In Make Magazine’s “Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing 2014” issue, which is, to me, one of the few magazines I’d actually enjoy reading, the Make team added a huge amount of interesting material, building off last year’s edition. Aside from FFF 3D printers, the issue covered stereolithography (SL) and DLP machines, the Form1 and the B9 Creator, as well as 3D scanners. The guide also examined software for printing 3D files, which was absent last year. Slicing and printing programs can be almost as important for the user experience as the printer itself, as a bad interface can turn would-be Makers into flakers instantly.
As the guide points out, there are two operations that need to be performed to print an object. A slicer is a piece of software that transforms your 3D file into a series of layers suitable for printing. Then, that code needs to be sent to a 3D printer in a way that it can understand. What the guide found was that open source software won out this year with specific programs seen in use more frequently than others.
The team testing 3D printers for the guide saw that, in terms of slicing software, users are moving away from Skeinforge, which has seen its fair share of complains in the past. Slic3r, an open-source software that works for a wide range of machines and on a wide range of operating systems, has remained popular, on the other hand, and manufacturers often offer preconfigured Slic3r profiles for their machines. KISSlicer from Jonathan Dummer, out of California, is a proprietary software that offers a free and pro version that has also gained some more users this year.
As far as control software is concerned, Repetier-Host gained the most in popularity, over last year’s popular platform, Printrun. I’ve never used Printrun, but Make points out that the reason for Repetier-Host’s increased usage may be that it relies on a graphical interface, as opposed to Printrun’s macro language. The ease and comfort with which users can deal with 3D objects visually, rotating them and scaling them, provides for a more intuitive experience than a linguistic interface might.
Make also points out that, likely, the separation of slicers and print software will be a thing of the past, with all-in-one programs like Cura dominating the future. Cura, developed by Ultimaker’s David Braam is an open source software compatible with a wide range of 3d printers that slices, dices and prints altogether. The fact that Cura automatically slices models as you alter them, meaning that you don’t have to export your file to a separate slicing program with every change, makes me want to switch from Repetier-Host and Slic3r to Cura. Even if Microsoft’s proprietary Builder program promises to make printing easy, I trust Ultimaker’s Cura to maintain compatibility with Macs and a wider variety of OS’s.