Top 5 CAD Softwares for 3D Printing

3D CAD was an industry-shaking concept. And it’s no wonder that every bit of advancement in the field has ushered forth a new standard for builders and designers alike. Whether it be architects or product manufacturers, everybody saves time and money when creating soft prototypes before actual production.

As of just recently, the revolutionary advancements in 3D CAD have found their way into the home-user commercial sector, allowing the low-budget 3D production enthusiast to take a new swing at their favorite hobby. 3D printing now allows a software to control a set of hardware dedicated to the task of creating a solid model of the soft design from molten material.


What is 3D printing? Does it come with a software?

3d-printerA 3D printer basically prints much the same way as a regular printer, the only difference is of the ink and extra dimension. Instead of the ink, a 3D printer has a filament which is basically a plastic wire that can be melted, placed exactly as required and allowed to cool. Just like that, keep melting the filament and add layer upon layer of the molten material exactly where the model is solid, leaving out the empty space to get the shape. Nowadays many software allow 3D printing just as many manufacturers have rolled out their versions of 3D printers for different budgets and sizes.

Usually 3D printers come with their own software for viewing the model and controlling different aspects of the printing process, but are very limited in terms of actual extended functionality. This is when you need a CAD package that has its design & production related functions in sync with the 3D printing module hence allowing further control and flexibility when 3D printing.

If interested on tips and tricks to actually design in software for 3D printing, check out this tutorial. For now, let’s go ahead and see what packages would be the best and why.


Top Five CAD Softwares

1. Blender

blender 3d printer software tool

First up, is Blender, an open source, Linux based CAD package that is known the world over to offer some of the most extended functionality it all areas of CADing, even 3D animations and CGI effects for feature films. The Blender project is the Blender community’s (the developers) contribution to Hollywood productions. Even though the learning curve is a steep one, the fact that it has the world’s largest community of 3D print enthusiasts and a wealth of training and reference material is enough for any serious thoughts about 3D printing. The printing functionality is just a click away from the rest of the CAD designing tools hence you can print just as easily as you can select the draw tool and draw a line. This and the vast support for 3D printers, printing formats and other community-contributed printing resources, Blender is leading the way in economical yet hardcore 3D printing package arena.

2. TinkerCAD

tinkercad softwareSecond, we have TinkerCAD, an online, free, browser based modeling tool with some very elegant 3D printing services and features. TinkerCAD has shapes as the basic building blocks instead of you drawing every shape by joining edges with lines. This does take away some control from the designing process but that’s what you get from a free software that promises so much more. Using TinkerCAD’s grouping techniques makes it real easy to design a model from a number of shapes. For printing, TinkerCAD is compatible with all major printers because of the industry-wide standard STL format. VRML format is also supported and works well with all supported hardware. Furthermore, the SVG export works great for laser cutters letting the work plane prepare your models slices before they can be cut with a laser.

3. Sketchup

sketchup plugins

Next up, we have SketchUp. Created by Trimble and bought by Google, SketchUp rates very well in every CAD category you can imagine, with some of the extended industry-specific functionality stripped. It’s not browser based, instead installs on your system and comes in a free version also. Most of all SketchUp is probably the easiest tool for CAD illustration and drawing and has been pumping efforts in its prepping and sharing of 3D printable models modules. SketchUp reads STL files hence the majority of commercially available printers should pick it up and start printing without any problems. If it weren’t for its under-development 3D printing capabilities, it may have been very well on the top of the list.

4. AutoCAD 2015

autodesk autocad logo

For the sake of an elegant and fair comparison, I have decided to include AutoCAD 2015 so as to put things in perspective. Customizing your model and the modeling environment plus digital sculpting techniques are what you get for 3D printing in specific, for the above mentioned price tag which obviously includes the CAD part too. AutoCAD has the reputation of forcing you into its own style of design and development not shedding anything off of the already lengthy learning curve. If you are experienced with Autodesk products, chances are your company has been using it for over a decade and you already have the licensed version available. If that’s the case, then go for the USD1,500 package otherwise look at the rest, especially the next one.

5. TurboCAD

turbocad logo

Last but certainly not least, TurboCAD, a personal favorite and worthy participant in the battle of the best 3D printing package category. 3D modelling, photo realistic rendering and a short, simple learning curve are but the least of the benefits. It’s great for learning the basics and building up on your 3D development and printing-oriented skills. For printing is supports DWG, DXF SKP and  STL formats meaning a huge range of printers can be entertained for just under USD 150.


Conclusion and Comparison Summary

In this comparison, the best cad softwares for 3D printing have been compared for their ability and functionality specifically in terms of 3D printing. But it’s not over yet. As this is a new field and is experiencing developments, this list is sure to change and much. One thing is for sure, now that home users can print in 3D, the 3D community, such as this, will experience a surge of intellectual exchange which was restricted to the manufacturer and manufacturing industry before.

BlenderTinkerCADSketchUpAutoCADTurboCAD
OSLinux, WindowsWindowsWindows, MacWindows, MacWindows, Mac
LicenseFreePricedFree, pricedHeavily pricedEconomical
UserAllEngineersAllPro designerSemi-pro designer
Learning curveLongModerateShortLongVery short
IndustryGenericDesign/developmentDesign/developmentGenericGeneric
DomainGenericEngineeringPro-civilEngineeringEngineering
Printing FormatsSTL, DW*STLSTLDW*, STLDW*, SKP STL
cad exercises