The best 3D printing slicer: Prusaslicer, Cura and more

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to 3D printing. Obviously, having it The best 3D printer is great, but did you know that you also need specific software to make a print-ready 3D model? These programs are called slicers and they are essential for building your 3D printer, that is, 3D printing.

What is a slicer for 3D printing?

A parser is a piece of software for your PC, Mac, or laptop that can convert a 3D model file — usually with the .STL, .3MF, or .OBJ file extension — into a file that can be used by Your 3D printer. A printer is essentially a sophisticated drawing machine that moves to specific coordinates that the slicer tells it in the form of something called a GCODE.

A shredder does exactly what it sounds like. Cuts a 3D model into small “cut” layers that are printed individually but stacked on top of each other. A shredder is also responsible for:

  • How hot should the printer be?
  • How fast the printer should run
  • Where to place the supports on the model
  • How much padding is required for the model
  • Where the printhead should be at any given second
  • How much material to extrude in each layer
  • Many many more settings that can be tweaked

Basically, everything that makes your printer useful is what the analyzer tells it, so it’s the most important software you can own.

Now that we know what a shredder does, we can talk about which ones are the best ones to use. With which shredder to be determined what kind of 3d printer do you have and what you use it for. Resin printers often require different cutters on FDM machines, so this article will tell you which is which.

The best 3D printing cutter

James Bricknell/CNET

For the best slicing experience on FDM printers, you can’t do better than the PrusaSlicer. Despite being made by a 3D printer manufacturer, it is not exclusive to Prusa printers and has a huge variety of printers to choose from. If your printer is not listed, there is a way to create a custom setting for any 3D printer.

While there are many great features in Prusaslicer, the standout feature is the support system. PrusaSlicer has painting props that allow you to draw where on the model you want the props to be and they will only be created in those places. This gives very good control over where to support your model so it doesn’t get damaged during printing.

This shredder also supports resin printers, but for now, only Prusa machines. However, it does give you the option to use its resin model capabilities and then export the rendered model (complete with props) to use in a different slicer if needed.

The Prusa Slicer is well-maintained, feature-rich, and always improving in new and interesting ways. It is the best shredder right now and should be in your rotation.

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Cura has been the cutting tool for millions of people for nearly a decade. It is constantly updated and improved, not only by Ultimaker, who created it, but by hundreds of users who actively contribute to the open source codebase. It is also used by many 3D printing manufacturers as the basis for their branded slicers that often come with their 3D printers.

While the Cura’s filling system is a bit bulkier than the Prusaslicers, it does have tree supports. These organic looking props are great at supporting a model while actively missing as much of the physical object as possible. They are also very thin and use little material, even when wrapped around the model. I still prefer the ability to paint on the props from the Prusaslicer, but the tree props come second.

Cura also has a great marketplace for community-created plugins, as well as integrations with some well-known CAD programs like Autodesk Inventor. It’s really a toss-up between Prusaslicer and Cura as to which is the best free slicer, so go with your gut.

James Bricknell/CNET

The Chitubox has been my resin print shredder for as long as I’ve been using a resin 3D printer. While there are many similarities between resin and FDM cutters, the biggest difference is the ability to hollow out your models and how the props are designed and created. Resin prints hang upside down, so the support structures must be positioned differently.

Using Chitubox, you can easily adjust the settings of each model as well as the specific resin you are using to account for speed and exposure time. It has a huge range of printers to choose from, as Chitu also manufactures motherboards for several manufacturers.

While there is both a paid and a free version, the free version is usually sufficient for home users. Be aware when buying a new resin printer as sometimes you can get free time with the pro version as part of a discount.

James Bricknell/CNET

Almost all slicers are software that must be downloaded to your PC or Mac. Kiri:Moto is browser-based, making it platform independent and capable of running on something as simple as a Chromebook. This gives you the opportunity to use lower end laptops and spend the savings on more 3D printers.

Kiri:Moto is also one of the few cutters that can easily handle the Creality CR-30 transfer film printer. In fact, in the early days of this printer, the guy who makes Kiri:Moto was an integral part of the team that pushed conveyor belt cutters forward.

This is a simple shredder with many powerful settings that surpasses the others because it is accessible from anywhere, on almost anything. It even works on my Android phone, and that’s totally unique.

James Bricknell/CNET

Lychee has been a long time favorite of resin print fans for good reason. Not only does Chitubox do everything it can, it also has a smart setup that will find the best orientation for your print to reduce the number of supports needed. It’s a versatile resin shredder and its latest update puts it firmly in the big leagues.

Lychee just expanded their analyzer to include FDM printers as well as resin. So now you can use a single shredder for almost any printer you can imagine. It profiles every name in the 3D printing game, including the Ankermake M5, a printer so new it’s still only available by pre-order.

Some of Lychee’s most powerful tools are hidden behind a paywall that can cost up to $80 per year, but if you’re using your 3D printer to make money, that expense isn’t unreasonable. One of the new tools in the Pro version, it allows you to cut your models in specific ways without cutting all the way through, something that hasn’t really been done before. It’s an impressive feat and well worth the annual money.

James Bricknell/CNET

In 2013, when Simplify3D was released, it was an amazing leap forward for 3D printing. As a slicer, it was much more than anything available at the time, with an intuitive interface and some of the best support in the business. I started using it in 2017, and while it was still pretty good, it just got updates and other cutting programs started to catch up. He was still good at supports and produced excellent quality prints, but many new machines were not available and support had disappeared.

That all changed in December 2022 when Simplify3D was finally updated to version 5.0. There are plenty of new features and a whole host of new printers are supported, so it’s time for a comeback. The company may have a ways to go to win back hearts, but from what I’ve seen the software looks good.

If you’ve ever owned Simplify3D, you can buy 5.0 for $60, but if you want to buy it new, it’ll set you back $200. It’s a lot to ask for a slicer, but if the buzz around 5.0 is correct, it might be worth it.

3D Printing Cutter FAQ

Can I use any slicer with any 3D printer?

While many cutters work with different machines, not all are compatible. It would be incredibly difficult to write a universal parser for every 3D printer out there. That said, most shredders allow you to manually add settings for a custom machine. So as long as the slicer is available for the type of printer you’re using (FDM, Resin, ETC), you should be able to use it.

Some slicers like the Prusaslicer and Lychee will work with both Resin and FDM printers, so if you’re working with more than one printer in each medium, they may be the best options.

Why are you focusing so much on supports?

When I tested all the different cutters out there, I found that how the supports were handled had the biggest impact on print quality. Most slicers have almost the same features, such as fill patterns and speed control, but each has a slightly different way of creating props.

Props are the bane of any 3D maker’s life, so finding a slicer that can do them effortlessly is key.

Should I use the slicer that came with my 3D printer?

3D printers often come with their own branded slicer and are most often based on the open source Cura platform. If you’ve bought a printer from Elegoo, Creality, Anycubic or Lulzbot, you’ll have seen that the brand cut analyzer is based on Cura with some minor modifications.

The problem with using a branded version of a shredder is that they usually take a while to update. Cura is often updated extremely quickly and most 3D printing companies are not interested in spending money to update with it.

While I always use the brand name version when testing products, my own personal prints are usually done on a Prusaslicer or Cura. I like cutting edge, and that’s what they give.

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