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I'd like to customize and modify some parts on Thingiverse, beyond just simple scaling for 3D printing.

I've been looking for some tools that convert the STL files into something that is easily edited, but so far all that I've found are really buggy and crash frequently as soon as one loads a reasonably complex model.

Are there any free open source software tools that people can recommend that handle STL importing and editing? If not FOSS, what about just "free or nearly free for hobbyists, ed, non-commercial?

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  • $\begingroup$ They exist; Blender for one. An exhaustive list is off topic here. $\endgroup$ – kaine Feb 2 '16 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that STL, as a file type, is not designed to be edited and is susceptible to corruption if brought between multiple CAD programs. For this reason, it is often difficult to convert an STL back into a file type that is "CAD friendly". It's like crumpling a piece of paper or opening a JPEG a million times. $\endgroup$ – tbm0115 Feb 4 '16 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure about that. Sounds more like there being different revisions of the format and/or some 3d editors not creating the files properly which other 3d editors with more strict parsing will not load, than a limitation of a format. Personally I've created as well as edited STL files in Blender and used them in Repetier Host and I've never had an issue loading a file in both. $\endgroup$ – Leo Ervin Feb 6 '16 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ @LeoErvin I was trying to convey the issues of 3D editors not importing/exporting properly as you said. Look into the following Wikipedia page as one of my sources en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STL_(file_format) . For a program like Blender, which can heavily rely on proper orientation of the triangulated solid, it is understandable that you haven't encountered an issue. However, there are other (not as well developed) applications that may choose to ignore or not use certain parameters within the file as they are not within scope of the application. So, just be careful which software you use. $\endgroup$ – tbm0115 Feb 6 '16 at 7:31
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You can use OpenSCAD. It's a script based powerful CAD open source software under GPL. On Thingiverse, a lot of things are made with this CAD software (the Customizer flagged ones) and you can just download their source code (.scad) and directly edit them !

You can also import existing STL and edit them like they were a primitive shape like a cube. You can then interact with them by doing binary operations, adding parts, etc.

It is hard to start with if you have never coded, but that's worth it :

OpenSCAD is a software for creating solid 3D CAD models. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, Windows and Mac OS X. Unlike most free software for creating 3D models (such as Blender) it does not focus on the artistic aspects of 3D modelling but instead on the CAD aspects. Thus it might be the application you are looking for when you are planning to create 3D models of machine parts but pretty sure is not what you are looking for when you are more interested in creating computer-animated movies.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point mentioning OpenSCAD! When downloading from Thingiverse editing the .scad files directly is nice solution - if you know how to use it. $\endgroup$ – Tormod Haugene Feb 17 '16 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ OpenSCAD isn't a bad solution - however tweaking parts is a bit challenging as there isn't a way, AFAIK to measure an existing object to offset and tweak accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 17 '16 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ If you have programming background, OpenSCAD is easy (but read up on the unusual scope rules); but if the original author was drawing in a GUI instead of coding, it may be hard to get any useful (human-readable) code out of their models and into OpenSCAD. Models of people, terrains, etc. are likely to be done with a GUI like Blender; engineered parts are likely to be done with OpenSCAD. $\endgroup$ – TextGeek Feb 19 '16 at 21:31
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If you want to do basic edits to an STL, a program such as MeshMixer might be right for your. It offers the ability to combine and subtract models, add custom supports, and similar, in a fairly straight forward manner.

An alternative that allows your to do complex editing of STLs would be Autodesk Fusion 360. Here you can import STLs into meshes, which you then may convert into solids for further editing. It is more work to use, but a very flexible solution; you can i.e choose to only convert certain faces to solid, or use the mesh as a reference point for other designs.

As far as I know, neither of these are FOSS (free and open source), but both are free for non-commercial use.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for Meshmixer, love doing small fixes with it. It can't rescue everything, but it is certainly unique in its approach to modifying files (much more akin to literal sculpting than anything else I've used). Fusion360 often has issues with complex STL files (since it doesn't natively work in the STL format, so files have to be converted to the Fusion 'language'). $\endgroup$ – Dustin Wheeler Feb 17 '16 at 17:58
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There is no argument that the most successful FOSS 3D editor is Blender. It can both import and export STL files and export to STL or many other formats (DAE, OBJ, 3DS, FBX, DXF, WRL) so you can both use it to edit STL models as well as just use it as a STL converter. https://www.blender.org/

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    $\begingroup$ Hi @Leo. I have downvoted your question, and here is why: stating that "There is no argument that..." strongly indicates that you cover up your own personal opinion as a fact - something that is frowned upon in the SE community. I suggest you either back up this statement, or find a somewhat more humble reformulation. $\endgroup$ – Tormod Haugene Feb 5 '16 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't care if it strongly indicates that it is my own personal opinion in your opinion. Statistically Blender is successful in all areas, which are feature completeness, stability, siz eof community (help), popularity (download count, number of users), development phase. These are statistics/facts. Whether my own opinion is also involved or not is even irrelevant at this point. So if you're going to downvote an answer which might be the best option for the person asking the question (the whole purpose of Q&A) for the sake of the "spirit of SE" then go ahead. I simply find that illogical. $\endgroup$ – Leo Ervin Feb 5 '16 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ please understand me correctly: I am not saying Blender isn't a great software, and perhaps the best alternative in this case. However, there is no argument that there are other 3D editors that can edit STL files as well (see what I did there?). In other words, I'm not disagreeing with you, but simply asking if you would consider rephrasing it. Whether you do or not is entirely up to you, but I believe your answer will be better if worded differently. $\endgroup$ – Tormod Haugene Feb 5 '16 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ Blender is successful - and I'm not debating that. My question wasn't meant to instill a pissing match. That said - Blender is really more oriented at animation; and editing models for 3D printing is kind of a "hack", being that it is geometry is "unit-less". Hence one can model proportionally, but then you have to scale to the real world outside of Blender. $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 5 '16 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ Tormod, please understand that I'm not talking like this because of my emotions, nor am I a fan of the software Blender, I'm just stating what I believe to be a fact. I see no reason to reword what I said simply because I believe what I said to be true. I don't think this is the situation where one needs to not seem biased or sound humble. As I mentioned, there are facts to back up what I said. Please understand that what you said about what SE community likes is also simply your opinion which I can disagree with. No pissing match here. $\endgroup$ – Leo Ervin Feb 5 '16 at 21:22
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I have used Wings 3D (http://www.wings3d.com) for just that purpose. It is very easy to use, and has many other useful functions built in. Not only can you reform the mesh, but you also you have the ability to import and export many other meshes such as .obj, and etc. When you have completed your modifications you can export them in one of several formats (I find it easier to just keep it in .stl) and then use netfab (also has a free version with some limitations as compared to the paid version) to fine tune the mesh if it is not printable in its current format. Wings will export your modifications in .stl format, but you may have to fine tune to get rid of holes blemishes and etc., and you can view your changes in several views such as Gaussian and other forms.

If you decide to try Wings 3D you need to go through the tutorials, since there is a multitude of possibilities, including making your own meshes, beginning with several basic forms such as squares, cubes, cylinders and several other basic geometrical figures.

Using these two programs I have been able to modify many meshes and arrive at a very printable object. One of the features of Wings which has been quite valuable is the smoothing app which reduces the sharp division lines on some models.

Since both programs are free you can try them and uninstall them if they do not fill your needs. Blender is also an excellent free program, but I find Wings to be much simpler to use.

Hope this helps

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, this is actually pretty well maintained surprisingly. I will need to try this out. As a software dev myself, I'm intrigued just because it's written in Erlang. For those looking for the site: wings3d.com $\endgroup$ – Jim Feb 19 '16 at 16:55
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If you want a WYSIWYG-style editor and are not content with OpenSCAD, I found 123D Design (Autodesk, definitively not FOSS but free for hobbyists) to have (on a Mac) a compromise between power and ease of use that most appealed to me.

If you insist on FOSS probably Blender comes closest, but I found it to be too idiosyncratic in interface and tools to be usable.

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