Choosing a 3D Modeling Software for 3D Printing

At our MakerSpace, I am often asked for advice about what should someone use in order to create 3D objects for 3D printing.
There is not just one single answer because it depends on a few parameters so I made a little decision chart:

Here are some general consideration:
- The price is important. I don't want to spend energy learning something that I will not be able to afford later.
- Since it is for 3D printing, I don't care much about texturing and not at all about animating, rigging, rendering, ...
- When I need to make something somewhat mechanical, something that fits, it is important that I can easily adjust my dimension later according to trial and errors. That's one of the main specificity the "precision" part of the graph.

Please share your choices and advices in the comments.

It is certainly not exhaustive or objective but it is based on quite a lot of reading, interviews and experiences.
This is a troll-friendly subject so please stay constructive in your suggestions to improve this decision tree.



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    10 Discussions


    2 years ago


    I'm having a look at "how to start" (even tough I've already read quite a lot now).

    My first test would be to create a ESP8266 based IR HVAC controller. My main steps would be (as my own learning curve) :

    1/ Measure a NodeMCU v3 and related components I want to pack

    2/ Design an enclosure for all that

    3/ 3D Print it

    I'm specifically worried about precise placement of holes/connectors and the likes.

    I've found out that FreeCAD could be used. Anyone having a link to some tutorial on how to actually go from a design/idea/existing piece of hardware to an actual precise 3D model?

    I might start by modeling the actual pieces I want to use and later on fit that into some design.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Missed Autodesk Fusion 360, which is free of charge, works on mac and win, can do parametric via either interface or scripting, as well as visual modelling. My tool of choice at the moment.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Looking at the "buy" page, it's a free 3-year license for students. Free 1-year license for startups. Free 30-day trial for everybody else. I didn't see anything about hobbyists; maybe they've changed their policies. It's expensive after that.


    Reply 3 years ago

    (March 2016, in reply to a comment from a year ago, because maybe someone will benefit)

    Yes, they have drastically changed their policies.

    Autodesk Fusion 360 is now FREE for students, enthusiasts, hobbyists, and startups (emerging businesses that make less than US$100,000 in revenue per year). At the end of 1 year, you can reselect the startup entitlement or transition to a commercial entitlement.

    "Full use of Fusion 360 for as long as you need it"

    • Start by downloading the 30-day trial
    • Once you’re in, simply register for free use


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I've heard that Sketchup is a bad choice quite often now. I have not done any exporting or 3D printing based on Sketchup designs, so I wonder why it produces "unprintable models"?

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Sketchup falls over at small scales. Try modelling a 1/4" sphere some day.

    You can work around this by scaling your model up 1000x while you work on it, and scale it back down when you're ready to generate the STL.

    Your object needs to be a proper solid object to be exported to STL and printed, and SU is prone to glitches that prevent objects from being solid. Very tiny holes or excess geometry or dangling lines can ruin it.

    In general, you need one of the STL exporter plugins and the "solid inspector" plugin to make printable models via SU.

    But it *can* be done. Here's an object I sucesfully printed:


    I agree, thanks for sharing this. You wouldn't happen to have any input on which software we should use for the actual printing/slicing/ communicating with the printer would you? Or is there software that does all these things rolled into one? Thank you!