Best 3D Printing Software: Top 5 Free 3D Design Tools
Are you struggling to find the perfect 3D printing software to design your 3D objects? It’s no wonder, given the rich variety of applications at your fingertips.
Whether you need simple, free, and open source design software or a full-featured, professional 3D design suite, there is plenty of choice when it comes to 3D printing.
3D design software in the form of CAD (Computer-Aided Design) has been evolving for over 50 years. Much of the focus for CAD, however, has been in the fields of architecture, industrial engineering, and film animation.
Where does that leave design software for desktop 3D printing in 2016, you may ask?
Answer: In a great position to take advantage of modern 3D modeling technology!
Scroll down for a list of the best free 3D printing software on the market that lets you save your creations in the 3D printer-friendly .STL format and start printing straight away.
Top 5 Free / Open Source 3D Printer Design Programs
Blender is a popular and powerful open source 3D design program regarded by many in the 3D modeling community as the defacto king of free 3D printing software.
It has a mesmerizing choice of features which range from sculpting tools to subdivision smoothing, making it suitable for all kinds of design projects that you can imagine.
Although notorious for its steep learning curve, once you’ve come to grips with the UI and workflow, this is one design environment that will blow you away with possibility.
One of its best features for 3D printing is an add on called “3D Printing Toolbox” which performs geometry sanity checks on your model so that it won’t flop in the printing stage.
Blender is an artistic designer’s dream tool, perfectly suitable for organic modeling, freeform shapes, and intricate patterns, as well as the more mechanical side of things.
Operating Systems: Windows, Linux, Mac
2. DesignSpark Mechanical
DesignSpark Mechanical is a 3D CAD modeling program designed for engineers who are not experts in 3D CAD design. It is completely free and instantly compatible with 3D printing.
Used for both rapid prototyping and finished 3D prints, DS Mechanical features direct gesture-based modeling for easy geometric manipulation. Unlike most CAD design tools which use a traditional history-based form of parametric modeling, the workflow in DS Mechanical is real-time and direct, making the design process highly intuitive.
The focus of this 3D design tool is on mechanical, hard-surface objects like gears, motors, and electronics. Artists may want to give this one a miss, while engineers will love it.
Operating Systems: Windows, Linux (using Wine)
OpenSCAD is free and open source 3D design software that makes heavy use of programming. In fact, there is no visual modeling in this program, instead relying on the Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG) method of hand-coding your object’s parameters.
Although beginners may be put off by the lack of interactive design tools, the programming skills are easy to learn and master. Much of the syntax is self-explanatory and human-friendly.
If you need a mechanical 3D design program that lets you tweak design specs with programmable precision, OpenSCAD is your match.
Operating Systems: Windows, Linux, Mac
4. 123D Design
Part of Autodesk’s 123D suite of free 3D modeling apps, 123D Design is a slick 3D design studio for 3D printing hobbyists. It’s free for non-commercial use, with the option to upgrade to Premium if you want to sell your 3D-printable models.
The design workflow is interactive and visual, giving designers a simple user interface that is both powerful and easy to use.
Whether you’re into making robots, jewelry, sculpted art pieces, sci-fi fan art, or more practical items, this free 3D printing tool has you covered.
123D Design has a public gallery with thousands of free 3D printer designs available for download. When you download a model, you can choose to 3D print it as-is or edit it to your liking. While the software isn’t open source, the 123D community spirit certainly is.
Operating Systems: Windows, Mac, iPad
5. Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is a cloud-based 3D CAD/CAM design tool created for professionals, and one of the best-kept secrets in the free 3D printing software arena.
It is available for purchase, but can be used for free by startups, hobbyists, and individuals for as long as needed.
According to Fusion 360’s license terms, if you don’t make more than $100,000 a year from your 3D models, you don’t have to pay a cent for the software.
Fusion 360 comes with all the features and capabilities that you would expect from a commercial grade 3D design suite. Similar in workflow to traditional CAD design, using Fusion 360 can help you learn both basic and advanced CAD techniques.
Combining parametric solid modeling with free-form subdivision modeling, you are able to design your 3D printed objects to absolute perfection. Not only that, but being cloud-based, you can share your designs online and remotely collaborate with others.
Operating Systems: Windows, Mac