The 3D printing process doesn’t just require hardware support alone in the form of a good 3D printer and filaments etc. Yes, these things are very important, but they can only work at their optimum capacity when they are further complemented by a whole range of highly innovative software tools that can utilize the hardware capabilities of your printer to the optimum.
Here, one of the single most important pieces of the entire 3D object making system would be the 3D Printer Slicer. This slice 3D software basically acts as a go-between amongst the 3D models that have to be printed, as well as the 3D printer itself. In this post, we’ll compare Cura vs Slic3r and explore the pros and cons of each.
What Exactly Is Slicer Software All About?
For the uninitiated, a 3D printing slicer works by the simple expedient of preparing a selected model for each and every individual 3D printer. For this purpose, it generates a very specific G-code. As a general rule, this code is almost always in the form of a numerical control (NC) programming language.
In other words, slicing 3D files is all about a software application that gets 3D model files such as STL and OB from a source and it treats them as input. After that and as per the individual user’s settings and preferences it creates g-code files as needed output.
G-code may be defined as a set of commands and controls that are responsible for the movement of your 3D printer all along the X, Y, and Z-axis till the 3D building process is complete. This code also contains instructions for heaters as well as other connected devices. These also include auxiliary devices such as servos or even bed leveling sensors.
Here it is pertinent to note that 3D Slic3rs are a very important and crucial piece of the overall 3D printing workflow since they have a huge impact on both the quality as well as the resolution of any 3D object built by the printer.
The Origins and Rise of 3D Slicing Software
It is not easy to work literally for thousands of man-hours to write tens of thousands of lines of code to create that perfect software for your machine. Especially the kind of software solutions that will allow your 2D vectors to come to glorious 3D life.
Since many of these software programs are available as ‘Open Source’ solutions, these individuals have been directly responsible for bringing the 3D printer from the science lab to your home. And what is more, they have done this many times at no personal benefit due to the nature of the open-source community at large. Instead of becoming really rich by charging premiums for all of their hard work, they have done the diametrical opposite, and have instead opened the doors of this technology to all those intrepid people to come after them and thereby join and improve their products with much less effort than if they were doing it on their own.
Thanks to their pioneering efforts there are now many companies all over the world who are utilizing open-source software in order to generate their income.
In their own small way, their pioneering efforts have collectively pushed the boundaries of this otherwise amazing technology.
It is thanks to this background that both Cura, as well as Slic3r, started out on the drawing board way back in the year 2011.
Let us take a quick look at two of the most popular slicers, around. I.e. Cura and the eponymously named Slic3r.
Cura was originally developed by author David Braam while its Slic3r counterpart was invented by the software engineer Alessandro Ranellucci. As of now, Cura’s development teams have since linked up with the Ultimaker team and they are now working on his 3D software on a full-time basis.
In the meantime, the good people at Slic3r have been trying to earn a living via other sources so the slic3r software has been worked on by a team of part-time developers who have contributed as and when their time constraints allow.
Of course, the difference is definitely apparent especially when it comes to both qualities as well as features. Nevertheless, the Slic3r software’s Prusa Edition (now currently referred to simply as PrusaSlicer) is on the process of being developed fulltime by the Prusa team. This iteration of the slic3r software has excellent capabilities viz-a-viz the original base version.
Cura vs Slic3r
User Interface Comparison
The proof of the pudding is in the eating goes the hackneyed old cliché. Here, in the world of Cura and Slic3r and other slicing software programs, the interaction between the user and the platform is deemed to be absolutely crucial for the success of the software (or lack of it thereof).
It is very important that the layout must be very neat and all of the icons are prominently displayed and self-explanatory. This is the best way to ensure that navigating the software platform will become intuitive, at least as far as basic tasks are concerned.
In this case, Cura takes a definite lead the lead in this area, thanks to its markedly more user-friendly operating systems (OS) that also guides its first users. However, Slic3r is fast catching up, and hopefully, with a few updates, it is possible that Slic3r will also be on par with its Cura counterpart.
Overall Layout and Design
The layout is one of the few areas where slic3r’s functions really shine. The easy to use layout can actually make the slic3r far less intimidating and friendlier in comparison.
Cura has been equipped with its own “beginner-friendly” setting located under the recommended icon and tab. This is a pretty useful little feature because the custom tab can more often than not, turn out to be quite confusing thanks to its really large number of settings. Yes, they all have headings, but it is still a trifle tricky to wade through the maze as such.
Slic3r, on the other hand, tends to follow a completely different path. It has most of its settings very neatly organized into multiple categories. There are three settings in total. All of them have their own set of subheadings as well. It is a good idea to do this because it will break the information into much smaller bite-sized chunks that will be easier to work with and digest.
Movement and Positioning
The ability to orient a model viz-a-viz the print surface will definitely help reduce support, even as it gives you the innate ability to strengthen the specific part accordingly.
Here, once you use Cura you will find that it is actually quite intuitive in this regard. Once you have highlighted a particular part and selected the same, the movement, the rotation, and the scale tabs will be automatically highlighted as well. Thereby prompting you to click on them, as and when you want.
However, full rotation is not possible at the same time and it can only be done in multiple 15-degree increments. In the long run, it can be very cumbersome indeed for users to try and orient the part at the right angle and pitch or any other way they want.
Another really need feature of the Cura software is its support blocker. Sometimes, it may happen that the supports just might be positioned in places where they are not necessary or required. Here the support blocker will step in to do the needful.
Slic3r, on the other hand, is not usually considered to be this intuitive as such. Yes, both the movement and rotation icons can be seen right above the build model, but you will have your work cut you for you if you want to really get used to them.
It is not impossible, but just takes a lot of learning via the age-old experimentation and trial and error process. As of now, Slic3r does not offer any sort of support removal or even additional options.
Model information includes multiple variables such as filament usage, and print time, material cost. These are all very important features to have just in case you are running your print farm. Alternatively, you can use these variables to generate the total cost of your cosplay props or anything else you like to print.
Cura’s slicing engine is equipped with the basics. That is, it will provide you with key information like filament used (in terms of both length and weight), print time, etc. In other words, you will have a rough estimation of exactly how much time, money, and effort you will have to put in your build, especially with regard to the total amount of material consumed.
There is a very interesting additional feature and that is the total time break-down function. You will see it automatically when you hover over the total print time icon: It will display the total time required for parameters, infill, supports, and travel. Duly armed with all of this information, you will be able to better optimize your systems setting in order to substantially reduce print time more than ever before.
In this case, Slic3r is definitely second to its Cura counterpart. This is because the only possible information that you can possibly get from the slic3r engine would be the total filament used in terms of total length alone. Even if you were to add the total density of the filament as well as net cost by yourself, you won’t get anything more than a rough idea regarding the total cost of your print as well as the filament used in terms of overall weight. In fact, Slic3r’s inability to give the user the total print time is a massive huge letdown.
Another interesting slic3r feature is the engine’s intrinsic ability to pre-program machine profiles. Here, Cura has at least a few hundred such profiles. In the long run, it makes it a whole lot easier to safely and quickly configure your print. Alternately, you can just simply ask the makers themselves, to send you their individual profile settings that can subsequently be added directly and uploaded to Cura.
Here again, Cura beats Slic3r hands down. Technically it is entirely possible to import and export various printer settings; in actual fact, you will be manually entering them on slic3r. This is because individual profiles for multiple printers are not very easy to come by.
Total Workload Capacity
For a truly professional level user, it is crucial for a slicer engine to be able to effortlessly handle large files, on its own.
If you were to compare the Cura and Slic3r platforms while using a relatively simple 25 MB file on the same computer, you will get interesting results. In this case, Cura will be able to slice the model and even save its g-code in well under 5 minutes. Now, Slic3r on the other hand took roughly 25 minutes. This is ample description of the superiority of the Cura engine over Slic3r, at least as far as the time factor is concerned.
The Z Height Pause Feature
This is a very important feature and one that has endeared both these engines to the 3D printing community at large. For example, it will allow you to drop in a few nuts and bolts in order to make a fully functional part. As a matter of fact, now it is even possible for electronic boards to be dropped in, in order to give the build at least an elementary level of functionality. The Z height pause feature is now directly responsible for making countless functional parts; that might otherwise, would have been nearly impossible to create from scratch.
Here, Cura uses a custom plugin to do the needful. In fact, you can easily set the nozzle park distance in order to ensure that the print head will move out of the way. In this case, you will be allowed free access to all the printed parts.
Slic3r on the other hand has a somewhat more complicated workaround as far as the pause feature is concerned. In this case, the easiest method would be to use a conditional G-code command.
It would be a smart idea to use an ‘IF’ statement in order to check the Z height. You can do this at every layer change. In this case, it is important to remember that should the Z height reach a specific number, you may activate the pause M code as soon as possible. While it is all in a day’s work for the experienced professional, it can turn out to be a tad more complex for newbies and other early users. They will have to experiment and learn on the fly, so to speak.
The main purpose of this mode is to showcase the aesthetic ability of your builds. You can create complex, single-wall structures that will add and enhance the beauty of your living space.
While using Cura, all you have to do is to just simply click on the outer contour checkbox. You can find it under the engine’s special modes tab. Cura’s user-friendly settings are very easy to use for beginners and you can get the job done in very little time. However, In Slic3r’s case, you have to reduce infill all the way to zero and also remove all of the top layers while at it.
The ability to connect to a 3D printer directly from the slicer engine is a very nifty feature. The workflow will be much more streamlined and what is more, you won’t be required to save g-code files and try and upload the same elsewhere either.
Both Cura and Slic3r offer seamless connectivity via Octoprint and Duet 2 WiFi functionality. This way you will be able to upload your sliced g-code files on your own to the respective web servers. Once done, you can make sure that they are printed automatically.
Both of these slicer engines offer USB connection functionality. However, Cura comes with an additional monitor tab as well. If you have a camera attached to your machine, it will help you to view your build even as it is being printed. Based on that, you will be able to make any changes you want on your 3D
Variable Layer Height
This is a brand new feature that is now available in both the Cura as well as the Slic3r engines. If you have worked with 3D printed curved surfaces, the odds are that you would have noticed a certain staircase effect. This typically happens whenever the layer height is the same for each individual layer.
However, the variable layer height function will automatically change the layer height at various parts of the 3D print-based entirely on the curvature of that specific part. Here, it is pertinent to note that users can now control the maximum as well as the minimum layer height. Once done, the software engineer will easily take care of the rest.
However, Cura’s VLH feature still has some issues and bugs that have to be worked out. On the other hand, the curved prints coming from Slic3r are much better in this respect. Print times are pretty much identical since the VLH function works by increasing the layer height at all of the straight parts of the build and substantially decreasing them around the curves.
Is Cura The Best Slicer?
The engineers at Ultimaker regularly continue to update the Cura engine. Since it allows many people to develop various third-party plug-ins this highly popular slicer retains its cutting edge, in spite of its competition. Yes, this slicer is free, but that does not stop it from being amongst the big names in the slicer engine fraternity, irrespective of their costs. Let us take a quick look at the key advantages of this engine.
- It is suitable for both novices as well as experts alike
- Beginners can see the most important basic settings
- There are around 200 plus settings for even hardcore experts
- The GUI is very fast
- It can handle dual material prints
- The Cura 3D slicer engine has the ability to handle large STL files at fast speed
- OS: Windows, Linux, Mac
Is Slic3r Better Than Cura?
In light of the above discussion we can state that in most cases, Cura is faster and better than Slic3r. However, in certain applications such as VLH, slic3r is better and gives faster prints. However, in most other cases Cura definitely outperforms Slic3r.
Is Simplify3D Better Than Cura?
Unlike the Cura engine, the Simplify 3D slicer is not an open-source program. It comes with a very steep price tag of $150 for every download. This makes it a top of the shelf product meant for use by experts and professionals. It allows very fast imports of STL, OBJ, or 3MF files amongst other features.
When compared to Cura, Simplify 3D is a much more advanced system for anyone who wants the best quality possible from their printer. However, a novice would be hard put to understand its dazzling array of features and so won’t be able to justify the expense. Here Cura clearly outshines Simplify 3D in every field and post.
Conclusion: What Is The Best Slicer For 3d Printing?
All the Slicing engines discussed above have their own pros and cons. However, Cura is by far the best one of the lot, not least because of its amazing features, but also because it is available absolutely free of cost. Slic3r follows behind as a close second. Finally, both of them are better than many others in terms of support material.