failed prints, but saves you time as well as money on wasted 3D printer filament.
A good 3D slicer should save you time by quickly importing STL files (or any other 3D printer file), no matter how large or complex the model is.
3D printing data
Most high-quality 3D slicers inform you of the expected, remaining time to print while also telling you how much filament is needed, and how much is left.
Things To Consider
How do you use a 3D printer?
The easiest way to understand how a 3D printer works is first to learn about its specific parts and how they work. It’s worth noting that conventional FDM 3D printers (the most common kind of 3D printers) can perform movements in three axes named X, Y, and Z. The X-and Y-axes are responsible for left, right, forward, and backward movements, while the Z-axis handles vertical movement.
The main components of a 3D printer are the build platform, extruder(s), and the print head.
Build platform: The build platform is the surface on which the parts are made. They are usually heated to help with the adhesion of a part.
Extruder(s): The extruder is responsible for melting and gradually depositing the filament to build a model.
An extruder is made of two sub-components. These are the hot end and the cold end. The hot end contains a heater and a nozzle that gradually deposits the molten filament, while the cold end consists of a motor, drive gears, and other small components which push the filament into the hot end to be melted.
A heatsink and a fan lie between the hot end and the cold end because the cold end needs to stay cool to avoid jamming.
Additionally, there is also at least one other fan meant for cooling the molten filament after it exits the extruder. This is usually known as the part cooling fan.
Print head: The print head will have one or more extruders on it, and on top of it there will be a tube that feeds the filament into the print head.
Most 3D printers today have a touch screen that is used for controlling the printer. Meanwhile, older printers have a simple LCD display with a physical scroll and click wheel instead of a touch interface. Some printers will also have an SD card slot and a USB port.
The printing process begins when you send a 3D model to the printer (more information on how you make a 3D model and a 3D file can be found below). Once the print job is started, the nozzle will heat up. When the nozzle reaches the required temperature needed to melt the filament, the extruder will pull the filament into the hot end ready for deposition.
Now the printer is ready to 3D print the part. The print head will lower down to the build platform and deposit molten filament. This cools and hardens the filament shortly after it leaves the nozzle, thanks partly to the cooling fans. The filament is deposited one layer at a time, and after one layer is complete the print head moves up the Z-axis slightly and the process is repeated until the part is complete.
Before a 3D printer is ready to print, a few things need to be done first.
Firstly, you’ll need to load the filament. The extruder needs to be ready to extrude filament before printing. The loading process begins by heating the hot end to the filament’s molten temperature. This temperature will differ depending on the filament, but it’s usually above 175 °C. Then you load the filament into the heated extruder.
The bed also needs to be level. This is so the printer can deposit filament and build the object successfully. Leveling can be manual or automatic, depending on the printer. It’s crucial that the bed is level however because if the bed is too far away from the nozzle, the first and most important layer won’t stick to the bed, and the print will fail instantly.
Post-processing is the final stage of production. The most common post-processing steps for an FDM 3D printed part are:
Support removal: If you used any support material, this will be removed after printing. After the removal of the support material, you may notice marks left on the part’s surface.
Sanding: Now you need to sand! A good sanding tip is to expose the 3D printed parts to lighter sandpaper. This makes the surface smoother.
Painting: You can paint the 3D model to add a bit of color to the part, add finer details, or protect the part.
Polishing/Smoothing; Epoxy coating is another method for smoothing the surface of a printed part. Specific filaments like ABS have dedicated processes like vapor smoothing to help you achieve a smooth surface finish.
Welding/Gluing: If you’re printing a large 3D model that does not fit in your printer’s build volume, then you can print the part in two pieces and join the two pieces later.
How do you make 3D printer models?
To 3D print a certain part, you will have to have a 3D model of that part. These models are created using 3D modeling software, usually referred to as CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. The most popular 3D modeling software includes Autodesk Fusion 360, Blender, and ZBrush.
But if you’re new to 3D printing, you may not know how to use professional software. If you don’t know how to use CAD software, there are other solutions such as Tinkercad, a simple program that anyone can use with little to no experience. Tinkercad was designed by the industry’s leading CAD software creator, Autodesk.
As 3D printing has grown in popularity over the years, several sites have been created as repositories for 3D models. The most popular are CGTrader, Cults3D, MyMiniFactory, and Thingiverse. If you’ve never modeled before, these sites are great places to get your hands on a model.
3D models need to be prepared for 3D printing using specific software that translates the model into machine instructions. This is done using slicers. 3D models are imported into slicers that then virtually slice the model into layers.
The resulting files are made of G-Code, which is basically a long list of instructions that the 3D printer follows to build the model.
Another function of slicers is to generate support material. Supports are needed for parts with a lot of overhangs. The slicer will let you decide where to put supports and how dense you want them to be. Some slicers will even let you choose different types of support structures for stability or easier removal.
How do you make 3D printer files?
Firstly, choose a CAD program.
TinkerCAD is a program that specializes in ease of use and is suitable for beginners, as you just put together blocks and shapes to gradually build a more complex structure. As you gain experience, you’ll find yourself wanting to make more complex, accurate models and this can be achieved with a pair of calipers.
Another aspect that makes TinkerCAD easy to use is how you can save and export your .STL files straight to your computer. TinkerCAD autosaves your work with each change you make, so there is no need to worry about losing your work. As long as you have named your work in the top left corner, it should continue to save. To know if it’s working, you should see a message saying ‘all changes saved’ now and then.
To export your CAD files into a downloadable .STL file, just click the ‘Export’ button in the top right of your TinkerCAD page and a box will appear giving you a few options.
.STL files are the most common 3D printing files and STL is an abbreviation for Stereolithography, Standard Triangle Language, and Standard Tessellation Language. These files are made of several tiny triangles, with more detailed parts having more triangles. This is because 3D printers can better understand information in geometric shapes.
When your file is sliced, it will prepare your CAD model and turn it into a G-code file which 3D printers can make use of.
When you slice your file, you can preview your model in its 3D printing form. Here, you can view each layer of your 3D print from the ground up, and even see the direction your print head will go during the printing process. All you need to do is look over the settings and hit the blue ‘slice’ button on the bottom right of the program.
You’ll have then created your 3D printer file which your printer can understand.
How do you program a 3D printer?
There are two aspects relating to programming within 3D printing technology.
The first is 3D graphics programming, and the other is programming the 3D printer itself.
As we have already mentioned, G-Code is a programming language that translates 3D models into instructions that a printer can understand. This language can be mastered to modify the parameters of the print.
Meanwhile, 3D graphics are a bit more complicated but involve a lot of creativity. 3D graphics are used by architects, interior designers, and computer graphic artists. A large proportion of graphics software is based on drawing and creating 3D objects. The alternative to this is parametric modeling, which involves editing the script, not drawing. OpenSCAD is a good example of this kind of software. It is based on creating basic solids like spheres, cones, and cubes, before cutting and joining to create a complete model. Graphics in 3D video games and animation are created in a similar manner, and the same technology can be used in 3D printing. If you are adept at coding, but not familiar with typical 3D graphics software, it is a useful method.
How much does Solidworks cost?
Solidworks has not changed its price since it was first released in 1996. The standalone license is $3,995, while the annual subscription service price (that includes technical support and upgrades) is $1,295.
Why is Solidworks so expensive?
Solidworks product licenses are offered in a tiered system of Standard, Professional, and Premium.
As you upgrade to Professional and Premium subscriptions, you get access to additional capabilities, as well as additional licenses and support costs.
Solidworks may be so expensive because it recognizes that their customers have unique needs and may benefit from more Solidworks features than just 3D CAD. If you contact Solidworks they can provide you a bespoke service and offer a custom Solidworks price quote for all the products and services that meet your needs.
Can you use Blender for 3D printing?
While there are many sources out there that let you download ready-made 3D models, there is also a growing interest in designing your own 3D models. That’s where Blender comes in!
Blender is an incredibly accessible program that lets you design your own 3D models and exports them to be 3D printed. What’s more, it’s free and open-source so anybody can use it.
Is Blender good for 3D printing?
Yes, Blender is great for 3D printing.
In fact, Blender would make an excellent stepping stone from using downloadable models to making your own, thanks to its accessible, easy-to-use interface.