3D printing history would be incomplete without a discussion of the software that powers the printers. Before 3D software, designers and engineers generated flat, two-dimensional designs and artists created 3D models from those designs. The process was difficult and expensive. This all changed with the invention of 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software.
Designers could translate their ideas directly into three-dimensional models. First-generation 3D CAD software was very expensive and required high-performance workstations. Aerospace and automotive companies were the primary users of early CAD software. They worked with software companies to improve 3D CAD technology.
3D CAD software generates models using a mesh of geometric shapes. Designers can view and edit the models on their computer screens. STL files translate models into a language 3D printers can understand. Slicer software then slices the CAD model into virtual layers for printing.
Today, 3D CAD software prices are low enough for consumers to use with desktop 3D printers. Evolving 3D printing technology continues to drive improvements in quality and price.