3D printing is the production of three-dimensional objects from digital 3D models using additive manufacturing methods. Some form of 3D printing software is necessary to translate a computer model’s shape into printing commands. Different types of 3D software get used for different stages in the 3D printing process: CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, 3D modeling software, slicing tools, STL editors, 3D printer hosts, and G-code viewing software. Each tool has a specific purpose within the process. Free 3D printing software that covers each of these categories is available, including three of the best: Tinkercad, Blender, and Fusion 360®
This article lists the best free 3D printing software with their function, features, operating system compatibility, printer compatibility, and key features.
Tinkercad is a free web-based 3D modeling software with a straightforward user interface that is perfect for beginners. It helps users construct 3D objects out of simple shapes while modifying parameters to produce precise results. Users can also construct geometric (vector) shapes in 2D and then turn them into 3D models using Tinkercad. 3D models can be saved in three different formats: OBJ, STL, and SVG. The platform offers a variety of learning resources that come in handy for beginners.
Blender is a free, open-source 3D modeling and rendering software. The learning curve for this software is fairly steep, though, so it is not considered beginner-friendly. Blender is best suited for small design firms or individual designers. It is compatible with Linux®, Windows®, and macOS®. It comes with a user-friendly interface that allows you to create your own 3D models or simply modify existing ones. The software supports a wide range of file formats, including ABC, USD, OBJ, FBX, PLY, and STL. It also allows for easy import and preparation of STL files for modeling.
3. Fusion 360®
Autodesk’s Fusion 360® is a computer-aided design/manufacturing/engineering program used for machining, 3D printing, and 3D modeling. Files can be accessed from any device thanks to the platform's cloud-based architecture. Both professionals and amateurs can benefit from the software's seamless blend of design, engineering, and manufacturing capability in a single package. It offers 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. Fusion 360® distinguishes itself from competitors by providing advanced collaborative features. Version control, cloud-based file sharing, and import/export of popular CAD file types are all supported. The program is free for hobbyists, students, and startups and can be used on Windows® and macOS®.
Cura is beginner-friendly open-source software that was created for the Ultimaker 3D printers. However, the program can be used with most modern 3D printers and can easily be expanded with some handy plugins. The software offers an easy-to-use interface and has all the most critical 3D print settings. It also has the option to import 2D photos (.JPG, .PNG, .BMP, and .GIF) and convert them to 3D extruded models. The program supports OBJ, STL, and 3MF file formats. Multiple models can be opened and placed on the print bed using Cura—each with independent slice settings if required. Cura is a desktop app that is compatible with macOS®, Linux®, and Windows®, and can be downloaded free from Ultimaker’s website.
FreeCAD is an open-source CAD modeling software. It is beginner-friendly with all the basic features needed to produce 3D CAD models. FreeCAD is a popular option for hobbyists and professionals alike. As a parametric design tool, FreeCAD creates models based on parameters rather than straightforward drag-and-drop geometric modeling. The software makes it possible to go back into the history of your model and change those parameters, giving you control over every part of your design. The experimental workbenches, finite element analysis (FEA) tools, and robot simulation modules in this 3D design program enable users to simulate robotic movements. Users can also draw 2D shapes as foundations from which to build more objects. FreeCAD is made for a wide range of design industries, including mechanical engineering, product design, architecture, and more.
6. SketchUp Free
SketchUp is a web-based CAD application that is suited for beginners, intermediate users, and professionals. The program has a flat learning curve that makes it easy for beginners to pick up, but it also offers advanced drawing tools for professional users. SketchUp can import and export in STL format. Its VR (virtual reality) view also allows the designer to visualize the final product before printing. Another advantage of SketchUp Free is that it includes most of the 3D modeling tools available in SketchUp’s paid versions. You can access features like mobile model viewing, 10 GB of cloud storage, and access to the 3D Warehouse, a model library filled with user-generated material and projects. However, as a web-based application, the free version doesn’t support plug-in extensions.
OctoPrint is a free open-source web-based 3D printing host that offers complete control over both the 3D printer and 3D printing operations. The software can be coupled with a WiFi device (e.g. Raspberry Pi) so you can control your printer remotely using the web interface. You can also set the program up to send push notifications or alerts through messaging apps. OctoPrint can use G-code from any slicing software and has a gCodeVisualizer which helps you understand how the printing files will look before and during the printing process. The software is also capable of slicing STL files with its all-one-one print package. OctoPrint has a close-knit community and the website comes with a diverse set of plug-ins and add-ons created by community members.
The slicer program PrusaSlicer was created by the Prusa 3D printer company. It was developed to satisfy the needs of FDM and SLA 3D printers and is based on a prior open-source slicing program known as Slic3r. PrusaSlicer is a free and open-source program with beginner, intermediate, and advanced versions and is available in 14 languages. It also contains important features like: multi-material support, customizable support structures, and simple changeable layer height functions.
PrusaSlicer was one of the first slicers to be adapted to MSLA printing and can be used with FDM and LCD-based resin printers. The software is compatible with Windows®, Linux®, and macOS® operating systems.
Meshmixer is an advanced free 3D printing software made by Autodesk® that can be used to view, design, edit, modify, and repair STL files. The software can spot potential problems or ‘weaknesses’ in your model’s design and will fix them automatically. Meshmixer is feature-rich and offers features like 3D sculpting, drag-and-drop mesh mixing, 3D lattices, and patterns, mesh smoothing, and more. The software can run on macOS® and Windows®.
10. Lychee Slicer
Mango 3D’s Lychee Slicer is a third-party slicing program intended for resin 3D printers. The software comes in three pricing plans: Free, Pro ($5.94), and Premium ($9.90). In addition to standard capabilities like precisely slicing the model for 3D printing, there are other interesting features like real-time cavity production, island detector, and more. It is compatible with Linux®, Windows®, and macOS®.
UVTools is open-source software that can be used on resin (LCD/DLP) printers. The software is compatible with Windows®, macOS®, and Linux® and can be used to view files and modify and repair layers of MSLA printer profiles. The new version of the software has twin-stage motor control that increases the likelihood of a successful print and reduces the total print time by allowing the machine to print simple aspects of the part faster than others. UVTools also has a calibration-print option, allowing you to test new resins and layer height settings more easily.
MeshLab is a free open-source STL editing software system that runs on Windows®, macOS®, and Linux®. The program can be used to view, edit, repair, merge, and analyze 3D triangular meshes. Files can be exported in various file formats like STL, OBJ, PLY, OFF, and 3DS. MeshLab has an intuitive user interface which makes it ideal for beginners.
Vectary is a free web-based CAD and 3D modeling software. This design tool has a unique interface that will be intuitive to users that are already accustomed to 2D design software. There are a few product tiers to choose from; the free option offers most of the paid features, but only exports certain file types. The free version also comes with a commercial license.
AstroPrint is a 3D printing host and cloud-based slicing software. It allows you to control and monitor multiple printing machines with cloud-based storage. Paid versions of AstroPrint exist, but the free version offers enough functionality to easily manage one or even multiple printers remotely. If your printer doesn’t have a Wi-Fi module, you might want to invest in a Raspberry Pi and then set up a WiFi dongle with AstroBox. AstroPrint will then allow you to prepare and send your files to the printer through a web interface without any additional software. The program is unique in that it seamlessly integrates with MyMiniFactory and Thingiverse. It is also compatible with free 3D CAD software such as Leopoly and 3D Slash.
ideaMaker is a slicing software made by Raise3D. The software is optimized for the company’s own printers but also performs well on third-party machines. The program is used with FDM printers and has dual-extrusion compatibility—it can be used to slice objects for dual-extrusion 3D printers.
With just two clicks, the user-friendly interface can create STL, OBJ, and 3MF files. And for more experienced users, the preset options allow for virtually endless customization. The slicing process is quick, effective, and cost-free. ideaMaker is compatible with Windows®, macOS®, and Linux®.
ZBrushCoreMini is a virtual sculpting tool that can be used to create figures or statues. The program is compatible with both Windows® and macOS®. Though geared more toward beginners and intermediate users, it is still packed with features. ZBrushCoreMini uses dynamic tessellation to continuously assess the surface of your model to make sure the details are accurately displayed and it adds polygons as necessary. It has been specifically made to work with ZBrush and ZBrushCore. When users are looking to advance, they can easily import their meshes into a more sophisticated 3D sculpting program.
Kiri:Moto is a free browser-based slicing tool. This robust file preparation tool can be used to set up objects for 3D printing (filament or resin-based), laser engraving, or CNC routing. The settings are, however, more basic than locally installed slicing software. Still, a few simple settings such as the build volume, G-code flavor, and the number of extruders, give it complete flexibility when adding printers. Additionally, Kiri:Moto generates the necessary G-code parameters for compatible printers.
18. MatterControl 2.0
The MatterControl desktop host from MatterHackers is an all-in-one CAD program, slicer, and printer host. The program is compatible with Linux®, Windows®, and macOS®. To use it, your printer will require a Wi-Fi module of some sort or a USB connection to your PC. When linked via USB, MatterControl can slice new models created from scratch in the CAD portion of the software. It can also directly control and monitor printing. For experienced users that would like more advanced features, a MatterControl Pro version is available for a fee.
19. G-Code Analyser
G-Code Analyser is a very useful web-based 3D printing software used to evaluate G-code. The program gives you access to the full-text file of the instructions that will be sent to your printer. When you provide your printer settings, the browser-based G-Code Analyser platform can compute the time, average speed, and total distance that the print head must cover. It will also display a visualization of the process. Models are displayed in 2D during the visualization phase from a top-down viewpoint.
IceSL can be used as a slicing tool and a 3D modeling program. The software is compatible with Windows® and Linux® and can be used for filament printers. If you open the program, you’ll find that the screen is divided. The left section allows you to edit your 3D model directly through a Lua-based programming language. On the right, there will be a panel of slicing settings. IceSL is beginner-friendly, but experienced users can easily expand into more advanced settings. A recently added feature allows users to define several values for multiple layer heights. This enables, among other things, seamless changes between layer heights and filling densities as the print head moves.
WebPrinter is a free G-code previewing software that can be used in both browser-based and downloadable formats. The software is made for FDM printers. The program is easy to use; simply click on the link, upload the file, and then allow WebPrinter to open the file. The user interface makes it appear as though you are witnessing your print come to life. WebPrinter also generates real-time graphs and charts that provide you with data about print flow and speed during the simulation.
22. ChiTuBox Basic
CTB Systems’ ChiTuBox Basic is a 3D printing software that comes with most budget desktop resin printing machines. The slicing software’s primary purpose is to slice 3D models for LCD-based MSLA (masked stereolithography) resin printers. It maintains a straightforward user interface while providing excellent control over printing parameters. Though the model orientation feature of the software is pretty basic, the configuration of supports and customization options are intuitive and easy to use. Windows®, macOS®, and Linux® are all supported. While the ChiTuBox Pro annual subscription costs $169 per license, the basic version is free.
What is 3D Printing Software?
3D printing software is an umbrella term that encompasses computer programs designed for 3D printing applications, including: CAD software, slicing software, STL editing software, and G-code viewing software. Each of these software types has a different function in the 3D printing cycle. CAD and 3D modeling programs are both used to create 3D models to be printed. CAD programs are used to create mechanical components and working prototypes, whereas 3D modeling programs are better suited for creative designs.
Slicing software, on the other hand, is used to convert the 3D model (usually an STL file) into a format the printer understands, called G-code, which gives the printer specific printing instructions. Slicing tools can preview the printing path from start to finish. G-code editing software is software that allows you to view or simulate the G-code files generated by the slicing software. Finally, STL editing software lets you view, edit, or sometimes even repair STL 3D printing files.
For more information, see our guide on 3D Printing.
What is the Most Widely Used Free 3D Printing Software?
The most common free 3D printing software packages are Blender and Tinkercad for 3D modeling, Cura for slicing, Meshmixer for STL editing, and G-Code Analyser for G-code viewing.
How Does 3D Printing Software Work?
The 3D printing workflow is driven by its associated software. There are five primary types of 3D printing software in a typical workflow as shown in Figure 1: