14 Best 3D Printing Software for 2022
For pros and beginners alike.
Updated: August 22,2022
If you’ve been looking for the best 3D printing software, then you’ve come to the right place. We reviewed 14 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:
- 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?
Top 14 3D Printing Software for 2022
The Best 3D Printing Software in 2022
- •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
- •Solidworks – Best CAD software for in-built support
- •Meshmixer – Top 3D modeling program for repairing and tweaking STL
- •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
1. Autodesk Maya
Accessible for beginners
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.
2. Autodesk Fusion 360
Good export file support
Reasonable $495 yearly price
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.
Easy to access online
Good for beginners
Import/ export 3D printer files
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.
4. 3DS Max
Import and export easily
Check the model’s STL compliant
Lots of expert features
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.
Good 3D printer support
Easy to use
Can handle complicated shapes
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.
6. Ultimaker Cura
Integrated and well-liked
Easy to use
Ensures your model’s ready
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.
3D design software FREE
Supports STL, OBJ, and DAE
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.
Import and export STL
Topology optimization saves filament
Easy to use rotation view
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.
Full Windows and Mac
Ideal for 3D printing
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.
Designed for 3D printing
Good at error detection
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.
Ideal for beginners/students
Easy STL export
Accessed via browser
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.
Used by professional architects
Easy STL support
Advanced 3D modeling features
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.
13. 3D Slash
Fun and easy
A capable 3D modeler
STL and OBJ support
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.
Free and open source
Fast and efficient
Best for modifying/repairing
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now that you know there are 14 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.
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.
A qualified journalist and longtime web content writer, Keelan has a passion for exploring information and learning new things. If he's not writing or pushing his own brands, you'll find him watching pro wrestling or trying not to rant about politics online.
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