3D Softwares, exchange and file formats

3D Softwares, exchange and file formats :

I have been in the game of 3D for some time now 3D printing/Lasercuting and soon CNC (Maslow) and Plasma cutting (OX CNC).

In all community I have been part of or created myself (https://plus.google.com/communities/118113483589382049502) , I notice the members come from hardware then are a bit disorientated with the abondance of softwares, functions, file formats, and how to use it.

We all know we need to use the best tool for a particular job. But that don’t mean all the functions are in the same software, and being affordable in $$ term or expensive in time to learn those.

My favorite are : Sketchup / Sculptris / Meshmixer / Fusion 360/ Slicer for fusion 360

Two approachs : several softwares vs integrated.

For many years now I focus on free / open source softwares. (As evolution goes fast and I would not be able to afford all costly updates).

For 2.5D (flatpack design) you want a CAD software. for “putty” work you want a SCULT one, you also could need a Slicer to transform a 3D object into flat for cutting. To prepare your Gcode you want a CAM

For that you need to understand the file format used in the industry to exchange between softwares.

From the basic STL (flat triangle with straight side), more subtile obj (3 sides but could be curved to make a perfect ball). DXF and DWG (LibreDWG revived, starts getting regular releases | Libre Graphics World)

More Interesting reading on the same site: http://libregraphicsworld.org/

I found Blender (https://www.blender.org/download/) to be the Swiss army knife for file format conversion (I am not using it for drawing, not splitting myself to that extend, but it’s also an amazing soft).


I found Sketchup best for flat pack design job (the trick is to group all the time and make components, design it as you would built it). it’s plenty of useful extensions (plugin), like this cam module https://github.com/swarfer/sketchucam.

Sketchup was certainly the best at the time (I start with SU 6), but for me the learning curve make it easier than Fusion 360 certainly because it don’t try to do all at once which could be confusing.

Going from software to another could be a bit confusing, because of the vocabulary used could also differ, so you reflexes have to follow. Sometime I am looking for the push/pull tool into Fusion. (Still a learner)


Sculptris is the free version (Zbrush ’s ancestor), even better if you have a Wacom tablette (cheap on Ebay).
It use mainly OBJ for import/export.


Check your Work, fixe it, combine severals : MESHMIXER

An other AutoDesk acquisition http://www.meshmixer.com/

Also a particularly interesting software for Maslow’s users would be Slicer

Take a 3D object (obj) and slice into flat material, not necessarily on top of each other but also radial or following a spline. Create the cutting template in free material format (4x8 anybody ?).

Autodesk Slicer for Fusion 360 - YouTube (work without fusion)

To save material you want to organise your cut on the board, you need a nesting software.

Look into DeepNest (https://deepnest.io/), the latest evolution of Jack Qiao 's Excelent work.


Now Fusion 360 is also free for Maker (https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/students-teachers-educators), as far more functions (parametric design, …), like an integrated software, it regroup the main modules (Model, sculpt, render, cam, …), this will avoid to go back and forth between equivalent (module) software. But increase the learning time, as much as the sum of all previous said.

If you have time that would be the way to go, free but not open source (being accepted the risk Autodesk could end your free Licence access, future being not certain). Also a great community, with “AutoDesk evangelists” posting a lot of tutorials on youtube.

An other way to go is web applications :

CAD : https://www.onshape.com/

CAM: https://cam.openbuilds.com/

Nesting : https://svgnest.com/

Hope this info could help and save time to community members.


Vectorworks & Lettering :


all in this article.


Thanks, i’ll try some of these next time i’m drawing something. Never heard of slicing or nesting before, if i can get those automated, that would be nice.