We know that getting started with 3D Printing requires quite a bit of time, research, and troubleshooting. One thing we have noticed is an increase in new Makers asking what a slicer is and how to use it. We can relate to this as every Maker has been in that situation at some point during their Maker journey. This is what motivated us to write this blog post to help new Makers understand the basics of a slicer.
With so many slicers to choose from it can be overwhelming for new Makers. We decided to use Cura by Ultimaker. The reason we chose this slicer is due to it being free, having a large community, getting regular updates, and offering a wide range of 3D Printer profiles. There are other powerful slicers such as PrusaSlicer and SuperSlicer. It is important to note that resin 3D Printers require specific such as Lychee and Chitubox.
What is a 3D Printing slicer?
Before we start to break down the basics of Cura it is important to understand what slicer software does. The process of FDM 3D Printing involves placing layers of melted plastic on top of each other to form the model. For this to happen the 3D Printer needs to know all the information relating to each layer of the print. A slicer is software that takes your 3D model, allows you to adjust various settings, and then converts it to a gcode file that contains all the information your printer needs to produce the model. Learning to properly use a slicer can mean the difference between a successful print and a pile of spaghetti.
So now that we have explained what a slicer is be sure to download Cura before you continue.
1.Loading a Printer Profile
One of the best things about Cura is the wide range of 3D Printer profiles. The list is constantly updated as new 3D Printers are released which means there is a high chance you will find your printer on the list. These profiles are made by the Printer Manufacturer or the community and contain all the required information as well as the start and end gcode. Using these profiles means you don’t have to manually enter the printers specifications.
To add your 3D Printer, you need to click on the drop-down menu and then click add and it will bring up a menu presenting 2 options. Networked Printer is what you use if you have your printer connected to the internet. You can also add a cloud printer through this method. Non-Networked Printers are printers that are not necessarily connected to the internet. If you have a non-networked printer then you need to manually select the brand and model from the dropdown and click add. You should notice the build volume grid on the screen will change to represent the size of your printers build volume size.
2. Selecting the filament
Like 3D Printer profiles you can also select what filament you will be using. There is an ever-growing range of brands and filament types to choose from and when you have selected the filament the slicer will adjust some of the settings to accommodate it. If you can’t find your filament then Cura has a range of generic profiles that work quite well. You can also create a custom profile if you have specific settings for the filament.
3.Loading a model
Now that you have selected your printer and filament it’s time to load a model. It might be good to use the popular 3DBenchy model as it’s not only a fun little model but can help you identify issues with your print settings. To load a model just click on the folder icon to the left of the 3D Printer profile menu, navigate to the location you have stored the model, selected the model, clicked open, and the model will appear on the build volume grid.
The Basic Settings
The following will be adjustable when you select the model you have loaded.
Adjust the position of the model on the build plate.
Scale the model up or down.
Rotate the model.
Allows you to mirror the model.
5.Individual Model Settings
If you have multiple models loaded then you can adjust set custom settings for each model.
If you don’t want supports to be used in a certain area you can use this tool to prevent the supports.
When you first open Cura it will likely load a drop-down menu that contains the recommended print settings. If the drop-down doesn’t open by default, then you can click on the far-right section of the bar to open it. The recommended settings are incredibly limited so click the custom button in the bottom right of the drop-down. A more advanced menu should load, and the Basic setup should be selected by default. If you want to check you have the Basic setting selected, then click on the 3 horizontal black bars next to the search bar and select Basic. This menu is where you adjust, activate, or deactivate a range of settings that change how your model is printed.
Loading the menu in Basic configuration will only display the basic settings for you to adjust such as layer height, wall thickness, infill, speed, and more. There are far more settings in the other menu configurations but for the purpose of this blog post, we will be using the Basic setting.
The Important Cura Settings
Adjusting the settings in your slicer can allow you to get the most from your 3D Printer and different slicers may have different settings. In this section, we will be going over the basic settings of Cura. If you hover over the menu options in Cura there is also a useful tooltip that will appear explaining what the setting does.
Layer height is used to determine the height of each layer of the print. This will impact the strength, quality, and speed of the print. It is important to know what the nozzle diameter is for your 3D Printer as it impacts what layer height you can set. Most 3D Printers are equipped with a 0.4mm brass nozzle from the factory. The lower the layer height the more detail you will be able to achieve but the longer the print will take. Cura recommends the following layer height settings, 0.12mm, 0.16mm, 0.2mm, 0.28mm. 0.12mm should be used for high-quality prints and 0.28mm should be used for prints where detail is less important such as prototypes objects. It is possible to go beyond those limits however it can result in quality issues and even cause clogs.
Walls sometimes referred to as shells, are the number of layers that will be placed around the outside of the model. The wall setting can be used to increase the strength of a model at the cost of print time and amount of filament used. The higher the number of walls the thicker the wall will be, and the lower the number of walls the thinner the wall will be. Setting the wall too high could waste filament while setting it too low could result in weaker and lower quality prints.
Top/Bottom refers to the thickness and number of layers laid down at the start and end of a print. Bottom layers are important for a strong base while top layers are important for good quality prints. If the number of top layers is too low and you have low infill, then you might suffer pillowing so adjusting the number of layers is important.
Infill makes up the internal support structure and provides strength and rigidity to the model. In the Basic menu, Cura allows you to adjust the infill percentage from 0% to 100% as well as change the infill pattern. The amount of infill required varies depending on the model and often the 3D modeller will specify the amount. If there is no specific amount to use, then 15% – 25% is a good default range. Infill pattern changes the way the infill is printed and offers a range of options. Some options are focused more on strength while others are designed to reduce print time and the amount of infill used. Each pattern has pros and cons so changing the infill can have a major impact on the outcome of the print.
The Material category is where you can adjust the printing temperature and build plate temperature. Printing Temperature is the temperature the nozzle will maintain during printing. Not all printers come with a heated build plate but if they do then you can use this setting to adjust the temperature it will maintain during printing. Cura will automatically adjust the temperature to the recommended setting when you select the filament you will use. You should always double-check the recommendations of the filament brand when preparing for a print. This is because some filaments require specific temperatures that may be different from the Cura recommendation. Most filaments have a sticker on the side of the spool or packaging that provides a temperature range to use for the best result.
Speed is where you can adjust the speed setting of your printer. In the Basic setup, you will only have access to the Print Speed setting which determines the speed at which printing happens. The print speed is set in mm/s so the number you set will determine how many millimetres the hotend will travel per second during the printing process. Setting the speed too high or low will result in issues during printing so a good starting point is to use 40 – 50 mm/s for the more popular filaments such as PLA.
Travel deals with settings related to the movement and functioning of the hotend and extruder. In the Basic setup there are only 2 settings available, Enable Retraction and Z Hope When Retracted. Retraction is when the filament is pulled slightly away from the nozzle to improve print quality and help prevent failures. As a new Maker retraction should remain active. Z Hop is when the print head is moved away from the print after retraction to avoid the possibility of knocking the print off the bed.
3D models come in all shapes and sizes with some of them having complex parts that require support material. Much like a bridge over a river needs support some models need support material to print correctly. If your model has large overhangs or includes large sections where bridging will occur, then you will likely need support. When you click the generate support setting it will open additional options. The first option is Support Placement tells the slicer whether supports are required everywhere or only touching the build plate. Everywhere will place supports from the build plate to the model as well as between sections of the model. Touching build plate only will place supports only where they can touch the build plate and reach the required area of the print. Support overhang angle is where you can specify at what angle the overhang must be to require supports. The general rule is if an overhang is over 45 degrees, then it will require supports.
Build Plate Adhesion is the most important part of the print as bad adhesion will most likely fail. The build plate adhesion setting is where you can specify what aids need to be added to get proper adhesion. There are 3 options to choose from, skirt, brim, and raft. Skirt is a line that will be printed a small distance from the model and doesn’t directly assist with adhesion but helps purge the nozzle and allow you to check the first layer quality. Brim is a printed area that extends from the base of the model that provides the print with additional adhesion area. Raft is a thicker layer printed at the start with the model being printed onto the raft instead of directly onto the build plate. For prints that don’t require direct assistance then a skirt is often used. Models that have a small surface area for the first layer will likely require a brim or a raft.
Now that we have gone through the settings it’s time to slice. Once the settings have been adjusted as needed you can click the slice button. This will apply the settings to the model and provide you with a time and filament usage element. You can use the preview window to see how the model will look and the sliders on the right and bottom of the screen will allow you to see how each layer will be printed. Once you are happy you can save the gcode file and then it’s time to get printing.
Cura is an incredibly powerful slicer for 3D Printing, and it can be confusing if you are learning to 3D print from scratch. We hope this post has helped you get a better understanding of the very basics. With this foundation, you should be well on your way to opening up the wonderful world of 3D Printing. If you have questions we have a great Discord community who will be happy to offer advice. If you are interested in alternatives to Cura then be sure to check our Cura vs PrusaSlicer post. The 3D Print General has also done a 2 part series on the basics of Cura on YouTube (Part 1 / Part 2) which are also very informative if you prefer a visual guide.
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Graphic Designer | Photographer | Gamer and Twitch streamer.
I have a passion for design and a love of art. I am always eager to learn new things, be it 3D modeling/3D printing, copywriting or even cooking. Pretty chill guy who is always down for a braai with family and friends.