Arguably, slicers are to 3D printers what operating systems are to computers. 3D printers are complicated tech, and need a lot of complex instructions to perfectly print your favorite model or important prototype. 3D printer slicers transform 3D models into detailed to-dos for the printers to get to work.
Unfortunately, it’s never as simple as filling out a digital form and hitting send, and there are a lot of slicing software options out there that you’ll need to choose from depending on your experience.
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Two such options are Slic3r and Cura, and you’ll likely have heard of at least one of these if you have any experience with 3D printing. Most printers will come with their own company-based slicing software either included or highly recommended, but these are often quite basic and can even come with additional fees.
Whatsmore, it’s not uncommon for 3D printer companies to base their own included software on Cura or Slic3r, so you likely have experience with either or both Slic3r or Cura, without having ever used them.
Both Slic3r and Cura are viable choices for just about any 3D printer, and both are open-source and free so there’s no reason not to give either a chance. Though because testing out software can be time-consuming and tedious, we’re going to look at both here to help you get an idea of which one to go for.
What is Slicing Software?
Like how the turn of a key will control the tumblers in a lock and provide access without you needing to activate the smaller parts of the mechanism yourself, slicing will use your model’s input to tell a 3D printer what to do so you don’t have to.
Think of slicing software as a digital reader that takes a 3D model from your CAD software and translates it into a set of numbers to tell your 3D printer how to move and operate.
Everything from axes measurements, output temperature, and filament type needs to be taken into account to make sure the print comes out just right.
Slic3r vs. Cura – Usability
Cura vs Slic3r: Which is best for beginners?
When selecting any software, you’ll need to think about how approachable it is depending on your experience and needs.
Going for more advanced or intricate slicing software if you’re new to 3D printing will have you facing confusing options and unknown terms that, if configured incorrectly, will reduce the likelihood of a successful print.
Fortunately, both Cura and Slic3r have their own ways of ensuring a beginner-friendly experience for those who aren’t as sure of what they’re doing.
Cura is well known for its beginner-friendliness to the point where it may not even feel like you’re using the software at all. As the poster child for newcomers to 3D printing, there’s little more to it than loading in the model and letting Cura do its thing.
Though that’s not to say that there aren’t any options for user input. Tweaks to the settings can still be made in the event that Cura automatically loads up settings that may not be viable for the specific model you’ve loaded up.
In addition, Cura has a separate beginner mode, which simplifies the layout and guides you through its settings in a very simple and easy-to-understand way.
Slic3r makes itself beginner-friendly by having a very well-organized and easy-to-navigate layout that uses carefully segmented menus and options. This simple user interface makes navigation easy even for those of you going in totally blind.
Both Cura and Slic3r are very approachable and a plethora of guides and tutorials can be found online even if you do get lost, so there should be no worries with either one if you’re nervous about diving in for the first time.
While most 3D CAD software will let you manipulate and view your model from different angles, many slicers will let you do this too. This comes in very handy as a sort of ‘final check’ before you send the model off to print, and is good for last-minute surveying for unwanted patterns or additions.
Slic3r has options for moving your model around in-program to a specific degree, but there are no options to actively change the model’s shape if you happen to find any errors or unwanted shapes. Despite this, Slic3r does incorporate micro layering, which can help you ensure your more intricate models are as accurate as possible before even sending them to print.
While Cura’s manipulation feature is easier to use, it can only be done in 15-degree increments, so it may prove to be an irritating feature if you need to focus on a specific part of the model. However, it does let you make minor alterations should you come across any issues.
Cura vs Slic3r Speed
Transferring and encoding files is never an instant process, and it takes a powerful software to do it in a reasonable timeframe.
On average, Cura is around 3-5 times faster than Slic3r, depending on the size of the file and its innate compatibility. Of course, particularly large files will take some time in either program, and the difference in time will be negligible for smaller files.
Cura vs Slic3r: 3D Printer Compatibility & Ease of Use
Slicing software acts as an intermediary between your CAD software and your 3D printer. Because of this, compatibility is key for smooth functionality and problem-free use.
Cura excels at this due to its auto-detection that’s linked to a library of hundreds of common 3D printers with precise optimized settings. Similar to how translation software can automatically figure out which language you’re typing in, Cura can recognize the 3D printer you’re using and change its settings accordingly.
Slic3r does have the capacity for such a library, and each machine’s information needs to be entered manually and stored for later use. While this isn’t a problem if you only plan on using one 3D printer, it can become tedious if you’re using multiple machines.
Slicing software will give you all the information you need on a model before printing, but which side of Slic3r vs. Cura you choose in this respect will depend on how much information you want.
Slic3r will give you basic information such as axis length and filament consumption, whereas Cura will go into far more detail by giving you more relevant information like estimated print time.
Slicing software involves more than just an ‘upload and go’ model. Depending on what you’re printing, you may need your slicer to do a little more than just print from start to finish.
Because both Cura and Slic3r are free, open-source programs, they’re both open to consumer-led modification to add new features all the time.
3D prints that need extra attention or additions midway through printing, like prints with moving parts or electronics in mind, will need a slicer that can pause the printer mid-project to attach such additions.
Cura offers such a feature via one of its many community-rated add-ons. This makes it ideal for attaching screws, internal mechanisms, or electronics relevant to the project at hand without having to manually pause your printer.
Slic3r’s community-made additions are generally wider in scope, making larger improvements to the software as a whole. This means that it is constantly evolving, though at the price of becoming less beginner-friendly with each optional update as many of the modifying community are experts.
So, Cura vs. Slic3r: which should you use?
Both Cura and Slic3r are powerful programs that are well worth a look if you’re after a good slicing software, but there are clear differences between the two that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Overall, Cura does offer a more reliable and user-friendly experience, but that isn’t to say that Slic3r should be ignored entirely. So let’s look at which you should choose.
When to Choose Slic3r
Slic3r is a well-rounded slicing software that may be geared towards more advanced users, but still manages to have an easy-to-learn user interface and simple layout. Beginners will find it an easy program to learn, while veterans in slicing software won’t be underwhelmed by its options.
- Micro layering tools for intricate prints
- Accurate model manipulation
- Shallow learning curve
- Slower file conversion speeds
- Less information on print project specs
- No automatic printer detection
When to Choose Cura
Cura is the ultimate in beginner-friendly slicer software. If you’re brand new to 3D printing and want non-complicated, no-nonsense software that has a 99% chance of already being compatible with your machine, then Cura is the way to go.
- User-friendly interface with built-in beginner mode
- Automatically detects and alters settings to match most 3D printers
- Allows for alterations to models before printing
- Shows good estimates of filament consumption and print time
- Model manipulation is basic and inaccurate
- Limited resources for adding detail to designs
- Not ideal for advanced users
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