When it comes to 3D printing an object, a few things have to happen.

First of all, you have to design the object you would like to print using CAD software, otherwise known as 3D modelling software. It is with this software that you will create your object to the specifications you require.

Next up, that CAD drawing you have created needs to be sliced. For that, you need a dedicated slicing software. Slicing a 3D drawing effectively translates that 3D drawing into something that a 3D printer can understand and print.

Or, if you want a slightly more technical explanation, slicing turns digital 3D models into G-code (a generic name for a control language) that a 3D printer can understand.

What is slicing software

Slicing software is a necessary element of 3D printing, because 3D printers cannot translate a CAD drawing by themselves. 3D printers need the specifications of the object you design to be translated into a language which they can interpret.

Basic slicing software – in fact all slicing software – will create paths for a 3D printer to follow when printing. These paths are instructions for geometry, and they tell a 3D printer what speed to print at for various points and what layer thicknesses to adopt – if applicable (sometimes it is best to do this manually). More advanced slicing programs also take into account GD&T (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing). With this, it is possible to not only create slicer information about the geometry of a part, but to create information about that part’s design intent so that the finished part is suitable for longer-term end-use.

Top Rated Slicing Software

Slicer comparison

Whichever way you feel about slicing software and its relationship with 3D printing, the fact is this - you need it to get the job done. Now, there are several hundred slicing programs out there to choose from. They range in price from free to thousands of pounds. Some 3D printer manufacturers, such as Ultimaker and Makerbot, ship their 3D printers with slicing software in the box (Cura and Makerbot Desktop). However, unless explicitly noted, you are actually free to choose whichever slicing software you like - so feel free to test plenty out!

Here's a list of some of the most respected slicing software programs:

- Cura
- CraftWare
- 123D Catch
- KISSlicer
- 3D Slash
- TinkerCARD
- Simplify3D
- Slic3r
- Blender
- MatterControl

It’s important to note that we are not endorsed by any of these programs – we have simply recommended them based on what we have seen and heard from the maker community. It’s also important to note that some slicing programs work better with certain 3D printer manufacturers. For instance, sometimes a slice file will crash a program or it won’t export to G-code. If this happens, we recommend you try a new slicer.

Cura is free and it is an excellent fully-featured slicer. Simplify3D and Slic3r are also very, very good. KISSlicer is a good choice for domed surfaces. Which slicer software is best for you will depend on your level of experience, however. And as you can see from the image of two printed owls above, slicer programs tend to have their own levels of performance.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our Back to Basics guide where we lift the lid on some of the most frequently used terms in the 3D printing industry - or if you would like to find out more about how 3D printing works, contact our team.

Image source: Image 1 ALL3DP, Image 2 Time Lapse 21.