One of the most important - and most often undervalued - tools in 3D printing is the slicing software. At Dremel DigiLab, we firmly believe that understanding your software and choosing the right platform can make all the difference in the quality and integrity of your prints. To help you achieve your production goals, we've put together a guide to explain what 3D slicing software is, why it's important, and how to choose the software that's right for you.
What is 3D Printer Slicing Software?
The essential function of 3D slicing software is to turn a 3D model into separate layers so your printer head can "follow the maze" and stack patterns of filament, one layer at a time, into a 3D object. If you've never worked with slicing software before, think of it as the "print properties" function in a word processor such as Microsoft Office Word. Before you print an essay, a letter, or any other document, you probably check the "print properties" tool to change how the text will be printed: does the text need to print on one or both sides of the paper? What paper tray are you using? What type of paper?
The functions of "print properties" in 2D printing are roughly equivalent to the results you can achieve through slicing software for 3D printers. A 3D slicing software translates your 3D model into code your printer can understand. Through the software, you "talk" to the printer to communicate settings like what filament type you're using, and other adjustments to print your 3D object at the level of quality you are looking for.
Why is 3D Slicing Software Important?
The quality and integrity of your print depends on your slicing software. You'll be working with a set of functions to optimize print properties through tools like infill percentage (whether you want certain print sections to be solid or hollow), supports (small pillars or other stabilizers that can be trimmed after printing), and other functions.
To familiarize yourself with an example platform, check out our how-to guide for using a 3D Slicer. This tutorial (complete with videos) demonstrates how to use the Dremel DigiLab 3D Slicer in particular, and can also give you a general sense of how slicing programs typically operate. Don't take your software lightly; according to Simplify3D, "more than 90% of experts agree that 3D printing software has the greatest impact on print quality, even more so than the 3D printer itself."
What's the Best 3D Slicing Software?
There's no single software that is the perfect fit for every project. With multiple 3D printing software options to choose from, you need to carefully consider your specific needs, rather than automatically imitating what your colleagues or competitors are using. Software types can be broken down into two main categories: Desktop and Cloud-Based systems.
Desktop 3D Slicing Software: Pros & Cons
Desktop 3D printer slicing software provides excellent functionality with the added benefit of near-complete cybersecurity. On desktop-based software, you can work with your designs without any internet connection required, meaning you aren't opening up your critically important Intellectual Property to potential theft or tampering from competitors around the globe. The potential concerns for working with this type of software include a lengthier slice time, and the likelihood of a limited range of print options. However, it doesn't have to be completely restrictive; at DigiLab, we have worked with open-source software to develop our own program that works with Dremel and other 3D printers, so don't feel that a desktop software will lock you in to a single print option.
Cloud-Based 3D Slicing Software: Pros & Cons
Cloud-Based 3D printer slicing software offers some outstanding advantages. One of the most important benefits is the ability to work with multiple printers - and even multiple lab locations, as wireless printing allows you to print remotely. A great example of this type of system is the Simplify3D software, which is compatible with DigiLab printers (for a full list of the cloud-based systems we support, check out our slicing software information page). Another advantage is the faster speed of slicing. However, cloud-based software is not for everybody. If industry competition is a concern, hosting your designs in the world of cyberspace may not be your best option for complete security.
Finding the Right Software for You
With all the slicer for 3D printing options on the market today, settling for anything less than ideal is selling yourself - and your project - short. Take time to review your options and select the software that meets your print needs. Not sure how to choose? Contact us! Dremel DigiLab has multiple options available to meet the unique needs of any 3D print. We'd be happy to work with you to help you choose the software that works best for your individual situation, and will help you achieve your production goals.