It is only in the past few years that 3D printing has left the realm of science fiction and become more available on a broader consumer market.  Though it is still a very new innovation, 3D printers are becoming increasingly affordable and accessible, providing a creative new tool that will change the way we make things.  With this growing availability has come an explosion of 3D printing apps, resulting in an almost overwhelming range to choose from on the virtual market.  This article looks at some of the most popular ones catering to different 3D printing needs and design skill levels.  Whatever your skill level or desired end goal, you’ll be able to find a useful app below.  


This free web-browser app is an ideal platform for all users who are new to the world of 3D design and printing.  With various different features and simplified tools, even beginners can learn how to customize or create without being overwhelmed by a confusingly complex system. Vectary provides a large library of designs and ideas, allowing users to not only create new models but to take pre-existing 3D templates and personalize them according to their own needs.  Through its social media-like interface, users can follow authors or themes they particularly like in order to stay up to date on their recent creations.  Anyone can share their own models, as well as tips and tricks of the trade, making it not only a design site but a public creative platform as well.  Everything is stored in the cloud, so saved projects can be accessed on any device, without clogging up personal computer storage space. As with most apps, once a project is complete, it can instantly connect to any of the many affordable 3D printers that are readily available.    


While this app has a bit of a learning curve, it is still accessible even to the inexperienced lay person.  The system is straightforward, based on creating and combining simple shapes to produce a model. With these building blocks, the user can learn from the ground up and quickly improve and diversify their skills, creating increasingly complex and intricate models. Additionally, any user can import 3D files onto the interface, and then manipulate and edit them as desired.  The app itself is free, and in addition the website offers many tutorials on the different design features.  Like Vectary, it is web-based, and it also stores everything on the cloud to free up a personal hard drive.  


Slightly more complex, Makerbot allows the user to create and fine-tune their 3D designs.  Better suited for those with intermediate or advanced skills, it offers a few different features not found in other similar programs.  One is the print preview option, which allows the creator to view a simulation of the printing process in advance, giving the opportunity to ensure there are no flaws in the design.  Another feature is the ‘Minfill’ option.  Minfill minimizes the cost and printing time of any object by analyzing the structures of designs and determining how much of the internal infrastructure – known in 3D printing as infill density – is necessary and what can be omitted while still maintaining a reliable and sturdy product.  By cutting out non-essential internal filament, the designer saves on time and money, which makes this programme especially valuable for clients intending to use 3D printers on a larger scale.  Makerbot is available for free on web browsers, as well as offering an app for Apple and Android products.


Free and easy to access, this application offers a completely different approach to creating models.  The designer uses virtual ‘clay’ to sculpt their creation, using different sculpting tools and materials to achieve the desired effect.  With its complex range of options and features, the user is able to adjust the settings to their preference.  Because of this, the app does require at least some familiarity with virtual design, but for those with experience in this field it offers a very easy way to use more traditional drawing and sculpting skills in order to make 3D designs.  Scultpgl can be used on web browsers or on tablets, enabling the designer to use pens or drawing pads, and it is easy to import or export files, allowing for convenient transfer of previous designs or templates.  


This final app, available on the App Store for $3.99, is unique in that it is designed for children.  The extremely simple block-based system works similarly to the popular computer game Minecraft, using individual blocks to build models from the ground up, allowing children to make their own customized toys.  There are also guided features that walks the user through different levels, providing inspiration and ideas for individual designs, as well as showing the building process.  People of all ages can use Blokify to build unique creations, and then export the files and use 3D printers to bring their models to life.

Of course, these are only five out of a vast sea of apps, but they are examples of some of the most accessible and well-developed options out there for 3D printing.  Whatever you want to achieve with this new technology, one of these apps is bound to help you get there.