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Overview: 3D Printer Slicer Software

In this post, we will take a look in detail at different 3d printers slicer software, and examine some of the most common features found throughout.

Neil Sewell

January 17, 2024

3D printing is the process of layer wise deposition of material, resulting in the manufacture of a three dimensional item. Regardless of the material and 3D printing process used, be it a plastic, ceramic or metal, the common requirement between the different processes is the need to slice the CAD model into layers before sending it to the 3D printer. For this task, we use slicer software.

There are many different slicers available, at different price points, and for a multitude of different additive manufacturing processes. In this post, we will take a look in detail at slicer software, and examine some of the most common features found throughout.

Overview: 3D Printer Slicer Software

What is Slicer Software?

Slicer software is an essential tool in the realm of 3D printing. It acts as a bridge between the 3D CAD model and the 3D printer, translating the model into a language that the printer can understand. The slicer software takes a digital 3D model, usually in STL, OBJ or 3MF format, and slices it into thin, typically horizontal layers (although non-planar slicing is also possible). These layers are then usually converted into a set of instructions in G-code, a language that 3D printers can interpret to create the physical object layer by layer.

How Slicer Software Works?

Let’s start right at the beginning – the CAD modelling process. There are numerous CAD programs for modelling, and each CAD software generally outputs its own native file format by default. Most slicers use STL, OBJ or 3MF file formats, so the very first step is to ensure that the original 3D model file is exported from the chosen CAD software as an STL, OBJ or 3MF file that can be read by the slicer.

After being exported from CAD, the file is then imported into the slicer software, where the user can then adjust various parameters like layer height, fill density, print speed, and the number of copies of the part to be printed. The slicer also allows positioning of the parts on a virtual representation of the print bed, to allow the most efficient use of the print area. Some slicers also allow nesting and stacking, where the items to be printed can be nested within each other (or on top of each other), allowing for greater manufacturing efficiency, and reduced part cost.

Once the parts have been imported and arranged on the virtual print bed in the slicer, the software analyses the model’s geometry to determine the most efficient location for any support material (in the case of FDM or SLA). SLS systems do not require support materials, and can therefore use nesting functions with relative ease.

The aforementioned stages are common to most slicers. The next stage depends on what kind of 3D printing process is being used.

For example, for an FDM printer, the slicer will determine the optimum continuous toolpath to print the model, and support materials. For a resin-based SLA or DLP system, the slicer will produce a number of images (one per layer)  that will tell the light source where it should shine to initiate curing.

Once these steps are completed in the slicer, the build-time will be displayed in the slicer, and if satisfied with the parameters, the user can export the file as G-code (or whatever format the printer needs), to the printer. The printing can then commence.

Different Slicers for Different Processes

Slicers for resin (SLA/DLP) and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printers have different focuses due to the distinct nature of these printing technologies. FDM slicers concentrate on aspects like tool path geometry, infill patterns, support structures, extrusion speed, and temperature. They are designed to handle the extrusion of thermoplastic filaments.

In contrast, resin slicers are tailored to manage light exposure times, lift / retract speeds, and support generation for parts made with photopolymer resins. They focus on accuracy and detail, as resin printers often produce finer, more intricate objects.

Common slicers for FDM processes include Simplify3D, Cura and ideaMaker. Popular slicers for resin-based systems include ChiTuBox and Lychee. Most slicers do not allow for use across different 3D printer process types, and are focused on one singular process, although there are exceptions. Cura, for example, does allow printing on both FDM and select laser-based SLA 3D printer.

Extra Features in 3D Printer Slicers

In addition to the basic common functions mentioned previously, modern slicer software comes with a suite of advanced features that enhance the printing experience. These can include adaptive layer height for better surface quality, customizable support structures for complex models, and simulation modes to preview print paths and identify potential issues. Some slicers also offer features like multi-material printing support, advanced topological optimization, and seamless integration with CAD software.

Slicer Examples

Here at SolidPrint3D, we sell a variety of professional grade 3D printing systems and these brands usually will have their own slicer software available, either included as part of the package, or available to purchase. These brands have invested in the full solution, rather than just the printer itself, which could be viewed as a helpful indicator of their commitment to quality.

When choosing a slicer, it is best practice to use the software created by the same brand as the printer, if available. If this is not possible, then research is required to ensure the slicer software chosen is recommended for the technology in use. If you are ever unsure, our team are ready to answer your questions and guide you – get in touch today.

Let’s take a look at three popular slicers used by our customers; UltiMaker Cura, Raise3D ideaMake and Formlabs PreForm.

UltiMaker Cura

UltiMaker Cura is a popular, open-source slicer known for its user-friendly interface and versatility. While it has largely been developed with FDM printing in mind, there are a few resin printers in the vast printer profile list.

Cura offers extensive customization options, allowing users to tweak over 400 settings for precise control over their prints. It also features a powerful slicing engine that efficiently handles complex models, making it a favorite among both hobbyists and professionals. Cura seamlessly integrates with all UltiMaker materials, and also works with a wide range of other machines, as well as providing the options for custom printer profiles.

Raise3D ideaMaker

Raise3D ideaMaker is a free slicer designed for high-performance and professional 3D printing. It stands out with its intuitive interface and robust slicing capabilities. ideaMaker allows for fine-tuning of print settings, supports a wide array of filaments, and offers advanced features like customizable support structures and real-time cutaway views. It is particularly well-regarded for its integration with Raise3D printers, ensuring optimal print quality and reliability. It does also work with other brands of FDM machine though.

One notable feature of ideaMaker is ideaMaker Texture. With this feature, users can easily create different iterations of the same STL model by applying different patterns to the selected model’s surface – the textures will then be embossed onto the model during the printing stage.

Similarly, ideaMaker allows the use of Boolean functions to perform rudimentary geometry edits (such as carve, split, and combine) in the slicer, without the need to return to the CAD software for remodelling.

Formlabs PreForm

PreForm is Formlabs free software that uses advanced, proprietary calculations to generate supports and optimise print settings for each printed part. Each installation of PreForm also includes the latest version of their printers’ firmware that you can update at any time to stay up to date.

A noteworthy feature of PreForm is the automatic algorithms that set up your print’s layout, orientation, and supports, meaning specialised training is not required for successful print set up.

There is also the option to start prints remotely with PreForm – excellent for flexible digital workflows, allowing users to start prints from anywhere. Another great feature is PreForm’s live printability check, which allows users to obtain real-time feedback on the printability of a print job while setting it up. This feature helps to maximise print success rates with both Formlabs materials and other brands. From an SLS standpoint, Formlabs PreForm slicer software has powerful automatic 3D packing, designed to increase throughput and reduce material waste by maximising ROI on Fuse Series SLS printers.

Improve your Prints with 3D Printer Slicers Software

3D printer slicers are crucial in the 3D printing process, offering the necessary tools to transform digital models into physical objects. While the core functionality and objectives remain the same, slicers vary in their approach and features, catering to different types of printers and user needs.

Software like UltiMaker Cura and Raise3D ideaMaker provide a blend of user-friendliness and sophisticated capabilities. As 3D printing technology evolves, slicer software will continue to play a pivotal role in unlocking its full potential.

Download the latest version of UltiMaker Cura, here. Similarly, you can find the latest release of Raise3D ideaMaker right here, and PreForm here. All of these slicers are free, so why not give them a try and see which one suits your needs the most?

Still wondering which slicer software is right for you?

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