Evolution of a Blog

This blog has evolved as I have as a maker. It starts at the beginning of my journey where I began to re-tread my tires in the useful lore of micro electronics and the open-source software that can drive them. While building solutions around micro-electronics are still an occasional topic my more recent focus has been on the 3D Printing side of making.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sould You Buy Simplify3D as Your Slicer

UPDATE - The below is relevant to Version 2.2 of Simplify3D.   I have just downloaded Version 3 and it does look to address a number of my rants.   In fact, as a new post will attest, there was a feature in Version 2.2 that I had never used until now...and is killer as described here!

UPDATE - As of August, 2015, I continue my love/hate relationship with this software.  The technical foundations of the product are excellent.  The slicer, the support model, the concept of a factory, all wonderful.   Some of the user interface still not so wonderful.  

The thing that irks me the most is the Version 3.0 feature that moves profiles from being stored in a user accessible file to meta-data that, on the Mac at least, is hidden from the user.  What is worse is that this meta data is subject to being lost if you do a reset of their software, or if it crashes and does a reset for you (this has happened to me).  To avoid this you have to remember to export your profiles as you make changes to them.   I have a lot of profiles.   Major pain in the ass.

What makes the above even more of a pain is the lack of attention to detail that is shown in many aspects of the UI for Simplify3D.   For example.   You can not export all profiles with one command and when you do select one for export the software does not carry the name forward to be used as the file name for the save.   This latter example, to me anyway, seems like the developer of Simplify3D is really only interested in the cool bits like the slicing engine and the support model.   All of their time goes into those aspects, and they are good, while the UI, at times, seems sloppy.  Tiny details that make a difference to the overall user experience.  I have complained about this to Simplify3D support but they have chosen to ignore me.

I guess the bottom line is that I would still pay for this software....unless there was an alternative that was as good as the core functions of Simplify3D.   I think there is a market there.

Some months ago I bought Simplify 3D as the slicer to use with my new Wanhao Duplicator 4S.  I had been using Slic3r for slicing and Printrun to spool stuff to the printer and while I was happy with the combination I did take the opportunity to look at the options.

I came across Simplify3D as it is marketed by Wanhao though I did not buy it with the printer.  I had a little bit of a learning curve with Simplify3D but that was largely due to my wanting to use both extruders of my printer sooner than I probably should have!   The story of my efforts in this regard are a couple posts back in the blog.

So anyway, the good stuff about Simplify3D:
  • It is an all in one package and is integrated under a pretty straight forward and understandable user interface.  
  • The slicing engine seems to be pretty smart and while I have not time tested it against other slicers I do feel as if it may actually result in a faster print (than Slic3r for example).
  • It has a really cool process based model where you can print multiple models at the same time with different settings.   This is useful across a range from calibration, to printing models with different tuning requirements, to using a dual extruder setup for printing in colors.
  • The support structures that it prints are really well constructed (and easy to remove) and there is the ability to easily tune where the support is placed.
Unfortunately there are a pretty wide range of negatives some of which are surprising (or maybe just disappointing) for paid software:
  • It is almost laughable given the reputation that IT has for "CTRL-ALT-DELETE" being a cure-all that Simplify3D has such a feature built in.  In the case of Simplify3D it is the "Rest All Settings" option under the "Help Menu".  I have had to use it a number of times when the software just seems to get confused.   Once was at the direction of support and most recently when my prints suddenly started to de-laminate at the junction of the solid layers and the first infilled layer.  Reset all Settings to the rescue and things were fine again!
  • The system occasionally just crashes. This happens to all software once in a while but it happens with Simplify3D often enough to be irritating.   It usually happens when you have done something to a factory or profile and not save it yet! 
  • The user interface needs a huge amount of cleanup.  It feels like an amateur wrote this code in terms of attention to detail and to the standards that one should expect from professionally developed software.   Some examples include, but are not limited to, the following (yes they are minor but I paid for this software and the free stuff that I am used to was, in many cases, less sloppy):
    • Don't expect the tab key to take you to the next field on the form.  
    • Don't expect a double click on a list to result in an implicit enter.
    • Don't expect things to be remembered like the name of the profile that you have just loaded and want to save again.
  • There are also features missing that really feel like oversights or flaws as opposed to things that we should have to wait for (again, examples, not a complete list):
    • Button or menu item that causes models to be updated without removing and re-adding them (see Cura for an example)
    • The processing model is great but it would be really nice if it would maintain order, or allow an option for order to be maintained, as this can be useful when doing dual color prints.  I know this might fly in the face of their optimizer which is why I suggest it as an option.
  • Finally, there is functionality that I think should be there for a relatively expensive alternative to the world of free software:
    • Explicit handling for multi material prints (not support, that is there).
    • A built-in calibration process would be really ground breaking and could be a reason for some people to purchase for no other reason.
So am I happy to have bought Simplify3D?  Yes.  Though it sometimes frustrates me, I would probably still do it again.   Can I unreservedly recommend it?   Nope.   It is close to being really good.   Really great is attainable.   Some investment is needed. 

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