Slicers, CAD-programs and the like all go here.
Slicers in general
The slicer is what takes my 3D-model definition and turns it into an extrusion path for the printer to follow. Seems relatively simple, eh? It’s not.
Problem is that the deposition process is affected by a lot of external factors. Because the estruded plastic can’t just solidify instantly, laying it out on anything but solid base is a daunting task. Overhangs of any kind present a problem to be overcome. To this end, the slicer can add support structures. Either automatically or with the user’s help. Also, adding fans to the printer to help cooling the plastic quickly can help improving results – but that is not a slicer-related thing, so I’ll skip it here.
A layer being printed most often cannot be printed in one go. The print head will occasionally have to stop extruding, move somewhere else and restart the extrusion process. When moving, molten plastic tends to ooze from the nozzle into thin air, creating spindly strings, blobs and other unwanted artefacts everywhere. It’s the slicer’s job to command the mechanics to ‘snort back up’ the molten filament – and only in the places where it’s needed.
An object will by definition be 3-dimensional. If it must possess any strength against deformation when handled, it cannot be an empty shell; it must be fitted with some kind of internal structure to support the outer walls. The slicer has to figure out how to get this done – using as little material as possible.
So, it’s not that easy afterall…
Having experimented with a number of slicers available, I found that they offer different features and perform the job differently. They’re not just ‘all the same’.
I’ve tried Slic3er, Slic3r Prusa edition, Cura, Repetier, ideaMaker, CraftWare and finally Simplify3D. There’s also IceSL and its web-version SliceCrafter which I haven’t tried.
Here’s a list of G-code definitions for those who feel adventurous.
To make a long story short, I’ve settled on Simplify3D. Yes, it’s not free – but it gets the job done right. And efficiently. No stuttering, no seemingly useless little pauses during print – it all seems so right. And there’s the option to add my own support, right where I want it. No dickin’ around…
A big subject. And expensive, if you choose to go with a paid version.
Being a developer of software for two decades, I find “The procrammers CAD” OpenSCAD easy to grasp. It’s a text-based approach using functions, variables and a commandset akin to eg C. Ifs, for-nexts and whathavewe… Yoiur ‘code’ then gets translated into a 3D-object and shown in a window by tapping F5. Dead-easy!
OpenSCAD excels when your target is of a technical nature – boxes, holders, gizmos and doodads that carry strict dimensional constraints. It’s crap for doing creative work 🙂
FreeCAD then? I’ve dabbled a bit with it and tried to get a grip on the paradigm. But it’s not exactly intuitive.
It’s a lot easier to get creative with TinkerCAD. It’s very intuitive – right up to the point when you go complex. And it’s still not good for artistic stuff like figures/organic shapes. Methinks it’s best for whetting your appetite.
I’ve tried my hand with Fusion 360 – but again, it’s not easy getting off the ground. However, once you put in the effort, the results are awesome. And there IS a freeloader-version. Autodesk just don’t say that loudly. Keep looking for that golden link to the registration…
Meshmixer is a hybrid-thing, designed more to be a repair- and modding-tool. Rumoured to be good for ‘retouching’ existing designs. Right. I’ll look at it when I get a need for that. Later, that is…
Blender? Definitely. But it’s a big endeavour to take on Blender.
Forget AutoCAD, 3Dmax and Maya. Out of scope.