If you're wondering what a 3D slicer is, it defines a model and instructs a 3D printer how to print it. Learn all about this software!

A slicer is a program that converts digital 3D models into printing instructions for a given 3D printer to build an object. In addition to the model itself, the instructions contain user-input 3D printing parameters such as layer height, speed, and support structure settings.

Any 3D printing technology creates 3D objects by adding material layer by layer. The Slicer software is therefore aptly named because it effectively “slices” 3D models into many horizontal 2D layers that will later be printed, one at a time.

In this article, we will discuss the role of slicers in 3D printing, detail how 3D slicing works for FDM and Resin, and finally conclude with slicing in other 3D printing technologies. Let's start!

What does the slicer do?

In short, a slicer serves as a bridge between a digital 3D model (produced by computer-aided design, or CAD ) and a manufacturing system, translating the design into instructions for—in this case—a 3D printer to execute.

These instructions are transmitted in the form of command lines, commonly referred to as computer numerical control (CNC). As the name suggests, the commands entered control all aspects of the printer, including travel speeds and temperatures, among many others. A distinction can be made between 3D printers and other CNC machines, such as those designed for milling, plasma cutting and turning. As explained, 3D printers are controlled by CNC instructions, but they are not the most common example when consumers think of the term.

In any case, although there are many different ways to "talk" to these machines, the predominant language is G-code, which is used in various types of manufacturing systems - and understandably, there are specific commands for different technologies. G-code, as seen above, gives instructions, line by line, what the 3D printer should do.

3D slicing procedures may seem simple to anyone who has printed a 3D model. But what's really going on behind that tidy user interface? Let's take a look at what we need to have a successful slicer experience.


To successfully prepare a model for 3D printing and generate G-code, the slicer requires two different inputs: the 3D model itself and a set of print parameters that tell the machine how the actual printing should be done.

3D models

You can create digital 3D models using a wide variety of CAD software, ranging from the artistic and open source Blender to the professional and highly technical SolidWorks. The problem is that each digital file created with a particular CAD tool has a specific format, such as "Blend" (.blend) for Blender and "part" and "assembly" (.sldprt and .sldasm) for SolidWorks.

Alternatively, you can find models created by others in repositories. They may be available in different formats depending, for example, on whether they are intended to be printed from multi-material units or involve more production setups.

If 3D slicers were to handle all these different formats, they would require a huge support base, but even so, they certainly cannot cover all modeling software. For this reason, a standardized file format is used. The one most commonly associated with 3D printing is STL (.stl), which is exported by most 3D modeling software. No need to panic if your program doesn't export this file type – there are plenty of STL file converters out there.

3D printing parameters

Once your 3D model is in a format the slicer can understand, the next step is to provide print details such as layer height, speed, part positioning, and a few other production-related settings. These user-entered values are defined before printing.

The 3D model can also be partially modified during this step. You can change dimensions using scaling functions, and parts can be partially or fully hollowed out, filled with fill patterns, and wall thickness values provided. This step also includes enabling support structures, which is one of the most practical features of a 3D slicer.

3D printing parameters will vary depending on the type of technology (FDM or resin-based), as well as the type of material (different types of FDM filaments require different settings), the object to be printed, and its intended purpose. So let's see what comes into play for each.

FDM slicing

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a material extrusion technique where a print head moves in two different directions (X- and Y-axes) while the plastic filament is melted and pushed through the nozzle to create a 2D layer. This process is repeated until, layer by layer, the 3D object is complete.

FDM printers rely heavily on motion to build a 3D object, with the fine, multi-axis control necessary for accurate printing. As mentioned, different materials will have different settings, from different temperatures to speeds, and depending on the model, support structures may also come into play.

Once the 3D model and print settings are defined, the slicer will process these inputs and generate a G-code file that is then uploaded to the 3D printer.

The last step is done entirely by the internal algorithms of the 3D slicer, which means that it is not related to the user and that each slicer will do this differently. In simple models, the differences between the slicers may remain invisible, but in more complex ones, they will certainly be noticeable. Some slicers may work better with certain 3D printers, but there is no hard and fast rule to know which one will work best for you.

Many 3D slicers are available for FDM, some of which are free. UltiMaker Cura and PrusaSlicer are among the most popular in the open source community, while there are proprietary options such as Bamboo Studio of Bambu Lab , and Simplify3D is a premium (and expensive) choice.

Cutting resin

Vat polymerization uses UV light in various forms to cure liquid resin in layers. Once a layer has cured, the build platform is moved to allow the fresh resin to fill and form the next layer until the 3D part is created.

This 3D printing technique relies less on motion than FDM. For "true" SLA printers, the deflecting mirror rotates to direct a UV laser beam at the resin, outlining and shaping each 2D layer. For DLP and LCD (or MSLA) 3D printers, the only real movement is done by the build plate, which moves exclusively along the Z-axis during the entire printing process.

One difference from the FDM printing process is that resin printers do not use G-code in their source files. In fact, most desktop resin 3D printers use their own format and therefore their own slicing software. However, there are third-party slicers available, such as Chitubox , FormWare , that are compatible with many desktop printers.

Slicing for resin is somewhat similar to FDM, but the parameters of 3D printing differ. Rather than nozzle temperature or cooling, resin settings include exposure times and lift speeds. However, layer height and features such as support structure distribution are also present in the resin, just as in most 3D printing technologies. And as with different threads, depending on the type of resin you choose, the settings will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Slice from the rest

Other 3D printing technologies such as SLS, SLM or even EBM and binder jetting require specific slicers due to the added complexity and variety of their processes. For example, an SLS system from one manufacturer will not perform the same as its competitor, which is why most of these machines use official manufacturer's slicing software.

However, there are some alternatives. Software company Materialize offers a set of tools for preparing and optimizing 3D models for printing in 3D printing technologies. This software includes various post-processing modules, including the Build Processor, which prepares digital parts for printing on a wide range of 3D printer brands, including HP, EOS, Desktop Metal and BLT.

Some CAD programs, such as Autodesk's Fusion 360, can perform pre-build operations and send print jobs directly to 3D printers that use FDM, SLA, SLS, SLM, or hybrid technology. With Autodesk's Netfabb, you can send print jobs directly to 3D printers including EOS, Formlabs, Arcam, HP, Sinterit and SLM.

Another CAD program with direct integration to 3D printers is NX from software giant Siemens. NX for Manufacturing software is an integrated system for programming CNC machine tools, controlling robotic cells, driving 3D printers and monitoring product quality.

If you need further clarification, which Slicer to choose or which 3D printing technology to invest in first - do not hesitate to contact us:



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