3D printing is a very important alternative for those who like to produce prototypes and several plastic pieces that are hard to find or are either unique or customized, for this reason and more, there are several characteristics that are directly related to how it is printed, density and layer height to mention some, and this parameters can be adjusted in the 3D printing software called slicing or slicer software.
Is important to mention that in this article we will mostly cover slicing software related to FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printers, that are the most versatile and configurable regarding their printing parameters.
A slicer software has the job to take the 3D model you want to 3D print, and convert it into a coding language called G-Code that the 3D printer can understand to make the actual print, as mentioned before, it also handles certain parameters that directly affect the final 3D printed object, some parameters are limited by the 3D printers specs, but others are entirely dependent of the algorithms used to convert the 3D object into code, thus the slicer software.
There are several slicing software alternatives out there, some free, some are paid and some proprietary of the 3D printer brand, but in most cases you are able to swap and chose from several compatible slicer software to use with your particular 3D printer.
Some of the important settings that need to be defined by the user in the slicer software are:
Extrusion speed: determines how fast will the printer will feed filament (either centimeters or inches per minute)
Head speed/acceleration: determines how fast servomotors will move the extrusion head along the printers axis, this will directly affect the quality of the printed object; while the head moves faster it will induce more vibration along the 3D printer, thus causing a more coarse print quality.
Temperature: this parameter is determined by the plastic filament used, the type, brand and even color and even humidity can affect the exact melting point of the material, it is important to see what the manufacturer of the filament specifies is the adequate temperature for printing.
Cooling Fan on/off: this is not always present on all 3D printers, but some use a specific fan directed at the 3D printed piece in order to cool it down faster (this depending on the material can produce warping on the 3D printed object).
Additionally, there are other parameters that affect how fast, thick and how dense will the final 3D printed object will be produced, some of them are the following:
Wall thickness: determines how thick the outer wall of the 3D printed object will be.
Fill patterns or infill: determines what geometric pattern will fill the inside of the 3D printed object, this will help the printer lay material over the empty space as if it was supported, this also determines how dense (and heavy) the final print will be, affecting the amount of filament used as well.
Slicing Sofware Programs
The following list, mentions some of the most used slicing software programs available, some are more compatibility with several 3D printers than others, some have more parameters to be modified, some are more user friendly and some have other advantages such as remote monitoring.
- 123D Catch
- 3D Slash
- Repetier Host