Which 3D software should I learn for 3D printing?

by gillespinault, published

Which 3D software should I learn for 3D printing? by gillespinault Jan 23, 2014
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[update] Added: FreeCad and Autodesk Fusion 360.

At our MakerSpace, I am often asked for advice about what should someone use in order to create 3D objects for 3D printing.
There is not just one single answer because it depends on a few parameters so I made a little decision chart:

Please share your choices and advices in the comments.

The 3D files are there as exemples:

  • The octopus is a Typical exemple of what you would use an the softwares on the left side for (organic shapes).here it was with Blender.
  • The "central part" is a typical exemple of what you would use the softwares on the right for (precise dimensions). Here it was with Cubify Design

It is certainly not exhaustive or objective but it is based on quite a lot of reading, interviews and experiences.
This is a troll-friendly subject so please stay constructive in your suggestions to improve this decision tree.

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Thanks very much for making this. If making small city, town and village and castle/fortress pieces for a tabletop game would that be more "precise dimensions" or more "organic shapes"? Or would it require both?

Ditto for making miniatures around 10 to 12mm scale?

I used to work with SolidWorks but then i gradguated and now I'm using fusion360, it have a much more intuitive controlls then Blender with the "whatever you do you'll mess up the object you are currently working so hard to create" really now all of the controls feel reversed for me. I am going back to metasequoia - even though it's a super old program that cost money now. blender is way too confusing for me.

I'm setting out to design a 3D 2-inch coin (of my own design for a novel series I'm writing). This would save a lot of cost when I send it out to get someone to print them for me. It has a head and writing on the back and a ship on the front. Other coins I might do in the future have animals or just line designs on the front. From your chart, I'm figuring DesignSpark would be best. Are there better options for me, or am I on the right track?

if it works for you, it's good. i have bg on solidworks and one of the old CAD programs as a start so a more "advace" and "free" environment is not really a help for me(yes I'm talking about blender) some of the programs for 3D modeling have interfaces that are so differant from one another that it's nearly impossible to work on both well unless it's the only thing you do.

if this program feels right to work with, have other programs with a similar interface(so when this one gets outdated you'll be able to continue) and is able to modify one or more of: stl/3dx/obj or the other formats your slicer can work with you are mostly set.

by UI(user interface) i mean the controls and visuals are intuitively the same - mouse clicks and drags do the same thing as the other programs the symbols are either very differant or very similar so you won't get confused:
no similar symbols that do very differant things;
like intersect that have the same symbol as create primitive or something on the other program
as intersect and create primitive are on the same menu most of the times you'll lose focus and break your design many times over those things.

I'd like to see a further extension to examine whether the software relies on an Internet connection, needs a periodic Internet connection, whether it expires etc. Another thing to consider is the interconnectivity of the software with others. For example, I think Cubify Design does not export in anything but STL which is not really a very suitable way to take the prototype project to an engineering business for injection molding!

A great start and very helpful contribution nevertheless.

but it likely can export in other formats that most slicers work with no? like obj and x3d?

just a note to any US or Canadian military veterans Solidworks gives a student version for the price of shipping ($20)

Just a simple note, if you insist on using sketchup there is a easy to use plugin for sketchup called 'Solid Inspector2' that will fix almost all broken models in one click.

I use blender since it was a commercial software and I love it, but for "quick & dirty" designs I still use sketchup.
And yes, it's true that sometimes it exports unprintable STLs, but if you open it in windows 10 (native STL viewer) you can fix it with a pair of clicks.

i've been using sketchup, my models export fine with a few defects that netfabb fixes in seconds, time to move onto fusion360, i feel so limited with sketchup now days

really? I feel so limited in fusion, only a fraction of the functionality of solid and also don't let you export and import the files you want.
it can export directly to cura but without the ability to move the file to another software and edit it there you are lost... i wish i had the money to buy solid, cause solid works.


This is great. This probably the best decision aid on the web.

Comments deleted.

I am brand new at this. I saw your flow chart on choosing the software but I am still unsure where to go. I would like to focus on geometric shapes such as these types of designs:

I realize that i am not just going to go out and create these, but I would like to start with software that would allow me to develop my skills to the point I could create similar shapes.

I ended up going to http://www.rs-online.com/designspark/electronics/discuss/index.php based on your flowchart but did not want to waste time on software that would not enable me in the long run.

I really appreciate your help!

brand new? if you want to work with Blender don't learn solid or any autodesk modeling software you'll be lost when you get to blender and all the controls are counter-intuitive.blender is about the scenes and autodesk is about the model so i blender moving the model is fine but autodesk will make you do it by a utility tool that is somewhere(hidden (P-:)) so there is nearly no way you'll to the transition easily. better work with what you want first even if it's harder to learn(solid is no joke to learn believe me) blender is a much more artistic modeling software and therefore handles organic models MUCH easier then solid(and any autodesk....) but as it stands there are many other softwares that may be better(like Catia for solid and IDK what are there on the artistic side so don't ask me) and have easier to work UI(like metasuquoia for me is easier then blender but the free version is limited AF)

very good info. i actually had forgotten one that i wanted to try out and this helped me find it again!

Could you (or anyone else) recommend software that's free, similar to Tinkercad and downloadable rather than online? I'm just getting my feet wet in 3D modeling and I find it to be the most approachable of all the software I've tried but my internet is somewhat unreliable and I would like to have something I can use that doesn't rely on it. Thanks for the very handy chart.

better go all in on it the "harder to learn" softwares are just as easy to model with but they have so much more utility later on.

Can you post a link to this epic flowchart? I can't seem to find a way to just save the image. It is an awesome flowchart.

thanks :o)
Here is the link to the always up to date graph: http://www.gliffy.com/go/publish/5271448
and here is the link to the always up to date image: http://www.gliffy.com/go/publish/image/5271448/L.png

I would recommend Blender as it is free and quickly improving (although a steep learning curve). I also enjoy Autodesk products. I recommend staying away from Google Sketch up, CATIA, and Solidworks as they all have problems 3D Printing. You can learn more about how to use Blender and other 3D printing topics here: http://3dprintingninja.blogspot.com

Thats a really nice article :), In case if anyone is still finding it difficult to learn modeling for 3D Printing, here is amazing new course on udemy "Learn modeling for 3D printing and make money" software used in training Blender 3D, Netfabb, GIMP https://www.udemy.com/learn-modeling-for-3d-printing-and-make-money/https://www.udemy.com/learn-mo...

Thanks for the great article. I found some useful tutorials on Lynda. Hope it will be helpful to you guys too. Check out these great tutorials on 3D printing :Up and Running with 3D Printing http://goo.gl/wo6vRxhttp://goo.gl/wo6vRx, 3D printing with ZBrush http://goo.gl/0zVUfshttp://goo.gl/0zVUfs , 3D Printing with Photoshop http://goo.gl/z112qxhttp://goo.gl/z112qx. Sign up for a free lynda trial http://goo.gl/A3efGshttp://goo.gl/A3efGs

OK Ok :o)
I told you it was subjective... but I have too much good feedback for FreeCAD not to add it!

I love it :-)
Now, i'm showing it everytime someone asks what's 3D software would be the best for them.

I think you can move Blender to "Both" since all measurements are in millimeters. You can easily make precision parts utilizing it. I've made many with it.

oh yes, it's possible. Things are starting to get horrible when you are working with round objects with different diameters. As the moment you forget with diameter it has at one specific point you can start over again...

Also if you want to change something on an existing model its often faster to start over again.

in the meantime i got solidworks (boss pays) ;-)

I agree with Melbac. Sure you can but when you want to make things that fit, you have to be able to modify the features later in order to make trial and errors. If you used a polygonal software (such as blender), chances are you will suffer at that stage. Off course an expert user can find ways but that's a stretch.

even so that i have access to solidworks i still love to use blender - just not for the CAD-things. Blender is indeed a very powerful tool for easy manipulation of 3D objects. solidwork comes VERY fast to its limits when a higher count of polygons is reached...

If I may, take out some of the 'pages' on Free Cad and add 'FreeCAD'

Creo checks for a license every couple of days and is quite limited by comparison.
Check the license agreement carefully!

PTC withdrew Pro/Desktop Express with very limited notice.

I for one don't have the time or wish to have to re-do library parts I have built up.

(Yes, I have a long memory. But it is a great tool)

Thanks for the insights!
where do you think I should put freecad in the tree? I tried it (probably to briefly to do him justice) and I had some trouble diving into it. Do you think it is powerful enough to justify the extra effort over the "DesignSpark Mechanical" category?

First, thank you for creating this chart! I think it will be of much use to those trying to wade through the CAD software jungle to find tools. However, you have done the community a great disservice by not including FreeCAD! Having used them both, FreeCAd is a much better choice than DesignSpark. It is easier to use for serious designs, more complete, open source, and non-commercial. So the program isn't suddenly going to require you to pay to get upgrades. There is also an excellent support forum where you get help and not excuses. If you want your chart to be taken seriously, you should put FreeCAD on it at the same level (or above, IMHO) as DesignSpark.