It’s no secret that 3D printing software has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years.
With companies across all industries, from construction to engineering to medicine, looking into 3D printing solutions, it’s important to consider the best software available.
And while it can be easy to choose a single program and call it a day, there’s a slew of innovative features, noteworthy integrations, and cutting-edge capabilities that each software uniquely offers—making it worthwhile to dig a little deeper in research.
Here’s a full run-down on the best 3D printing software in the market.
What is the Best 3D Printing Software?
1. Autodesk Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is a professional cloud-based 3D CAD program that enables users to design and manufacture products using CAD, CAM, and PCB software.
It’s a feature-ridden 3D printing software with tools that far exceed other 3D modeling tools. These features include simulation, assemblies, 3D printing, generative design, tools sculpting, and CAM.
With its numerous product design options and cross-cloud capabilities, Fusion 360 is an excellent choice for remote teams to collaborate and work on large-scale projects. In particular, its cloud-based file sharing and import/export capabilities allow for a seamless transition between users, removing administrative obstacles and upholding the engineering and designing process at the forefront.
If you’re a novice, enthusiast, or small business, Fusion 360 makes an excellent choice as one of the best free 3D printing software.
Amateurs and professionals looking to create parts efficiently
- Cloud collaboration and database centralization
- Feature-ridden generative design solutions
- Photo-realistic visualizations and rendering technology
- Turning and mill turning
- 16-layer PCB system
- Interactive assemblies
- $60/month with a monthly plan.
- $42/month with an annual plan.
- $38/month with a 3-year plan.
2. Autodesk AutoCAD
AutoCAD is a professional 2D and 3D CAD program used to design and create digital assets. It provides drafting and design tools for both 2D geometry and 3D models with solids, meshes objects, or surfaces. It also automates certain activities like adding blocks, creating schedules, and comparing drawings – helping the user stay productive doing the tasks that truly matter.
AutoCAD has a full suite of advanced features for both 2D drafting and 3D modeling. Some of its features include the ability to draw revision clouds around your new drawing to tell updates, as well as full cloud rendering to keep the bulk of the processing power consumption away from your computer.
If your goal is to achieve more timely results in the drafting and modeling process, Autodesk AutoCAD is an excellent choice. The toolsets available under this brand—dubbed Architecture, Mechanical, Electrical, MEP, and Raster, among others—have been linked with a productivity gain of at least 48%. If you’ve worked with 3D modeling before, this is an excellent choice to speed up your process.
Engineers, construction professionals, and architects require precision when designing 2D and 3D models.
- Web and Mobile application access for cross-device accessibility and designing wherever you want.
- Cloud storage connectivity, allowing you to access a DWG file using their leading cloud storage providers.
- Floating windows for better dual-monitor productivity
- Trace, Count, and a Push to Autodesk Docs features.
- Has an Autodesk App Store if you’re looking for more specific extensions.
- $1775/annually (around $147/mo)
- $4795/3 years (around $133/mo)
3. Ultimaker Cura
With the backing of a million users who use this 3D printing software, Ultimaker Cura is a great choice if you’re looking for one of the best free 3D printing software.
Ultimaker Cura is an open-source CAD solution specifically designed to handle the needs of Ultimaker printers and most other 3D printers. It’s straightforward to use, with an interface that can be designed for novices and with customization options for more advanced modelers.
There’s also a plethora of educational resources for aspiring 3D modelers (and even experienced ones alike) to learn more about the process. If you want more immediate and personal responses, Ultimaker owns a 40,000-member group of active users who come in various skill levels that can give you more guidance.
- Beginners looking to try out a free CAD printing tool and learn more about the process.
- They have a pre-configured print profile and a custom mode with over 400 settings.
- Remote printing.
- CAD plugin integration with Siemens NX, Autodesk Inventor, and SolidWorks.
- File type compatibility with OBJ, BMP, X3D, 3MF, JPG, GIF, PNG, and STL.
- Notorious for inadequate support control
- Long wait time for 3D models to be printed
Tinkercad is an Internet-based 3D CAD model and design app powered by Autodesk. It’s free, straightforward, and a perfect entry point for beginners looking to jump into 3D printing, whether your path is in electronics, 3D design, or coding.
With a community of over 35 million members and 300 million designs created with Tinkercad, there’s plenty of inspiration pieces floating around to help blaze your interest. The software allows you to use pre-existing shapes, adjust blocks into desired sizes, and combine these shapes to make virtually any design imaginable. Your only handicap is your imagination and the hardware you choose!
TinkerCAD doesn’t have as much of a learning curve as other 3D printing software in this list, but it’s quite barebones in features compared to your average CAD software. But if you’re simply looking for a place to start your modeling journey, TinkerCAD is an exceptional tool.
Used by educators to teach students or self-taught learners.
- Executes laser cutting
- 1-Click printing.
- Cloud storage
- Supports STL files for immediate printing
- Lacks in-depth features found in other CAD software
- Surface triangles of 3D objects never exceed the allowance value
- A free tool that’s accessible via web or application.
5. SketchUp Free
SketchUp Free, which was previously known as SketchUp Make, is another web-based CAD application that’s capable of creating 3D models that are printable on any commercially available printer.
SketchUp Make can be used for basic shapes such as simple architectural or interior designs, or more advanced uses like visualizing large machinery and equipment pieces. This software is perfect for working with other types of CAD software too, as it exports to many different file types including STL, SKP, and PNG.
This free CAD software may not be hoisted with as many features as its premium counterpart, it still has an impressive repertoire of features. The free version includes 10 GB of cloud storage, mobile device viewing, and a built-in 3D warehouse where you can find design inspiration from user-generated models.
Newbie and budding 3D print modelers.
- Core modeler runs via the web
- 10 GB cloud storage for decent storage space
- Interoperability: Allowing you to import JPG, PNG, and SKP files and export PNG, STL, and SKP files.
- 3D warehouse as a repository of projects made by other users
SketchUp Free is a free web application. Paid versions are as follows:
- SketchUp Shop: $119/year
- SketchUp Pro: $299/year
- SketchUp Studio: $699/year
MeshLab is a free, open-source 3D mesh processing software that can be used to edit meshes and various geometric objects, as well as fix issues with geometry, bad topology, holes, and non-manifold edges.
This CAD software is most notable for its ability to process raw data and prepare 3D designs that are ready to print. It also has powerful tools that allow for seamless aligning, reconstructing, color mapping, visualizing, and much more actions that can bring ideated designs into reality.
For repairing and refining messy 3D models, Meshlab is a great tool to help you deal with the pesky details.
This software is recommended for experienced and expert-level 3D developers.
- Cleaning 3D Models: automatic, interactive filters, and semi-manual to remove faulty geometric elements.
- Improved Color Mapping: Meshlab projects pristine color information into a 3D model for high-quality texture mapping and encoding.
- Reconstruction: Transforming triangulated mesh material into solid single surfaces can be performed in a variety of ways.
- Visualization: Camera perspective and view parameters are available to view models from more angles.
Free as it’s open-source. Creations are subject to requirements of General Public License such as a proper citation.
FreeCAD is open-source software that allows users to perform parametric modeling, 2D modeling, and 3D printing. It’s a free 3D printing software with a stellar and clean user interface that runs in Windows, Mac, and Linux.
It can read and write in multiple file formats like IGES, STL, SVG, DXF, STEP, OBJ, IFC, and DAE.
But what makes this tool stand out the most is its Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tools, CNC/CAM workbenches, and robotic simulation tools, enabling designers and engineers to create beautiful things with virtually no feature handicaps. Who says advanced features are restricted to only paid plans?
FreeCAD is great for mechanical engineers, architects, product designers, and even hobbyists and coders. Its versatility makes it a remarkable asset for anyone in most professions.
- Parametric components for efficient 3D editing
- Ability to leverage 2D objects to create 3D models
- Multiplatform support
- Experimental workbenches and a robot simulation module
- Simple user interface
- Limited functionalities
Since it’s open-source, FreeCAD is available for free.
Creo is a powerful CAD solutions provider for product designers and developers. It comes with top-of-the-line tools and features that promote more efficient product design and development processes. This 3D printing software provides users with an intuitive interface for fast modeling and visualization of their ideated designs.
With the use of Creo, you can easily generate STL files and process them into a printable object via its built-in slicer. Additionally, this CAD program also has generative design, real-time simulation, additive manufacturing, and augmented reality capabilities.
Startups and small businesses looking to bring their ideas and tools to life.
- AR tools and solutions such as Vuforia Instruct, Studio, Chalk, and Engine empower staff and workers.
- Industrial Internet of Things software to bolster efficiency and the deployment of IoT applications
- CAD software to enable direct modeling and create AR tools for better products.
- Onshape platform that merges CAD with data management, analytics, and collaboration tools
- Not compatible in some systems
- Not recommended for individuals or non-product designers
There’s a free trial for 30 days. There are different price plans after that:
- Tier 1 – Essentials: $2,200 – $2,700
- Tier 2 – Advanced: $3,980 – $4,900
- Tier 3 – Advanced Plus: $10,300
- Tier 4 – Premium: $14,375
- Tier 5 – Premium Plus: $20,000
Solidworks is a 25-year engineering-oriented 3D CAD (computer-aided design) tool that allows 3D designers to create, edit, and manage their models.
With the use of this software, you and your team can easily achieve more results in less time. You can also import STL files for fast editing and printing on various printers like resin, metal, and mesh.
Solidworks has several use cases – making it an amazingly versatile tool that can fit the needs of most professionals, whether you’re in an enterprise setting, in academia and research, in construction and engineering, or are still an aspiring student. No matter who you are, SOLIDWORKS has a plan to help you get started.
Startups, academia, companies, and individual businesses who need 3D designs made.
- 3DEXPERIENCE® Works – a cloud solution for remote teams to run the business
- Precise and agile design creation tools, from 2D drawings to 3D models.
- Data management tools to streamline team interaction and do revisions
- Stress analysis tools and integrated error removers
- Cost estimation tools for designs
- It’s not a one-time download as you’ll need an extra program to download.
The pricing of this slicing software is calculated on a case-by-case basis. It’s further classified by category:
- Commercial clients: Request a quote
- Academia: Request quote
- Research: Free program trial available
- Students: Student edition available for $99/year
- Entrepreneurs and Startups: Request quote
CATIA’s competitive edge is its ability to model any product while keeping a strong grasp of the design’s purpose in real life. It does so while keeping its main consumers in mind; namely, your architects, engineers, designers, and construction professionals, all interacting in part of an interconnected world.
Not only that, but CATIA offers world-class simulation and 3D modeling that can be fit for any customer along their 3D building journey. This means that there’s a good amount of features embedded within the software for anyone to build models with ease.
On top of that, CATIA is powered by Dassault Systems and 3DEXPERIENCE—a business experience platform that allows for social collaboration, 3D modeling, and information intelligence technologies for consumer use. This makes it a reputable 3D printing software that can be utilized no matter what industry your business falls under.
Large manufacturing companies that need to create custom parts. In particular, CATIA is a great option for aerospace and automotive companies utilizing CAD, CAM, and CAE to manufacture machine parts.
- Enables global collaboration
- Advanced surface modeling
- Solid relational design
- Systems engineering and product modeling
- Instinctive 3D experience
- Not meant for beginners or small businesses; suited primarily for large-scale clients.
CATIA has a free trial with limited functionality. This 3D Printing software’s annual subscription price is available upon request.
Dubbed as the 3D printing software for programmers, OpenSCAD is exactly what it claims to be. It’s a free slicing software that makes creating models and defining configurable parameters much easier with its user-friendly interface.
One neat software feature about OpenSCAD is that it’s purely CAD-focused as opposed to other free 3D model software, which is design-focused. This grants users the creativity to create machine parts to use for a manufacturing or engineering project as opposed to projects to be created by video game developers, for instance.
OpenSCAD offers two distinct modeling techniques: constructive solid geometry and 2D-outline extrusion. The latter one, in particular, allows design parameters to read DXF files. This 3D printing software can also create models in the OFF and STL file formats.
Coders, engineers, and programmers who can work through a learning curve and work to create machinery parts.
- Main modeling techniques include 2D Outline Extrusion and constructive solid geometry.
- Allows extrusion, iteration, and parameterized CSG techniques
- Precise object placement with numbered coordinates and sizes
- 3D-compiler script reader (rather than a 3D modeling software)
- Rarely gets updated anymore
- Not object-based may throw off beginners
OpenSCAD is free since it’s open-source software.
12. Rhinoceros 3D
Another great 3D printing CAD software you can use during early-stage product design planning is Rhinoceros 3D by McNeel. It’s a low-cost CAD program that offers modeling tools for 3D printing, animation, and rendering all predisposed to reduce the time it’ll take to visualize and design a model from simple sketches.
Aside from acting as a 3D modeling tool, it’s also a parametric design tool with the Grasshopper plugin. This 3D printing software also supports multiple different file format options— allowing architects to work and render images seamlessly and with extreme realism.
Rhinoceros 3D is well-suited for packaging design, jewelry design, interior design, product design, shoe design, architecture, and graphic design.
- Offers tools such as SubD, BlendSrf, Revolve, MatchSrF, DupBorder, and FilletSrf
- Digital fabrication for enhanced viability in construction projects
- A history recording feature allows easy access to revisions and edits
- Can run on a laptop computer without special hardware.
- Import files using DXF, IGES, OBJ, STEP, STL, SketchUp, AutoCAD, and other sources.
- Can import own models and other models from a cloud host.
- Ability to add dimensions to any viewpoint.
- Not natively parametric as it needs the Grasshopper plugin
- Lineweights and layouts are difficult to use
- Limited sheen layout tools
Rhino 3D offers a free trial. A one-time payment fee is priced at $995.00 for this 3D printing software.
BlocksCAD is an ed-tech organization and open-source 3D modeling software designed to encourage educators and students to learn through creating and visualizing 3D-printed models. It offers the perfect mix of beginner-friendly tools and features and educational material to help learners get started in their 3D modeling journey. This software employs an intuitive block-building concept that’s user-friendly and time-efficient — which aids students throughout the learning process without having to spend time working on more tedious activities.
Instead of being a 3D modeling software designed for professionals, this tool is meant to act as training grounds for students and learners to improve their computer science and math skills.
Contrary to many 3D modeling software on the list, you don’t have to have deep programming expertise or CAD experience to kick off this platform. BlocksCAD is an approachable and user-friendly 3D modeling software that provides the right amount of software features without overwhelming the user with advanced features.
Students (as young as 8 years old), educators, and organizations looking to promote the education of 3D design software.
- Create a 3D model using variables, loops, randomness, conditional logic, and shapes.
- Geometrical models visualization features such as 3D cartesian coordinates, trigonometric functions, geometric transformations, and more.
- Numerous digital resources in the form of Youtube tutorials
- Not intended for design professionals
- The free version doesn’t have data privacy features.
BlocksCAD has a free, open-source version.
- Up to 100 users, a 1-year subscription costs $750.00
- Unlimited users, a 1-year subscription costs $3,500.00
What Is 3D Printing Software?
Before, 3D printers were large, expensive, and for exclusive use by corporations or research institutions. However, 3D printing has become incredibly popular for regular individuals due to the rise of consumer-level desktop 3D printers. Nowadays, more people have access to 3D prints than ever before.
But, you may be wondering: how do these machines work?
3D printing works through a process called additive manufacturing. While traditional manufacturing is subtractive, additive manufacturing begins with nothing and adds material to create the final object. This means that 3D printers need free software to design objects for printing.
How it works: 3D printers use computer-aided design (CAD) to create designs for three-dimensional objects. The CAD files are then sent to software which slices the object into thin horizontal layers and creates a 3D printable file (.STL).
These files can be sent to either a dedicated piece of software, such as MakerBot Desktop, Simplify 3D (for use with consumer-level printers), or Slic3r (open source), or directly to the printer.
The advent of consumer-grade 3D printing has enabled consumers to engineer creations from feature-laden software and bring them to life. Nowadays, a stream of new tools and platforms have been introduced to make the 3D printing process simpler and more accessible for your everyday layman.
Common terms to know:
- G-Code: G-Code is the language in which 3D printers communicate to print a model.
- STL Files: Stands for “Standard Tessellation Language,” this file type stores information into software that then gets translated to form any 3D model.
- Fused deposition modeling (FDM): FDM is a 3D printing method that melts and extrudes thermoplastics to build a model, typically one cross-section at a time.
- Slicer: Slicers convert a 3D model into G-Code and output code that instructs 3D printers to execute functions.
How to Choose the Best 3D Printing Software?
3D printing software is more often than not equipped with the fundamental tools necessary to construct a 3D model. However, a few crucial differences are worth considering when choosing your desired 3D printing software.
These key factors include:
- Tools: Find customization features that suit your needs. It’s also ideal to research to determine whether certain software can perform a function that you’re curious to explore in the future.
- Price: Since 3D printing software can be expensive, it’s important to have a budget in mind before diving into the market. Free options are available, but they may require more manual labor or create low-quality printouts that may not be worth your time.
- Compatibility: What printers or machines is your 3D Printing tool compatible with? Is it optimized for specific software and materials?
- Scalability: Some 3D Printing software is catered to beginners and doesn’t scale much further than one printer, while others are powerful enough to print 3D models in a team setting with virtually no limits.
- Suite features: If you’re looking to print more complex models, consider the 3D printing tools that offer advanced features. Mesh-based modeling allows users to edit or scale already created objects whereas Boolean capabilities allow for complex shapes and structures.
- File formatting: A software that supports multiple file types is generally best for its increased versatility.
3D Printing Software – Bottom Line
In conclusion, there is a wide variety of fantastic 3D printing software available to assist in designing your desired object.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an enthusiast, or simply testing out the waters in 3D printing, there is 3D printing software available to suit every need.
However, there are a few important things to note before selecting your desired 3D printing tool.
One is your understanding of the capabilities and limitations of your printer.
And two is ensuring that you’re ready to undergo a steep learning curve if you’re not yet well-versed in using this machine effectively.
Nonetheless, we hope that the list above has made it easier for you to make your pick.
Is there certain software that’s especially appealing to you?
Let us know in the comments!