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Schwarz-Brot

Tools of the trade - Software

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I'd like to jump in before @LostCosmonauts gets to write all the articles about 3d printing.

My goal with this thread is to collect some information about software tools useful or needed for 3d printing. The list is by no means final, so if you know something or feel the need to correct some information jump right in. If you have some information about software not listed yet, please post it with some additional information.

 

Creating 3d Models for print

There's several ways to get models for printing. The easiest thing to start out is using a platform like thingiverse or cgtrader to get some models to start with.

Can't find it? Hire a 3d artist - many are taking jobs via these platforms - or create it yourself.

First thing to decide is what kind of model are you going to do:

  • Something highly technical with many regular, symmetrical and angular features, or
  • something very organic or with complex curves

This gives a hint about the software to chose. Technical parts are ideally designed in a parametric CAD package. You can go back to any aspect of the design and set every part of the geometry to a defined size at any time. This is perfect for scaling and parts of known sizes. Organic parts are better approached with a 3d modelling or sculpting package like used for animation. What is important to understand is that you are not bound into one or the other world. For kit manufacturing it is easy to do the technical parts in parametric CAD, then import the model in a 3d sculpting software and design tubes, cables and tire patterns there to fit to the exact geometric parts. This way the strength of both worlds can be leveraged.

For the average hobbyist high end software for professionals is likely unaffordable and for sure the wrong thing to invest in if you just want to test the waters. Luckily there are very powerful free or open source packages available that are not much behind the commercial offerings. Highly recommendable for high end use are the following:

 

  • Blender, available via https://www.blender.org/ is free and open source. Ultimately powerful for organic models, digital sculpting and photorealistic renderings. Can do technical designs as well, but is not a parametric CAD, so you are working with aproximations. Blender has a huge community and many professionals use it. Tons of youtube tutorials out there to help you get started. And those you will need - the learning curve is very steep and the usage is highly unintuitive for the average windows guy. Though you'll get to quick results working along some tutorials.
  • Maya, a commercial offering by Autodesk. Does essentially the same as blender for lots of money.
  • 3DS Max. Another commercial offering by Autodesk. Again a special effects and sculpting tool for big money. Tip by @Mig Eater
  • ZBrush. Professional specialized Sculpting tool. Monthley subscription or very expensive standalone licence available. Accordingly to @ratsmitglied the goto solution for traditional sculptors making the switch to the digital domain. After browsing the pixologic site I can see why. http://pixologic.com/
  • ZBrushCore. Pixologics little brother for ZBrush. All the basic tools for a relatively affordable and probably very fair price. Also a cheaper subscription is available. http://zbrushcore.com/

 

  • Fusion 360, available here https://www.autodesk.de/products/fusion-360/overview is free, but closed source. It has all the tools the high end parametric CAD packages have, but works completely cloud based. Free versions are available but well hidden. Very powerful tools for all geometric modelling to exact dimensions. Good tools for designing technical parts with curves. Also a very steep learning curve, but tons of official tutorials I highly recommend to work along and lots of youtube content available to get you started. Probably the goto solution for most vehicle and technical modellers in any genre.
  • Inventor, Fusion 360s big and expensive professional brother, also by Autodesk.
  • TinkerCAD, Fusion360s little brother, aimed at the maker-market. Also Autodesk, free to use. Runs in the browser, so probably a good one to test the waters if you are new to the 3d designing game. Available here: https://www.tinkercad.com/ Thank you, @LostCosmonauts for the tip.
  • Solidworks. Same level as Inventor, Professional software for CAD professionals. Expensive. Tip again by @LostCosmonauts
  • Shapr3d. IPad only. Seems to be very intuitive. Have heard of it several times now. Tip by @Pouln
  • OpenSCAD. Free and open Source parametric CAD system. Can do essentially all CAD work but is highly focused on the parametric aspect. You'll need to describe everything you do with coordinates, bool operators and mathematical equations. Very effective for simple designs, but IMHO nothing for modelling. Tip by @ratsmitglied. From the https://www.openscad.org/about.html
    Quote

    OpenSCAD is not an interactive modeller. Instead it is something like a 3D-compiler that reads in a script file that describes the object and renders the 3D model from this script file. This gives you (the designer) full control over the modelling process and enables you to easily change any step in the modelling process or make designs that are defined by configurable parameters.

  • FreeCAD. Another OpenSource parametric CAD system. This one is more aiming to be like Inventor or Solidworks. Powerful, but not too polished yet. I expect this one to become more powerful over time. https://www.freecadweb.org/index.php
  • Catia v5. The next BIG player in commercial CAD offerings. Big money, big feature list. Very common in the automotive industry. Tip by @wellsprop
  • OnShape. Another Cloud based parametric CAD offering. Probably the equivalent to Fusion360 for the solidworks folks. Free to use but your designs end up free for all to use. Tip by @zebra https://www.onshape.com/products/free

 

After the model was created it is time to export it to a format the printer software understands. This usually means STL format. These days almost all 3d software can export to this format, so no worries here.

 

Checking and manipulating your files

Why would you do that? It may happen you downloaded a model that wasn't intended for 3d printing. Then it may have areas that lead to errors - holes in the mesh, unfused edges, inverted surfaces... Things like that. Or the model needs to be hollowed out. You may have overhangs that are not printable and lead to missprints. You'll get the terminology when you dig a little deeper into the topic. Some printing software will throw errors at you, some will simply freeze and some will let you print anyway to find out something went wrong later.

You may also have some files you need to cut into several pieces to fit them to your build volume or maybe wont to distort the part in a simple way. This can be done with the big tools above, but some simple tools go a long way here.

 

  • Blender again, has a 3d print plugin that allows to check for problems with 3d meshes. Very powerful if you can't find a problem or work with files not intended for printing. It can highlight the problematic mesh part and blender gives you the tools to repair the mesh.
  • Meshmixer, again an autodesk offering: http://www.meshmixer.com/  This is probably not longer actively developed, but was the goto tool for quite a while. I don't know of a substitute as cabable. It can manipulate meshes very easily and in powerful ways. AFAIR it can repair meshes as well.
  • Photon File Validator, available via Github: https://github.com/Photonsters/PhotonFileValidator/releases/tag/2.0  is a very helpful tool for resin printing. I use it all the time. Its only purpose is to find unsupported islands that lead to misprints because they start floating in your resin tub or stick to the FEP film. I highly recommend using it whenever you get a new design ready for print.
  • Microsoft 3d builder is a free to use toolbox for simple manipulation and repairing Tasks. Tip by @LostCosmonauts and @ratsmitglied. Available here: https://www.microsoft.com/de-de/p/3d-builder/9wzdncrfj3t6?activetab=pivot:overviewtab

 

 

Printing and slicing

A 3d printer works by adding layer upon layer to build up the volume of the model. To do so it needs to know what these layers should look like. The slicer takes the model and breaks it up into layers of a defined thickness. With many printers you are free to use whatever slicing software you happen to have and like. Some printers only accept a proprietary file format. Often your slicer will be able to translate to that format. Sometimes you are bound to the printers original software. Usually the software that comes with your printer is good enough to get you going and do most things. Often it is a specialized flavor of an open Source slicer. Because of this I cannot recommend something specific - all I use these days is chitubox which is packaged with my printer. Please feel free to fill this blank space!

 

 

 

Please commit to this topic by adding your goto software and writing about what it can do and where to get it. My hope is to get a little collection over time that helps others to find alternatives and information to get started on the software side at all.

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That’s a brilliant synopsis 

 

Drafting or design I can think of to add: 

- Tinkercad as an easy browser based intro

- Solidworks I don’t know enough about that to make useful comment but I think at least a couple of people on the site use and may be able to chip in on

 

I think even Microsoft bundle 3D builder or something into Windows 10? I’ve not tried it out so don’t know how useful or usable it might be

 

The slicing software I use is Cura which is available as a free download but others I know of and considered included Simplify3D and PrusaSlicer

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2 hours ago, Schwarz-Brot said:

 

 

Printing and slicing

A 3d printer works by adding layer upon layer to build up the volume of the model. To do so it needs to know what these layers should look like. The slicer takes the model and breaks it up into layers of a defined thickness. With many printers you are free to use whatever slicing software you happen to have and like. Some printers only accept a proprietary file format. Often your slicer will be able to translate to that format. Sometimes you are bound to the printers original software. Usually the software that comes with your printer is good enough to get you going and do most things. Often it is a specialized flavor of an open Source slicer. Because of this I cannot recommend something specific - all I use these days is chitubox which is packaged with my printer. Please feel free to fill this blank space!

 

Most cheap Resin printers these days ship with either Chitubox or a customised version of it, so this is probably the go-to slicer for resin printing (I'm not sure what the Prusa uses)

For Filament printing the mains ones are simplify3d, prusaslicer and Slic3r - in my experience Cura is the easiest to use, and for many of the most common printers there are either predefined settings in Cura or easy-to-find mods or printer profiles that can be downloaded.

For software youv'e also got Microsoft 3d Builder, which is excellent for splitting files along a plane should you need to split files for printing (or if you only want a small part of a file)

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For those of you who are in possession of an Apple iPad Pro (or a newer normal iPad that supports the Apple pen, there is a direct modelling tool called Shapr3d that does not have a steep learning curve.

downside is that if you want to do anything serious, you’ll need to take out a paid subscription.

It lets you design stuff quite easily.

As it is not a parametric modelling tool, you cannot go back, change something and then redo the remainder, although they do promise this for the future.

You can undo your work until where you want, but if you then change anything you need to redo all individual actions.

Anyway, I find this a really pleasant tool to work with.

 

I have a first generation apple pro with 9.7 inch screen, but even with this old (2016) tablet, it works fine.

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There's also procedural modelling tools like OpenSCAD, where you essentially write code to generate the desired shape - very useful for doing regular shapes, or complex shapes made up by a combination of regular shapes.

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I use Autodesk 3DS Max which is a polygonal based modelling program similar to Blender & Maya. It's mainly used for making special effects in films & models for computer games, which is what I originally learned to use it for. It can export SLA files though so I stuck with what I know & continued using it for 3D printing. Like Maya it cost a lot & the amount of tools/options is overkill for just simple 3D prints, so I wouldn't recommend it to any beginners.

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I've used FreeCad and OnShape. FreeCad is pretty good and works quite well, but I found it buggy and it crashed a lot (but I've been wondering whether that was because my computer didn't have enough memory). I was pretty happy with the 3D printed results, which I think is what counts.

 

OnShape is a cloud-based parametric CAD package, I think it's related to Solidworks but don't quote me on that, there's a pricey professional subscription but also a free hobbyist option - you just have to agree to having your work in the public domain. It seems to work a lot like FreeCad, but I found it simpler and quicker to use.

 

Not used 3D sculpting software, any recommendations?

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I'm designing on CATIA V5, it's a ridiculously powerful tool, vastly better than Solidworks etc, but it's certainly not optimised for making models!

 

Just trying to get to grips with importing plans etc and it does actually work quite well. It has a very powerful surfacing workbench too which is useful for creating masks etc for complex surfaces.

 

EDIT: I should add, it's not really possible to buy CATIA as an individual and the license cost is astronomic - being the most powerful and widely used aerospace design software. It's also what Airfix a d a number of other modelling companies use.

Edited by wellsprop

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For sculpting of figures many of the professionals are now using ZBrush - which expensive but very powerful (ok, so I'm a wargamer), and these figures are often then used for traditional casting or injection moulding. Many ZBrush sculptors have actually moved to it from traditional methods.

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At the slicer end there is also Formware, which is bundled with some printers.

It supports many printers out of the box, which makes life easier.

It is not free, but there is a reduced price for personal use licenses.

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Thanks for this comprehensive over-view Schwarz-Brot. I have just started to learn Blender with the aim of creating some interesting figures in 1/72 scale. I haven’t purchased a printer yet but hope to get a resin printer such as the Mars Elegoo Pro.  This forum has arrived at just the right time for me.

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Well, most of the input is from our fine users, I only started the list. If it helped just a bit I'm happy. 🙂

 

It would be nice to see your work evolve as you learn. Maybe you can open an own thread on this? I know Blender is a beast. So many functions, very unintuitive, but I'm sure some of us would like to follow and learn.

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7 hours ago, solastcentury said:

Thanks for this comprehensive over-view Schwarz-Brot. I have just started to learn Blender with the aim of creating some interesting figures in 1/72 scale. I haven’t purchased a printer yet but hope to get a resin printer such as the Mars Elegoo Pro.  This forum has arrived at just the right time for me.

Best of luck with that - If you're interested I know that HumbleBundle currently has a bundle which includes a book on Blender (aimed at animators, but many of the principles will be the same)

 

As to the printer, from everything I've heard about the Elegoo Mars I don't think you can go wrong with the Mars Pro!

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Thanks for the HumbleBundle tip, it looks interesting.  When I get to the stage of actually sculpting some figures in Blender I’ll be sure to share how things go on the forum.

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