Finding models to print
So now you know what to look for when buying a printer, but what exactly are you supposed to print? Well, if you know your way around 3D modeling software, you can create your own objects, but you can also just download models from online. The largest community of makers for 3D printing models can found at Thingiverse.com. This site is owned by Makerbot industries, so it has massive support from the community. There are hundreds of thousands of models in the pages of Thingiverse, so you are bound to find something you’ll deem worthy of printing.
Software to create your own models
If you want to try and start making your own models, there are lots of CAD-style software programs that can be used to create with. One of the most popular tools for beginners is a program called Blender. It’s free for personal use, and the tool set is very beginner friendly.
If you are more of a sculptor than traditional modeler, a program called zBrush could be your answer, but getting a file that a printer can read and easily print is an entirely different manner.
Software to print models
The final piece of your 3D printing puzzle is your “slicer.” A slicer is a piece of software that converts a 3D model into a format that your printer can read and interpret. It takes a model and “slices” it into the layers you need to print and gives your print head a series of X and Y coordinates to trace the print path. Typically your printer will come with it’s own preferred slicing software, but we wanted to go over a few of the most popular.
Cura is the current big dog in the world of slicing software. It was developed by Ultimaker and used as a default by Lulzbot, two of the biggest names in the FDM business. It is easy to use, but has lots of advanced features for those with the knowledge to dig and tinker with things. It can be limited in some of its features for the most advanced users out there, but for anyone getting started, it is a great user-friendly program.
If you want to really push your printing skills and knowledge, Slic3r could be your dream slicing software. on the market. It is an open-source software platform that has become the de facto home for the most cutting edge features. From multi-dimensional support structures, multi-view print previews and more, if a software feature exists, it exists on Slic3r first.
If you want a piece of software that is catered more towards the professional user, then Simplify 3D is here to answer your call. It has support for nearly every printer on the market today, and models can be customized, scaled and or even fixed automatically using the various features of the software. It is one of the most advanced and capable pieces of slicing software available today.
But that capability comes with a price. A price of $150, which makes it a hard sell compared to the free offerings from Cura and Slic3r. Still, if you want to step beyond hobbyist printing and into more of a small business or educational setup, Simplify 3D is an ideal tool for the job.