Which computer is best for 3d printing? All the specs!

There is a lot of talk around the type of computer that is required to successfully run a 3d printing operation. Much of this debate is based on the (false) idea that all 3D-related fields do need considerable processing power.

You may be interested in getting your hands on your first 3D printer but before doing so, you might wonder if your current PC or Laptop is enough for this new hobby.

3D printing does not require an expensive PC or Laptop with lots of processing power. For most users, a computer with 8GB of ram, a 4 core Intel i5 or Ryzen comparable processor, and a few gigabytes of available storage space will be enough.

The only case in which a better setup is recommended is for users that also want to design their own objects since 3D CAD software tends to be resource-intensive.

Although I go into further detail and answer other questions in this article, the following table should be useful!

3D Printing3D Printing3D Printing3d Modeling3d Modeling3d Modeling
BudgetLowMediumHighLowMediumHigh
Processor2 cores i34 cores i56 cores i74 cores i56 cores i78 cores i7
Ram4GB8GB16GB8GB16GB32GB
Graphics CardNONONONONVIDIA 1650tiNVIDIA 3060ti
Hard Drive128GB512GB1TB512GB1TB2TB
Different computer options for a wide variety of budgets

What type of computer do you need for 3d printing?

3D printing is not inherently processing power-intensive, so a regular PC or laptop should be enough for most use cases. If you only plan on using the computer for slicing, you should not worry about this issue and just go with the computer that is available to you.

Most 3d printing enthusiasts only use their computers to store files and “translating” them into G-Code (“slicing”). Users that do require a powerful and somewhat expensive computer are those that are interested in also modeling their own objects.

Because of the fact that 3D CAD modeling is resource-intensive, a better computer will be required. Although a graphics card is also recommended, a budget GPU like NVIDIA’s 1650ti is more than enough. Expensive cards are only necessary for rendering scenes, which is unrelated to 3d printing.

Computer requirements for 3d printing

Specifications
Processor4 cores i5
Ram8GB
Graphics CardNot necessary
Hard Drive512GB
Specifications for doing all sorts of 3d printing-related things.

A budget computer with 8GB of ram and an Intel or AMD processor with 2 cores should be more than enough for comfortably using any slicer, aka the software that converts a 3d file into machine instructions). In fact, you could also use a cheaper computer, but some features could run slow when dealing with more complex objects (and thus larger files).

Take Ultimaker’s Cura as an example: the developers state that only 4GB of ram and a single-core processor are required to run the slicer. Being a user of that app myself, I would recommend installing the slicer on a slightly better computer. Other similar programs like Simplify3D and PrusaSlicer all have similar requirements. I would recommend aiming at the recommendations that I listed above and not just the bare minimum required by the developers.

Do you need a graphics card for 3d printing?

A graphics card is not required for 3d printing comfortably and having a good user experience. It is often thought that all 3d related fields require expensive computers, but 3d printing deals with a reduced amount of objects at the same time, all of which have no textures.

A graphics card would only slightly increase the processing times of a slicer when dealing with very large files that have a huge amount of details in high resolution.

How good of a computer do you need for 3d modelling?

A complex model in Fusion360 will require computing power

When it comes to 3d CAD modeling, a somewhat powerful computer is required. This is mostly due to the fact that modeling programs are resource-intensive and perform an enormous amount of parallel computations per second.

Unless you are designing simple shapes with little to no details and definition, the usability of these apps will be heavily affected by the lack of resources of the computer.

Keep in mind that if you are just getting started with 3d modeling, you will most probably only be able to create simple objects. Due to this, a budget PC or laptop is also going to be enough to start learning and figure out if a more robust setup is justified for you.

Computer requirements for 3d CAD modelling

Specifications
Processor6 cores i7
Ram16GB
Graphics CardNVIDIA 1650ti
Hard Drive1TB
Computer specifications for doing most 3d modeling related tasks

Since 3D CAD modeling does require some computing capabilities, you should aim at a computer with at least 16GB of ram, an Intel i5 or Ryzen comparable processor, and a budget NVIDIA or AMD graphics card. An NVIDIA 1650ti or the comparable AMD Radeon 5500XT are going to exceed the expectations of all beginner and intermediate modelers.

Since the requirements stated almost everywhere are always really the bare minimum, I should clarify that the specifications I listed above do not follow that convention. My goal is to recommend a setup that is going to be enjoyable to use in the years to come.

Frequently asked questions

Can you use a 3d printer with a laptop?

A Laptop is more than enough for 99% of possible use cases related to 3d printing. Keep in mind that, much like with PCs, laptops also come in a wide range of prices. Regardless of that, a budget laptop of no more than $500 is going to exceed all the requirements posed by 3d printing-related programs (excluding 3d modeling).

Is it possible to 3d print without a computer?

It is not necessary to have a computer in order to use a 3d printer. This is due to the fact that almost all 3d printers have an SD card reader that is used to read files and start printing them. If you already have an SD card with your files stored in it, a computer is no longer necessary to use the printer.

Having said that, in the off case that you don’t already own a computer, I would definitely recommend getting one before getting your hands on a 3d printer. It’s just a matter of priorities…

What software do you need for 3d printing?

The only required software for being able to 3d print an object of your choosing is a slicer. This is the program that takes a 3d object, normally saved as an STL file, and translates it into commands that can be understood by any 3D printer (G-Code). The most popular slicers are Cura (free), PrusaSlicer (free), and Simplify3D (paid).

In addition to a slicer, you can also benefit from installing modeling, mesh repair, and printer management applications.

Modeling software, formally known as 3D CAD software, is used by designers to create custom-made objects. Unless you learn the basics of one of these programs, you will only be able to print objects that other people designed and shared. There are very simple apps for beginners like Tinkercad (our review) and more advanced and feature-rich programs like Fusion 360 (our review) or SolidWorks (our review)

Mesh Repair programs are used to repair a file that, due to a wide number of possible reasons, is not being properly sliced. Tools such as Meshmixer, Netfabb, and Meshlab are used in these cases.

Last but not least, print management tools are used to control multiple printers simultaneously without the need to be physically close to the machines. Examples of these tools are OctoPrint, AstroPrint, and Repetir, among others.

Which operating system is best for 3d printing?

When it comes to 3d printing, the choice of the operating system of your computer is completely irrelevant. Cura, PrusaSlicer, and Simplify 3d (the most popular slicers) are all compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux.

Which operating system is best for 3d modeling?

For 3D CAD modeling, both MacOs and Windows are excellent choices. It used to be the case that Apple’s operating system was the default choice for designers, but this has changed in the last couple of years.

All popular programs offer versions for both operating systems. Such is the case for Fusion360 (our review), ZBrush, Blender (our review), and many others.

The list of available modeling software for Linux is more limited. Although some developers do offer Linux compatible releases, the community of designers using this OS is smaller, which means that you may have to solve the issues you encounter by yourself.

Conclusion

Having gone through more than enough things to consider when deciding about which PC or Laptop is best for 3d printing, we can conclude that almost any decent computer will comfortably exceed most requirements.

As we saw, 3d printing is not very taxing in terms of computing power, and most likely than not, your current setup is going to be enough for this new hobby of yours. The only case in which you should be interested in getting your hands on a better computer is if you also want to design your own 3d objects.

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