The best 3D printing software should handle your project needs to a T.
It should be compatible with your computer's operating system (OS) too. Of course, you’re better off with a 3D modeling program whose user interface matches your level of expertise.
Further, any 3D printing software worth your attention should offer the latest features to help reduce your workload.
The trickiest part, though, is pinpointing the best printing software for your needs.
Well, because there’s a wide range of modeling software on the market, each with features to address different tasks in different niches from mechanical engineering to product and civil design.
To help you choose a solution that offers value for your money, we’ve reviewed 11 top-rated 3D printing software while zeroing on the key features.
Let's get started.
What is the Best 3D Printing Software?
Picking one software for 3D printing over another primarily depends on what you want to do with the tool.
That said, whether you’re scouting for new CAD software or want to switch CAD tools, you should be able to find what you’re looking for in the modeling tools reviewed below.
1. Autodesk AutoCAD
AutoCAD is arguably the most used CAD drafting software, more than three decades after it graced the market.
A product of the renowned Autodesk, this application is compatible with all Mac and Windows platforms.
You’ll love the highly customizable features, including the easy-to-use visual communication workflow and the enhanced documentation capability. Add the power-packed performance and what you get is 3D printing software that’ll delight any designer.
- Compatibility with the latest 3D and 2D modeling demands.
- API extensions and vertical auxiliary programs to allow users to customize AutoCAD as per specific industry requirements.
- Seamless automated transition between 2D and 3D modeling.
- Integrated tools capable of interacting with computer aided design packages.
- Industry-best virtualization, enabling improved visuals and walkthroughs.
- Super flexible, fast, user-friendly interface minimizing coordination errors.
- Complete solutions en suite to reduce deployment and support time while providing extra design alternatives.
AutoCAD is available for $220 per month. You can also get it at $1,775 per year, allowing you to save 33% compared to the monthly option.
AutoCAD has also introduced a new pricing tier known as Flex designed for occasional users, which allows you to pay as you go, typically 24 hours at a time.
Autodesk AutoCAD has my vote if you’re looking for the best 3D printing software.
Its superior navigational features and improved design navigation offer everything you need to streamline your CAD processes.
Besides, its compatibility with 3rd party applications means you can leverage AutoCAD’s extension for even better customization.
2. Autodesk Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is a super powerful CAD tool that blends the benefits of operating design software on your local machine while leveraging the power of cloud technology.
With its extensive features, you can design, make, render and test your work in a single integrated environment.
The best part? Fusion 360 is free for educational purposes.
- Comes with tools to support the entire design to manufacturing process within a single CAD package.
- Windows and Mac compatibility means that Fusion 360 isn’t tied down to specific operating systems.
- Simple user interface to shorten the learning curve.
- Prototyping and fabrication capabilities allow you to prep your designs for 3D printing as prototypes or final products within the tools print preparation setting.
- Integrated simulation and verification allow you to get your 3D CAD model to real life as possible.
- Seamless document management and collaboration.
Fusion 360 is available in monthly, yearly, and 3-year pricing structures as follows:
- Monthly -$360
- Yearly -$495
- 3-year - $1,335
Depending on your needs, you can also make a custom order by reaching out to Autodesk directly on their website.
Fusion 360 comes with a 30-day trial.
Fusion 360 is a great 3D printing software for advanced users. And because it can support multiple users via the cloud, you can work on the same file with your team member, allowing for faster delivery.
And if you don’t have the money to splurge, it is an excellent modeling software to consider.
TinkerCAD is one of the best free CAD software on this list.
Most 3D design software has a steep learning curve. Inversely, TinkerCAD is incredibly easy to use, making it an excellent modeling software if you’re all about creating basic shapes.
Still, the software offers more advanced features if you’re a professional designer.
- Allows you to add electronic circuits to your 3D models to create objects with light and movement.
- Ability to transform 3D designs into buildable brick models. Similar to building Legos.
- You can save your model in STL, OBJ, and SVG formats. Moreover, you can use slicing software to convert STL files into a series of thin layers of instructions customized to a specific type of 3D printing.
- Intuitive block building concept making transformation, duplication, and shape modification easy to grasp.
- Ability to back up your 3D models on the cloud.
As stated, TinkerCAD is a free program. You can use it directly in your web browser or application.
TinkerCAD is one of the best 3D printing software if you want to learn the ropes or hone your designing skills before moving to paid software.
With this modeling software, you can perfect your foundation skills from 3D printing to coding and electronics.
4. Ultimaker Cura
Ultimaker Cura is a top slicer software that churns out G-code for 3D printers enabling you to edit and tinker with your 3D models before printing.
Distributed as open source software, Cura is compatible with practically any 3D printer you can get on the market, including models with a dual extrusion system.
- .OBJ, .STL, .3MF, and .X3D file formats compatibility. Cura can also work with digital images in .GIF, .BMF, .PNG, and .JPG extensions.
- Allows you to manage several 3D printers simultaneously, making this modeling software idea tooling, prototyping, small-batch production, and related tasks.
- Top-notch user experience and responsive user interface for a smoother 3D printing experience.
- Reliable and efficient performance, prompting manufacturing companies like LulzBot and SolidPrint to create their slicing software solutions based on Cura.
Cura is free software downloadable directly on Ultimaker’s official website.
Ultimaker Cura is the perfect modeling software for any FDM 3D printer. It is easy to use, making it a delightful tool for entry-level and advanced users.
However, if you’re a professional looking for 3D printing software that offers more robust features, we recommend picking Autodesk AutoCAD over Cura.
Landing a spot in our best 3D printing software reviews is MeshLab, a standard mesh modeling tool designed to process and edit 3D triangular meshes.
With this printing software, you can edit, clean, inspect, render, texture, and convert meshes. MeshLab can also doubles up as slicing software for 3D printing.
- 3D reconstruction functionality, enabling you to create beautiful designs efficiently.
- 3D color mapping and texturing for life-like models.
- Interactive selection and deletion of some portions of the mesh, even for large models.
- Painting interface designed to help you select, smoothen and color meshes.
- Ability to process raw data generated by 3D digitization tools and devices to prepare 3D printing models accurately.
- Point Clouds support, allowing you to process PLY and OBJ 3D files composed only by points.
- U3D support. The software offers direct 3D meshes conversion into U3D format.
- Integrated measurement tool to let you calculate the distance between two points of your mesh model.
MeshLab is an open source platform, available for free on the developer’s website.
MeshLab is the best software if you’re for a free version of a reliable 3D mesh processing tool.
It is ideal for businesses of all sizes that deal with color processing, object aligning, models comparison, 3D model cleaning, and color processing.
Creo is an all-inclusive 3D CAD software that boasts an assortment of robust features to enable you to create detailed models.
It is powerful and has advanced drawing tools making it highly interoperable to boost productivity.
Creo’s flexibility is on another level. You can, for instance, open non-PTC Creo files straight from the interface, a feature enabled by the innovative Unite technology heightened efficiency in multi-CAD environments.
- Easy work assembly. This 3D printing software loads data automatically when required enabling graphic designers to work with parts and assemblies efficiently.
- 3D conceptualization allows users to bring their designs to life while ensuring more interaction.
- Supports an intuitive modeling process to let you make last-minute changes and, by extension, allows you to create highly detailed models.
- Supports data generated in other systems making the collaboration between graphic designers more seamless.
- Creo is a scalable modeling software to match your team’s unique needs. Plus, it offers highly customizable features to ensure that your team enjoys the flexibility of choosing the specific simulation tools they require.
Creo is available in five design packages – Essentials, Advanced, Plus, Premium and Plus.
The package pricing starts at $2,480.
Still, you can test-drive Creo via the 30-day free trial.
Creo is one of the best 3D software for mechanical engineers, manufacturers, and designers. Because it is a cross channel platform, it allows users of these industries to create 3D models while providing simulation and visualization capabilities via its advanced features.
FreeCAD is a 3D modeling and computer aided design software.
It is an open source with an easy learning curve and a host of advanced drawing tools.
Top on the list of impressive features is the dynamic 2D sketcher, enabling you to create spectacular drawings that can also serve as 3D templates for parametric models.
- Sketcher drafting kit to allow you to design models and send them straight to your printer without any adjustment.
- Comprehensive 3D modeling platform to help customize parametric models to match your exact specifications.
- Extensive technical drawing module to handle complex projects while allowing you to leverage different viewing angles and dimensions.
- Path support, with computer aided manufacturing (CAM) capabilities to enable you to create highly detailed manufacturing parts before deploying them for mass production.
- Robot simulation module to optimize your automated manufacturing efficiently via customized robotic movements.
- Modular architecture to help you broaden your architectural design scope to better suit your needs.
- Integrated spreadsheet to let you design formula-based models and manage your workflow from a central location.
FreeCAD is an open source software available for free.
FreeCAD is a decent 3D printing software for business in engineering, real estate, software development, retail, education, and architecture, as well as aviation spaces.
We vouch for it if you’re looking for 3D CAD software to help you create detailed technical drawings and CAM processes.
CATIA is one of the best 3D printing software for the aerospace industry, marine equipment design, and machine industry niches.
With what it has to offer, CATIA is a perfect pick if you’re in for more advanced programs to help you design mechanical models, analyze design, and pinpoint inaccuracies before deploying manufacturing prototypes for testing.
- Drawing and modification tools to help design complex models, create mechanical components, and help in the assembling process.
- Developing distributive systems makes CATIA an advanced CAD software for creating electrical diagrams, circuits, HVAC systems, and fluid flow modeling.
- Advanced tools for engineers helping the integrate simulation, modeling, and analysis of conceptual or physical processes.
- Global collaboration capability to provide remote access through the cloud. This function also enables designers to leverage the benefits of remote monitoring of projects from multiple workstations.
- Ability to connect and share your designs, requirements, and needs directly with engineers, parts developers, and manufacturers.
CATIA doesn’t expressly state its pricing structure on the developer’s website.
However, you can contact the developer directly to request a quote per your specific needs.
Still, CATIA offers a free trial, so you can check that out before signing up for more advanced programs.
CATIA has cemented its position as the best software if you’re after CAD applications for engineers, designers, and architects who develop prototypes and models for manufacturing, building, vehicles, and production processes.
SolidWorks is a robust 3D printing software with powerful rendering abilities and a beginner-friendly user interface and by extension, a less steep learning curve.
The software features easy-to-learn yet incredibly powerful functionalities that minimize costs, shorten product development time and enhance quality.
It is important to mention, though, that SolidWorks doesn’t support STL files. You may need to use other software to download and edit STL files.
- Impressive 3D CAD capabilities for creating sophisticated part and assembly models quickly.
- Design reuse and automation to help you find and take advantage of the existing data. That way, you can develop models faster, speeding up product development.
- Part and assembly modeling gives you access to a full range of tools to enable you to develop products quickly.
- Interference check to help you verify that you’ve assembled all the components properly before going into production.
- 2D drawing capabilities to expand what you can accomplish with SolidWorks.
SolidWorks pricing tiers aren’t available on the developer’s websites.
However, you can request the subscription costs by contacting the support desk.
SolidWorks is a good 3D printing software for companies that want to speed their product development cycles without spending too much on manufacturing.
BlocksCAD is a 3D modeling software designed with the needs of students in mind.
Cloud-based and user friendly, it is the tool to go if you want to learn how to design a mathematical model, coding concepts, and computational thinking via graphical visualization in 3D print settings.
While this design software doesn’t offer advanced features, it has everything you need to get started with creating models for websites, presentations, social media marketing, webinars, and more.
- Lets you leverage integrated variables to change your model sizes quickly.
- Loops functionality to allow you to create uniform design models
- A collection of modules to help you develop and save your own shapes library.
- Thoughtfully colored commands to shorten the learning curve. Creating models using BlocksCAD somewhat feels like constructing a Lego toy.
- Compatibility with OpenSCAD, enabling users to fine tune their final product using professional software features.
- Access to an informative YouTube channel to help you make the most of this 3D printing software.
BlocksCAD is a free design software readily available for download on the developer’s website.
If you’re a student or a beginner eager to hone your 3D printing design skills, BlocksCAD is one of the best software you can get without spending a dime.
And the beauty of it is that BlocksCAD is incredibly easy to use, and students as young as eight can create models to be fabricated on any 3D printer.
Wrapping up our best 3D printing software roundup is SketchUp, a popular design tool with beginners and advanced users alike.
SketchUp is a versatile printing software whose key features allow you to create everything from tree houses to complex objects.
Owned by Trimble Inc., this tool is intuitive and powerful for professional designers and creatives of all kinds.
Its suite of modeling tools can enhance workflows across various industries, including engineering, woodworking, construction, film, interior design, and more.
- Direct editing and pull technology to make sure that you can generate models easily.
- A well-crafted user interface gives other software in the same class a run for their money.
- Customizable palettes enable you to navigate the modeling tools smoothly.
- Easy to follow commands strategically placed on the program’s large icon.
- A collection of features that support 2D printing, increasing SketchUp’s versatility.
- Compatibility with other 3D design services and 3rd party software packages enables you to export your models in multiple file formats including 3DS, VRML, and FBX.
SketchUp has a free version that offers basic design features.
Still, you can access advanced features by signing up for the paid packages priced as follows:
- Shop -$119 per year
- Pro - $299 per year
- Studio -$699
SketchUp is a great 3D printing software if you’re in the market that gives you total freedom and the flexibility to create models that you want without templates.
Plus, you can leverage the free trial to make sure this is the right tool for you.
What is 3D Printing Software?
3D Printing Software, at its core, is created to enable designers and creatives to transfigure 3D models into tangible models usable with computer aided design (CAD) models.
The printing software works by using a 3D model as the input and broadcasts it to a 3D printer, generating a copy of the model.
On top of that, CAD software allows you to optimize your 3D models before deploying them for printing. That way, you can get the finer details while ensuring the replica looks exactly like your 3D printing model.
Modern modeling software comes with a host of advanced features that allow the designer to accomplish a host of tasks, including virtual reality functionalities and cloud collaboration.
That said, here's some 3D printing software terminology that you should know:
- Fused deposition modeling (FDM) –This refers to a 3D printing process that uses a continuous computer controlled filament and thermoplastic material to generate printed shapes for your models.
- Slicing/ slicer software – Most 3D printing processes use this tool to align 3D objects with the printer's capabilities.
- G-code – This refers to the 3D printer's programming language typically responsible for passing commands to enable the movement of parts within a 3D printer.
- Parametric 3D printing – This refers to specific and editable model parameters such as widths, lengths, and heights.
How to Choose the Best 3D Printing Software
Here’s the thing.
Before spending your money on any 3D printing software, you’ll want to ensure that it offers what you need to complete your projects.
Here are buying tips to help you choose the best 3D printing software.
Consider the Features and Functionalities
Ideally, you want software with the key features you need to execute your projects.
So, when comparing printing software, be sure to pick a suite equipped with custom settings to make design work easier. You can, for instance, pay close attention to the operating systems the software supports and the type of industries it is designed for.
In addition, pick modeling software with simulation capabilities to help you identify errors and gaps in your project from the get-go.
What’s more, choose a design tool that supports a wide variety of file formats. That way, you can insert new elements into your 3D design easily.
Lastly, you’ll want to check if the software offers cloud collaboration to enable your team to collaborate on a project from different workstations.
Consider the Cost
The fact is, you can only buy what you can afford. So, be sure to check out a software’s cost before spending your money.
First, you want to make sure that, indeed, you can afford the tool. Further, you’ll want to ensure that the printing software is worth the price.
It is important to mention that the most expensive 3D printing software isn’t necessarily the best and vice versa. The ideal modeling software should offer the features you need for your project.
Still, top-rated design tools don’t come cheap, so you may want to keep that in mind.
Consider your Experience Level
There is 3D printing software designed exclusively for advanced users and packages created for beginners.
The best 3D software for printing should be user friendly. So, make sure you can navigate through the tool smoothly and quickly. Consider watching tutorials to help you learn the ropes.
Alternatively, you can sign up for the free trial to determine if you have the skills to make the most out of the software.
Consider the Scalability
You're better off with modeling software that offers adjustment tools to enable you to scale your 3D model design irrespective of the size of your project.
Best 3D Printing Software Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What is the best 3D printing software?
A: "Well, choosing one 3D printing software over another primarily depends on what you need.
Sure, all the software isn’t created equal. But, you wouldn’t want to buy or get software that doesn’t offer the features to handle your project demands, right?"
Q: What is the best 3D printing software for a beginner?
A: "As a starter, you’ll want to get an easy-to-use 3D printing software. The idea is to enable you to hone your skills quickly. Also, avoid modeling software with a steep learning curve.
It will be best to start with a free version before moving to a suite packed with advanced features. That said, some of the best software for a novice include BlocksCAD and FreeCAD."
Q: Can Auto CAD be used for 3D printing?
A: "For starters, 3D printing can be narrowed down into a three-step process encompassing modeling, slicing, and printing.
3D models are often generated using computer-aided design (CAD)
It means, therefore, that creating CAD models is a crucial part of 3D printing. So yes, Auto CAD can be used for 3D printing."
Q: What is the easiest CAD software to learn?
A: "Sketchup Free is arguably one of the easiest free CAD software to create your own models.
And the beauty of it is that you don’t need any training to use this free 3D printing software. It comes with free tutorials to enable you to create, export, and share your creations in no time."
Choosing the best 3D printing software shouldn’t be challenging anymore – not after reading this guide.
While these aren’t the only 3D printing software on the market, they boast key features required to complete projects in most industries, from mechanical engineering to architecture and everything in between.
Do you have any questions regarding 3D printing software? Or would you love to share your experience with any software in this guide? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.
Are you looking for the best graphic design software instead? Check out my ultimate graphic design software review.
Very informative post, thanks a lot for sharing. This really helps!