If you want to get the best results from you 3D printer, you need the right 3D slicer. Here are the best and most popular 3D slicer software tools for 3D printing – and most of them are free.
What Does a 3D Slicer Do?
A 3D slicer is a piece of software, running on a computer. It acts like an interpreter for your 3D printer. You feed it an 3D file, usually that’s an STL, M3F or OBJ file (which describe coordinates in a three-dimensional grid). The 3D slicer then cuts the object in many horizontal layers and produces a path a printhead can follow – line by line, layer by layer.
So, any decent 3D slicing software will create
- a toolpath (more or less intelligently) based on the geometry of your STL-file.
- a percentage of infill to save 3D printing time and material.
- constructions of support material, if the geometry is difficult to print. These supports are meant to be removed after the print is finished.
After analyzing the file and offering you choices and settings, the software generates a „G-code“ file that‘s tailored for the machine you’re using. It describes coordinates, nozzle and bed temperatures, fan control, printhead speed and other variables.
Why is a 3D slicer so important?
If you use a good 3D slicer, you will get better results, even from a mediocre machine. If the 3D slicer isn’t good, you will more likely encounter a misprint or run into generic 3D printing problems.
What separates the good from the bad?
There are several variables you can check in search for the best 3D slicer software:
- 3D slicer STL import speed: It doesn’t seem to be a big thing, but if you’re handling complicated files on a slow computer, you don‘t want to fetch a coffee until the software is finished displaying the file.
- 3D slicer viewer capabilities: If you don’t own some CAD software, you’ll probably see your printable file for the first time when you open it in the 3D slicer. A good software should offer the possibility to turn and zoom to any point of your 3D model flawlessly and fast.
- 3D slicer STL repairing: A good 3D slicer won’t leave you in the dark. If there are errors in your 3D model, it should bring them to your attention – and ideally, repair them automatically.
- 3D slicer usability: How difficult is the 3D slicing software to use? Are there settings for beginners? More options for experts? Does it have a modification history? Does it store files locally or in the cloud? Does the workflow feel right? Can you use Undo and Redo? All these questions for a “good” 3D slicer are highly subjective – but you’ll get the idea.
- 3D slicer preview: A good 3D slicer software will give you estimates on the duration of the print and the material used. These facts, of course, shouldn’t differ from the actual print itself.
- 3D slicer cost: Is the software free or do you have to pay for it?
- 3D slicer help: We’ve checked if beginners and pros alike get enough on-screen help – or if you can ask other users in a forum or user-group.
The Best 3D Slicer for 3D Printing
By all means, there are many other 3D slicers out there. We’ve concentrated on the most popular ones.
Best 3D Slicer Software for 3D Printing #1: Slic3r
Slic3r is considered to be the granddaddy of all 3D slicers. It was developed by the RepRap community and is (as Reprap generally is) open-source. Still, it’s a highly sophisticated piece of software.
Over the years, the community experimented with settings, materials and news 3D printers – all that knowledge went into Slic3r. It the birthplace of many features we take for granted today (to name a few: multiple extruders, brim, microlayering, bridge detection, command line slicing, variable layer heights, sequential printing (one object at time), honeycomb infill, mesh cutting, object splitting into parts…).
What‘s great: Thanks to real-time 3D slicing, the software is reasonably fast even on slow computers. If you change a setting, the software only calculates affected parts. It includes real-time incremental slicing, 3D preview, toolpaths preview in 2D and 3D, 3D honeycomb infills, a customizable bed shape, integration with OctoPrint, pressure regulation and much more.
What’s not so great: There are no print time and material estimates so far.
Suited for: 3D printing experts and pros. Newcomers will find this 3D slicer intimidating thanks to „feature overload“.
Where can I get it? At Slic3r.org. Available for Linux, PC and Mac.
Price: It‘s free.
When should you buy / use it? If you are a 3D printing expert, looking for a workhorse that has some usability hiccups, this is the 3D slicer for you.
3D Slicer Software for 3D Printing #2: Cura
3D slicer Cura was developed, hosted and maintained by 3D printing company Ultimaker and it’s community. As the company has its roots in Open Source, Cura came out as a freebie – and it stayed that way ever since. Over the years, 3D slicer Cura even added profiles for competitor 3D printers. Many companies wouldn’t do that.
It can be fed STL, 3MF and OBJ file formats – which the 3D slicer will also repair if needed. It will show a toolpath, printing time and material estimates.
What‘s great? It‘s suited for novices and experts alike As a beginner, you’ll just see the most important settings. For experts, there are over 200 settings to fiddle with. The graphical user interface is fast; with some workarounds, you can even handle dual material prints. The 3D slicer handles huge STL moderately fast. We found Cura gave us good, not necessarily excellent results.
What’s not so great. There are some minor features missing (i.e. Octoprint support) and the print time estimates are sometimes off around 10 – 20 percent.
Suited for 3D printing beginners and semi-pros.
Where can I get it? At the Ultimaker website. It is available for Linux, PC and Mac.
Price It’s free.
When should you buy / use it? If you want a hassle-free 3D slicer which is totally suitable for most FDM 3D printers you’re good to go. And don‘t miss our Cura tutorial!
3D Slicer Software for 3D Printing #3: Simplify 3D
3D slicer Simplify3D is a 3D slicing tool for pros. It supports nearly all available 3D printers – you can download and import over 100 3D printer profiles. If your model isn’t on the list, it’s relatively easy to add a profile on your own.
The software allows you to import, scale, rotate and repair your 3D model until it is just right. The import of STL, OBJ or 3MF files is very fast, and even huge meshes are displayed in no time.
There are a ton of settings which you can fiddle around with: Extruders, layer control, various infill methods, temperature and cooling settings, even raw G-code and scripts can be edited. These settings can be saved in so called “Processes”, which can come in handy if you’re experimenting with different settings, 3D printer nozzles or different filaments. Help is available by hovering over the buttons.
What‘s great? Simplify 3D can help you to get the quality you always looked for. And even though this 3D slicer offers a huge variety of options, you won’t feel overwhelmed using it. Also, the quality of the documentation is outstanding. Professionals will love the editable supports.
What’s not so great It would be unfair to say „the price“. Still, it’s quite an investment for a hobby 3D printer enthusiast.
Suited for everyone who wants to get quality prints. Though there‘s a basic mode, you should have some experience with a 3D printer, though.
Where can I get it? At the Simplify 3D website.
Price $150 for a 2-computers license.
When should you buy / use it? If you hit the sweet spot between a 3D printer, the printing filament and the 3D slicer, you will get stunning results from any FDM 3D printer. Read an in-depth review here.
Best 3D Slicer Software for 3D Printing #4: Craftware
Craftware is the new kid on the block. This 3D slicer can open multiple STL and OBJ files and arrange them on the build platform. You can scale, move, and rotate, clone individual models or groups of models at once. Like Simplify3D, this it has an interactive support management. CraftWare is currently in the Beta stage. The company also offers the Craftbot, a dedicated 3D printer that works together tightly with Craftware.
What‘s great? The interface is nicely designed. The 3D slicer operates fast and is very easy to use. If you change settings, you’ll get live visual feedback to what part of the print will change – that’s a terrific feature.
What’s not so great There are minor bugs in the software – it‘s still in Beta.
Suited for Beginners to Pros.
Where can I get it? At the Craft Unique site.
Price: As of today, the software is free. This can change if it gets out of Beta.
When should you buy / use it? If you want an easy-to-use 3D slicer, you should give it a try.
License: The text of "Best 3D Slicer Software Tools for 3D Printing" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.