Which is the best Slicer software for you? In this final round up entry, let’s compare the choices we investigated in the series of 4 articles (In part 1 we looked at Slic3r, in part 2 Cura, and last was Simplify 3D) to find the perfect match for your 3D printer and your 3D printing workflow …
Usability and Look & Feel
The least approachable and usable of the group was Slic3r, having a kind of 1990s feel. It’s very much an old school application, less designed and more “built”.
Cura scores highly on the look and feel side, possibly being the most attractive of the bunch, plus having the ability to tuck away settings you don’t want to be visible – great when people are going to be operating it in a multi-user setting.
Simplify 3D is the most polished overall, and has excellent guides, especially the troubleshooting guide that is repeatedly shared in discussions to help people resolve their printing problems.
Slic3r uniquely has Cubic Infill (for all round strength and durability), and more importantly, smoothly graduated Variable Layer Height features, at least in the Prusa edition. The powerfully enhanced variable layer height feature is a killer feature for producing high quality, smooth curves and surfaces, while saving all round print time (avoiding printing more than you need to in a fine resolution).
Simplify 3D makes it easy to control and position multi-part prints. You can fill your bed any way you like, and more importantly each item can have its own settings, and within an object have multiple settings at layer heights! Combined with powerful support control, including custom supports, this is not something any of the others come close to. When you have put all this effort into filling your bed with complex object preferences, you can save the whole work space to come back to later. I use this for bed levelling, I have set up objects placed where I want them to get a whole bed level.
Disappointingly, Cura doesn’t have much to stand out from the competition in terms of unique features, the focus on the Cura development seems around ease of use, supporting the printers they support, and in particular dual extrusion. One, albeit minor, thing Cura can do that I have not seen anyone talk about, is it can load not just STL files but load and view GCode files, and if the GCode was saved in Cura, can load the print profile from the GCode. That was something I discovered accidentally, but is pretty cool.
Added May 2017 – Just to show how quickly Cura is being improved since I wrote this 2.6 beta just dropped and they added “Gradual Infill” which will save you time and filament, while maintaining quality. Also the arrangement, saving of workspaces, and individual object settings are all easily accessible, removing some of the edge Simplify 3D once had!
It turns out there is not a great deal between the major slicers, with each having advantages, but no knock-out blows. Cura and Slic3r have been updated recently to give them valuable extra tools, with Simplify 3D seemingly complacent in comparison, but still having the advantages of custom support, overall speed, and multi-object settings (Cura 2.6 has multi-object settings now).
The main issues with Simplify 3D that would stop it being an outright recommendation are the cost could be prohibitive, the licensing system could lock you out of the software, and development is not keeping up with advances on the open source side. That said, if you do have budget, there is a tremendous amount still going for it for anyone looking to save time by using an all-in-one system.
Of course even if you do pay for Simplify 3D, just like with the free options, you can supplement with other software, such as Meshmixer. If you are going with Cura for the great looking UI and dual extruder ease of use, or Slic3r for the advanced layer height abilities, or because you run a Prusa, you are going to need Meshmixer for control over your supports.
Personally I am using Simplify 3D most of the time, with Slic3r being the best option for my Original Prusa i3 Mk2.
Added May 2017: Right now it appears Cura is the one to watch, it has the most rapid development cycle and is adding much-needed features …
Whichever you choose, it’s the printer profiles and your dialled in filament settings that are going to make the most difference, so get on the forums and Facebook groups and get the best configurations you can find!