When it comes to getting started with 3D printing, you need to choose the right hardware for you. Tripodmaker has a mission to make 3D printing accessible to everyone. In our previous articles in “Getting started with 3D printing series”, we have offered an overview of the 7 different types of additive manufacturing processes and how to choose the appropriate technology based on your needs.
By now, you may already have chosen the right 3D printer for yourself. We have explained how to generate your CAD (Computer-aided design) model in order to get started with 3d printing. For those wanting to design the 3D object themselves, we offered a review of free and paid online software. For the users that prefer to download object files from other designers, we offered a selection of websites with 3D models database. Once you have managed to create or repair your STL ﬁle, you need to feed it into the slicing software. The slicing software (also called a slicer) converts the STL ﬁle into a machine code, the ‘g-code’, which is basically the path per layer that the 3D printer must follow in order to construct the printed object. Software is the second most important thing when it comes to 3D printing. In today’s article we will provide a detailed selection of the best free slicer software required to prepare and execute a 3D print.
Once you have created or obtained your STL ﬁle, you need to feed the STL ﬁle into the slicing software. If you remember, almost all additive manufacturing processes work by creating stacked layers that are a cross section of the part you want. To build the part you must slice the geometry in software. This is hard work, but the intersection with a triangle is very easy. This makes creating the path for each layer so much simpler. So, the slicing software (also called a slicer) converts the STL ﬁle into a machine code, the ‘g-code’, which is basically the path per layer that the 3D printer must follow in order to construct the printed object. “G-code” is the common name for the most widely used numerical control programming language in which people tell computerized machine tools how to make something. The "how" is defined by instructions on where to move, how fast to move, and what path to move. The slicing software can either be open source or specifically designed for your printer model. An open source slicing software provides greater flexibility with the settings and you might have to tweak those for your specific printer model. A closed source slicing software is easier to use because there are less settings to adjust, and its default settings are adapted for the specific 3D printer in question. Here is a list of the best free slicing programs:
Prisma is a cloud-based slicer platform that is perfectly configured for the Tripodmaker professional 3D printer. It comes pre-set with the appropriate dimensions of the Tripodmaker's print bed and it includes specific settings which allow you to start right away. The slicer settings of Prisma are quite simple. For instance, in terms of printing speed, you can choose between normal and high. The infill settings are limited to hollow, normal, strong and solid. The Library tab offers a practical feature, the possibility to store all your previously used 3D models and to display them with a preview image. To sum it up, Prisma’s main focus is to make 3D printing easy, especially for someone new to slicing. 100% adapted to the Tripodmaker 3D printer, it still offers the user a certain freedom and guarantees at the same time optimal performance and print success.
Slic3r is an open source slicer software. The code and the algorithms are not based on any other previous work and aim for readability and maintainability. Slic3r, being a true non-profit community project, allowed the community to experiment with several original new features that have become common thereafter such as multiple extruders, brim, micro-layering, bridge detection, command line slicing, variable layer heights, sequential printing (one object at time), honeycomb infill, mesh cutting, object splitting into parts, AMF support, avoid crossing perimeters, distinct extrusion widths, and much more. All of these features were first introduced in Slic3r and are now part of the commercial software out there. The current version of the 3D printing software includes multiple views so users can better preview how their models will 3D print. Some of its many advantages are its easy setup and the compatibility with several Hosting programs. It supports multi-model printing, can split and save STL files and can also handle big STL files.
KISSlicer is a fast, easy-to-use, cross-platform program that takes 3D files (STL) and generates path information (g-code) for a 3D Printer. The free version has all the features needed for the 3D printing enthusiast who uses a single-head machine. The pro version essentially adds multi-head and multi-model printing. It is compatible with several Hosting programs. In our opinion this is one of the best slicer that is out there right now. This fast slicing software will save you a great deal of time and energy. It offers adjustable printer speed, smart multi-head temperature control and can handle overlapping meshes. Thanks to its adaptive sparse infill and its adaptive support it can also help you save material. It offers high quality prints and the best surface finishing. With minimal settings and easy preview it’s perfect for those getting started with 3D printing. Just keep in mind that it only supports multi-model printing in its payed version, it can't split and save STL files and can’t handle very big STL files either.
Cura is the standard slicer software for all Ultimaker 3D printers, but it can also be used with most other 3D printers. It’s fully open source and can be extended via a plugin system. For people new to 3D printing it will do everything you need it to and for experts there’s a world of advanced settings to tinker with. This 3D printing software allows you to manage the most important 3D print settings in a clear interface. Start in “Basic” mode to rapidly learn how to use it, where you can choose reconfigured printer quality settings. When you need more precise control over the print quality settings, switch to over “Expert” mode. You can also use Cura as 3D printer host software for direct control over your machine. Keep in mind that the 3D printer needs to be connected to the PC during the process. The biggest drawback for Cura, if any, is that when you get a rare slicing bug you would better get around it than wait for a fix!
3D PRINTER HOSTS SOFTWARE
There is no best hosting program as some people claim. The best thing is to get a couple of them and use them for different functionalities. We believe it is not interesting to print complete objects through your hosting software by “streaming” the “g-code” to your printer. The data can’t move fast enough from your computer to your printer. This could therefore result in poor quality of your printed object. We suggest that you save your “g-code” files on an SD-card. In this way, you are able to transfer your “g-code” file in one operation to your printer, through a USB connection or on an SD-card. It’s the best way to avoid streaming issues and your entire “g-code” file will be saved on your printer’s memory. There are quite a few hosting software but we propose our two favorites (both free):
The Repetier-Host is a simple to use host software, which is compatible with most 3D printer firmware around. It can be configured for Delta printers like the TripodMaker too. You can add and position your STL files on the simulated print-bed and slice them. For slicing you can use the integrated Slic3r and Cura functionality. Repetier Host actually merges the 2 slicers in one software and allows you to link your computer to your printer to easily monitor temperature, progress and to manually control your printer. Just use "Slice & Load" and the job gets delegated to the slicer, showing its output in the log window. In the G-Code editor you can change or analyze your code. The host runs on Windows XP or higher, Linux, and Mac OS X. You also get a 3D representation of the slicing result.
Printrun is a 3D printing host software suite which talks to your printer and handles the printing process. It allows you to control the printer with a navigation cross. Printrun has become the default control software for more than half of the 3D printers used by enthusiasts due to its powerful yet simple to use interface called Pronterface. It is pre-packaged with Slic3r and is able to control all RepRap and Makerbot based 3D printers. Compatible with all kinds of slicers, it is entirely open source and freely available for download. It offers a 2D representation of the status during printing.