Switching from our series of CAD software reviews to a few slicing software reviews, and kicking it off with Slic3r. Slic3r’s slicing software is one of the original slicing softwares out there, but it has kept up with 3D printing’s advances and remains an on-going open source project. As the baseline standard for 3D print slicing software, it has certainly come a long way and we have much to say about its features and options for beginners and experts.
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3D Modeling to Slic3r Slicing Software Review
We’ve been doing a lot of different CAD software reviews in recent months, trying to do at least a couple every month. We’ve covered a lot of them, and there’s still some more to cover. We realized that one kind of software that we really haven’t done any specific reviews about, although we have talked about them in past episodes, is slicing software. This is going to be the first in a series of slicing software reviews. It’s come up actually because of questions from some listeners about some of these softwares.
Also, we recently recorded an interview, which hasn’t aired yet. It’s coming up in I think very early January. With Brandon Davis of BlueDragon. BlueDragon is a relatively new startup 3D printer manufacturer. I think they’ve been working on this for maybe about a year and a half. They are taking presales on the 3D printers. This is not an ad for them. Recently interviewing Brandon Davis, he had said that they had been testing and using a lot of different slicing software on their new 3D printer which is called a FirePrint 3D printer. They actually had a lot of good things to say about this slicing software we’re going to talk about today.
Today we’re going to talk about Slic3r slicing software. That is, really it was one of the earliest slicing softwares out there. For those of you that are very experienced, some of this is not going to be news to you. There is some new news for you so hang in there. I want to talk a little bit to some of the newcomers to the podcast or people that haven’t really used a lot of independent slicing softwares.
When you buy or use a 3D printer that is more of a closed system, like let’s say a MakerBot 3D printer or even like a Polar 3D or XYZ. A lot of these companies have their own proprietary slicing software, which is the software that prepares your model to be printed on your 3D printer. It can’t just go from your STL files to becoming a 3D printed part without first being prepared for printing, basically breaking it down into all those little layers that the 3D printer is going to print.
Slic3r is one of the first ones. It’s an open source and a non profit project that they accept donations if people are willing to donate. You don’t have to pay anything to download the software. It’s a project. Really, it’s been an ongoing project for a long time. It came out of the RepRap movement when the patents for FDM 3D printing expired and everyone started to figure out 3D printing. It’s grown.
I’ll tell you, when I first started 3D printing, I checked out Slic3r as well as others. We’re going to review each of these. There are others, including Cura and Simplify3D. There are some web based ones like AstroPrint, which we have covered on the podcast and spoke with Drew Taylor, one of their founders about it. We’ve also had on Aaron Roy of 3DPrinterOS which is another cloud based slicing software.
Slic3r was really one of the first ones and the baseline standard, if you will, in the very beginning. When I first got into 3D printing, I looked at Slic3r and I used it. It seemed relatively stable and it worked just fine, but had some limited functionality and capability compared to other things that I was using and experimenting with. I never really used it a whole lot. However, as Brandon Davis alerted us to when we interviewed him recently, Slic3r slicing software has come a long way. They’ve given it another close look. Actually as I have now done that again as well, I’m really impressed with it.
You’re only going to use this type of software if you’re using a more open 3D printer. Let’s say a LulzBot TAZ, a MakerGear, an Ultimaker. You can use it with a whole lot of printers, including I think some of the more closed system ones if you want. If you’ve got a printer that’s either a kit or something that is a little more high maintenance of a 3D printer, then you’re going to use a program like this.
I want to talk first about Slic3r slicing software in terms of the different, and I’m just going to give you an overview of it and the different ways that this software works. Also, for those of you that may be new or just learning about 3D printing, what kinds of things you’ll encounter when using a software like this to run your 3D printer. It’s quite different from using a closed system. I’ll just first state, a closed system is going to have a software that’s easier to use in terms of loading an STL and telling it to prepare it to print. That’s the benefit of those systems. They’re much easier to use, but you’re going to have a lot less options in terms of the different settings and the control that you have over how your part is printed.
The benefit of a software like Slic3r and a more open 3D printer system is that you have a lot more control. With having a lot more control comes I guess a lot more complexity and also a lot more … I’m trying to find the right word. I don’t know if I want to say responsibility. It’s just, you become more of an advanced user and you have to be much more of a technician in terms of understanding how you’re specific printer works and how the slicing software works to be able to get the results that you want. There are pros and cons. I think with ease of use comes simplicity and fewer choices. With more choices and more options and more control comes greater complexity and a higher level of technical ability that’s required. In a nutshell, that’s the overall pros and cons of each.
One of the things that I actually was really impressed with with the new Slic3r they have an online manual. It really takes you through all the details of their software, from downloading and installing it to setting it up with your printer and then obviously all the different aspects of slicing a part to be printed. Let’s talk about setting it up with your printer to begin with.
As is true with most slicing softwares like Slic3r, you have to configure it to work with your exact printer. That can be a pretty complex process. Sometimes there are known settings and configurations or maybe profile files that exist that you can load that are known to work for your printer. Sometimes, depending on your printer, you just have to literally enter in all of the details of your printer, starting with its print volume. How many millimeters, XY and Z, that it has. Obviously, how it works in terms of is it a Cartesian printer or is it another kind of printer, like let’s say the Polar 3D, that is not a Cartesian printer at all. You can enter in all the manual settings.
There’s a lot of settings to enter. You got to make sure you do your homework on your 3D printer and make sure you’ve entered them all in correctly. Otherwise, it won’t work. Slic3r has a configuration wizard that is supposed to help you make it easier to confirm with your 3D printer what kind of firmware does it have. I mentioned the build volume but it’s also referred to as bed size. You’re nozzle diameter, your filament diameter, because there are of course a couple of major sizes of filament out there. The 1.75 and then the nominally three millimeter, I guess it’s 2.88 or something, filament diameters. Do you have a heated bed or do you not? There are many things that you have to enter in to the software to make sure that it knows how your printer works so that it will slice and print properly for you.
Slic3r slicing software does have a simpler mode that you can use if you want. As a beginner, that might be pretty useful for you. You have fewer options to deal with and it’s going to use some preset or predefined settings for those maybe more fine detailed or more complex settings to help you. As you get better at running your 3D printer and slicing your files, you may want to get into a lot more detail. That, in terms of Slic3r slicing software, they call that their expert mode.
You then can go in and be a lot more specific with the detailed settings of how your printer works in terms of controlling the speed of your nozzle or your print head and how it behaves, how it moves around the different portions of your print. Especially the first layer, which is of course the most critical layer of any print, where you really do want to slow it down and get it to make sure it adheres to your build plate properly. You’re laying that good foundation to slower speed is always really critical before you start doing the rest of the print. If that first layer is not down there solidly, then everything else above it is going to be messed up at least for a while, a good portion of your print.
Certain aspects like how fast is it going to travel laying down parameters and then how fast is it going to travel when laying down in fill. We’re taking about millimeters per second here usually. Although there are some other conventions that some 3D printers I’ve seen use. For right now, we’re just talking about meaning making per second. You’re different aspects of infill and then support material, how fast will that go? What about bridging, how fast do you do bridging? Things like that. That gets to be a very important aspect.
You can dial in each of those different settings in order to change them. Again, that becomes very complex. I find that if I’m going to change settings like that, I’m going to and print a small portion of the part that I want to eventually print in total. If I’m going to change settings, I change one setting at a time. If you change more than one and you have success, you’re not really sure which one of the multiple settings you changed was responsible for the success or failure of your next print. It becomes a very tedious process.
There are many other things involved that you can change with expert mode. Dealing with retraction is a really big one in terms of how fast and how far back will it pull that filament when you retract so that the flow stops when you’re traveling in between different areas that you’re printing. You have also different settings for a skirt and a brim, which also a lot of times, I don’t see it actually in Slic3r as I’m reviewing my notes right now. In terms of a raft, usually you have a raft option as well. A skirt or a brim at least is all intended to make sure, especially if you have a very small part or a very fine point of contact for a portion of your print on the build plate, that it’s going to lay down some extra material to help stabilize it and make sure that it adheres to the build plate.
Other settings, like let’s say your fan. There’s a cooling fan on pretty much every FFF 3D printer out there. Is it on all the time or is it only on at certain points? If you’re new to this, you can tell, oh my goodness, there’s just a ton of settings that you really need to understand if you’re going to use a software like this. That’s true, but you can also learn from a lot of others. Every different slicing software including Slic3r has a blog with a lot of information. Usually there are forums and a lot of other people using it that you can reach out to and get a lot of clues and information from to help you along the way. Because somebody’s probably used your 3D printer before and experienced some of the same things that you’re going to experience. I always recommend, reach out for help because it’s out there.
Here’s another interesting thing that I really like that Slic3r does. It has the option to adjust layer height at different portions of your print. In lower layers, it can be thicker. You can make them thinner in other areas and then thicker again. I like the fact that it can do things like that because I think there are situations where maybe you have a little more fine detail and you like to have thinner layers in this portion but then there’s other parts of your print where you’re just building mass and you want to cruise through it as fast as you can. Being able to make those layers thicker, to variably make them thicker and thinner, is I think a really great feature.
Once you dial in all of your detailed settings for your printer, you can create a profile, which is you can save all the baseline settings you know work for your printer. This is where you may also be able to find some profiles that have been created by others that you can maybe start from. In any case, you can load a profile for your printer or save one for your printer once you dial it all in.
Slic3r Slicing Software and Multiple Extruders
Now I want to get to one of the things that I think is one of the biggest changes in Slic3r slicing software since I started using or tried it out a couple years ago which really impressed me and also is one of the main reasons that Brandon Davis and his team at BlueDragon have been using it for their new 3D printers, and that is it’s capability to deal with multiple extruders. Machines that have more than one filament and/ore more than one nozzle that they’re printing with in a single print.
This is something that I have experimented with as well. I’ve worked with several 3D printers that have dual extrusion. One of them was a Leapfrog that I owned for a time. Also using the Dutch Builder 3D printer that fed the two different filaments into a single nozzle. There have been others as well. This is something I think earlier on, if I remember right, there’s a chance I could be wrong in this. I seem to remember earlier on, Slic3r didn’t have that capability.
When I first started working with multiple or dual extrusion 3D printers, the real standard in the industry was Cura slicing software, which is created and maintained by Ultimaker originally for their 3D printers. Cura is wildly available and distributed for anybody to use, I believe, even at no cost. It was really the best at the time for dealing with dual extrusion. I remember another dual extrusion printer I was using was an Airwolf, I think as well. I used Cura with that one.
Anyway, Slic3r slicing software now has the capability for multiple extruders. To hear what Brandon Davis was telling me, and I think we’ll have a little bit of this in the interview that’s going to air from him within three or four weeks from the time this one publishes. He said they, over the last year, in terms of developing their own 3D printer, have tried three or four different slicing softwares. First of all, they say that their printer will work with any slicing software. I’m quite sure it will. That’s got to be true.
They’ve come back around and are very impressed and are most recently working with Slic3r slicing software because of its specific capabilities with multiple extrusions. Because the BlueDragon FirePrint printer actually is a four filament machine. They actually feed four different filaments into a single nozzle. I love the fact that it’s a single nozzle machine. We are going to get this printer in for a review early in 2017. We’ll be going through that and do a whole podcast and a review and report to you on it. I’ve seen a lot of photos of it and gotten a little virtual demo online of it so far. Of course we’re going to check it out CES. You can watch out for our CES recap for some more details as well.
Four filaments feeding into a single nozzle. That’s really impressive. You can imagine, controlling them is a rather complex thing. You need to really have a software that can handle manipulating each of those filaments independently to achieve your best results. That is one of the things that Slic3r in particular I guess has a lot better capabilities on and it’s pretty impressive. Plus, their user interface I think has improved quite a bit over the years. My most recent experience with it now, it definitely is not the Slic3r slicing software that I knew in the past. It’s come a long way and is really a lot more impressive.
Slic3r Slicing Software Review – Final Thoughts
As is true with CAD softwares when you’re just creating models, there are a lot of pros and cons to any software. I really don’t think that there is a good or a bad software. I think that it is just what is the right software that fits your particular needs. You need to experiment and try a bunch of them out and see which one meets your needs and that you like working with the best, is easiest for you. It’s more of really a fit test than it is a good or bad thing.
Anyway, I find that Slic3r impressed me as not just the Slic3r slicing software of yesterday but has come back and is actually a very capable, perfectly modern slicing software today for anybody to use. Probably on just about any 3D printer, but in particular, like I said, the more open 3D printers that are needing a 3rd party software to run them. Usually, slicing software, when you do that, you’re also going to have to use a software that drives your 3D printer, like a Repetier or something that’s out there that really drives the printer and then the slicing software creates the G code that will feed in to that program. That’s really the situation with Slic3r.
If I was going to go really through every detail of the entire software, this would probably a two hour podcast and I don’t want to bore you all with that. I am impressed with Slic3r. I certainly think that it is worth checking out if you have a printer that requires you to use something other than a closed print preparation slicing software. It’s got a lot of great capabilities. Check it out.
If you are a regular Slic3r slicing software user and you have some other things to add, please go ahead and leave a comment below. Let’s us know what you think. If you’ve got some good photos of things that you’ve printed using Slic3r slicing software that you think are impressive and you’d like to share them with us, please do. We’ll share it with our audience over social media or Instagram, any way that we can.
We will be doing in the coming weeks or month or two, we will do a review on Cura. We will do a specific review on Simplify3D, which is another very capable and impressive slicing software. We’re going to look into some others as well. We’ll probably cover some of the cloud based ones. It’s time that we revisit 3DPrinterOS because I’m sure they’ve made a lot of advancements since we’ve really looked at that closely and talked about it. We’ll probably revisit AstroPrint again too, and we’ll look at a couple others. Anyway, hope you all have found this useful and enjoyed it.
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