One of the issues for 3d printing is selecting appropriate software for generating and processing models. To print an object, a 3D model must first be generated using a CAD program. This model is then exported as an STL file and must be converted to G-code which gives the printer the necessary information to build the object. Mechanical engineering students at ND use an advanced 3D modeling program called Creo. This works well to generate the STL files, but is overly complicated for more simple applications. We tried out Google Sketchup and Art of Illusion which are free and commonly used programs but did not like the user interfaces. We felt a program called Bonzai 3D was much more intuitive and would be easy to learn for people who do not have 3D modeling experience. There is a free version available to students which is very convenient. There are many other programs available and ultimately the choice depends on what your budget is, prior modeling modeling experience, and user interface preferences. A more comprehensive list of CAD software can be found here.
For converting the STL files we selected Slic3r.Again, there are a variety of programs including MeshLab, Skeinforge, Slic3r and others. Skeinforge has many options, but has a complex user interface and is quite slow. Slic3r can make hollow objects such as vases out of solid objects which simplifies the 3D modeling. A comprehensive list of various programs for converting STL files can be found here.