best cad software for 3d printing

Best CAD Software For 3D Printing

3D printing provides users with unique possibilities for creating various prototypes, products, and designs for multiple purposes. And although many businesses and professionals use 3D printing for different reasons, hobbyists take a considerable percentage of the 3D printing industry. Daily, 3D printing beginners purchase their first printer and create their first product.

What makes 3D printing interesting is the wide range of merchandise offered and the ever-changing list of new and advanced 3D printing technology. Currently, there are numerous CAD 3D printing software available for professionals and beginners. 

Each platform comes with its disadvantages and advantages. Nevertheless, irrespective of your 3D printing needs and your level of experience, there are numerous choices to pick from. In this article, we are going to discuss the best-CAD-software-for-3D-printing.

Table of Contents

Ideal Features For CAD Software

Currently, the market has an array of CAD software tools. However, not all have the necessary specs that are vital for 3D printing. 

The most important feature is the simplicity of integration and interaction with the 3D printing procedure. This is the capacity to create 3D models that users can transform using commands from 3D printing. You can accomplish this by saving the model in an STL file format.

Using additive manufacturing to create 3D objects through developing the machine’s instructions is another essential feature to check. When customizing or manufacturing parts, model printability is crucial since some platforms will create models that require repairing after printing. 

For CAD software to suit your 3D printing needs perfectly, it must have an easy to use aspect when designing and modeling objects.

What To Consider Before Buying Software

There are important factors to consider before downloading or purchasing 3D printing software. And if you are a beginner, you may have challenges understanding them. However, you’ll have a better understanding of what type of software you need by considering these factors.

Purpose

Most firms build 3D printing software to accomplish a specific purpose such as engineering or art. Although most software can perform different 3D printing activities, you must try and avoid those designed for particular uses until you acquire some experience.

Cost

When purchasing any product, the cost is always among the top things to consider. Nevertheless, suppose you want to venture into 3D printing. In that case, you should avoid spending a lot of money on 3D printing software until you identify the activity that your printer will do. And if you want to do 3D printing for fun, you can consider downloading free 3D Software that requires no cost.

Functionality

Generally, any 3D CAD program you pick must be compatible with 3D printing. This implies that they will either let you import files to redesign or export a file that your printer accepts. They should also notify you if the design you made is printed correctly and accurately.

When choosing an ideal printing software, you must also purchase or download one that supports your OS. Although most printers use Windows and MAC, some programs such as 3DS Max need Windows to work optimally.

Modeling Or Printing?

If you want a program to make minor tweaks and print designs that you have acquired from the net, an essential third party or a printer’s narrative is enough. If you want to create another model, fully redesign a model, or draw your creation, 3D modeling software is the best fit. If you are a beginner, you should think about downloading or purchasing software that will guide you in creating 3D designs and models.

Working Realm

Traditional CAD program creators create such programs intending to help technology firms such as aerospace firms. For instance, Fusion 360 is suitable for designers, mechanical engineers, and machinists. 3DS Max, on the other hand, is ideal for video game developers and movie producers.

Level Of Experience

Most 3D programs are easy to learn compared to others. However, easier programs tend to have less advanced features while complicated programs tend to have excellent advanced features. Thus, when choosing the right program, it’s best to consider your level of experience and how fast your learning curve is.

Printer Type

The type of printer to use also has an impact on the kind of program to use. For instance, SketchUp will be practical with a small printing model. It’s also important to keep in mind what kind of printer technology you have. 

Not only should you know the printer type, you should also know what you plan to create. This makes it easier to know what you need.

Best 3D Printing Software Sorted By Experience

Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is a cloud-based 3D printing software developed by the specialists of Autodesk. It is flexible, fast, and simplifies your workflow easily. As you can tell, the layout is easy to navigate. You can start creating right away.

This product comes with many advantages that benefit 3D makers and designers that work in a group. It comes with an accessible feature which enables design teams to work on a project even if they are in different parts of the globe.

A couple downsides worth mentioning are the learning curve and RAM. This software takes up a lot of memory and you should make sure your device can handle it. It took longer than normal for me to open up the application. As for the learning curve, it will definitely take time to get accustomed to all the features. 

Autodesk specialists equipped the software with a unique feature that enables users to store the 3D printing model’s full history. Through this, users can easily access the model changes they did in the past with ease. 

When it comes to functionality and tools, the software comes with mesh, solid, and freeform modeling equipping users with an array of devices. The mechanical design style enables you to see how your model will react to external forces such as heat and pressure. 

Besides that, it allows you to see whether the model will remain safe and work as planned. The mesh modeling tool enables you to pull and push the model to sculpt in any way you want. In the event that you mess a little bit with the tool, the software helps you attain your planned project through its smooth geometry feature.

It is good to note that Autodesk consistently updates Fusion 360 features to give users a complete result. Benefits associated with this software include easy to use, users can use it on several podiums, and users can also access it from anywhere.

One vital feature that makes this software unique is the rare cloud-based feature to discover other CAD programs. It is an ideal software for beginners and students since it is free and easy to use.

Students can use the real-time collaboration feature that they can use during the modeling creation process. The software also features some training classes that beginners can use to master their 3D printing and modeling skills. 

Ultimately, Fusion 360 is the best 3D printing software for beginners since it can easily export to OBJ or STL for 3D printing. Besides that, it produces high-quality designs by setting up manufacturing and material constraints quickly.

Level: Beginner

Operating System: Mac, Windows

Professional Subscription

Pros

Cons

  • Access to new additions
  • Mesh, solid, and freeform features
  • Mesh modeling
  • Real-time collaboration feature
  • Learning curve
  • Uses a lot of device’s memory

TinkerCAD 3D Modeling Software

Many people consider TinkerCAD as the best CAD software for beginners since it’s simple to use and is a base software. It is an Autodesk product and aims to provide a primary platform for brand new 3D beginners. This product is very intuitive and offers beginners the basic shapes for creating 3D models.

TinkerCAD is easier to use than Fusion 360 for me because the layout looks like it was made for smaller kids. You have the shapes on the right side and you can start right away. You can also sign in with your email instead of downloading the software. Once you’re in, you can start dragging and dropping the shapes you want to work with.

When the shape is on the grid, you can adjust the dimensions with a slider. They make it super simple to create a file of your model. A downside to this is you can’t start from scratch. You’re limited to the shapes they have. 

Once you’re satisfied with the print you can export it as a file or send it directly to your printer. Just know that the amount of printers you can send it to is limited. 

 

tinkerCAD export
TinkerCAD printers you can send file to

Autodesk experts designed the product with a block-building concept which gives users the authority to pick from simple shapes to develop a 3D design in a few simple steps. Besides that, it comes with a library that has millions of saved 3D modeling files. What makes it interesting is that beginners can use these files to create new and unique designs and make changes to the previous models.

TinkerCAD has a wide range of features. However, the vibrant community feature is where it stands out. Through this feature, you can share your file and assets with everyone else and access other people’s files. 

Since users can save their models in a 3D printable format, you can take somebody’s design or your creation and implement it into the real world.

The software is a network-based tool. This means that there are no licenses or installation needed, making it the best option for people who need group entree and do not have the capital to purchase multiple copies. Due to its network-based feature, it is used mostly by students and teachers globally. 

While using this product, you will notice its child-friendly reference and vibe to Lego and Minecraft regarding its shape building models. However, it is not the best for professional use since it lacks advanced features present in its Autodesk siblings.

Whether you want tutorial-led basic shape models, additive or addictive sculpture, geometry, or ornaments, TinkerCAD will do the job for you. Its website nature offers templates and real-time support for users who want to use the product. 

No download is required since it’s entirely web-based. Thus, if you have a tablet or a laptop with an internet connection and a browser, you can easily access the software and complete your project from anywhere. 

Level: Beginner

Operating System: Browser-Based

Price: free

Pros

Cons

  • Very easy to use
  • Community feature
  • Templates
  • Real-time support
  • Lack of features
  • Device/browser limitations

FreeCAD

FreeCAD is one of the best free 3D CAD software for 3D modeling. It allows users to design models to their preferred size and shape. It also has a parametric modeling feature that enables you to go back or redesign the earlier versions. Through this feature, users can even sketch or import 2D shapes and design them into 3D products.

When you go to their site you can click the documentation page which is basically an instructional page. The documentation is a great start for beginners because it shows you what each part of the interface does, what each part of the mouse does in the software, and even has a “First steps with FreeCAD section”.

This software works perfectly on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Through FreeCAD, you can export and import different file types, including DAE, IFC, OBJ, DXF, STL, SVG, IGES, and STEP. This enables the user to easily integrate with other software and prepare the product for 3D printing. Due to the fact that it is cost-free, this does not imply that it has no advanced specs. 

FreeCAD is ideal for everyone, from mechanical engineers to architects and bedroom hobbyists. Whether you are a professional or a beginner, learning how to use FreeCAD is easy and fast. 

Because of its open-source principle, many developers and the online community have taken things differently. FreeCAD works with Python and it has a “Python Console” where you can enter Python code to modify what you like.

However, this program’s only disadvantage is that it lacks some advanced features. However, it provides many essential tools such as Path workbench. Other necessary tools include Element Analysis Tools, experimental CFD, and BIM.

FreeCAD is an excellent entry point for mechanical engineers and designers who want to delve into the modeling world. Most people consider it to be quite essential since it is an open-source 3D program geared towards helping beginners. 

Most programmers use FreeCAD to gather experience to create intricate designs in the future. If you want free CAD software and you are on a tight budget, then FreeCAD will suit your needs.

Level: Beginner

Operating System: Linux, Windows, Mac

Price: Free

Pros

Cons

  • Parametric modeling feature
  • Documentation
  • Works with different file types
  • Open-source
  • Lack of advanced features

Blender

blender software layout

Blender is currently among the top free complete CAD software for 3D modeling. Therefore, it gives you the privilege to do more modeling activities than other programs. Just check out all the features it has.

Unlike FreeCAD or Fusion 360 that restricts people to parametric design, this software allows digital sculpture and free modeling. When it comes to digital sculpture, Blender incorporates a complete and powerful module that challenges other professional programs. 

The main important spec of Blender is that it entails almost all techniques needed for the creation of any 3D modeling work. This includes rendering, animation, color correction, and composition. 

With Blender, you can do almost all the duties of your projects that are based on 3D printing. In addition to that, Blender is an absolutely and completely free program for commercial and private use.  

Once you’re in the software, to me, it looks similar to Adobe’s Illustrator which I had a harder time navigating. It’s not as simple as TinkerCAD for sure. You can see Blender has more affinity to animators and game programmers than you would expect from a CAD printing software. Nevertheless, most designers and engineers can learn it quickly. 

This program is a robust and reliable piece once you understand how to use it. Moreover, most learning curves delve from knowing the keyboard shortcuts. You can kick-off modeling with pre-set mesh shapes such as spheres and cubes that you can later design and mold to your preferences. You can add writings, patterns, and texture to the primary model. However, you must be careful since not all 3D printers can manage minor fine text.

With Blender, you can export and import STL files and you must input the correct scale or metrics to avoid inconveniences. You will also have to solidify your mesh and patch holes to keep your printer updated. 

One unique trait of using this software is that before saving your project, it will tell you whether your model will fail at the printing stage or afterward.

Blender is ideal for people who want to learn more about the creative side of 3D printing and designing. It is not only a CAD program, but also a collection of 3D designing programs that grind together to develop big projects such as game animation. However, it can 3D print your project and you can use it for non-profit or profit tasks.

This versatility gives you way more options than a more simpler program could give you. With Blender, you can choose styles that give you a lot more control. This is one of the main reasons why it’s used by professionals. 

Some downsides of Blender I’ve noticed come down to 2 things. The first is it can take awhile to learn. It’s a huge time investment to get good at. 

Another disadvantage is it messes with the 3D mesh which a dedicated 3D printing software doesn’t mess up. For those who don’t know, 3D meshes are reference points in shapes to define the shape. This includes dimensions like height and width. 

This trait makes it ideal for a realm such as public marker space. Here you can model something useful, such as creating a movie monster or bracelet. The best part of using Blender is that you do not have to spend your money to access its tools. You can throw a few cents to the creators since they depend on donations to keep the program running.

Level: Professional

Operating System: Linux, Mac, Windows

Price: Free

Pros

Cons

  • Includes rendering, animation, color correction, and composition
  • Able to export/import STL files
  • Lets you know about printing failure
  • Unique features due to combination of gaming and designing influences
  • Learning curve
  • Navigation layout

Sketchup

sketchup layout

Sketchup is one of the most influential and intuitive 3D printing programs available in the market. It has the right combination that makes it perfect for both professionals and beginners. 

This program is the budding architect’s number one pick for 3D modeling programs. It is quite expensive. However, it has a wide range of features.

It comes with different plans that have different prices and features. At the base, the level is the free web-based plan that is much scaled. The Shop plan follows closely and suits users who want to work on personal projects. 

The Shop plan goes for $119 per year, and it is browser-based. The Pro plan that retails at $299 per year has some advanced features that you can install on your device or desktop.

The main aim of Sketchup is to render your 3D project as an animation or image to present to your customers. To create your design, you begin in a sandbox mode and then develop your terrain before changing your comprehensive plans into 3D models on the landscape. You can use the program to make the sketches or import them independently to ensure that you attain your desired outcome.

However, to get good results, you must install some extensions to make the garden look more accurate or get the curved wall that you want. If you’re going to showcase your prototypes to a client that involve 3D printing, Sketchup is your go-to approach. 

However, this approach suits smaller projects better since it’s yet to reach the full-size modeling stage. Hence, if you are working on a larger project, you will have to play with the extrude tool and scale it down to get your 3D printer’s dimensions.

Using this program, you can create ideas, design, and make your project a reality through 3D printing. It also comes with a unique feature that enables you to select a template before kicking off with your project. 

This selection allows the user to design models easily with a lot of guidance provided. The versatility of the software makes it a well-designed program that is built to suit the needs of various users.

Level: Professional

Operating System: Browser-Based

Pros

Cons

  • Free 3D components
  • Quick to design models
  • Can share and access models using 3D warehouse
  • Easy to learn
  • Expensive
  • Need to use extensions

Picking The Right Software

Finding the right CAD software for 3D printing is always a hectic and challenging task. The market has a variety of options when it comes to 3D printing programs for beginners and professionals. 

However, it would be best to try on the free programs first before investing in software that will not suit your preferences and needs. I hope that you will make the most informed decision when choosing the best-CAD-software-for-3D-printing.

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