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Software: Simplify3D
Price: $149 USD
Website: Simplify 3D

Why Review a Slicer?

A very important lesson to learn in 3D printing is that only part of the final result is based on the hardware of the machine. Great prints are made in the settings. Those settings are supplied in the software, often called a slicer, that outputs the code your machine uses to build objects.

Installation

Installation is super easy. You start the installer and it asks you what printer you have. The list of compatible printers is quite long, and it has both of my printers pre-configured. From there, I don’t recall more than one or two clicks being necessary. Painless, as it should be.

First Use

Snap 2015-12-08 at 15.56.53

Hey, that looks like my printer!

Loading up the software, you’re presented with a rather pleasant visual representation of your printer. It was nice to see the familiar shape of my Taz on screen.

I wanted to throw a challenge at this software. Being a good employee, I thought that our articulated Makey robot would be a good choice. On my two printers (the Lulzbot TAZ4 and Lulzbot Mini), this figure prints beautifully at default settings, but the legs are typically fused and unable to bend.

When I pulled the Makey off of the build plate after using Simplify3D to print it, I noticed 2 things. My top layer wasn’t quite as pretty, which should be an easy fix in settings, and that the legs immediately snapped free and my Makey was, for the first time, fully articulated! I’ve done tweaking to my other software packages and still don’t have them quite dialed in to the results I got on my first try with Simplify3D. All of the software available should technically be able to achieve this with tweaking, but the time savings in not having to explore such things is fantastic.

Thanks to the fantastic, publicly available visual guide that Simplify3D recently published, I should easily be able to remedy the surface defects I noticed on my first prints.

DSC00185 (Medium)

Left: Printed with Simplify3D, all joints are articulated.

The supports were really nice. They broke away from my parts with minimal effort and did their job well. The ability to customize support placement is something that is quite difficult to give up once you get used to it. Those who have tinkered with it in free software such as meshmixer will agree, custom supports are very important. The support system in Simplify3D is fairly robust and has a nice quick option to only place supports where they can originate from the build plate (thereby avoiding supports on internal structures).

The actual act of slicing is incredibly fast. To give a decent comparison, it could take maybe 30 seconds to slice something in my version of Cura that takes 20 seconds in Simplify3D. I haven’t timed it in a while, but I used to get frustrated that the same slice in Slic3r would take 10 minutes or more! That amount really didn’t make much difference to me, but over time it could add up. Note that Slic3r has seen some upgrades, so their slicing might be closer to these two now.

stop

The green arrow starts the print, but if you want to stop the print, you have to open a dialog where the red arrow is pointing.

The only real complaint I had was when I found that I needed to stop a print. I had forgotten to set my temperature correctly for a filament I wanted to use and realized this pretty quick.  Stopping the print required that I locate an area for advanced controls. Not a huge deal, but it really wasn’t very intuitive at all. Maybe I just missed the obvious stop button in the main interface, after all, at this point I had only used this for a few prints.

Pro/Con breakdown

On the pro side:

  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Powerful
  • Great visualization

On the con side:

  • Unintuitive interface during operation
  • High cost compared to free alternatives

Is it worth the money?

That is a tough question to answer, and one that will likely change as your priorities change. While I saw no immediately discernible difference in visual quality (after a few minutes of tweaking things), the speed and reliability were fairly improved in my tests with Simplify3D. The fact that the Makey robot printed with fully working joints immediately without any tweaks whatsoever is a great example.  If I were running a business, that improvement could quickly justify the price tag.

However, if you just want to tinker and don’t necessarily need to shave each possible second off of a print job, the price tag may just be a bit much.