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The Complete Starter’s Guide for 3D Printing Software

The software to use for 3D printing was never laid out for me when I started, and over time I learned more and more about different software I could use to make my printing much easier. To save others from spending time doing the same thing, I wanted to present the different software options for 3D printing.

First off, you need some software to create STL files, which is the standard for 3D printed models. Of course I will always recommend Blender for this task. Not because it’s free, but because it has the most compatibility for 3D printing. The addon 3DPrint Toolbox will help you create 3D Printer Friendly objects, checking for different features on each model.
NOTE: I don’t care what others say, you can create models with precise measurements with Blender. With a mixture of the Ruler Tool, edge length display, and basic transforms with numbers, you can accomplish the same thing as a CAD program (There are even more addons to help with such). Check out almost any BlenderGuru tutorial for more information. 
3D Pinter Slicer Software
After you have created a STL formatted model, you need to interpret that model into code the 3D printer can understand. The software used to create such, is called a “slicer”. The reason for the name, is that the slicer cuts the model into slices or layers, telling the height and length of each layer for the controller software. The recommended software to use is shown below:
3D Printer Controller
Once you have your model sliced into layer, you need to be able to send that code to the printer. While a lot of 3D printer manufacturers offer their own software, others rely on open source application to control their printers. Of course the open source solutions are not the best, they are free. Simplify3D offers a great controller for many different printers, and is by far my favorite of them all. Here are the different controllers I recommend:
Matter Control
Repetier Host
Model Manipulation
Now you may think that’s all you need, but there are other applications to have on the side for model manipulation. If you are not using Simplify3D, you may find that you need some way of applying custom support structures to some models. If that is the case, MeshMixer is a great alternative. The program is created around a MakerBot replicator, but models can be exported to STL for use on any 3D printer.
There may be times when your model is too large for your printing platform, and cutting models into pieces can be a royal pain, especially making them 3D printer friendly afterwards. In such a case, a wonderful application called NetFabb is an awesome solution. The free version will give you basic cutting ability, and enough to work for many projects. If you want to be even easier, the private license offers a lot of extra features a lot of makers have found extremely useful.
Once you have a chosen your mix of software, you will have to ability to create, and effectively print any model you could possibly think of. You may notice that a lot of this software will work on Windows and OSX, and will even work on Linux. No matter what platform you’re on, you should be able to accomplish everything you need to. Make note, that this is not an entire list of software available, but simply a collective of recommended software. There are many other solutions, but are not near as powerful as the software mentioned in this article.
*Simplify3D is a commercial application, and requires the end user to purchase a license to use.
** Skeinforge is a perfect example of a maker’s dream slicer, offering more options than any other slicer, but is extremely hard to use, and calibrate.