to create a 3D print.
Slicer and CAD Software
The slicer software takes an STL file and converts
it into instructions the 3D printer can understand. The
STL file can be created by you, using the 3D CAD
package of your choice. Many use Sketchup with an
STL plug-in. All my work is done in Inventor or
AutoCad. You can also download models from the
3D printer community via Thingiverse at
How Does It Print?
The controller software — also know as firmware
— is what allows your 3D printer controller card to
understand the slicer gcode commands. It's loaded
directly onto your 3D printer controller board. You
might think that this is something that you will not
ever have to worry about, but that's not true. The 3D
printer revolution is quickly evolving, so you may have
to update the firmware as updates are made available.
Updates are done through the latest version of the
Another reason for uploading new firmware is to
tweak the settings for your controller card. I recently
updated the Solidoodle controller card's firmware to allow
me to extrude at a higher temperature.
I have had only a chance to print PLA, but it created
quality prints with little or no tuning. The cube and Mr.
Jaws prints (Figures 4 and 5) were the best prints I have
achieved with any printer in this series. I'm so happy with
this machine that I decided to utilize it for most of the
prints used in the software section of this article.
3D Printing Software
The host software is used to communicate with the
3D printer. It takes the processed gcode files created by the
slicer software and sends them to the printer. The host
software also acts as an interface to the slicer.
The host software gives you direct control of your
printer. You can move the various axes and set the
temperatures of the heated bed or extruder.
It takes four pieces of software working together
While you may spend a lot of
time using your favorite CAD
software to model your 3D object,
when it comes to printing, the bulk
of your time will be spent setting up
your host and slicer software. This is
where the rubber meets the road
when it comes to 3D printing.
I will be looking at many of the
slicing parameters in Creator, Afinia,
and Slic3r. Before I do, let's look at
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