The Desktop 3D printers are inexpensive machines that can be either put together or purchased preassembled and allow anyone to participate in personal fabrication and rapid prototyping. Using a digital design, it prints objects by melting layers of plastic, one on top of the other, to form three-dimensional objects.

The Process

Once you have a STL file, the 3D model needs to be sliced into layers in order to be printed. The software that slices a model is called Makerware, which translates the 3D information into an x3g file or GCode, the common name for the widely used computer numerical control (CNC) programming language). The GCode tells the 3D printer how to print the object.

The Choices

There is no shortage of free or commercially available software at your disposal. Your choice of software tool(s) for use with your students will depend on a variety of factors:
  • The content/theme of your class or program
  • Ability level of students
  • Student interest
  • Budget constraints

Free and/or open source options that are available:
  1. Autodesk 123D Catch Desktop
  2. Autodesk 123D Creature iPad
  3. Autodesk 123D Design Desktop
  4. Autodesk 123D Make Desktop
  5. Autodesk 123D Sculpt iPad
  6. Autodesk 3ds Max Desktop
  7. Autodesk AutoCAD Desktop
  8. Autodesk Fusion 360 Cloud-based
  9. Autodesk Inventor Desktop
  10. Autodesk Maya Desktop
  11. Autodesk Memento Desktop
  12. Autodesk Monolith Desktop
  13. Autodesk Tinkercad Cloud-Based
  14. Autodesk Tinkerplay iPad
  15. 3DSlash Desktop, Cloud-Based
  16. 3DTin Cloud-Based
  17. Art of Illusion Desktop
  18. Beetle Blocks Cloud-based
  19. Blender Desktop
  20. Blockscad Cloud-based
  21. BRL CAD Desktop
  22. Burr Tools Desktop
  23. Charmr Cloud-Based
  24. Cloud-Based
  25. Cookie Caster Cloud-Based
  26. CubeTeam Cloud-Based
  27. FreeCAD Desktop
  28. IceSL Windows Only
  29. ImplicitCAD Cloud-Based
  30. Leopoly Desktop, iPad
  31. MakerBot PrintShop iPad
  32. MathMod Desktop
  33. MeshLab Desktop
  34. MeshMixer Desktop
  35. ModelAN3D Android
  36. Morphi iPad
  37. NetFabb Basic Desktop
  38. Novo Modeler iPad
  39. OnShape Cloud-Based
  40. OpenJSCAD Cloud-Based, Local Install
  41. OpenSCAD Desktop
  42. Origami Block iPad
  43. Parametric Parts Cloud-Based
  44. Printcraft Cloud-based
  45. PublishYourDesign Cloud-Based
  46. SculptGL Cloud-Based
  47. Sculptris Desktop
  48. ScupltFab Cloud-Based
  49. Seamless 3D Windows Only
  50. SeifertView Windows Only
  51. Shape.js Cloud-Based
  52. Cloud-Based
  53. Shapesmith Cloud-Based
  54. Sketchup Desktop
  55. SubDivFormer Android
  56. Terrain2STL Web-Based
  57. TopMod Desktop
  58. Usecubes Cloud-Based, iPad
  59. Wings 3D Desktop

However, if your budget permits you may wish to consider commercial options (read: expensive) such as Rhino 3-D and SolidWorks.

Here are the basic steps involved in printing:
  1. Start with an STL or Obj file

  2. Open a Slicer

  3. Open the .stl or .obj file in your slicer

  4. Generate the GCode file

  5. Either use an SD card, USB stick or connect your computer to the printer

  6. Print!