Aug 152018

Would anyone like to recommend some 3D printing software to our members? I know we’ve got people who are interested and not sure where to start. I’m planning an article for the next Panellist, but I don’t have the expertise to rate the different options myself. So far I’ve heard of:

  • TinkerCad and SketchUp — free and designed for beginners. Any good? Too simplistic?
  • Blender — free, but looks like it’s more for graphic design and animation? Useful or rubbish?
  • Fusion 360 — free if you’ve got access to an email. We get 2 x £20 licences as a charity. After that, £££££. Thoughts?
  • Alibre Atom — Derby panel have wrangled us a deal of £168 per licence in return for some good publicity. Worth it?
  • Solidworks — Expensive! Expect this would be out of our budget even after a negotiated discount.

What are you all using? What have I missed? What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment or ping me an email ( My Panellist article is depending on you guys!

  16 Responses to “3D Printing Software”

  1. Dear all I have used MicroStation, proengineer, sketchup, solidworks, openscad, And FreeCad. I think the latter fits best to Remaps needs. I am happy to set up a free course for remap members on how to use freeCAD or general CAD design. I am based in London near a the train station in Kingston and would have access to an event space.

    I also have experience with 3D printers and CNC machines and laser cutter. And they are both near to where the event space is being able to provide a bit of hands on if needed.

    I use these machines and software as my day job so it would not be out of my way.

  2. Lots of options! Thanks so much everyone! Is there a particular programme you’d point beginners to? And what’s the initial learning curve like?

    • For beginners who have no CAD experience, OpenSCAD if you are comfortable with using a simple scripting language. It’s simple to use and, being a script language, you can copy/paste other people’s examples into your project and import and use parts from previous projects/designs. You do need to be comfortable creating objects with a script though, this isn’t a drag and drop environment.
      If you’re not comfortable with a script base system and want something more “drag and drop” then FreeCAD is worth looking at, after a few years of relative neglect it seems to be gaining momentum again and I’ve noticed a few big open source projects migrating across to use FreeCAD to generate the models. FreeCAD can also incorporate OpenSCAD scripts and designs which is a big plus for me ! OnShape is also worth a look but I’ve had some issues with that in the past, exporting bad model files that don’t slice properly, especially when scaled.

    • Personally I found tinkercad to be the easiest, I was up and running in 10 minutes.

      The printing is a little trickier, but only a few failed attempts.

      Happy to print some items out for remap members.

    • There’s a 3D topic section on this forum

  3. Onshape is another option – cloud based CAD that is free to use if you are happy to make your designs public.

  4. Fusion 360 and Cura for slicing.

    I also ocasionally use Onecad – which is a web based system and runs under PC/MAC and Linux and is free.

    I think if you have a PC then Fusion 360 takes some beating.

    BTW – I have a Wanhao i3 Plus printer and it works very well.

  5. For design I primarily use OpenSCAD, it’s pretty much aimed directly at designing for 3D print and it’s very rare that it produces problem files.
    The main advantage for me is that, if used properly, the resulting design is parametric so allows for real flexibility in design. All elements are built in relation to each other so changing a single value at the top of the design can adjust all related sizes and positions.
    I’ve been designing with OpenSCAD for around 4 years now and have yet to find a design I can’t produce. There are a number of examples on thingiverse of OpenSCAD designs, including some of mine.
    Generally speaking the design is the “simple” bit, slicing the resulting model to suit your printer, the material and the intended use of the object is the complex bit !

  6. The software listed is 3D CAD software not 3D printing software exactly, it can be used for many processes such as laser cutting, CNC machining or just providing drawings.

    Blender is good for organic shapes not really suited to Engineering parts.

    Fusion 360 is free for hobby use and extremely cheap for start ups (turn over less than 100k) it is just about the same as Solidworks but contains CAM (computer aided manufacturing) software that costs 6k if you buy it as an add on for Solidworks.

    My Solidworks licence cost me about 1k a year to keep up and I think it was 2k the first year.

    I also use Rhino3D which is good for surfaces and changing between file formats, they do a good educational discount but not super cheap at full price.


  7. I’ve tried a few packages out and find fusion 360 to be all you’ll ever need, luckily I have a email address. Tinkercad is really easy and great for simple prints, realistically 95% my prints fall into this category.

    Jack – not sure if you’ve looked at for 3d printing costs? It can be surprisingly cheap. If you have a design that you want to, feel free to send it through to me and I’ll see if I’m up to the task (my I’m still learning).

  8. Try openSCAD particularly if you like a command-line style, FreeCAD is good. None are quick/easy to learn. Blender is powerful but a lot to learn.
    You can try your local MakerSpace/Hackspace for a printer to use. Once you have an STL file someone will probably try it for you, though you need experienced input to know what’s going to work. Most only use PLA which isn’t really very nice. With others eg ABS, you can get a smooth finish.
    Bear in mind anything with a dimension larger than about 240mm may be a problem to get printed.
    A print cost of say £100 might sound a lot, but if you factor in the time it takes to saw, sand and varnish something wooden and complex, it can look reasonable.
    While you’re at it, check what can be made from thin-ish plywood or acrylic, by a laser cutter. They’ll cut anything you can draw, in 2D. Thickness depends on power but you can easily glue sheets together.

  9. Hi have you explored Technology Exchange they have a cloud version of Autodesk and possibly other stuff too.
    There is free design software courtesy of RS available.
    I don’t use any CAD programmes but Solidworks is good and very versatile.

    • Thanks Ashley! Most of our software in the office comes through Technology Exchange, and it’s where I found Fusion initially. When you get in to the T&Cs though, it’s limited to 2 installs per organisation. We could have a go at arguing that each panel is an organisation, but I suspect it’ll be done by charity number.

  10. Taking your idea a stage further, are there printer groups who would be happy to undertake quality printing (for a ‘modest’ fee) from an appropriate file. We can’t all afford, or be ‘allowed’, to own our own 3D printer.

    • It’s amazing what Mrs Midge ends up having to buy me for Christmas/birthdays Jack – though I haven’t managed a 3D printer yet! It might be worth a chat to your local Rotary as they seem to be more inclined to donate when it is for something specific.

      There are companies who offer a print and post service already (not sure how expensive it is), and one of my colleagues was telling me just the other day that Amazon have their eye on the 3D print on-demand market too.

      As 3D printing has so much potential, but is specialised with a fair learning curve, I think your point is well made and we should look to pool our resources and expertise in every way we can.

    • I am happy to have some 3D print jobs done with my machine. I would ask to be be piad the consumables.
      My local hackspace Richmond maker labs has a couple of 3D printers that can be used.
      Also an interesting service I discovered is
      There is also 3D hubs.

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