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Simplify3D vs Cura: The Differences

Picture of Lucas Carolo
by Lucas Carolo
Jan 11, 2020
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Among the most popular slicers, Simplify3D and Cura split opinions and hearts in the 3D printing community. Find out which is best for you!

Simplify3D vs Cura

Slicer Showdown

The 3D printing workflow
The 3D printing workflow (Source: SUTD Fab Lab)

A slicing software tool (or slicer) converts a 3D model and some parameters into a set of printing instructions for a 3D printer, usually outputting a machine language known as G-code. It’s not only essential within the workflow of 3D printing, but also one of the most important steps to ensure the success of a project.

Costing around $150, Simplify3D is considered to be the only premium slicer on the market. Available for Windows, Mac OS, and Ubuntu Linux, it’s an ultra-fast slicer, loaded with features specially designed for the best quality 3D printing.

Costing absolutely nothing, Cura is the official slicer of Ultimaker 3D printers and an all-time favorite of makers and open-source fans. It’s known as an easy-to-use slicer that can be enhanced with plug-ins made by members of the community.

In this article, we present the main differences between Simplify3D and Cura. Which slicer will come out at the top? Keep reading to find out for yourself!

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Simplify3D vs Cura

Cost & Updates

Free Cura vs. Paid Simplify3D
Free Cura vs. Paid Simplify3D (Sources: Cura; Simplify3D)

Likely the most important difference for the majority of users is the cost.

Cura

While Cura is currently owned by Ultimaker, it’s an open-source platform available under the LGPLv3 license. This means that and any future updates are completely free.

Speaking of updates, since its inception, Cura has always boasted constant updates, with at least five new releases (4.0, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4) in 2019 alone. All of these versions are kept on GitHub.

Simplify3D

Simplify3D, on the other hand, is probably the most expensive slicer software out there, despite being marketed to beginners and amateurs. Each license costs $149 and can be purchased directly at their website. That said, there is a two-week free trial, and according to the webpage, you can have a full refund in case “you don’t love it.”

Simplify3D was updated twice in 2019 (4.1.1 and 4.1.2), but these were mostly bug fixes and minor improvements. Older versions of the software are not available for download.

At the end of 2018, Simplify3D announced its plans for 2019, which included a major update said to be the “biggest in our company’s history.” To the surprise of all users, they declared that this would be the first paid software upgrade. The company didn’t mention costs, but this means users with a license will have to pay an unspecified fee to upgrade to version 5.0.

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Simplify3D vs Cura

User Interface & Experience

Initial screens for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right)
Initial screens for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right) (Source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

The software’s user interface (UI) is crucial for good user experience. A UI that’s confusing or overwhelming can inhibit the user’s ability to fully appreciate its features. This is the same for any 3D printing software, and in this section, we’ll cover some aspects of both slicers in regards to user interface and experience.

Overall Layout

A good layout should be clean, with recognizable icons and buttons, which in turn would make the platform as intuitive as possible.

At first, both slicers display nice clean layouts with similar tools for importing models. While Cura has bigger icons and smaller toolbars, Simplify3D’s left panel allows the instant management of all imported models and printing processes.

The buttons for positioning and scaling models are fixed on the right in Simplify3D, while in Cura, they only show up when a model is imported.

Printing Settings Panel

3D printing process parameters for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right)
3D printing process parameters for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right) (Source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

As for process settings, Simplify3D displays a big overlaid window for adjusting the printing parameters. All customizable settings and processes options are divided into tabs, for a total of 12 tabs.

These tabs are organized by specific 3D printing parameters, such as layers, infill, supports, and temperature, enabling a streamlined workflow. Each printing parameter displays a small description when hovering with the mouse.

Cura has a somewhat different approach, as the print settings panel is presented in a side window that occupies only part of the interface. The parameters available at the window are customizable, so you can choose to keep only the settings most used or relevant to your 3D printers.

Cura also displays settings descriptions when hovering, but these are a bit more lengthy than Simplify3D’s.

Print Preview

Preview Environment for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right)
Preview Environment for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right) (Source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

Both slicers have preview environments, where the printing process can be simulated, analyzed, and checked for errors and inconsistencies. If anything needs changing, the printing parameters and model positioning can be altered within the preview environment in Cura, but this isn’t possible in Simplify3D.

For Simplify3D, if any improvement is spotted during simulation, you first need to exit the preview mode before entering the changes. This back-and-forth can be tiresome since the model must be reprocessed and sliced whenever entering the preview mode. Depending on the size and complexity of the model, the slicing process might take some time (and CPU), even with the fast processing capabilities of Simplify3D.

With that said, both platforms present similar tools for analysis, with different visualization modes like color schemes for different line types (like outlines, infill), feedrate, speeds, and so on.

Cura grants a bit more control of the simulation, with two manual sliders rather than the one in Simplify3D, which allows control of both layer and line progression in the simulation.

Printing Information

Regardless of the type of user, from service providers to hobbyists, printing information like time and filament usage is very important.

Simplify3D displays these statistics on the left panel in the preview mode environment (see above). If you want to see the impact of a printing parameter on these statistics (like layer height vs. printing duration), you’ll bump into the same issue raised in the last section – the back-and-forth between working and preview modes.

By default, Cura performs model slicing as soon as the model is imported. Once that’s done, the software is able to display the printing information, which is done through a small window in the lower right. It’s necessary to hover on the little “information” icon to see all the stats, though.

While it’s very handy to have all this info available at all times, whenever the model or print settings are changed, the software will slice it again and take some time doing it. If this becomes too bothersome, the auto-slicing feature can be disabled in Cura’s Preferences tab.

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Simplify3D vs Cura

Features

Special settings can yield special results
Special settings can yield special results (Source: Solvay)

The set of features is the backbone of every slicer. These determine what can be adjusted in terms of the 3D printing process and play a central role in calibration and print quality. In fact, some people use both slicers, depending on the project, to benefit from these different features.

In this section, we’ll be discussing the main feature differences between Simplify3D and Cura.

Printer Setup

3D printer setup for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right)
3D printer setup for Cura (left) and Simplify3D (right) (Source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

Every slicer needs to know the 3D printer’s properties to be able to create a G-code file for it. Rather than inputting all the technical details and dimensions of each printer to the slicer, both Cura and Simplify3D provide ready-to-use profiles for many common printers and brands.

While Cura started by supporting only Ultimaker printers, it now has a comprehensive list of many different brands and models. Simplify3D, on the other hand, has always supported a huge number of 3D printers, including some smaller brands local to specific countries. According to the company, Simplify3D supports 95% of all desktop 3D printers on the market.

Plug-ins

The Cura Plug-in Marketplace
The Cura Plug-in Marketplace (Source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

Being an open-source software has its advantages. Cura has an online marketplace for plug-ins developed mostly by the user community. Plug-ins can add extra functionality, like new tools and features, change the user interface, or even import preset profiles for specific brands of filament.

The platform is accessed within Cura, and it enables the installation and management of all plug-ins. Unfortunately, Simplify3D has nothing of the sort.

Customizable Supports

Custom supports – a definite win for Simplify3D
Custom supports – a definite win for Simplify3D (Source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

As with any slicer worth its salt, Cura and Simplify3D both create support structures for overhangs. This automatic feature allows the user to set parameters like the maximum overhang angle, density, or pattern before determining support placement.

While this can be considered a sort of customization at first, Simplify3D goes a little further to give the user complete control of support allocation. The “Manual Placement” tools make the process of manually removing and adding supports structures very visual and intuitive.

Recently, Cura has implemented some manual customization with the “Support Blocker” tool, but it can be somewhat complicated for fine tuning all of the supports. That said, there are some clever plug-ins that allow for manual support editing. We have a great article about optimizing supports for Cura.

Processes

Last but not least, one major difference between these two slicers is the ability to create different printing processes within a single G-code file.

By definition, a process in Simplify3D is a set of printing parameters that can be assigned to different models within the same print job, or even in the same models but at different layer heights. This means that you can have four different models being printed together on the build plate and each has specific printing settings applied to them.

Also, depending on the total height of the parts, it’s entirely possible to have each part printed sequentially, one after another.

Although Cura has features that allow different settings to be applied to different models, they might not be as intuitive and easy-to-use as Simplify3D’s processes arrangement.

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Simplify3D vs Cura

Final Thoughts

What's the verdict?
What's the verdict? (Source: Hackaday)

Cura and Simplify3D are two giants in a constant struggle for the spot of best FDM slicer. So which is better?

Well, in reality, it depends. Each software has strengths and weaknesses that can benefit different users. In terms of print quality, there are a number of YouTube videos that try to compare these slicers, but the truth is that both of them are very solid if properly used.

Being very popular, both the user communities are huge, with Cura slightly ahead for being open-source and having plug-ins. On the other hand, any paid software like Simplify3D comes with some premium features, like support customization and processes.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide which slicer better suits your needs. As Cura is free, it may be better to start there and upgrade if you feel that Simplify3D would be a better choice. You might also learn both and switch between them depending on the specific project.

(Lead image source: Lucas Carolo via All3DP)

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License: The text of "Simplify3D vs Cura: The Differences" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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