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Software For Your 3D Printer

Just as there is a wide variety of 3D printers, there is also a wide variety of software you can use to create and print your ideas.

Concept To Finished Item

There are 3 steps to take your idea from concept to finished item. For each step, there are free or open source options available.

The first step is creating the item, taking it from an idea to a description. Options to create your design range from drawing programs and web sites to Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs that use a simplified programming language. These programs create a description of the item, usually as a stereo lithography (.stl) file.

The next step is to convert the .stl file into commands your 3D printer will understand. This program is sometimes called a "slicer", as it slices your design into a series of layers that the 3D printer can print.

The last step is sending those command to the printer, either directly or via a memory card.

The program you use for this last step is usually specified by the 3D printer manufacturer, and will usually combine steps 2 (slicing) and 3 (sending the commands to the printer).

For your first prints, rather than creating your own design, you can download pre-defined items and test objects from a number of sources.

How to make a 3D print

This video gives you a quick look at the steps needed to take an .slt file (downloaded in this case) and turn it into a printed object using Repetier-Host.

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SketchUp Make, originally created by Google, is an easy , fun and entirely free 3D drawing tool. While they also have a paid version, this free version will give you plenty of power to design and create.

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Autodesk 123D

Autodesk is known for their professional grade software, with professional grade pricing. They also provide the 123D site with free software you can use to sculpt and design your 3D masterpieces. A good place to learn and try things out.

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While not the easiest program to understand out-of-the-box, OpenSCAD is our webmaster's preferred program for creating .stl files.

With a simple to use "programming" language and extensive examples, OpenSCAD allows to to create items, tweak their design, and know that the final product will be printable.

The software is free and wildly used in the 3D Printing community.

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List of 3D Modeling Tools

Includes a list of the most widely used tools for creating 3D item .stl files.

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Don't want to create your own .stl files? Looking for project ideas or see how other people tackled things?

Thingiverse is the go-to place for printed objects. Includes ready-to-print .stl files, OpenSCAD programs, and tutorials.

Use their search option to locate ideas on just about any subject in your curriculum, from music to art to archeology to physics.

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25 Websites To Download Free STL Models For 3D Printers

In addition to Thingiverse, there a wide variety of places on the Internet with .stl files ready-to-print.


There are a number of "slicing" programs out there, both free and paid. When you are first starting out, you should stick with a combined program like Repetier-Host which combines the slicing and actual printing functions.

Later on you can exploe programs with names like Slic3r, Skeinforge, and CuraEngine.

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Once you have your .stl file, Repetier-Host is one of the most popular programs for slicing (step 3) and printing (step 3) your masterpiece.

While it looks a little intimidating, Repetier-Host takes you thru the process step-by-step. It's free, with versions for both PC and Mac.

This is the program we use with our Bukobot printer. Check with your printer manufacturer to see which program they recommend.

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