The rise of affordable consumer 3D printers makes 3D printing more accessible than ever, and paired with the best 3D printing software, you can create almost anything from the comfort of home. 3D printers use a process called additive manufacturing (most often referred to as 3D printing) to create three-dimensional items, layer by layer. Essentially, they take the 3D data from a digital file and manufacture it into a physical object. Different types of 3D printing software enable this process, these programs do everything from creating the 3D model to slicing it up in preparation for the printer.
The best 3D printing software depends on your needs, and there are many different software options to suit different experience levels. 3D printing software ranges from free, beginner-friendly programs for hobbyists, to paid, professional software used by designers and manufacturers. We’ve rounded up a range of software types to suit different uses. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner to 3D printing, read on for the best 3D printing software options to bring your next project to life.
— Best Overall: FreeCAD
— Best For Professionals: Autodesk Fusion 360
— Best For Beginners: TinkerCAD
— Best High End: Rhino3D
— Best For Multi-Platform Requirements: Ultimaker Cura
— Best For Remote Printing: OctoPrint
— Best For Resin Printers: Lychee Slicer
HOW WE PICKED THE BEST 3D PRINTING SOFTWARE
The best 3D printing software helps you make the most of your creativity and your 3D printer. We considered over 30 3D printing software options to narrow down our top picks, paying attention to intended audience, price, and user experience.
Intended Audience: As 3D printers become more affordable and accessible, they reach a larger range of users with different experience levels. Different 3D printing software suites are created for different types of users, from plug-and-play designers for beginners to feature-filled suites for working professionals. We included 3D printing software options that are suitable for complete newbies as well as some for designers with decades of experience — some options may even be suitable for both.
Price: Whether you’re a hobbyist or the director of a design studio, you likely have a budget for your 3D printing software purchase. The good news is, there are plenty of excellent free and open-source software options available that are suitable for both hobbyists and some professionals. But in case you’re looking for a higher-end option, we also included some paid options on this list.
Ease Of Use: When it comes to 3D printing software, ease of use is an important feature across all experience levels. It’s especially important for those who are new to CAD design and 3D printing; design software can have a steep learning curve, but an intuitive interface, built-in tutorials, and an active online community can make them easier to learn.
Even professionals with years of experience don’t want software that’s finicky and over-complicated, so one of the first factors we looked for was an easy-to-use (or easy-to-learn) interface. We chose 3D printing software options that have a good reputation for user-friendliness. Get started with the best 3D printers for beginners.
THE BEST 3D PRINTING SOFTWARE: REVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Best 3D Printing Software Overall: FreeCAD
Why It Made The Cut: Novices and advanced users can take advantage of FreeCAD and it’s range of features to create real-life models of any shape and size.
— Software Type: CAD software
— Price: Free
— Intended For: Beginner to advanced users
— Geared to creating real-life models of any size
— Parametric modeling software
— Easy-to-use 2D sketcher feature
— Open-source and completely free
— Interface isn’t as attractive as some other options
With a user-friendly interface and the ability to design real-life models of any size, FreeCAD is the best 3D printing software overall. This robust open-source software is versatile, easy to learn, and as the name suggests, free.
The software is a great choice for creating prototypes, models, and other projects, small or large. It utilizes parametric modeling, which means shapes are based on properties that can be changed and recalculated on demand. This allows for more precise modeling and makes it easy to modify any design by just going back into the model history and changing its parameters. It also has the option to draw a 2D base for a 3D model, which adds flexibility.
Instead of a drag-and-drop interface, the parametric approach to modeling allows users to create more complex objects. This makes FreeCAD a good option for a wide range of designers, from amateurs to advanced users. It’s not the most beginner-friendly on the list (and it also may not be complex enough for some professionals), but for many hobbyists and pros alike, this software is worth learning for its versatile uses.
Overall, FreeCAD is more powerful than the most basic free modeling software, but is more beginner friendly than professional versions, making it a great choice for eager hobbyists. It’s range of features is ideal for product design, mechanical engineering, and architecture, showcasing this software’s flexibility across a range of fields. Designs are created in real-world units (such as inches or feet), making it simpler for beginners to picture models before bringing them to life. Savvy designers can use Python code to add functions and do just about anything in FreeCAD, adding another layer of flexibility for serious users.
Best For Professionals: Autodesk Fusion 360
Why It Made The Cut: Robust design features and a collaborative, cloud-sharing platform makes this design software an excellent choice for professional teams.
— Software Type: CAD software
— Price: Free version for students or free, limited version for hobbyists, $495 annually for business use
— Intended For: Intermediate to professional users
— Professional-grade tools
— Cloud-based features make for easy collaboration
— Free and paid versions
— Only has a monthly subscription option (no perpetual license option)
— Steeper learning curve
Autodesk software is a favorite amongst dedicated hobbyists and professional designers. Autodesk Fusion 360 is one of their CAD (computer-aided design) software products best suited for 3D printing (and much more). The cloud-based software is used for 3D modeling, CAD, CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), CAE (computer-aided engineering), and PCB (print circuit board) design for product modeling and manufacturing.
As the best 3D printing software for professionals, this professional-grade software has tons of features to take advantage of, including solid, mesh, freeform modeling, sculpting tools, generative design and simulation tools, and easy online collaboration features. Best of all, it is not only geared to professional designers and is a good choice for almost any audience. Like most Autodesk programs, it’s an expert program that is still suitable for beginners who are willing to learn.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is used in many industries for rapid prototyping and product designs. The program allows for more precise designs, a necessity for professional designers, machinists, and engineers in almost any industry. Users have the ability to create any shape, as well as test and execute 3D designs, offering more options than simple, free software.
This software is especially useful for design teams because of the collaborative cloud feature, which makes it simple to share and edit designs over the web. Like many other cloud-based software, it stores the entire model history, making it easy to go back and reference changes.
Both free and paid versions are available. The software comes at a cost for professional users (on a subscription basis), but it is free for students on an educational license. There is also a limited free version for hobbyists, and anyone can take advantage of the free trial period.
Best For Beginners: Tinkercad
Why It Made The Cut: TinkerCAD is created with true beginners in mind, featuring a basic drag-and-drop interface and a large shapes library to make 3D design more accessible.
— Software Type: CAD software
— Price: Free
— Intended For: Beginners
— Designed for complete beginners
— Intuitive drag-and-drop interface using basic shapes
— Large shape and object library
— May be too basic for advanced users
With a simple drag-and-drop interface, Tinkercad is the best 3D printing software for beginners. Not only is it easy to use, it’s also completely free. It’s also browser-based, so you can access it online from any compatible web browser. Designs can be saved in the cloud, so you can access them later from any device. Looking for an option for beginners? Read our review of the Anycubic Vyper 3D Printer.
With Tinkercad, the design process is based around basic geometric shapes. Users drag and drop pre-designed shapes (or can import their own) and have the option to manipulate these objects to create 3D models of just about anything. Adjusting and resizing functions make it possible to piece together relatively complex models, even from a very basic starting point.
Tinkercad is accessible to all levels because of its simple interface and intuitive design tools. The program has a shallow learning curve, but if you need any help, it also has plenty of tutorials and guides for learning about 3D modeling. However, since it’s so beginner-friendly, it can be limiting for more experienced users. Since it’s free and accessible, it’s a top choice for students (even young kids), who want to dip their toes into the world of 3D modeling. The website even has teaching resources for those who want to use Tinkercad to teach 3D modeling concepts to new designers, young or old. You don’t have to spend a lot to get started with the best budget 3D printers.
Best High End: Rhino3D
Why It Made The Cut: This software is one of the most versatile options out there, giving users the power to create anything their imagination desires.
– Software Type
– Price: $995 one-time subscription
– Intended For: Advanced and professional users
– Versatile and feature-filled modeling software
– Uninhibited, free-form 3D modeling tools allow users to create anything
– One-time cost
– Steep learning curve
Rhino3D is a feature-packed and versatile premium software option, ideal for those who want to get into complex 3D modeling. The program is based on the NURBS mathematical model, which allows users to create mathematically precise designs. The software puts no limits on creativity, complexity, degree, or size, so users can create pretty much anything.
Rhino 3D markets itself as one of the most versatile CAD design software, and with its uninhibited free-form 3D modeling tools, that description isn’t far off. The program allows designers to edit solids, curves, points, surfaces, and meshes in any way they want. With such powerful free-form modeling tools, this software is a good choice for designing odd-shaped objects and extending your creativity.
While there is a steeper learning curve with this program, it’s excellent for those looking to create complex or intricate 3D models. The software can design anything from tiny, elaborate jewelry pieces to large, deeply-detailed structures.
Rhino 3D is a paid software option, with a one-time permanent license that may be attractive to some users (rather than a monthly subscription fee). At $995, the higher price tag means it’s not the best choice for absolute beginners, but those who are willing to take on this software will be rewarded with an extremely versatile suite of features. For those looking to create to their heart’s content, the one-time price tag is a worthwhile trade-off for the program’s excellent versatility. Plus, with long time use it can even be cheaper than some subscription-based options.
Best For Multi-Platform Requirements: Ultimaker Cura
Why It Made The Cut: With a user-friendly interface and excellent compatibility, this slicer software is popular across a range of audiences, from novices to advanced users.
— Software Type: Slicer
— Price: Free Essentials version, paid premium versions
— Intended For: Beginners to advanced users
— User-friendly interface
— Wide printer compatibility
— Regular software updates
— Large community of active users
— Some features can be hard to find for beginners
When it comes to consumer 3D printing, Ultimaker Cura is one of the most widely-used slicing softwares — and for good reason. Cura was developed by Ultimaker, a manufacturer of 3D printers; but this open-source, free software is actually compatible with most desktop 3D printers. Designed for all types of users, Cura has a very beginner-friendly interface, but it’s still suitable for more experienced users as well. Experienced users can dig a little deeper or use a range of plugins to access over 400 advanced settings.
This software’s list of compatible 3D printers is long, and the software includes easy-to-use recommended presets for the most popular models. Cura works with most 3D file formats, including STL, .OBJ, .X3D, .3MF formats. After preparing these file types for printing, Cura shows a preview of the model and warns of any at-risk areas in the print. This warning feature is excellent for beginners to ensure their model will be sound.
Cura also shows an estimated printing time and estimated material usage, so you get a better idea of printing requirements for each project. Plus, with excellent integration with popular 3D CAD tools like Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks, it’s a well-rounded software for many 3D printing projects. Most hobby printers will find the free, essentials version more than enough for their needs, but professional teams may opt for one of Cura’s paid premium plans.
Best For Remote Printing: OctoPrint
Why It Made The Cut: With remote control and monitoring options, OctoPrint gives users even more control over their 3D printer.
— Software Type: Slicer and printer controller application
— Price: Free
— Intended For: Beginners to advanced users
— Allows for remote control and monitoring of 3D printers
— Control and monitoring interface is easily accessible via web browser
— Compatible with most 3D printers
— Recommended to use on a Raspberry Pi. Setup is more complicated on other devices
OctoPrint isn’t just a slicer software: It’s a 3D-printing control application. This free, open-source software is both a slicer and monitoring platform that makes it easier than ever to control the 3D printing process. OctoPrint works with a WiFi-enabled device (like a Raspberry Pi) connected to the printer, which then gives you the power to control and monitor the machine remotely from anywhere through a web interface.
While Octoprint’s slicing abilities are notable, it stands out from the rest of this list for its remote control and monitoring features. Users can start, pause, and stop print jobs remotely. The interface displays details like print progress, extruder temperature, estimated remaining print time, as well as the option to view webcam footage of your print progress. This means you can remotely press start on a big job you forgot to begin before leaving home, or pause the print if you notice something wrong via the webcam.
Beyond remote control and monitoring, Octoprint can also be set up to send update notifications to your device, keeping you in the loop even when you aren’t actively watching your printer. The interface is very beginner-friendly, but has the option to add plugins for more advanced users.
Best For Resin Printers: Lychee Slicer
Why It Made The Cut: Made for SLA (stereolithography) printers, Lychee Slicer has several automatic tools to help create beautiful resin prints.
— Software Type: Slicer
— Price: Free version and paid pro version
— Intended For: Beginners to advanced users
— Designed for SLA 3D printers
— Excellent automatic support creation and hollowing options
— One-click “Magic Mode” optimization setting
— Limited tutorials and learning materials
Most consumer 3D printers are FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers that extrude a heated substance (like plastic filament) into thin layers to create a model from the bottom up. Resin printers use a different design process, and many options are SLA (stereolithography) printers. SLA printers use a laser to convert a photosensitive liquid (resin) into a 3D model, also layer by layer. SLA printers still require a slicer software to make sense of a 3D model. But many slicers are made for FDM printers and are lacking in features for SLA printing. Lychee Slicer, a slicer geared to SLA users, is a product that aims to fill this void.
The user-friendly software is excellent for those starting out with resin printing. Novice users can use the “Magic Mode” button, which automatically orients, supports, and hollows the chosen model. Manual options are also available for those who want more control of their slicing software and prefer to add manual supports.
A preview option gives users the chance to preview or simulate the model before and during printing. With the Realtime Preview feature, you can check the print’s progress and what your end print will look like, while your printer is chugging along. Lychee Slicer offers both free and pro versions, with a limited free version for hobbyists and a paid version available with improved advanced features. Get started with our guide to the best resin 3D printers.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING 3D PRINTING SOFTWARE
The right software can make it easier to bring your 3D project to fruition. There are plenty of software options available to suit novice 3D printing enthusiasts, experienced designers, and everyone in between. To ensure a 3D printing software is suitable for your needs, consider the software type, intended experience level, intended use, and price.
Creating and Managing 3D Models
Every 3D print starts with a 3D model, created using modeling software. You can create your own model from scratch, or if you don’t want to take the time to make your own, you can download pre-made models from a digital 3D library.
Once you’ve created or chosen your model for printing, it needs to be exported in a compatible format (the most popular 3D printing file format is the STL file format) and go through a process called slicing. A slicing software slices up the 3D model into hundreds (or thousands) of layers to prepare it for the 3D printer. After the file is sliced, it’s ready for the printer to print, layer by layer.
You’ll likely need two types of software for each 3D printing project. If you choose to design your own 3D models, CAD (computer-aided design) software allows you to create models from scratch. There are plenty of free and paid CAD design software options available, appealing to every level of designer from beginner to professional. A good CAD software is flexible, has a user-friendly interface and design process, and has the necessary functions for your design needs.
Between designing and printing, there comes an important step: slicing. Unless your CAD software integrates with your 3D printer, a separate slicing software will be needed to prepare design files for 3D printing.
The slicing software can also help you set printing instructions, such as layer height, print speed, and support structure settings. A good slicing program works fast and has extra features to make printing easier. For example, some programs can automatically generate supports for complex models.
Another useful feature to look for is software that will show a warning or apply a fix to small problems in the object file that would interfere with smooth printing. When it comes to slicing software, there are also a range of free and paid slicing software options for all experience levels.
Experience Level and Intended Use
There are plenty of CAD and slicer software suites on the market to assure that there will be a good option for any type of user, ranging from the eager beginner to the experienced designer. When choosing a 3D printing software, consider your experience level and intended use.
If you’re a hobbyist creating trinkets at home you’ll likely need different features from those a designer creating parts for engine manufacturing might need. Novices should look for software with an easy-to-use interface and detailed tutorials, while professionals might look for versatility and specific job-related capabilities. Also, consider printer and device compatibility to make sure you can run any given software.
When it comes to 3D printing software, there’s a surprising number of free, open-source options available. This makes designing 3D models and printing creations very accessible to the average consumer. Most hobbyists won’t need anything more than a free CAD program and slicer software. Many of the free options online have everything that you need to create detailed models and high-quality prints.
As is the case with most software, it can pay off to invest in a paid version. Working professionals and business owners often opt for a paid software, which can include several perks like more robust, specialized features and cloud storage.
Q: What is 3D printing software?
3D printing software refers to software used in the process of 3D printing. It includes modeling software, which is used to create the 3D digital design, and slicing software, which “slices” the digital plan into a usable format for the 3D printer.
Q: How much does 3D printing software cost?
3D printing software can range in cost from completely free to hundreds of dollars. There are excellent free and paid options for a range of users (and many paid options have a free trial). When you’re making your selection you should consider your budget and the features that are important to you. These factors will determine the best 3D printing software for your needs.
Q: Do you need CAD For 3D Printing?
If you want to create your own designs, using CAD software is the way to go. CAD design software is the most popular way to create a model for 3D printing. However, if you don’t want to make your own designs, it’s not necessary — there are also digital libraries where you can download pre-made 3D model plans, ready for printing.
Q: What Is the easiest 3D software to learn?
Q: Does Cura support FlashForge?
While Cura does not naturally support FlashForge printers, in some cases, the software can be configured to support some FlashForge printer models.
Final Thoughts on the Best 3D Printing Software
FreeCAD is an open-source CAD software with a robust set of design features. Using parametric modeling, users can create real-life models of any size — all for free.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.