A designer using 3D printer modelling software  
The global market for 3D printing software and services is projected to surpass $40 billion by 2024

The global market for 3D printing software and services is expected to exceed $40 billion by 2024.

In this article, we'll do a deep dive into the best 3D printing software solutions on the market, what these tools offer, including their key features, pros and cons.

Let’s get started.

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What Is 3D Printing Software?

 

3D printing software is a combination of tools used to visualize three-dimensional models in a digital format which is then used to print real physical objects.

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Top Subscription-Based 3D Printing Software

The best 3D printing software tools that come with paid options are:

best 3D printing software: Ultimaker Cura
[Source: Ultimaker]

#1: Ultimaker Cura

Ultimaker Cura is an open-source application that can be seamlessly integrated with any 3D printer. It is quite easy to use which makes it ideal for beginners.

However, it can also be a great choice for advanced users since it offers over 200 settings to refine their prints.

What makes Ultimaker Cura one of the best 3D printing software is that it offers highly customizable features that can meet the users’ specific requirements, allowing for in-depth control and smoother workflow.

Key features:

  • Slicing
  • Integration with Siemens NX, Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks​ and more
  • integration with CAD software
  • Compatible file types: JPG, PNG, STL, OBJ, BMP, GIF, X3D, 3MF
  • Manual setup can be avoided using third-party materials
  • Downloadable plugins for customization
  • Ability to select the speed and quality of the print

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Ubuntu

Intended for:

  • Beginners

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Provides relevant recommendations to new users
  • Users can monitor all printing projects from a single interface
  • Highly customized
  • Access to adjustment tools to scale the 3D models quickly

Cons:

  • Heavy in size
  • Can be slow when loading large files
  • Limited capabilities to preview models from multiple angles with the 3D viewer

Cost:

The prices of Ultimaker Cura’s Enterprise edition start at $300 per organization per year.

However, this is also a free 3D printing software tool that comes with less advanced features.

Free trial? Not available.

best 3D printing software: Autodesk Fusion 360
[Source: Autodesk]

#2: Autodesk Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360 is one of the most preferred 3D printing tools on the market because of its capability to combine the power of design, engineering and manufacturing into a single platform.

It is suitable for designers and mechanical engineers who need to produce advanced 3D parts.

What makes it so powerful is that its mechanical approach lets users see how specific parts will respond to outside forces and if they can remain safe.

Key features:

  • Sketching
  • Direct modeling
  • Surface modeling
  • Parametric modeling
  • Mesh modeling
  • Freeform modeling
  • Rendering
  • PCB design integration
  • Sheet metal
  • Assemblies
  • Export to STL or OBJ for 3D printing

Intended for:

  • Professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac

Pros:

  • Cloud storage
  • Smooth and fast delivery of high-quality products.
  • Robust features to create highly detailed and clean models
  • Good export file support
  • Large number of modules available
  • Allows for accurate editing of objects
  • Collaboration with other users in real-time
  • History timeline for mistakes

Cons:

  • May crash from time to time
  • Lack of simulation tools for 3D printed parts
  • Requires internet connection

Cost:

This best 3D printing software offers three pricing plans:

  • Monthly ($60)
  • Yearly ($495)
  • Custom (inquire)
  • Free trial? Yes, 30 days (no credit card required)
best 3D printing software: Autodesk AutoCAD
[Source: Autodesk]

#3: Autodesk AutoCAD

AutoCAD is another powerful software from the set of products created by Autodesk. It is a computer-aided design (CAD) tool that helps users create precise 2D and 3D drawings.

The software is developed for professional use and offers a range of advanced features and capabilities to create 3D models. It has a huge amount of libraries and tools available which makes it one of the most quintessential programs on the market for architects and engineers.

Key features:

  • 2D drafting, drawing and annotation
  • 3D modeling and visualization
  • Rendering
  • Model documentation
  • PDF import and export
  • Ability to extract object data to tables

Intended for:

  • Professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac

Pros:

  • Very extensive
  • Offers a web and smartphone application
  • Comes with preloaded plugins for building product design
  • Ability to easily convert 3D models into STL files which allows easy printing

Cons:

  • Requires very high-level hardware resources for big models
  • Lacks tools for complex geometry
  • Some templates are difficult to use

Cost:

This best 3D printing software costs:

  • $1,690/year, or
  • $3,652/paid every 3 years
  • Free trial? Yes, estimated four gigabytes (no credit card required)

Users can get a 30-day money-back guarantee on annual plans.

 Solidworks website
[Source: Solidworks]

#4: Solidworks

Solidworks comes equipped with many unique and advanced features that empower 3D designers to create innovative models for a shorter development time.

This is a CAD program developed for industrial purposes and it is an easy-to-use solution helping its users drive innovation across their entire products.

Key features:

  • Provides CSG (Constructive solid geometry) geometry engine
  • Import and export of SVG, AMF and 3MF files
  • CSG geometry engine
  • Preview models
  • Parametric designs

Intended for:

  • Beginners and professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac

Pros:

  • Easy to use UI
  • Consistently gets updated with new features
  • Supports shortcuts
  • Highly customizable
  • A helpful community of designers

Cons:

  • Users need to learn the software’s programming language
  • Not great for creating complex shapes
  • Limited preview functionality

Cost:

There are several ways designers can buy this design software for 3D printers. In fact, its pricing plans are categorized into five categories:

  • Commercial
  • Academia
  • Research
  • Students
  • Entrepreneurs & startups

However, for each plan, you need to request a quote.

Free trial? Yes 30 days (no credit card required).

OnShape website
[Source: OnShape]

#5: OnShape

As a cloud-based software for 3D modeling and printing, OnShape allows designers to connect, collaborate and develop better products in the Cloud.

It’s an all-in-one system and powerful CAD software that combines data management, collaboration, security, integrations, analytics and reporting.

This is one of the best 3D printing software since it helps users to modernize the process of product design while allowing them to preview their models in real-time.

Key features:

  • Data management
  • Team collaboration
  • Workflow automation
  • Complex solid and surface models design
  • Drawing
  • Assemblies creation
  • Configurations
  • Integrations
  • Security
  • Analytics

Intended for:

  • Beginners and professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Linux

Pros:

  • Very easy to pick up and deploy
  • Excellent sharing capabilities
  • Live chat support and commenting
  • High security
  • Feature customization
  • Enables device free work environment
  • Great live view during collaboration sessions
  • Saves storage

Cons:

  • Depends on an internet connection
  • Not the richest feature set

Cost:

To use OnShape, you need to purchase one of its three available pricing options:

  • Enterprise (Inquire)
  • Professional ($2,100 per user, per year)
  • Standard ($1,500 per user, per year)
  • Free trial? Yes (no credit card required)

What’s unique about this best 3D printing software is that it offers a free plan for students and educators.

Plus, there is another free plan for hobbyists and makers that work on non-commercial projects in an open-source public workspace.

SketchUp website
[Source: SketchUp]

#6: SketchUp

SketchUp is a 3D modeling and printing solution most appropriate for architectural design. It comes equipped with advanced drawing tools that appeal to experienced designers, architects and engineers.

This tool offers the perfect mix of usability and functionality and has an easy learning curve where users can select templates that will guide them through the development process.

Key features:

  • Drawing
  • Documenting 3D designs in 2D
  • Customization of 3D workplace
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Generating reports
  • Import and export of different files
  • Cloud storage
  • Mobile model viewing
  • VR model viewing

Intended for:

  • Beginners and professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Linux

Pros:

  • Intuitive and powerful
  • Wide range of tools for geometric objects
  • Collaborative workspace

Cons:

  • Limited file type compatibility
  • Not easy to do dimension in 3D view
  • Detailing becomes difficult as the complexity of projects increase

Cost:

SketchUp offers various pricing structures including:

  • For personal use:
    • SketchUp free
    • SketchUp Shop ($119/year)
    • SketchUp Pro ($299/year)
  • For professional use:
    • SketchUp Shop ($119/year)
    • SketchUp Pro ($299/year)
    • SketchUp Studio ($1,199/year)
  • Higher education use:
    • For students ($55/year)
    • For educators ($55/year)
  • Primary and secondary education use:
    • For schools (Free with a G Suite or Microsoft education account)
    • Pro (SketchUp Pro statewide License, free with a state grant)
  • Free trial? Yes, 30 days (no credit card required)
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Top Free 3D Printing Software

These are the top free 3D printing software programs on the market:

best 3D printing software: MeshLab
[Source: MeshLab]

#1: MeshLab

MeshLab is an open-source program with advanced tools for processing and editing 3D triangular meshes.

It is most suitable for processing raw data produced by CAD software and fixing and preparing 3D models for printing.

This free 3D printing software allows users to inspect their models for errors, clean them up and edit them to come up with a completely new object.

Key features:

  • 3D data alignment
  • 3D model reconstruction
  • 3D texturing and color mapping
  • Cleaning 3D models
  • Scaling, positioning and orienting
  • Simplification, refinement and remeshing
  • Model visualization
  • Comparing models
  • Import and export of a number of different 3D data formats
  • Integration with Images
  • Measurement and analysis

Intended for:

  • Professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Linux

Pros:

  • Simple interface
  • Convenient options to clean the mesh efficiently
  • Fast and efficient
  • Speeds up the 3D printing workflow
  • Easily send to STL

Cons:

  • Navigation lacks several essential options
  • Doesn't understand .jpeg textures
  • Same buttons have multiple functions
  • Has some bugs in the system in some functions
  • Sometimes it crashes randomly, causing loss of work
best 3D printing software: TinkerCAD
[Source: TinkerCAD]

#2: TinkerCAD

TinkerCAD is a browser-based 3D modeling and designing tool that offers a collection of readymade 3D images that users can print easily and quickly.

While it may lack some of the advanced features that premium tools have, users can design complex models by using shape grouping and shapes.

It comes with an easy-to-use interface and it is most suitable for beginners to use before they move to more advanced programs.

Key features:

  • Modify shapes and objects
  • Aligning objects
  • Easy import of 2D and 3D models for printing
  • Ability to use shortcuts for quickly performing actions
  • Cloud storage
  • Share rotation
  • Laser cutting
  • Ability to import .svg and .stl file formats

Intended for:

  • Beginners

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Google Chrome OS

Pros:

  • Intuitive and easy to use UI
  • Detailed tutorial to learn the tool’s functionalities
  • Vibrant and helpful community
  • Sharing and exporting files with ease

Cons:

  • Limited rendering conditions
  • Mac users run into more bugs
  • Bugs appear when importing files in the software
3d printer modeling software: FreeCAD​
[Source: FreeCAD]

#3: FreeCAD

FreeCAD is an open-source parametric 3D modeler that users can leverage for architecture, printing mechanical engineering and product design.

It offers a huge variety of modules and formats, allowing users to perform different tasks and create real-life designs of any shape and size.

One of the core strengths of this best 3D printing tool is its ability for designers to go back to their model history and change parameters.

Key features:

  • Performing complex 3D operations on complex shape types
  • Modular architecture
  • Sketch 2D shapes that can be built into 3D objects
  • Parametric modeling
  • Import and export of various file types
  • Integrates with other software

Intended for:

  • Beginners and professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Linux

Pros:

  • 3D model editing is easy
  • Great free parametric design program
  • Comes equipped with many useful tools

Cons:

  • Lacks very advanced features
  • Multiple interfaces to perform different tasks
OpenSCAD 3d printer design software
[Source: OpenSCAD]

#4: OpenSCAD

Using OpenSCAD, designers can create reliable and solid three-dimensional objects. While most popular 3D printing tools focus on the artistic side of 3D modeling, this software is more focused on the CAD aspect.

This open-source platform is most appropriate for professionals working on complex projects, but also suitable for coders and programmers.

What makes OpenSCAD special is the ability to offer a look under the hood of 3D models as well as the potential to import 2D drawings and extrude them as 3-dimensional.

Key features:

  • Provides CSG (Constructive solid geometry) geometry engine
  • Import and export of different files including SVG and AMF
  • CSG geometry engine
  • Preview models
  • Parametric designs

Intended for:

  • Beginners and professionals

Supported platforms:

  • Windows, Mac, Linux

Pros:

  • Easy to use UI
  • Consistently gets updated with new features
  • Supports shortcuts
  • Highly customizable
  • A helpful community of designers

Cons:

  • Users need to learn the software’s programming language
  • Not great for creating complex shapes
  • Limited preview functionality

What Are The Benefits Of Using 3D Printer Modeling Software?

Powered by computer-aided design (CAD) software, 3D printer modeling software translates various types of models into data that 3D printers can read.

Printers filled with the cartridge of the material and colors print the models based on the “instructions” from the 3D modeling software.

3D printer modeling software is most commonly used in industries like architecture and engineering, helping designers and engineers develop models of buildings and machines.

From open-source to paid options, today there is great number of design software for 3D printers on the market that come equipped with many advanced features like:

  • Team collaboration over the Cloud
  • Import and export of various file types
  • Virtual reality compatibility

These are the key benefits of using these types of software platforms: 

  1. Lower production cost and waste reduction: During the traditional development process, creators use blocks of raw materials and shapes until they get the intended design. However, this can mean a waste of resources, time and money. With 3D printer modeling software, designers can create products in a digital form that printers can later create or replicate the exact same objects. This not only saves time and effort, but it also ensures that for the developed objects materials were used just as much as needed.
  2. Better product quality: Unlike traditional product design that can sometimes lead to poor quality, developing products using 3D printer modeling software can ensure the products created are of the highest standard. This is because these tools not only allow for the preview, adjustments and refinements of objects, but they are also printed step to step, which ensures higher quality.
  3. Fairly small learning curve: These tools come with many detailed guides and tutorials that allow designers to learn their functionalities. They can also select different templates that will guide them through the development process, making it easy for beginners to gain the needed skills to operate with them.
  4. Easy and quick prototyping: Designing objects is a creative process that can undergo many changes until the designer gets the final version. These programs come with a wide range of tools and features that can make the prototyping easier and quicker, allowing them to preview them using virtual reality that can stimulate the experience before the object comes into life.
  5. High customization capabilities: Based on the individual needs of the designers or their clients, 3D printing tools allow the modeling and manufacturing of personalized objects. From simple to complex objects, using these tools designers can create models that meet their requirements which allows for in-depth control and smoother workflow.
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Which Industries Use Design Software For 3D Printers

3D modeling and printing tools are not limited to one specific field, however, the industrial and manufacturing sectors benefit most from them.

These programs revolutionize the way designers and engineers build parts, making the process more efficient and smooth.

According to a recent analysis on the 3D printing market, the industry verticals that will drive the market growth in the years to come are:

  • Healthcare
  • Automotive
  • Aerospace and defense

And the top industries that take advantage of these tools are:

  • Automotive: Many notable brands like BMW and Porsche take advantage of design software for 3D printers to facilitate the printing of three-dimensional parts including prototypes, fixtures and jags. This process provides auto companies a cost-effective means to produce parts but also enjoy a high level of customization.
  • Aerospace: The aerospace industry is an early adopter of 3D printing since this process allows for the development of parts that are stronger and lighter than parts created with traditional manufacturing. Considering the fact that the objects created for this industry require high precision, aerospace manufacturers rely on 3D printer modeling software to develop parts that meet the highest standards in terms of the requirements of each component.
  • Robotics: 3D printer modeling software helps designers in the robotic sector create custom designs for different parts like grippers and sensor mounts. These programs benefit the industry making it possible for the creation of complex parts precisely at a lower cost.

How To Choose The Best 3D Printing Software

Selecting the best 3D printing software will depend on several key factors including:

  • Features and functionalities: You may have access to the most expensive software but it would be in vain if it does not include the type of features and functionalities you need to execute your projects. When comparing the best 3D printing software, make sure you consider only those that come equipped with the tools that will make your job as a designer easier. For instance, pay attention to the operating systems that they support or the type of industries they are most suitable for.
  • Cost: Some of these tools are open-source and reasonably priced while others come with hefty prices that not everyone can afford. There are also programs that offer both free versions and pro versions, where the latter ones come with advanced features. So, the cost can play a major role when selecting the best tool for your needs. This is why you need to compare these tools in terms of cost and available features and pick the one that falls in your budget but also meets your requirements.
  • Experience level: Be aware of the fact that these 3d printer modeling software tools come in different shapes and sizes, meaning they may not be suitable for every level. Depending on whether you are a beginner or a professional designer, pick the software that is most suitable for you considering the number of features supported.
  • Learning curve: Some of these tools come with extensive features that may require steep learning, especially for beginners who are not that much familiar with these types of programs. So, before selecting the best 3D printing software for you, make sure you find out how easy it is to get familiar with the program and if it offers guides and tutorials on more complex features.
  • Support and community: At some point, these programs may crash or experience some bugs. So, you may need to contact the support team for help. In addition, you might also want to pick a software company that has a well-developed online community where you can get in touch with other designers to ask questions, share advice and collaborate.

Best 3D Printing Software Takeaways

3D primer modeling software allows designers and engineers to develop three-dimensional models and print them into real objects with ease.

The industries that benefit the most from this software are:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Robotics

The major benefits of using design software for 3D printers are:

  • Easy learning curve
  • Easy and quick prototyping
  • Better product quality
  • Lower cost and waste reduction
  • High customization

To choose the best 3D printing software for your needs, consider the following factors:

  • Features and functionalities
  • Cost
  • Experience level
  • Learning curve
  • Support and community
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