What Computer Do I Need for a 3D Printer?


I’ve been making 3d prints for a while, but, I thought I’d answer a quick question new people have when they’re first thinking about getting a 3d printer. Which is, what specs do I need on my computer to use a 3d printer and make or print 3d print designs. Based on my research and experience here’s what I found.

So, what computer do you need for a 3d printer? Cura is the most popular software for sending 3d prints to your 3d printer. The minimum system requirements for it are:

  • OpenGL 2 compatible graphics card, OpenGL 4.1 for 3D layer view
  • Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon 64
  • 550 MB available hard disk space
  • 4GB RAM memory
Gaming PC Main

Your 3d printer itself doesn’t need to be connected to your computer to run. But, you do need a computer to load the 3d print designs onto it. This software that does that is called a slicer.

You can also use 3d design software to make designs. Fusion 360 and Tinkercad are the most popular programs for designing your own 3d prints and it runs in your web browser like Google Chrome, or Safari. And needs the same computer as the slicing software, or even less. That said, if you want to run professional CAD software, like AutoCAD, you will need a much more powerful computer.

Below, I’ll explain how much a computer that has these specs costs – hint it’s very cheap, how to check the specifications of your current computer, and whether 3d printing is hard to learn.

Do You Need a Good Computer to 3D Print?

A computer that you need to do 3d printing does not need to be good at all. You can use a fairly old computer. The technology for the minimum specifications to 3d print:

  • Graphics card – typically anything manufactured after 2012
  • Processor – anything that supports the latest OS
  • Ram – Most PCs have 2GB+, it’s very cheap to get more

Therefore, if your computer is less than around 8 years old, it will be good enough to use for designing 3d prints. To put it in perspective the iPhone 5 came out in 2012. Which is the same year that the graphics card that you’ll need was invented.

So, you can use a fairly old laptop, which costs around $150 to $200 second hand. You can’t buy them now because they don’t make them anymore. 

Basic Laptop

However, it’s good to double check any computer or laptop you buy with the minimum requirements above.

You can see the specifications for any computer before you buy it, and people who sell computers will always list the specs for the computers they’re selling. 

If you get a computer that has higher specifications then the ones I listed above, then it will be faster. And it will be better. However, it isn’t required.

What Is Required for 3D Printing?

For 3d printing you need:

  • A 3d printer – Like the Ender 3
  • Filament – most 3d printers come with some, but the quality isn’t always the best
  • A computer – to transfer the design to your 3d printer
  • Various free software – to create or prepare files for your 3d printer

*The Amazon links in this article are to products I personally use.

Do 3D Printers Come With Design Software?

3D printers don’t come with design software but you can get all the software you’ll need for it for free. You’ll need what’s called a slicer, which will process the design files so that your 3d printer can understand it. The most popular slicer today is Cura. And you’ll need software to design a 3d print. 

Cura Profiles

You can also download a tone of free 3d print designs for all sorts of things you need around the house, or cool things you want to make for fun. A good website to find a tone of free designs is Thingiverse.com.

They have everything from key holders to dinosaurs. And everything in between. You’ll be surprised what’s on there. You can download the complete design in a few clicks, and they’re absolutely free.

The software you need to 3d print is of two types 1) software to create designs 2) software to slice the design.

To design your own prints it does take a bit of time to learn and practice. A good place to start is with TinkerCad.com which is completely free. And has a bunch of lessons. It’s designed for children, but you can create some incredible designs with it, and the sky’s the limit. 

You could honestly use this program for all of your 3d printing and be fine. But there is also harder software that has a much steeper learning curve, and you’ll need to spend a lot of time learning them. These are software like Onshape or Fusion 360.  However, these programs are much more expensive and the cheapest versions cost around $40 a month. You can sign up for a hobbyist account for personal use with Fusion 360 here. But, 3d modeling software changes a lot. So, it might not be free when you read this.

3D Sculpting

There’s two broad types of 3d printing design software – those for designing geometric type 3d designs, and sculpture type 3d designs. 

For example, you would use the first type if you’re designing a pen holder, and use a sculpting type of 3d software for designing a dinosaur. A good free software for making sculpture 3d models is Blender. And you can find playlists on Youtube which will teach you how to use it. 

But, with this program some of your designs might not be printable with a 3d printer. So you’ll need to know your stuff.

Is 3D Printing Hard to Learn?

Getting your 3D printer up and running and printing with it isn’t hard to learn. But, creating your own designs is difficult and more complicated software can take a LONG time to learn. Using a more complicated software like Fusion 360 will take a lot of time to figure out and use.

The main reason is there are so many different features and options when you use the more complicated software. Because of that you have to sift through a lot of different options to find what you’re looking for and it’s hard to know where to start.

Over time you will become familiar with it and can move quite quickly when you’re designing something. But, in the beginning it is overwhelming.

However, you can get all set up and do your first prints in 6 hours or so. For example:

  • Unboxing your 3d printer
  • Setting it up
  • Installing the software
  • Downloading a print
  • Printing it

What Is the Easiest 3D Software to Learn?

The easiest 3d printing software to learn is TinkerCad. The user interface is very easy to navigate, it has a bunch of lessons that cover the basic concepts of creating 3d print designs, and is designed for kids. This means it’s very user friendly for adults as well.

Once, you have a handle on the basic ideas behind creating a 3d design, you can use more complicated software like Fusion 360 or Onshape. 

These software are used by professionals who do 3d design for a job. These people are employed by electronics companies, architects/construction, and engineers.

How Long Does It Take to Print Something on a 3D Printer?

A small 3d print takes about 30 minutes. But, you can print very large and intricate things which can take as long as 7 days. A hobbyist 3d printer will typically make prints that take less than 6 hours. The size and intricacy of what you print determines how long it will take.

If a 3d print design has lots of fine detail, the arm of the 3d printer will need to go back and forward a lot. For example, it will drop a small amount of resin in one spot then move to the next spot, and drop a small amount of resin. Which adds a lot of time to the print.

But, if it’s a solid object, it will go back and forward in a small area and won’t take as long.

Related Questions

Where else can I get STL files from? – There are many other sites that have STLs available. Some sites offer them for free and others charge for them. Here are four alternatives to Thingiverse.

What is a good starter 3d Printer? – I personally like the Ender 3 Pro or the Ender 3 V2. Both are available for under $300 and have a great community around them with people willing to help out if you run into issues.

Ender 3 Pro

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Recap

Here’s a brief summary of the everything I covered in this article as a refresher:

You do not need an expensive computer to do 3d printing. It can be an old laptop that costs around $150 to $200. The software that you use to design 3d prints is mostly cloud-based. And you access it through your web browsers, such as Google Chrome or Safari. Because of that, it doesn’t do any processing on your computer, and so your computer doesn’t require a powerful processor or graphics card. 

Make sure you check out our YouTube channel, and if you would like any additional details or have any questions, please leave a comment below or join us on Discord. If you liked this article and want to read others click here.

Rob

I'm Rob, the founder of 3dprintscape.com. I’m a Marine Corps vet with a master’s degree in Information Systems and have been working in the technology field for over a decade. I started working with 3D printers because I was fascinated by the technology and wanted a hobby that my kids and I can enjoy together.

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