5+ best STL file software for 3D printing [2022 Guide]

by Milan Stanojevic
Milan Stanojevic
Milan Stanojevic
Windows & Software Expert
Milan has been enthusiastic about PCs ever since his childhood days, and this led him to take interest in all PC-related technologies. Before joining WindowsReport, he worked as... read more
Affiliate Disclosure
  • .STL is one of the most popular 3D modeling file formats that can store the information required by 3D printers.
  • For your 3D printing projects to be successful, you will have to use specialized software that supports this file type.
  • We gathered some of the best 3D printing management software that support .STL files.
  • Some of the suggestions below are full-featured modeling software, while others are specifically created to assist the 3D printing process.
Create STL files

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With the latest advancements in technology, anybody can own a 3D printer, with which you can create an unlimited number of complex structures, tools, architectural designs, art, and any other 3D objects you can think of.

The digital file from which the 3D printers can read the instructions is in STL format. STL (Standard Tessellation Language) has been used since the first appearance of CAD software packages. These types of software are used for prototyping, different manufacturing processes, and 3D printing.

Of course, there are multiple levels to 3D printing. The most basic one is done by owning a consumer-level 3D printer, to which you can apply your 3D model, and can create tools and objects in the size that your printer allows.

At a more complex level, industrial 3D printers work in the same exact way as the consumer-level ones do, but offer greater STL file processing speeds, and more accuracy.

Using 3D printing instead of mass-produced molds, or any other type of mold system for that matter, is far more efficient when it comes to consuming materials.

In this article, we will explore some of the best 3d printing software options on the market that allow you to easily create 3D models in STL format so that you can print out objects in 3D.

What tools can I use to create STL files for my 3D printer?

3DS Max by Autodesk

autodesk rendering software

3DS Max is an incredibly powerful tool that allows you to design your own 3D models easily, with an incredible array of customization options and tools on offer.

This software is part of the collection of software from Autodesk that offers a great range of features from product design and manufacturing, to incredible visual effects, and last but not least, for building design, infrastructure, and manufacturing.

3DS Max was designed specifically in order to offer an intuitive user experience while also creating complex 3D models. No matter if you’re a beginner or an expert, this software has something to offer you.

3DS Max is compatible with STL files. Moreover, you can save your models to this format directly from the UI. Just go to File, Import, and select .STL from the list of formats available.

It is a versatile tool that lets you create both 3D and 2D models. You can also combine the two into one project or switch views as you polish up your project.

Autodesk 3DS Max can be used for various modeling projects, from interior design to character animation. It comes with advanced texture, material, and color editor tools, as well as realistic liquid behaviors.

It also provides keyframe and procedural animation tools, as well as motion paths that help you adjust animation directly in the view window.

Some of 3DS’ best features:

  • Can customize the interface by the use of Python programming language
  • Advanced sculpting tools and brushes
  • Can model, sculpt and print our your models with ease
  • 3D rendering — the ability to create VR visualizations
  • Automated skinning for 3D virtual characters
  • Ability to create custom workspaces
  • Mesh and surface modeling

Autodesk 3DS Max is a subscription-based software. There are several plans available. You can either pay annually, monthly or every 3 years. Each plan has a 30-day free trial. 

Autodesk 3DS Max

A powerful and reliable toolset to help you create professional 3D content.

Free trial Visit website

Maya by Autodesk

Maya from Autodesk is another incredibly useful software option that gives you the power to create 3D models in STL formats and includes a wide range of features and capabilities.

Maya has an integrated programming language called MEL, which allows you to create custom scripts that automate all time-consuming and repetitive tasks, or, you can also download already created scripts and apply them to your setup.

Automating all the processes that don’t require constant surveillance makes you more efficient in designing and printing your projects, and also reduces overall costs.

One of the best features found in Maya is the integrated renderer named Arnold, which helps you preview your project in a 3D environment, zoom in and modify any part of your design no matter how complex.

By using Arnold, you make sure that the parts of your object are perfectly measured, scaled, and applied.

Being able to test the way your 3D objects react after printing also increases productivity, reduces material waste, and also offers you a safer environment than actually testing the products live.

Maya has an easy to understand user interface. You have quick access to all tools and options you need. You can show or hide elements in the main window, hide all interface elements to maximize focus, dock and undock windows and panels, and more.

You can create a live connection between Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects. You can work on the same project with both tools and changes made in one will be updated t the other in rael-time.

Some other notable features of Maya include:

  • MASH nodes – curve, world, placer, etc.
  • Geodesic voxel binding – produces high-quality projects quickly
  • 3D symmetry modeling
  • Allows SVG files importation
  • Time editor – allows you to make non-destructive changes to your 3D object
  • Polygon modeling – enables you to use polygon geometry to simplify the complex shapes of your project

Autodesk Maya is a subscription-based software. There are 3 plans available and you can try the full-feature product for free for 30 days.

Autodesk Maya

Take your creative projects to another level with this 3D computer modeling, creation, and simulation tool.

Free trial Visit website

NetFabb by Autodesk

stl file software 3d printing

NetFabb is a powerful tool from Autodesk that allows you to design and manufacture different 3D items at a professional level.

This software was designed to aid professionals in the field of manufacturing and design improvement, by being able to create complex 3D models, print them out, and test them to see how they can be improved or modified for more efficiency.

Because this software is part of the Autodesk suite, it has full compatibility with any of the company’s software. This app is very useful for all levels of design and engineering thanks to its powerful simulation engines, and also great optimization features.

NetFabb can create STL files from scratch, but these files can also be imported from another compatible workstation. This software converts your 3D STL model into different slice layers, in order to start printing your project layer by layer.

You can view, edit and repair all models before starting the printing process, and can process your project either as a full 3D model, or split into slices that can be analyzed and modified on their own.

NetFabb is designed in a modular fashion, with each module having different capabilities. There are, for example, modules for creating supports, modules that help you repair your 3D models, manipulate meshes, analyze parts, add labels, etc.

Each of the modules found in NetFabb, once loaded, create a custom user interface that offers you clear access to all options, switches the tools found in the menus, and it also creates a new path in the project tree for each one of them. This allows you to easily keep track of all modifications, and to adjust accordingly.

Even though you can start creating 3D parts from scratch by using this software, most of the users import their files created in 3D CAD software. Netfabb is compatible with a wide range of files obtained by using most CAD software available on the market – Inventor, Rhino, SolidWorks, etc. , and also supports SketchUp file formats(IGES, JT, STEP, and VRML).

Let’s explore some other notable features of NetFabb:

  • Can create perfectly crisp previews of your 3D model, allowing you to modify the forms to your needs
  • Lattice commander – allows you to modify your design with a simple lattices and skins tool
  • Can create custom scripts that allow the automation of repetitive tasks
  • Helps you with part orientation and allows you to preview supports
  • PowerShape Utility – modify the size and location of new elements and support structures
  • Allows you to observe real-time stress simulations on your 3D project

To use NetFabb by Autodesk, you need to get a subscription. There are multiple plans available and you can try it for free for 30 days.

NetFabb Autodesk

A top-class tool in additive manufacturing, that takes you beyond traditional design software to create innovative products.

Free trial Visit website

SketchUp

SketchUp is another great software option that allows you to create STL 3D modeling files and edit them in a variety of ways. This software has a very intuitive user interface that is suitable for both beginners and professionals. Besides that, SketchUp is entirely free to download and use.

The Layout feature found in SketchUp allows you to transform your 3D model into a drawing, or, a drawing into a 3D model. By using this feature, you get access to options like – choosing a drawing scale, adjusting the weight of lies in your model, can add dimensions, callouts, and graphics, and also allowing you to model the way you view your workspace pages.

This software also offers you access to a great hub of items and downloadable content from the SketchUp 3D Warehouse. This library contains an enormous amount of 3D objects, both created by developers from SketchUp, and user-created content as well.

You can use 3D Warehouse to store all your finished and ‘in-progress projects safely. This option allows you to now worry about carrying USB disks, or other external storage with you at all times. You can just access the cloud storage from anywhere in the world, with an internet connection.

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You can find a greatly useful set of tutorial videos, for beginners, intermediate and expert users, on the official SketchUp website.

Sketchup can help you generate accurate reports so you can give stakeholders all information they need.

You can also integrate Trible Connect to your Sketchup to make collaboration easier. You can share your projects with multiple people, add comments and annotations to help your teammates understand the exact purpose of each segment of the project.

Other key features of Sketchup include:

  • Extensive tutorial library available online
  • Educational plans
  • Works offline

Sketchup is a subscription-based software that can be used both as a desktop app or in-browser application. The plans vary depending on the specific features you want to include. You can try Sketchup for free for 30 days.

Get SketchUp

3D Slash

stl compatible software

3D Slash is a powerful 3D modeling tool that targets non-professional users. It is easier to use and learn than other similar tools while allowing users to deliver qualitative end products.

You can import and edit .STL file types into your 3DSlash dashboard. Just select the Create a new model option and then From a 3D file and place your STL file into the dashboard with drag-and-drop.

3DSlash has a basic set of features that require little to no experience. They are very easy to get adjusted to so you can start modeling right away. You can easily build or edit your models, paint, and create 3D logos and 3D text in just a few clicks.

Along with these tools, the software also provides advanced features that let you create highly precise models.

You can upload .stl or .obj files into the dashboard and edit them. Not only that, but you can also use photo references to sculpt shapes. The toolset includes copy-paste options, move, resize, flip, and more. 

3DSlash is highly versatile, providing both a web-based app that does not require any downloads, as well as a desktop version. The web-based version is great for on-the-go projects on your mobile devices.

What’s more is that if you use 3D Slash on multiple devices, all changes made are automatically synced so you can pick up right from where you left off.

Other key features of 3DSlash include:

  • Educational plan
  • VR view mode
  • Online guides and tutorials
  • Online workshops

3DSlash has a free version that is available on the web with limited features, but it can be helpful for quick and non-demanding projects. It also includes a premium plan, as well as an educational and professional plan. You can pay monthly or annually.

Get 3D Slash

Ultimaker Cura

Ultimaker Cura is a slicing software for 3D printers equipped with the tools you need to prepare your 3D models for seamless printing.

It is open-source software that was initially created as a slicer for the Ultimaker 3D printer. It is, however, compatible with other 3D printers as well.
Cura supports various 3D modeling file types, including .stl. To open and edit a .stl file in Cura, click the Open File button and upload your file from its location on your PC. You can select and add multiple files at once.

Ultimaker has a powerful slicing engine that you can use to make advanced printing settings. The software recommends print profiles that have been previously tested for reliable results. 

If you need additional resources, you can use the Ultimaker Marketplace. It is quite an extensive library where you can find and download material profiles, and other useful plugins that can help you save time and ensure an error-free experience.

You can get Cura as a standalone app, or integrate it within the Ultimaker platform. The additional benefits of the platform are backup & sync of your materials and plugins, access to a digital library, and online courses. The platform also works as a means of communication between the users of Ultimaker products.

Other key features include:

  • CAD plugin integration
  • Cura Enterprise can be managed with cross-platform systems
  • Lets you manage multiple printers
  • Remote printing and queue management

Ultimaker Cura is a lightweight software that does not require a huge amount of system resources. The amount of CPU and GPU necessary depends on the file size of your models. It is compatible with all major operating systems.

Get Ultimaker Cura

Blender

Blender is another great 3D modeling and creation software that has a wide range of editing options, and it is also completely open-source.

This software uses NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) and also polygon meshes, has great simulation tools, and if you feel confident enough, you can even create your own toolset.

One of the most interesting features of Blender is the incredibly responsive 3D printing community. The community offers you great ideas, solutions to your 3D rendering problems, and that can come very useful for software like Blender, which is not really designed to be used by beginners.

If you’re a beginner and absolutely must go with Blender, you can get a complete range of training courses and tutorials. These will help you get familiar with the way this software works, and eventually, you will be able to use the entire might of this software. 

Blender has an advanced rendering engine that lets you create realistic designs with unidirectional path trancing, multi-core CPU rendering, multi-GPU support, and more

The toolset in Blender is extensive, yet easy to use. The modeling tools include keyboard shortcuts that can speed up the workflow, n-gon support, grid and bridge fill, and edge slide, collapse and dissolve.

Not only can you create highly precise models for your 3D printer, but you can also make professional-level animations with Blender. The software has a character animation editor, nonlinear animation controls for independent movement, various kinematics for poses, and sound synchronization. 

Here are some other useful features of this software:

  • Allows you to use Python scripting
  • Can combine 2D with 3D elements to create complex structures
  • Model and sculpt an incredibly wide range of models
  • Can perform 3D painting with brushes and maskings
  • VFX – gives you the power to import raw files
  • Great sculpting and brushing tools

Blender is free software. You can support by donating or volunteering as a developer. 

Get Blender

In this list, we covered some of the best software options on the market that give you all the tools you need (and some extra as well), in order to create professional-level 3D models and export them as STL files.

If you want to use a professional set of tools, and you don’t mind the learning curve, you should try out the software options we presented from Autodesk. If you are a beginner and don’t want to start learning complex software, we recommend that you try the more beginner-friendly SketchUp.

If you want to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the 3D printing industry, bookmark our 3D Printer Hub.

If you need more useful recommendations for your digital life, check our Utilities and Tools section.

We would love to know what software option you tried from this list, and how it worked out for you. Free to let us know in the comment section below.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • If you’re looking for STL file-capable software, we’ve listed a few tools that suit both professionals and beginners in this domain.

  • 3ds Max is, without a doubt, the best software solution that can handle STL files in any circumstance.

  • It depends on the software you’re using for that, but you can surely perform this operation if you have the right tool for the job. Maya is a great tool for that.

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