15 Best 3D Printing Software for 2020

For pros and beginners alike.

If you’ve been looking for the best 3D printing software, then you’ve come to the right place. We reviewed 15 of the best CAD software and general 3D printing software programs.

We’ll help you find the best software for you.

We tested 3D print software based on:

  • Price
  • User-friendliness
  • Beginner and advanced features
  • Modeling and Slicing
  • Speed and performance
  • 3D print file compatibility

Ready to choose the best 3D modeling software for 3D printing?

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1. Autodesk Maya

If you’re looking for the best CAD software for 3D printing suites, choose Autodesk Maya - its modeling is also superior. Manipulating your 3D object is intuitive and rendering is also good, especially if you utilize the V-ray plugin. Its toolset is clean and user-friendly. You can export to several common formats including stereolithography file format (STL) and VRML. Full Review

  • Intuitive user-interface
  • Accessible for beginners
  • Established company

If you’re looking for the best CAD software for 3D printing suites, choose Autodesk Maya - its modeling is also superior. Manipulating your 3D object is intuitive and rendering is also good, especially if you utilize the V-ray plugin. Its toolset is clean and user-friendly. You can export to several common formats including stereolithography file format (STL) and VRML. Full Review

2. Autodesk Fusion 360

In terms of the best 3D printing software, Autodesk is high on our list. It has the perfect tools for creating 3D printer ready models, allowing you to export to .STL or .OBJ. It can even work the other way around if you find the tools on Fusion easier than your printer’s native 3D modeling program. Here you can edit mesh, increase surface count, fill in holes, etc. A great product for development teams. Full Review

  • Good export file support
  • Cloud storage
  • Reasonable $495 yearly price

In terms of the best 3D printing software, Autodesk is high on our list. It has the perfect tools for creating 3D printer ready models, allowing you to export to .STL or .OBJ. It can even work the other way around if you find the tools on Fusion easier than your printer’s native 3D modeling program. Here you can edit mesh, increase surface count, fill in holes, etc. A great product for development teams. Full Review

3. Vectary

An interesting 3D model maker online that allows you to import 3D models and export for your 3D printing in STL or OBJ. VECTARY combines standard mesh modeling with subdivision modeling and a number of other tools for a surprisingly rich experience from free 3D modeling software. It supports easy 3D modeling and rendering. VECTARY is one of the top free 3D modeling software for beginners. Full Review

  • Easy to access online
  • Good for beginners
  • Import/ export 3D printer files

An interesting 3D model maker online that allows you to import 3D models and export for your 3D printing in STL or OBJ. VECTARY combines standard mesh modeling with subdivision modeling and a number of other tools for a surprisingly rich experience from free 3D modeling software. It supports easy 3D modeling and rendering. VECTARY is one of the top free 3D modeling software for beginners. Full Review

4. 3DS Max

3DS Max is great for preparing your 3D model for printing outside of your printer’s native software. It is used daily by architects, designers, and engineers. You can create your 3D models from scratch, as well as rendering. Visualization is top-notch; you’ll see everything that’s going on right before you. Because it’s part of the Autodesk suite of software you can easily import and export your desired 3D printing file type. A worthy tool. Full Review

  • Import and export easily
  • Check the model’s STL compliant
  • Lots of expert features

3DS Max is great for preparing your 3D model for printing outside of your printer’s native software. It is used daily by architects, designers, and engineers. You can create your 3D models from scratch, as well as rendering. Visualization is top-notch; you’ll see everything that’s going on right before you. Because it’s part of the Autodesk suite of software you can easily import and export your desired 3D printing file type. A worthy tool. Full Review

5. TinkerCAD

3D Cad software has a natural relationship with 3D printing and TinkerCAD brings the two together. It’s also one of the best tools for beginners, while still having advanced features. It’s all about tinkering with those models and once you’ve got one that looks good, you can export to STL. One of the best CAD software for 3D printing programs out there. Full Review

  • Good 3D printer support
  • Easy to use
  • Can handle complicated shapes

3D Cad software has a natural relationship with 3D printing and TinkerCAD brings the two together. It’s also one of the best tools for beginners, while still having advanced features. It’s all about tinkering with those models and once you’ve got one that looks good, you can export to STL. One of the best CAD software for 3D printing programs out there. Full Review

6. Ultimaker Cura

Ultimaker is often considered the go-to brand for 3D printers. Its open-source software Cura is a great option if you’re looking for the best 3D printing software. It makes sure your model is truly printer ready. The software is also integrated with many 3D printers out of the box. It’s one of the best free printing software packages. Full Review

  • Integrated and well-liked
  • Easy to use
  • Ensures your model’s ready

Ultimaker is often considered the go-to brand for 3D printers. Its open-source software Cura is a great option if you’re looking for the best 3D printing software. It makes sure your model is truly printer ready. The software is also integrated with many 3D printers out of the box. It’s one of the best free printing software packages. Full Review

7. FreeCAD

If you’re looking for CAD software for free that has 3D printing compatibility, meet Free CAD. It is user-friendly with good views and tools layout has numerous advanced CAD features you’d expect only on a paid program. For 3D printers exporting as STL, OBJ, and DAE is just a click away. It’s supported by Windows, Mac, and Linux, so everybody can use this free CAD software for 3D printing. Full Review

  • 3D design software FREE
  • Very user-friendly
  • Supports STL, OBJ, and DAE

If you’re looking for CAD software for free that has 3D printing compatibility, meet Free CAD. It is user-friendly with good views and tools layout has numerous advanced CAD features you’d expect only on a paid program. For 3D printers exporting as STL, OBJ, and DAE is just a click away. It’s supported by Windows, Mac, and Linux, so everybody can use this free CAD software for 3D printing. Full Review

8. Solidworks

Solidworks has been around since the mid-90s and is definitely among the best CAD software for 3D printing. Not only can you import 3D printing STL files into Solidworks as a graphic body, but you can also work with it as a fully solid model, making further tweaking much easier. Obviously, you can also export in STL for 3D printing. You can also use design techniques like topology optimization, which saves material. Full Review

  • Import and export STL
  • Topology optimization saves filament
  • Easy to use rotation view

Solidworks has been around since the mid-90s and is definitely among the best CAD software for 3D printing. Not only can you import 3D printing STL files into Solidworks as a graphic body, but you can also work with it as a fully solid model, making further tweaking much easier. Obviously, you can also export in STL for 3D printing. You can also use design techniques like topology optimization, which saves material. Full Review

9. Meshmixer

Meshmixer is exactly the tool you want if you need a free 3D printing software that lets you have more control over your models. It works with STL files flawlessly, plus it also supports a wide range of other formats like OBJ and PLY. Basic repairs can even be done automatically, or you can manipulate the model yourself. It’s also one of the best CAD software for mac. Full Review

  • Full Windows and Mac
  • Totally free
  • Ideal for 3D printing

Meshmixer is exactly the tool you want if you need a free 3D printing software that lets you have more control over your models. It works with STL files flawlessly, plus it also supports a wide range of other formats like OBJ and PLY. Basic repairs can even be done automatically, or you can manipulate the model yourself. It’s also one of the best CAD software for mac. Full Review

10. Sculptris

Currently one of the most used sculpting tools on the market, Sculptris is ideal for those that want to digitally sculpt their models like clay. The user interface is easy to get to grips with. While you can only import OBJ files, if you’ve got an STL file this can be pre-converted easily online. Exporting however can be done in both ready for 3D printing. The best part? It’s free! Full Review

  • Ideal sculptor for 3D printing
  • Export for 3D printing
  • Easy to use interface

Currently one of the most used sculpting tools on the market, Sculptris is ideal for those that want to digitally sculpt their models like clay. The user interface is easy to get to grips with. While you can only import OBJ files, if you’ve got an STL file this can be pre-converted easily online. Exporting however can be done in both ready for 3D printing. The best part? It’s free! Full Review

11. Blender

Blender is the go-to software for people that need printing compatibility without any hassle. It’s advanced enough to produce anything from jewelry to complex geometrics. It also lets you choose modeling styles, will inform you if your model is watertight to print. If you’re looking for easy 3D modeling software, choose Blender. Full Review

  • Designed for 3D printing
  • Wide compatibility
  • Good at error detection

Blender is the go-to software for people that need printing compatibility without any hassle. It’s advanced enough to produce anything from jewelry to complex geometrics. It also lets you choose modeling styles, will inform you if your model is watertight to print. If you’re looking for easy 3D modeling software, choose Blender. Full Review

12. BlocksCAD

BlocksCAD allows you to code your own 3D models ready to export to virtually any 3D printer STL and other formats. It’s one of the more appealing computer-aided design programs. BlocksCAD is trusted by many educational institutions because it’s very versatile. It’s also perhaps the easiest to use 3D modeling software out there. Full Review

  • Ideal for beginners/students
  • Easy STL export
  • Accessed via browser

BlocksCAD allows you to code your own 3D models ready to export to virtually any 3D printer STL and other formats. It’s one of the more appealing computer-aided design programs. BlocksCAD is trusted by many educational institutions because it’s very versatile. It’s also perhaps the easiest to use 3D modeling software out there. Full Review

13. SketchUp

A free 3D design software that can be rendered, and set up for 3D printing? It’s SketchUp. The main program itself is one of the most popular 3D drawing software packages and can model anything from entire buildings to and medical equipment. For 3D printing it’s as good as the printer you have, allowing you to export in STL and create your own architecture on a smaller scale. Full Review

  • Used by professional architects
  • Easy STL support
  • Advanced 3D modeling features

A free 3D design software that can be rendered, and set up for 3D printing? It’s SketchUp. The main program itself is one of the most popular 3D drawing software packages and can model anything from entire buildings to and medical equipment. For 3D printing it’s as good as the printer you have, allowing you to export in STL and create your own architecture on a smaller scale. Full Review

14. 3D Slash

3D Slash takes a fun approach to 3D modeling and 3D printing by allowing you to build your models like a stonecutter working on their block. The inspiration for the tool came from the popular block game Minecraft. Despite its quirkiness, it can easily model intermediate objects that can be 3D printed as STL or OBJ. It’s great if you want to build 3D printer models free. Full Review

  • Fun and easy
  • A capable 3D modeler
  • STL and OBJ support

3D Slash takes a fun approach to 3D modeling and 3D printing by allowing you to build your models like a stonecutter working on their block. The inspiration for the tool came from the popular block game Minecraft. Despite its quirkiness, it can easily model intermediate objects that can be 3D printed as STL or OBJ. It’s great if you want to build 3D printer models free. Full Review

15. MeshLab

MeshLab is a finely tuned and fast working 3D triangular mesh processor that can export to STL for 3D printing. It has tools for editing, repairing, inspecting, and rendering ready for print. This is an incredibly efficient program compared to others that carry a hefty price tag. So, if you’re looking for free 3D modeling software for 3D printing, take a look at MeshLab. Full Review

  • Free and open source
  • Fast and efficient
  • Best for modifying/repairing

MeshLab is a finely tuned and fast working 3D triangular mesh processor that can export to STL for 3D printing. It has tools for editing, repairing, inspecting, and rendering ready for print. This is an incredibly efficient program compared to others that carry a hefty price tag. So, if you’re looking for free 3D modeling software for 3D printing, take a look at MeshLab. Full Review

The Best 3D Printing Software in 2020

Here we focus on the features and give you the exact information you need to find the best 3D modeling software on the market for different purposes. 

  • Autodesk Maya – Best 3D printer modeling software with extra features (i.e. animation)
  • Autodesk Fusion 360 – Overall Best 3D modeling software for 3D printing
  • Vectary – Best 3D printer software for online use
  • 3DS Max – Best software for 3D printing for detecting pre-print errors
  • TinkerCAD – Best CAD software for beginners and students
  • Ultimaker Cura – Leading free 3D printing software
  • FreeCAD – Top free CAD software
  • SolidworksBest CAD software for in-built support
  • Meshmixer – Top 3D modeling program for repairing and tweaking STL
  • Sculptris Best 3D modeling software for beginners 
  • Blender Best open-source 3D printer designs and modeling 
  • BlocksCAD Best CAD software for 3D printing for schools
  • SketchUp – Architect’s choice for 3D printing software
  • 3D Slash – Most fun 3D modeling software for 3D printing
  • MeshLab – Speediest 3D printing software for meshwork

Detailed Reviews

Autodesk Maya
Autodesk Maya

BEST FOR

Modeling software with extra features (i.e. animation)

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  • Intuitive user-interface
  • Accessible for beginners
  • Established company
  • Easily create wall thickness

The price of an annual Maya subscription is $1,620 but it is definitely worth it. It’s a top-tier software for a wide variety of 3D modeling tasks. This ranges from modeling for 3D printing, simulations for prototyping, and it’s most sought-after feature – animation. 

Individuals and small teams can create mockup presentations, video game ideas, or entire previsualizations of films before studios get on board. In that sense, if all you want to do is do a few 3D prints of some items you have found online this definitely isn’t for you.

Their simple interface for modeling is great. A few handy features include measuring scales so you can print within your printer’s volume and automatic hollowing (think table legs slotting into the tabletop). Exporting is as easy as exporting your selection as STL.

Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of what Maya can accomplish. Some of its latest features include prebuilt graphs from fire to snowstorms, more natural-looking hair, adaptive liquid simulation, realistic deformable materials (cloth/clothing), an improved motion library, and much more.

Maya is one of the best 3D modeling programs and an extremely versatile and professional animation suite that just happens to have the ability to export for 3D printing. However, you should only purchase it if you need those features. 3D printer professionals should try its cousin – Autodesk Fusion 360.

Autodesk Fusion 360
Autodesk Fusion 360

BEST FOR

Modeling software for 3D printing

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  • Good export file support
  • Cloud storage
  • Reasonable $495 yearly price
  • History timeline for mistakes

Fusion 3D is for anyone that produces advanced 3D parts and needs equally advanced software to model it. It is one of the best CAD software suites but it is strongly tied to 3D printing. Its licenses allow committed enthusiasts to get on board as well.

You can opt for the standard $60 per month with no commitment, $495 per year deal ($42 per month), or $1,335 for a 3-year commitment, which works out at $38 per month.

Fusion operates a multi-component part system that does away with the hassle of multiple files and things to remember. All of the components are within the same file and it does not need to read multiple files when building its assemblies. 

Its mechanical design approach allows you to see how your part will respond to outside forces such as pressure, heat, and essentially, whether it’s going to work as intended and remain safe. 

The advanced mesh modeling allows you to easily push and pull the surface to sculpt it any way you wish. The software produces smooth geometry even when you go a little haywire with the tools. 

Ultimately, Autodesk Fusion 360 is the number one choice for advanced 3D modeling. It can easily export to STL or OBJ for 3D printing. While this is the flagship Autodesk 3D printing software, if you’re looking for programs for 3D printing as a hobbyist or beginner, you’ll want something cheaper and easier to use.

Vectary
Vectary

BEST FOR

Online use

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  • Easy to access online
  • Good for beginners
  • Import/ export 3D printer files
  • Manipulate models

Being an online-based 3D modeling tool makes VECTARY instantly accessible to many users. It’s also easy to pick up for beginners, which is why professionals might want to seek out a higher-end productл Because of this we rate it as the best free CAD software for beginners

It has a nice library of royalty-free assets to get started. It supports over 60 different file formats and works in sync with Figma and Sketch. You can import 3D printer-ready files (STL etc) to manipulate and export them all the same so your printer can read the G-code. Of course, just because you have made a cool model using the online tool doesn’t mean your specific printer will be able to handle it.

VECTARY has millions of assets, including entire 3D scenes, models, and materials, with a simple drag-and-drop interface – a very user-friendly 3D model maker.

Another cool feature lets you preview your design in augmented reality and you can easily embed the model onto a website or export it to YouTube for others to check out.

VECTARY is very user-friendly and accessible, making it ideal for taking your first steps into 3D modeling and printing and doing some work on the go. There are also new tools and features popping up all the time. And, just because it’s free doesn’t mean there isn’t support.

You can read their countless knowledge base to learn the basics and follow tutorials. You can also directly email the support team for direct feedback on any issues you might have.

Now for the downsides. It’s online based so lacks some of the power and functionality of proper software. It definitely lacks the advanced features that professionals require. But, as a beginner-friendly CAD/3D printing tool, it’s one of the most accessible. The 3D printing marketplace would be lacking without it.

3DS Max
3DS Max

BEST FOR

Detecting pre-print errors

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  • Import and export easily
  • Check the model’s STL compliant
  • Lots of expert features
  • Versatile interface

3DS Max is primarily used to create 3D character models and assets for use in the video game, animation, and/or movie industry. It is often utilized for rapid prototyping and testing out ideas before a full project is green-lit. It also has the ability to generate cutting-edge graphics and special effects to go alongside other sources. It’s been used in many TV commercials and even feature movies like Avatar.

The 3D cad software helps you create models that can be exported in STL and other common 3D printing formats. The annual subscription price is  $1,620, so it’s only a frugal decision to get 3DS Max if the animation itself is of interest to you.

Its 3D modeling, however, is unrivaled. You can create 3D models and print some pretty impressive things if you have the hardware to go along with it. For example, many industries use it to create mechanical and organic objects in the engineering, manufacturing, medical, and movie industries, with electron beam melting for any metal parts. 3DS Max also stands out in its error detection, making sure your model is watertight and viable as a real-life physical object.

Its key modeling method is polygonal, which is why it is popular in the video game industry. This allows for lots of control, precision, and a highly detailed model. 

Its simulation modes are top-notch, allowing for shatter effects, so you can see objects get destroyed in explosions or other impacts, and ragdoll, so you can see character models bounce through the environment like after car crashes. This is most of use to video game developers but can also loosely apply to product testers, not necessarily those needing 3D printing software. 

For as advanced as it is, 3DS Max is easy to learn and for that, it gets a big plus. You’ll just need to have the budget and desire to use it beyond its 3D printing application.

TinkerCAD
TinkerCAD

BEST FOR

Beginners and students

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  • Good 3D printer support
  • Easy to use
  • Can handle complicated shapes
  • Free version available

Yet another gem from Autodesk! TinkerCAD is an impressive tool that both newcomers and experienced 3D modelers will appreciate. While it cannot be called a complete suite, it gets the basics of 3D design down and allows you to ‘tinker’ before you move on to more advanced programs.  

It has a bunch of its own assets but where it stands out is its vibrant community which shares its assets with everyone else. What’s more, nearly everything can be saved in a 3D printable format so you can take your own or somebody else’s creation and get it out into the real world.

TinkerCAD is an online tool often used by teachers and students and thus is widely accessible. It lacks some of the advanced features of other Autodesk 3D printing software. You’ll instantly notice its child-friendly vibe and references to Minecraft and Lego in aspects of its shape building models.

On the plus side, it makes the process more portable because you can access it on any laptop/tablet with a browser and connection.

Whether you want reductive or additive sculpture, tutorial-led basic shape projects, more advanced jewelry, ornaments, or geometrics, TinkerCAD can help. 

Some minor but notable downsides worth mentioning are limited rendering conditions (i.e. no lighting feature), macs run into more bugs for whatever reason, and panning and zooming can be a little finicky. However, with all the features mentioned and the fact that it’s a free 3D modeling software, it definitely deserves its place in our list.  

Ultimaker Cura
Ultimaker Cura

BEST FOR

Free 3D printing software

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  • Integrated and well-liked
  • Easy to use
  • Ensures your model’s ready
  • Open source and free

Ultimaker Cura is the most widely used and arguably best 3D printing software for free. It follows the open-source philosophy, allowing independent developers to move things forward and others to use the software instead of the native programs.

Cura is mostly a ‘slicer’ program rather than a full-blown 3D modeling suite. This means it gets your printable files absolutely fine-tuned and ready to print on your chosen printer.

It integrates well with CAD software, so you can make your more advanced modeling ready to export to Cura. This includes support for SolidWorks, Siemens NX, Autodesk Inventor​, and more. Its supported file types include STL, OBJ, X3D, 3MF, BMP, GIF, JPG, and PNG.

With Cura, you can download thousands of pre-made ‘profiles’ from the web to print. Those that aren’t quite finished can be repaired and manipulated quickly and easily. There are over 400 settings for granular control! In the marketplace, you can also find premium profiles from proven brands and these are still customizable. 

What’s more, Cura is the best FREE 3D printing software, meaning you don’t have to spend a cent unless you’re an enterprise or 3D printer manufacturer. Do subscribe for a few extra features, such as more accessible support, extra plugins, a learning track, an advanced knowledge base, and more team-based controls.

FreeCAD
FreeCAD

BEST FOR

Free CAD software

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  • 3D design software FREE
  • Very user-friendly
  • Supports STL, OBJ, and DAE
  • Windows, Mac, and Linux

Easily the best free CAD software for 3D printing. FreeCAD allows you to model 3D objects to your desired size and with its ‘parametric modeling’ you can easily undo or go back to earlier versions. You can also import or sketch 2D shapes that can then be built into 3D objects.

It works well on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and imports and exports many file types including STEP, IGES, STL, SVG, DXF, OBJ, IFC, and DAE. This lets you easily integrate it with your other software and more importantly, get your model ready for 3D printing. 

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it lacks advanced features. This program is suitable for everyone from bedroom hobbyists to architects, to mechanical engineers. Whether you are a beginner or a professional the learning curve is fairly easy and YouTube has a plethora of tutorials for the 3D modeling program. However, a little more in-built support would be nice.

FreeCAD has a buzzing online community and several developers have taken things in different directions due to its open-source principle.

The only real downside is that it lacks the most advanced features. That’s to be expected for a free program. Its interface, while more than adequate to use, does have a bit of an outdated vibe as well.

In the end, if you need capable CAD software and don’t currently have the budget for the high-end suites, then FreeCAD can do almost as much as them for free.

Solidworks
Solidworks

BEST FOR

In-built support

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  • Import and export STL
  • Topology optimization saves filament
  • Easy to use rotation view
  • In-built help and guides

Solidworks is a professional CAD software suite that will set you back $3,995 for a single license. It caters to commercial, academia, and research purposes with different pricing and installation rules. Individuals will want to make use of the student discount or go with the startup/entrepreneur license as it is not really aimed at hobbyists and do-it-yourself users.

As a ‘solid’ 3D CAD software suite, Solidworks handles 2D and 3D CAD, as well as full-blown computer-aided manufacture (CAM). It is ideal for engineers and product developers of all industries. It also provides ‘Experience Works’ for simulations. This allows you to test the performance and safety of the products you have designed before printing. It makes for better designing, decision making, and an overall better end product. Examples include pressure and stress, fluid forces, heat transfer, and the durability of plastic parts for longevity.

You can of course save into a number of formats, including STL and others for 3D printing. And, before you do, we like how it will automatically check your models for weaknesses, obvious printing problems, and other issues that would make it a poor end product.  

Because the software is so advanced, we wouldn’t recommend it to beginners. This CAD software has a large knowledge base and in-built help guides within the program itself. If you have some experience you will not be stuck on an issue very long.

The main downsides are that it can really slow up if you don’t have a high-end PC. We also found rendering isn’t as good. While the price tag is indeed hefty, it’s not aimed at the casual user, so we won’t let that knock off a star.

Solidworks is a ‘solid’ 3D model program for professionals with all the features you could need.

Meshmixer
Meshmixer

BEST FOR

Repairing and tweaking STL

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  • Full Windows and Mac
  • Totally free
  • Ideal for 3D printing
  • Easy to use

Meshmixer allows you to get your model file ready for 3D printing. It leads the way in working with triangle meshes. The fact that it’s totally free also doesn’t hurt.

If ‘mesh’ doesn’t quite make sense to you, it’s the shell or basis that makes up a 3D model for 3D printer software and other functions. The printer doesn’t actually print in mesh (though many can, in a way), it fills in the gaps around the mesh to make the shape – it solidifies it. Meshmixer is unique in that its mesh is triangle based and extremely easy to use.

It allows you to fix up 3D scans that aren’t tight yet for printing, work with existing files, and change them in any way you wish. You can create your own mesh from scratch and build a fully 3D object to print. Its use has become so popular it’s now regularly utilized in design & manufacture, the health and medical industries (think models of limbs or dental implants), and a whole range of creative arts, such as jewelry and ornament making.

Meshmixer’s simple drag-and-drop function makes it surprisingly easy 3D modeling software. You can mold your mesh around easily with the 3D sculpting and surface stamping tools. Converting parts or all of your mesh to solid ready to export for 3D printing is easy – select the desired area and hit ‘convert to solid’. Likewise, you can also hollow areas out with an ‘escape hole’ or full enclosure, depending on your design and durability requirements. Furthermore, the stability and thickness analysis tests will tell you if your object is likely to break.

To ensure printing goes smoothly you can automatically add branching support structures (you’ll later remove these), and there’s a lot of automation features that get things ready for your print bed orientation and layout.

Lastly, if you like to put your 3D printer to the test it also has a gallery of advanced 3D patterns and lattices to try.

There’s no doubt that Meshmixer is one of the best free 3D modeling software programs you can add to your 3D printing software collection.

Sculptris
Sculptris

BEST FOR

Beginners

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  • Ideal sculptor for 3D printing
  • Export for 3D printing
  • Easy to use interface
  • Capable of great detail

If you want a 3D modeling software for free, why not try Sculptris? It has taken the concept of modeling a 3D object in clay and digitized the process with impressive results. It focuses on organic models, which means replications of real-life structures, from people and body parts to mountains and trees.

To start out you can import a compatible object and work with it or start with a base shape and sculpt something from scratch. It can be particularly fun to follow a tutorial and then add your own flair to the finished model.

We found the software very user-friendly. The core simply involves functions like grabbing, stretching, smoothing, flattening, inflating, etc, before using brushes to add otter detail or carving like patterns. 

To 3D print, your printer needs to support OBJ or you can simply export as OBJ and convert it with one of the many free online tools to STL. Occasionally you may need to use an intermediary program to make sure your model will print effectively.

The only downside is that the software can get quite resource-intensive with larger files. Make sure your Windows or Mac can meet its specifications.

Sculptris is fun for beginners and functional for some professional aspects but the limitations of real-life clay sculpting apply here too. You aren’t going to be building mechanical parts, but you might get some really creative looking ornaments.

Blender
Blender

BEST FOR

Open-source 3D printer designs and modeling

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  • Designed for 3D printing
  • Wide compatibility
  • Good at error detection
  • Beginner-friendly

A bit like Maya, Blender has more affinity to game programmers and animators than you’d expect from a 3D printing software. However, the engineer-minded and most designers will be able to pick it up fairly quickly. It’s free, so go for it. 

Blender is a powerful piece of software once you know what you’re doing. The learning curve comes from an over-focus on keyboard shortcuts.

As a modeler, it’s right up there with the best 3D modeling software for 3D printing. You can start out with pre-set mesh shapes like cubes and spheres, which you can then mold and add, to your liking. Texturing, patterns, and writing are easy to add to the main model, though watch out as not all 3D printers can handle small fine text

You can easily import and export STL files ready for 3D printing but make sure to get the metrics/scale correct because animation is not set in the real world. You’ll also need to patch holes and solidify your mesh so your printer can tell what’s going on. The good news is before you save your file the software tells you whether your model is going to fail at the printing stage or fall to bits afterward. It’s then best to put it through your printer’s slicer to get the 100% go ahead.

Blender is a good alternative to Maya and 3DS Max, but you don’t have to spend a cent. The developers do suggest a donation though if you like the software.

BlocksCAD
BlocksCAD

BEST FOR

3D printing for schools

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  • Ideal for beginners/students
  • Easy STL export
  • Accessed via browser
  • User-friendly interface

BlocksCAD is another browser-based modeler for beginners that’s fun for children and has that Minecraft vibe going for it. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t useful to 3D printing enthusiasts.

Essentially you build your shape using blocks. There are so many of them that you can create shapes that aren’t actually blocky. 

Their interface is easy to use as it’s promoted in schools and intended for newbies to learn the basics. In that sense, it’s one of the best 3D modeling software for beginners.

Features include size altering variables, pattern loops for a uniform design, and a randomness generator to have fun with. 

You can export your design in the most popular formats for 3D printing, including STL, X3D, and Additive Manufacturing File Format (AMF).

Of course, the downside is that it’s a very limited browser-based tool. It’s one of the best 3D modeling software for 3D printing tools online if you’re just starting out.

SketchUp
SketchUp

BEST FOR

Architect’s choice for 3D printing software

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  • Used by professional architects
  • Easy STL support
  • Advanced 3D modeling features
  • Generous free plan

SketchUp is the budding architect’s number one choice for 3D CAD software. It’s expensive and packed full of features.

Depending on your usage you can choose between a very scaled back free web-based plan, the ‘Shop’ plan for more advanced personal projects ($119 a year and still browser-based), and the Pro plan, which is $299 a year and can be downloaded to your desktop or device. There are also plans at varying prices for professionals and educators.

Feature-wise the key purpose of the program is rendering your 3D model as an image or animation to present to clients. To build your model you start in a sandbox mode not too dissimilar to the Sims (and that’s not a knock). You model your terrain before converting your detailed plans into 3D models upon that terrain. You can make these plans (sketches) with the program itself or scan/import them separately to varying degrees of success. 

Out of the box, everything works ok. To get full usability you’ll need to install some extensions to get that curved wall or specific garden feature to look accurate. 

3D printing is one way to show clients your prototypes, but this is better suited to smaller projects. It’s not quite at the full-size building printing stage. You’ll obviously need to scale it down and play with the extrude tool to get the right thickness for your 3D printer. You’ll also need to go through some steps to get a green light from its ‘solid group’ feature, which means it’s printer-ready. You can then export to STL and get printing.

3D Slash
3D Slash

BEST FOR

Fun 3D modeling software for 3D printing

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  • Fun and easy
  • A capable 3D modeler
  • STL and OBJ support
  • Free 3D printer software

Another fun free 3D modeling software for beginners is 3D Slash. It comes in both web-based and desktop form. The current version now has a Logo mode that will turn a 2D logo file into a 3D logo for printing on its own or adding to a larger object.

As well as regular STL importing and exporting, 3D Slash can also import STL and OBJ files into existing projects, so you can merge projects together to create even bigger and better models. 

The software itself is pretty easy to pick up and there are on-screen instructions to guide you. While there are limits compared to advanced premium programs there are also much-needed simplifications, for example, ‘extrusion’ simply becomes “copy & paste” and “push”. 

3D Slash’s downloadable version is available on Windows, macOS X, Linux, and Raspberry Pi. You can also send print jobs straight to your compatible printer or save your project in its proprietary .3dslash format.

MeshLab
MeshLab

BEST FOR

Speediest 3D printing software for mesh work

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  • Free and open source
  • Fast and efficient
  • Best for modifying/repairing
  • Easily send to STL

Other 3D design software can be very resource-intensive, slow up with large files, or crash altogether. MeshLab has somehow produced a fast and efficient mesh-based modeling program that is also great for 3D printing and is fully open source.

You can build your mesh model from scratch (not recommended), import a file you’ve downloaded from the web, or use your own digital camera photo scan for your own unique project. Editing the mesh is essentially the best way to get your scanned photo into a printable form.

The software lets you inspect your model for errors, clean it up, or go all out editing it into something totally new. Then it’s time for rendering it into a closed 3D mesh of any size, though if actually printing you’ll need to take into account your printer’s volume metrics. 

MeshLab’s sole purpose is to get a perfected 3D model that’s ready to print, so STL is not a problem. However, it does lack advanced CAD features and can struggle with larger files/projects, causing stalling or even crashing.

For most projects, it is a competent mesh modeler that’s easy to use and very fast to process, though this doesn’t affect 3D printing speed itself.

What Is 3D Printing Software?

3D printing software can be a combination of software types and tools. It allows you to import existing three-dimensional models you’ve found on the net and manipulate them. 

It also involves 3D scanning of simple objects you’d like to replicate, aspects of CAD design and associated tools like slicing, in order to make your model printer-ready, and save it as an appropriate file, i.e. STL 3D models for printing

Many models come with a 3D printer program that does the basics like slicing your 3D models into instructions called G-Code for the printer to know what to print. You might need to look elsewhere for more advanced tasks surrounding the 3D modeling itself.

Software may be slightly different depending on your 3D printer’s method. Most people use stereolithography or fused filament fabrication, which involves layering of heated plastic filament.  Others use a hardening of liquid resin method, such as continuous liquid interface production or solid ground curing. To get text on to your objects this is often done using robocasting, which isn’t much different from the initial printing method. 

3D printing technologies have come a long way since laminated object manufacturing. There is software for all printing methods; and for beginners right the way up to mass industry.

How to Choose the Best 3D Printing Software

Choosing the best 3D modeling software for 3D printing will depend on your own needs. There are extremely advanced modeling programs that have 3D printing functionality as a side feature and cost a lot of money. Dedicated 3D printing software definitely does the job but can be limited in terms of creating models themselves. Things to consider include:

Price

If you cannot drop a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on the best 3D design software, then you may want to stick with your 3D printer’s native software. A free 3D software like VECTARY or some of the cheaper options dedicated solely to 3D printing will also do.

If, however, you can afford it, spending thousands on the best 3D modeling software will let you create high-quality 3D-printable models with many features simply not available elsewhere.

Functionality

It goes without saying, but any 3D modeling programs you choose must be compatible with 3D printing. Whether that means they export in a file type your 3D printer accepts or, more preferably, they let you import 3D printer files to manipulate as well. They will also tell you if the model you’ve created will actually print accurately.

This also means you need software that supports your operating system. While most 3D printer software are Mac and Windows friendly, even excellent programs like 3DS Max require a Windows OS to work.

Printing or Modeling?

If all you require is software to print and make minor tweaks to models you’ve downloaded from the web, your printer’s native software or a basic third party is enough. If you want to fully manipulate a model, create one yourself, or even draw/scan and digitize your own raw creation you’ll need the best 3D modeling software. And, if you’re a beginner you’re going to want one that will guide you on how to make 3D models

Which Industry?

Traditional CAD software is aimed at technical industries that need to design parts that work functionally, such as the aerospace industry. Regular 3D printing is not that advanced, but even professionals in various fields will not need the most advanced CAD software. Whether you’re printing jewelry, orthodontic models, fun figurines, etc, check our reviews to see which 3D design software is better suited to you. Autodesk Fusion 360 for example is used regularly by mechanical engineers, designers, and machinists.

Experience level

Some 3D printing design software has a steeper learning curve than others. But the easier the software the less advanced features it supports. So, decide what your experience level is and act accordingly when choosing your 3D design programs for 3D printing.  

Support and Community

If even the best 3D printing software doesn’t have a support team to contact if something goes wrong or an online community, it’s not worth the price. Check that if you have paid for a program that claims to be the best 3D modeling software for 3D printing that they actually have customer support.

You’ll also want to check Google and YouTube to see if there are tutorials for the software.

Printer Type

The type of 3D printer you have will also have an impact on the software you can use effectively. Something like SketchUp for architects is only going to be feasible for small separate models for example. 

Wrap Up

Now that you know there are 15 excellent solutions out there, you can choose the best software for 3D printing for your needs. No matter if you’re a hobbyist or an expert, have a tight budget or are in the mood to spend more, we have something for you. Take a look at our list! The best solution for you is a few clicks away.

FAQ

Does Cura support FlashForge?

Yes, if you have one of the FlashForge Creator Pro FDM printers you can use the Cura 4.2 and 4.4 pretty much out of the box. However, older versions of Cura require some extra steps. For Cura 3.6 to 4.4.1 you’ll need to install it, choose your printer, add the X3GWriter plugin from the Marketplace menu item and quit Cura.

For further instructions and to get the required zip file you’ll need to visit Thingiverse.com as Lyl3 has you covered.

What software do 3D printers use?

3D printers tend to use inbuilt software or versions of open-source software like Cura to import printable files of 3D models. You can then manipulate them further to your liking, which is commonly called slicing, modeling, mesh work, or sculpting. All good 3D printers can print from files but if you want more control you might want something extra. The best 3D modeling software is covered in our reviews.

Do you need CAD for 3d printing?

Yes and no – all 3D printing has elements of CAD because by its nature it’s computer-aided design. The amount of this you actually use is up to you. In theory, you can just load up free 3D models for printing and use the native software on your printer to get the job done. If you want to manipulate things further or ensure no errors, you will be using elements of CAD with your printer’s own slicer or a third party. You can accomplish anything from thickening your model’s walls to adding hollow points, to simulating and identifying potential errors before printing. If you’re an expert designer, you might even build your own complex model from the ground up. For that, you will need to look out for the best CAD software for 3D printing.  

Is SketchUp good for 3d printing?

SketchUp is an adequate choice for 3D printing. Not only does it allow you to sketch your own models and digitize them, and you can export them as printable files for your 3D printer in STL. Just be warned that complex models may need further tweaking. Some of the best 3D printing software has 3D drawing software capabilities itself, so you will not need SketchUp – it is more aimed at architecture designs.

What is the easiest 3D software to learn?

For absolute beginners, we would have to say TinkerCAD is the easiest 3D modeling software for 3D printing. Not only can it be easily accessed by browser, but it also has a free version for you to get to grips with the basics. This is closely followed by VECTARY – it’s free, browser-based, and can easily export your creations to common formats 3D printers can read and print. 

What is the best 3D printing software?

The best overall 3D printing software in terms of ease of use and range of features is Autodesk Fusion 360. It’s the chosen software of professional engineers and designers and has the ability to model and print mechanical parts. However, since this is beyond the needs of a lot of people, Ultimaker Cura comes in close second thanks to its open-source philosophy and wide out-of-the-box support for 3D printers of all classes. The best 3D modeling software goes to Autodesk Maya, though that’s because of its advanced animation capabilities that go beyond what most 3D printer users need.