Slicers and user interfaces for 3D printers

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1 Introduction

There are two major types of software that will allow printing a (good read-to-print) 3D model file:

A so-called slicer takes a3D drawing (most often in .STL format) and translates this model into individual layers. It then generates the machine code that the printer will use for printing.

3D printers can be either controlled through a small on-board control screen or through a (USB) interface with a computer or through both. User interface/control software allows a user to send a machine code file from the computer to the 3D printer, change some parameters on run time (e.g. speed, flow and temperature), and move the print head manually around the x/y/z axis

Some programs, like the Netfabb engine, combine the functionality of a slicer and a user interface/control software. In addition programs like Netfabb engine, can add STL editing, repairing, merging and some simple 3D modeling.

See also:

2 Slicer software

Current low-end 3D printers extrude plastic like ABS or PLA from filament. The filament is pulled into the extruder and heated in its nozzle (hot end) and finally deposited. The extruder (also called print-head) will move while extruding, or move (or jump) without extruding.

A slicer program allows to calibrate printer settings for various types of "areas to print", like:

  • extrusion speed (rotations / minute)
  • head speed
  • temperature
  • Fan on/off

Furthermore, the program allows to define:

  • wall thickness
  • fill patterns
  • extrusion speed, head speed and temperature per type of area
  • Etc.

Deposited filament for a layer or a section of a layer depends on extrusion speed, head movement speed, and temperature. In addition, factors like movement patterns, plastic brand, fan on/off etc. also have an influence on the design.

3 List of slicer and control software

3.1 Pure slicers

(not complete !)

  • Skeinforge
    • This was the first publicly available sophisticated slicer (2010). Rarely used anymore.
    • Supports various machines, e.g. RepRap machines, RapMan, Ultimaker, etc.
    • Difficult to learn since you must parametrize a lot of parameters and figure out how they interact. But once you master it, it's a very flexible and powerful tool
  • SFACT slicer
    • A fork of Skeinforge that attempts to work with less parameters using "scalers". Easier to use.
  • Cura
    • While it is developed to be used with Ultimaker 3D printers, it can be used with other RepRap based designs, e.g. as of sept 2019 it supports our Felix TEC4
  • Kisslicer
    • Quote: 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 hobbyist who uses a single-head machine. The PRO version essentially adds multi-head and multi-model printing.
    • For RepRap printers or similar
    • Runs from any drive (no system install)
  • Slic3r
    • For RepRap printers and similar
    • Runs from any drive
  • Kiri:Moto
    • For most Gcode or Marlin based printers. Accepts STL object files.
    • Runs entirely in-browser. No software to install. Data remains local and private to browser.
    • Entirely FREE and open source under the MIT license
    • Integrated with Onshape and Thingiverse

3.2 Pure control software

  • Repetier-Host
    • “Simple to use host software, which is be compatible with most firmwares around. You can add and position your STL files on the simulated printbed and slice them all together. For slicing you can use the built-in Slic3r slicer or use the well-known Skeinforge.” (at Reprap Wiki, retrieved July 2012).
  • ReplicatorG is the software that will drive your CupCake CNC, RepRap machine, or generic CNC machine. You feed it GCode, it parses the GCode, and then controls your machine via a driver. Its cross platform, easily installed, and is based on the familiar Arduino / Processing environments.

3.3 Combined slicer and control/user interface software

This programs can do several things, not all do the same. Some control software (e.g. Repetierhost, see above) provide transparent interfaces to slicing software and also could be listed in this section.

  • Simplify3D
    • This commercial integrated 3D Printing Software can import, repair, slice, preview and print… all from one integrated desktop application.
    • We use it with our Felixprinters, e.g. the Felix TEC-4.1 3D printer. Compared to Cura, it is a bit easier to configure and it is much easier to print Lego compatibles since, by default, it does not add unwanted thickness to walls.
    • Seems to work with most printers.
  • Autodesk 3D print
    • Works directly with MakerBot and Type A machines, but others can be configured (not tested)
    • The program is distributed within the general purpose mesh mixer / repair program: Meshmixer
  • MatterControl
    • Quote: MatterControl is a free, Open Source app that lets you organize and manage your 3D prints. (not tested)
    • It includes its own slicer, but also Slic3r and Cura
  • Materialise
    • does not have an off-the shell product for printers, but works together with manufacturers, e.g. EOS or SLM. They also do that for hobby printers, e.g. FELIXbuilder, Creatr
    • I prefer Simplify 3D or free software like the RepetierHost/Cura combination that came with our printer.

3.4 CAD programs with integrated slicers

  • IceSL. Described as a combination of OpenScad (scripting is done with Lua) and skeinforge. As of oct. 2013 still under development, not yet tested.

3.5 Other

4 Support generators

Most slicers have fairly undiscrimate support generators, e.g. you could define spacing and distance but not much more. A support generator can do more (or should be able to do more).

5 Links

Machine specific machine code