Choosing a Slicer

What is a slicer? “Slicer” is the term for a program that takes a 3D model and then slices it into layers which are then translated into the step-by-step instructions that tell your printer exactly what to do in order to print the model. Basically, they’re the kind of program that turns your 3D objects into something that can be printed.

Your slicer is also what determines all the details of the prints, including the print speed, extruder and bed temperatures, supports, and every other detail that affects how a printer prints something, so a slicer is no small matter when it comes to the success of a print.

I personally don’t have too much experience with many different slicers simply because I decided to purchase the (arguably) best one right after purchasing my printer.

Simplify3D (S3D)

Get this one. In my opinion, there’s not even a contest here. While the $149 USD price tag may scare some users off, don’t be fooled. This is the best slicer software that you’ll have the pleasure of using. The time it takes to render a model for printing is seconds (if you’ve ever had to wait half an hour for the slicing then you’ll see why this is a boon), it’s compatible with very nearly every printer available (and has options to customize it to those that it isn’t compatible with), it shows you the details of the supports (you’d think this would be a given), it gives you extremely easy access to all the details of the print through printing profiles, has a built-in dual-extrusion wizard, and will even show you layer-by-layer details of the steps generated.

supports-elephant

Automatically generated supports for an elephant print

What you’re really paying the money for here though is the community and professional support provided. Unlike most free slicers, there is a large array of resources available for you in case something goes wrong with your software and you need help from someone who’s not just offering up a suggestion on Reddit or Google Groups.

Like I said, get this slicer. It’s so worth it that it’s not even funny. In a classroom or school setting, only one or two computers should really need a slicer installed for access to printers, unlike modeling software which every student would need access to. Simplify3D even has an educator’s license, which (I’m assuming) would reduce the pricetag to make the software even more affordable.

There just a couple small things that I would change about Simplify3D if I could. One of these is the thin wall capabilities. Basically, if there is a part of the model that is thinner than your extrusion width, the program just won’t lay down any filament for that part of the print. It would be useful to have a setting that would allow it to print a thin wall even if the extrusion width is a little too wide. The other setting I wish it had would be the ability to extend solid surface layers further “inside” the print. What I mean is that sometimes when a flat top surface is being printed, it will be slightly limited because of the infill that it’s printed on and won’t always close all the gaps on the surface. (See the image below to get a better idea of what I mean.) Overall though, these are fairly minor issues in the grand scheme of things that may be addressed in later versions of the software.

2016-03-01 11.33.53

The final thing I would ask the software designers to consider is to add the ability to have multiple programmable pauses so that I could more easily swap out filaments during a print.

One thing to note about these minor things is that the designers and developers to pay close attention to the feedback they get. There have been multiple times in the past when small issues have been fixed based on what the users have reported.

Advantages: Fantastic community support, simplified user interface, and literally everything else

Disadvantages: Cost is $149 USD

Conclusion: Buy this one. It’s worth it.

 

ReplicatorG (RG)

ReplicatorG is the only other slicing software that I have any meaningful experience with because it was the recommended software that came with my Flashforge Creator Pro.

ReplicatorG is fine as a slicing software, although by the looks of it, it hasn’t been maintained in a while. It’s an open-source software which is good for those users who have a bit more programming expertise under their belts, but it’s not the most user-friendly interface. Many options that S3D offers would need to be put directly into the print code generated by RG in order to have the same effect, as opposed to simply changing an options ahead of time. RG also doesn’t give you the option of viewing your supports in the preview, so you basically need to trust that it’s putting support where it’s needed.

replicatorg_25_release1

Perhaps for me, the biggest issue that I take with RG is that depending on the complexity of your model, it can take anywhere from minutes to the better part of an hour for the software to write the steps that will be sent to the printer to make your model. Let me tell you that from experience, waiting 45 minutes for your code to be ready and then realizing you made one small mistake and need to wait another 45 minutes to be ready to go again is a very aggravating experience. When I switched to Simplify3D, I was amazed that the same print that took 45 minutes to render was ready in seconds.

Advantages: It’s free, it’s opensource

Disadvantages: Very slow rendering time, no preview for supports, not very beginner-friendly

Conclusion: While there’s not anything wrong with ReplicatorG, everything that it does can be done much better by other software.

Meshmixer

Meshmixer from AutoCad is a program whose primary focus is on combining 3D models together for “mashups” of already-existing designs. It does have some limited slicing features as well though. When I say “limited,” I really do mean limited though. When compared to ReplicatorG and Simplify3D, the number of slicing options is almost nonexistent. It seems like Meshmixer was designed to be interfaced directly with Makerbot, Stratasys, and Dremel 3D printers rather than for more universal printing options, such as through an SD card.

One thing that I do like about Meshmixer is the rather unique way in which it builds its supports. The supports that it generates for overhangs on models is done through very organic-looking “tree trunks” which are built up from lower levels to where the support is needed. This can make for some easier cleanup than with the more traditional “wall” supports that are printed by the other programs listed above. The supports can even be laid down “by hand” by the user to customize them to personal preference. It’s even possible to have Meshmixer generate these supports and then export them with the model so that they can be applied in other slicers.

Advantages: Free, unique supports that can be more effective (situationally)

Disadvantages: Very limited control over slicing and printing settings, limited compatibility with most printers

Conclusion: I think the primary advantage of Meshmixer is the ability to export its supports which can be more useful than standard supports in some situations. Otherwise, I wouldn’t use it as a primary slicer.

Other Slicers To Try

This is more as just a way to remind myself to try these ones, but some other slicers that are commonly used are Cura, KISSlicer, and Slic3r.