A critical part of a 3D printing workflow is the slicer software. It translates the theoretical mathematical representation of the STL format into printer-specific commands of the G-code format.
Monoprice recommended Cura as the slicing software for the printer I bought, even including a copy of version 15.04.2 on the microSD card bundled with the printer. I went to the website to find the latest version, and found that Cura had completely revamped the entire UI with new version numbers. Do I go with the older generation or the new hotness?
Given that I am in completely new territory, I decided to stick with known quantity of the recommended product. That was a good call, because setting up for the Monoprice printer was much easier in the old software. With all its faults, the old software was able to get me started and let me learn about the basics of 3D printing parameters. And wow, there are a lot of parameters to learn.
The slicer software highlighted how non-standardized the 3D printing world is. I knew that the printers have a great deal of variation – a natural thing in a rapidly-evolving field – but it’s a bit intimidating to get started. I hadn’t known that the plastic feed was barely standardized. There are basic classifications of the plastic type, yes, but the formulations differ from one brand to another which affects the proper printing temperature. Even the physical diameter of the filament can vary. My printer uses nominally 1.75mm diameter filament, but the spool of filament I’m printing is actually closer to 1.79mm. This is significant enough of a volume difference to impact proper feed speed of the plastic stock. Just one example among many things I learned first hand.
I stuck with the old version of Cura (15.04.2) until I had a compelling reason to move to the latest version (2.1.2) of the new revamped series. That reason was the “Horizontal Expansion” parameter, available only on the new version. I needed it to compensate for 3D printer behavior, so I switched over. It was far more difficult to set up for the Monoprice printer, but thanks to the time spent learning on the old, I was able to get far enough to start printing with the new software.
I don’t know how well Cura stacks up among its peers in the slicing software world, as I haven’t used the others. I know it still feels like hobbyist software, missing a lot of polish I’d expect of a paid product.
However, it’s working well enough for me to learn and experiment, and that’s all I ask.