STL files are a type of vector file that contains information about the model that was created in 3D modeling software. Simply put, an STL file defines the surface geography of a 3D model or object. STL files are commonly used when creating a 3D printable object and can be exported from many different software programs. An STL editor, on the other hand, gives the designer the capability of creating, opening, editing, modifying, or merging STL files. To date, the three best STL editors are: SelfCAD© (best overall), Blender®, and FreeCAD. This article lists the top 10 best STL editors of 2023 and includes discussions of what an STL file is, why it is important, and how to choose the best STL editor for your needs.
1. SelfCAD© (Overall Best STL Editor of 2023)
SelfCAD© is a browser-based STL editor that is easy to use. This tool can be used for sculpting, sketching, rendering, and 3D printing. With SelfCAD© you can export your 3D models in STL, OBJ, AMF file formats for 3D printing. It is also possible to import these files and modify them based on your needs.
The SelfCAD© user interface is straightforward enough for beginners just learning the program, but also provides advanced options for experts. For example, when importing models from STL files, there's an option under the File menu called “Import & Export Settings” that gives access to custom features specific to each file type (e.g., OBJ files).
Blender® is a free, open-source 3D modeling and rendering software best suited for small design firms or individual designers. It has a user-friendly interface that allows users to create new 3D models or modify existing ones. Blender is a very diverse software that can also be used for 3D printing, game development, and animation.
This software boasts many useful tools, such as algorithms that can smooth or interpret a surface, which can be useful for creating high-poly models (a 3D asset with a high polygon count). The program supports a wide range of file formats, including ABC, USD, OBJ, FBX, PLY, and STL. This tool also allows for easy import and preparation of STL files for 3D printing. On the downside, Blender® has a steep learning curve, and its complex meshes might require a lot of computing power.
FreeCAD is a general-purpose parametric 3D CAD modeler. It is designed to make the design process easier for new users by providing the basic set of features required to produce 3D CAD models. FreeCAD is used by many hobbyists and professionals and is a good choice for anyone getting started in 3D printing, or exploring alternative STL editor options.
FreeCAD makes it possible for anyone to create high-quality drawings, designs, and internal parts, even if they have no prior experience with engineering, computer programming, or computer-aided drafting (CAD). The program can be used as an entry-level tool for engineers who wish to learn how to use a 3D modeling program but also as an advanced tool that allows them great creative freedom.
SketchUp® is a web-based 3D modeling application with STL support. Its user-friendly interface makes it ideal for beginners. Sketchup® has a big community of users, and there are many tutorials and guides available. It is feature-rich enough to also be useful for intermediate users and professionals.
Besides the free version, there are paid versions (Go, Pro, and Studio) of SketchUp® available with more features, including plug-in extensions.
MeshLab™ is a free, open-source 3D mesh-processing software package that runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It can be used for viewing, editing, repairing, merging, and analyzing 3D meshes. It can export 3D meshes to other formats such as: STL, OBJ, PLY, OFF, and 3DS. MeshLab™ has an intuitive user interface which makes it easy to use even for beginners. The program is also capable of running large files.
Autodesk Meshmixer® is a free 3D CAD software that allows the creation and editing of 3D models. It enables easy exporting of 3D models in an STL file format. MeshMixer® has a built-in slicer tool, which allows designs to be sent directly to the 3D printer.
This application has been around since 2001 but has recently received an update that includes some new features such as mesh editing tools and mesh processing tools. This tool can be useful for small tweaks and can be used for resizing.
7. 3D Slash™
3D Slash™ is a free online STL editor that allows the modification of 3D models. It has an easy-to-use interface suitable for beginners. The interface is straightforward and can be downloaded for use with Windows, macOS X, Linux, or Raspberry Pi, or it can be used as a web-based application. With this tool, 3D models are built in a unique way that is similar to the popular game, Minecraft, where cubes are used to build the 3D design. This feature makes the process fun and intuitive for users of all ages. 3D Slash™ offers different pricing options, including a limited free option.
SculptGL is a free mesh-sculpting tool that can be used for both 2D and 3D work. The program provides several different digital tools that allow users to model with brushes, knives, or sculpting tools.
SculptGL is the best editor for anyone who wants to learn the process of 3D sculpting. However, if you're more advanced, SculptGL might be a bit limited. A big downside to this tool is that it can sometimes produce non-manifold vertices. A non-manifold geometry is a geometry that cannot exist in the real world. A non-manifold means that, although the model is represented digitally, it cannot exist in the real world. Since edges, faces, and vertices make up the 3D model's mesh, it must be manifold. If the mesh is non-manifold, there are flaws in the 3D model.
9. Fusion 360®
Fusion 360® is a CAD/CAM/CAE software used for 3D modeling, 3D printing, and CNC machining. It is a cloud-based platform that allows users to access files from any device. The software seamlessly combines the power of design, engineering, and manufacturing into a single platform, which makes it perfect for both amateurs and professionals. Fusion 360® has an expansive library of free models and tools, making it ideal for beginners or those who don't want to spend money on expensive plug-ins.
Autodesk TinkerCAD® is free online CAD software that is easy to use, making it perfect for beginners. This program was developed by Autodesk and used basic shapes to “build” a 3D model. TinkerCAD® also allows the user to import and edit STL files. This tool offers only limited features and support. The file size is limited to about 20 kB, and it is not available on mobile devices or macOS computers. TinkerCAD® is also missing some key features that a proper STL editor needs, such as mesh repair and surface modeling.
What is an STL File?
An STL (stereolithography or Standard Triangle Language) file is an openly documented format used to describe an object’s surface geometry in the form of a triangular mesh. Each STL file consists of a series of linked triangles that defines the surface geometry of a 3D object. The more complex the object being modeled, the smaller the triangles have to be to give an accurate representation of the model. This results in larger files — one of the drawbacks of STL files compared to AMF (additive manufacturing file) files, for example.
STL is the most popular file format for 3D printing. This file format is mainly used in rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, and computer-aided manufacturing. For more information, see our guide on All About STL File Format for 3D Printing.
What Are the Best Free STL Editors?
The best free STL editors include:
Although there are a lot of free STL editors out there, not all of them are created equally. The best all have the option to not only import but to edit or modify and export STL files and import design files from multiple sources.
How to Choose the Best STL File Editor
There are a few things to consider when selecting the best STL editor for your needs. These include:
- Application: There are two types of STL editors: mesh modeling software and solid modeling software. Mesh modeling software is suitable for 3D printing applications, whereas solid modeling software is not.
- Skill level: Some of the STL editing programs are more complex than others and might not be as beginner-friendly.
- Input: The best STL editors can import data from multiple sources.
What is the Importance of an STL Editor in 3D Printing?
An STL editor is used to create and edit 3D printing designs in the STL file format. The STL editor is used to perform the very first step of a 3D printing project: designing the actual object that will be printed. It also allows you to edit and make alterations to existing STL files and other imported file types. For more information, see our guide on 3D Printing.
Is an STL Editor Useful for 3D Printing?
Yes, an STL editor is very useful for 3D printing. STL files are the industry standard file format for 3D printing. Without an STL editor, you would be unable to make alterations to existing STL files or create new STL files from scratch.
This article presented the best STL editors, explained the options available, and discussed how to use them for 3D models or objects. To learn more about STL editors and files, contact a Xometry representative.
Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities, including 3D printing and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.
Copyright and Trademark Notices
- Blender® has been registered as a trademark by the Blender Foundation in the USA and EU.
- SketchUp® is a registered trademark of Trimble, Inc. in the USA.
- MeshLab™ is a EUIPO trademark owned by CNR.
- MeshMixer®, Fusion 360®, and TinkerCAD® are registered trademarks of Autodesk, Inc.
- 3D Slash™ is a trademark of 3D Slash.
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