Which is the best CAD software for 3D printing? Whether you are a beginner or expert 3D printing professional, there is something for you.
Using the right CAD software will make your 3D printing project easier. The right software to use will depend on what you are trying to print.
3D Design Software
There are two main categories of 3D design software: CAD software and 3D modeling software.
Generally, CAD (Computer Aided Design) software is used when creating industrial objects, such as mechanical objects.
On the other hand, 3D modeling software is used in video games and films to make organic animations. However, the software can also be used to create 3D print models.
Using CAD Software for 3D Printing
CAD software are highly technical tools that are used in industrial design, architecture, aerospace engineering, mechanical design, and other fronts.
Typically, a CAD model contains data such as tolerance, dimensions, material properties, specific information about the manufacturing process. Some CAD applications also have advanced animation and rendering capabilities, which make it easier to visualize the final product.
When making 3D printable models with CAD software, you can save the prints in stereolithography file format (STL). This is the default CAD file format for additive manufacturing (AM).
However, there are also other file formats that are used for additive manufacturing.
Which CAD Software Should You Use?
When I started using CAD software with my first 3D printer, I had no previous experience of 3D modeling. If you are a beginner, you shouldn’t really be scared of using CAD software. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube on how to use specific CAD software.
Over the years, I’ve become more experienced in 3D printing and have tested various CAD software programs. Here is an overview of the best CAD software for 3D printing, for both beginners and experts.
Best CAD Software for 3D Printing (For Both Beginners & Experts)
The first program I downloaded and familiarized myself with was Blender– a full-featured modeling program with a physics engine and animation capabilities. The software has hundreds of settings and menus, which you will not need as a beginner.
With Blender, as is the case with most CAD 3D software, you will need a powerful machine to run it. Getting started with the software is easy, thanks to the many tutorials on YouTube.
After days of watching tutorials, I was more than pleased with what I managed to accomplish in Blender.
This is an awesome program with many capabilities. However, the program requires some computer power and may not be the ultimate beginner program.
Watch Blender Tutorials
TinkerCad is a bit of a straight opposite of Blender: it’s incredibly simple, educational and runs directly in your browser.
On the software, there’s a menu full of basic shapes that you can puzzle together as if it were Lego. However, it is impossible to round off the corners of the shapes you create with the program.
TinkerCad makes it very easy to import vector graphics and make them three-dimensional and ready for printing.
However, the software is relatively limited. There is not a lot you can do with your 3D object with TinkerCad.
Watch TinkerCad Tutorials
FreeCAD is an open-source 3D modeling tool that allows you to design real-life objects of any size. The free software has parametric component, which makes editing easier. For instance, when you are creating your model, you can go to its history and change the parameters (color, dimensions, etc.) to get a different model.
I wouldn’t recommend FreeCAD for professional 3D printing artists since it has just basic options. However, it is a good CAD software for beginners.
Watch FreeCAD Tutorials
BlocksCAD is specifically designed for educational purposes. When you have mastered the software, you will be able to use OpenSCAD, a more advanced CAD program. With BlocksCAD, the commands for developing and transforming objects are represented by color blocks.
The software’s code is compatible with OpenSCAD’s code. Therefore, after developing your models on BlocksCAD, you can polish them up on OpenSCAD. You can export your models as either STL or OpenSCAD.
Check BlocksCAD YouTube channel to learn how to use the software.
Watch BlocksCAD Tutorials
One of the market leaders in product design is Creo CAD software. This program has many functionalities, such as direct modeling, freestyle surface generation, motion generation, parametric generation, structural generation, thermal generation, among others.
With this complete additive manufacturing software, you can perform all your dimensioning calculations while modeling your final idea.
The software comes with a 30-day fully-functioning trial.
Watch Creo 3D Tutorials
Cost: $2,310 for each license
6. Autodesk Fusion 360
Autodesk Fusion 360 is a popular CAD program designed for product design. On the software, there is a button that you can press to send your finished item directly to any 3D printer or slicer.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is quite an advanced CAD software. I did not really know how to use any of the features until I got a crash course in SolidWorks, a commercial program with similar features.
There are two modes to work in Fusion 360: a CAD mode with logic, and a modeling mode, where you can easily turn your stylish symmetrical model into organic models.
Fusion 360 offers a mix of features found in both Blender and TinkerCad. As a result, it is the software I prefer and use the most.
Watch Fusion 360 Tutorials
Cost: $60 per month or free for students, educators & academic institutions
Solidworks is one of the best CAD software for professional 3D designers. This parametric feature-based software has various features, including design validation tools. The software is practical and detailed, which makes it an excellent choice for designing industrial objects.
Most CAD software mimics curves by gently inclining flat structures. However, Solidworks uses a system of NURBS, which allows it to create detailed curvatures. Moreover, the software using dimensional sketching rather than polygonal modeling. Dimensional sketching makes resizing less of a hassle.
However, Solidworks has limited support for importing .STL files. If you want to download and edit .STL files, you will need a different program.
Watch Solidworks Tutorials
Cost: $3,995 for each license
AutoCAD is a professional 3D modeling software that is mainly used in industrial and architectural design. The software is great at 2D drafting but not really much at 3D modeling. As a result, it is not as widely used in the 3D printing community as some of the software I’ve presented above. Moreover, the software has a steep learning curve when you want to make complex models.
AutoCAD is primarily designed for professionals with experience in programming models algorithmically. The software’s models can be converted into STLL files for 3D printing.
Watch AutoCAD Tutorials
Cost: From $185/month or $1,470/year
-Free and fully-functional version to download for students and faculties.
CATIA CAD is not just a CAD software but a multi-platform software suite for CAD, CAE (Computer-Aided Engineering), CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) and more. CATIA enabled advanced product design and development through different stages. This makes it an excellent program for systems architects, mechanical engineers, and creative designers.
CATIA also has a 3D design environment through which different parties can collaborate on product modeling and share designs.
Watch CATIA Tutorials
Cost: From $10,000
OpenSCAD is an open-source software for making solid 3D models. This free software is aimed at experienced users looking to use advanced features. Programmers and coders love the software’s Extrusion of 2D outlines and Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG).
You can use OpenSCAD to create simple shapes that are already parametrically defined.
However, since the software is completely based on description language, it may not be suitable for everyone.
Watch OpenSCAD Tutorials
Rhino3D is a commercial 3D computer graphics and CAD program that is known for versatility. The software used NURB, a precise mathematical model that enables manipulation of solids, surfaces, meshes, curves and points in different ways.
Rhino3D comes with various design features and can create complex 3D models. However, it has quite a learning curve.
Watch Rhino3D Tutorials
Cost: Includes different bundles; Rhino 6.0 starts at 995€ for Windows and Rhino 5.0 at 695€ for Mac
Sooner or later, you will find the best CAD software for 3D printing for you. However, if you are a beginner, I would recommend TinkerCad.
Want help finding the right 3D printer? Then read our guide to buying 3D printers!