Prusa vs Cura

The Best Slicers in Life Are Free

Dr. Adrian Bowyer, the man who started it all
Dr. Adrian Bowyer, the man who started it all (Source: Thomas Sanladerer via YouTube)

One key program you’ll need for 3D printing is a slicer. Although 3D printing was invented three decades ago, it wasn’t until 2010 that we started to see desktop 3D printers becoming popular. One reason is because open-source slicing software such as Cura and Slic3r have made this technology more accessible.

This open-source development can be traced back to the work of Dr. Adrian Bowyer in 2005, who’s been credited as the father of desktop 3D printing. In fact, many of his developments are being used today in software (such as slicers) and firmware.

Slicers have come a long way, with many features that improve the 3D printing experience and make printers more reliable. Undoubtedly, two of the best slicers available are Cura and PrusaSlicer, which we’ll be comparing in detail in this article.

A Bit of Background

Cura started out as an open-source project back in 2011, led by David Braam, which later merged as the Ultimaker team. The earliest versions of PrusaSlicer, properly released in 2014, were modifications of Slic3r. Eventually, these were renamed Slic3r PE (Prusa Edition), which this year became PrusaSlicer.

Both Ultimaker and Prusa Research are some of the top companies in the desktop 3D printing space, which makes it somewhat significant that they both maintain and developed dedicated slicers.

Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look into what these slicer software options have to offer!

System Requirements & Cost

Get the right hardware to ensure your software will run smoothly
Get the right hardware to ensure your software will run smoothly (Source: Tin Fisher via Lifewire)

Since viewing and rendering 3D models can take a lot of processing power and even higher-end graphics capabilities, its better to know what your system is capable of before diving in.

RECOMMENDED FOR CURA

  • OpenGL 4.1-compatible graphics card for 3D layer view
  • Display resolution 1920 x 1080
  • Intel Core i3 or AMD Athlon 64
  • 600 MB hard disk space
  • 8 GB RAM

RECOMMENDED FOR PRUSASLICER

Specific requirements for PrusaSlicer haven’t been officially provided, but one can assume they’d be similar to those of Cura.

Prices & Licensing

There isn’t much to say here: Both slicers are free to use and also open source, which means the source code is available for you to modify. Speaking of the slicer scene at large, this has resulted in many improvements originating from external developers. Integrating the most popular of these into official releases has greatly sped up development.

Features & Functions

This unicorn was printed in one of Cura's special modes: fuzzy skin
This unicorn was printed in one of Cura's special modes: fuzzy skin (Source: Tony Short via Twitter)

Cura and PrusaSlicer have amassed a great number of features over the years. We’ve taken a look at the latest versions, Cura 4.6 and PrusaSlicer 2.2 to show you what they offer. While both slicers come with a variety of features, the ones we cover below are some that stand out for each program. (Note that not all of the following features are unique to the program under which they appear.)

Cura

  • 3rd-party support: A unique and incredibly helpful functionality of Cura is its huge number of 3rd party printers. Although these machines represent direct competition for Ultimaker, hundreds of manufacturers use Cura to sell their products to customers. Chances are, if you have a printer, Cura will support it. If not, check out our article detailing how to add a custom machine to Cura.
  • Cura Marketplace: Cura’s Marketplace essentially acts like an app store featuring many plug-ins that are created and added by users. With extended functionality, Cura continues to improve and the marketplace continues to grow. If you’re interested to know what sort of extra functionality is available, check out our curated list of the best Cura plug-ins.
  • Custom scripts: This community favorite gives users the additional ability to pause prints midway to insert components such as magnets, fasteners, or even electronic boards into your 3D prints.
  • Connectivity: Cura has the ability to connect with wireless boards such as the Duet Wi-Fi and Raspberry Pi. This handy feature makes it easier to upload files directly to your browser rather than having to do it manually each time.
  • Special modes & experimental settings: Another unique aspect of Cura is the experimental settings, which are fun to play around with. A few examples are the draft shield, fuzzy skin (see image above), and adaptive layers, all of which can be quite useful to get certain effects and textures.

PrusaSlicer

Make your prints cooler with mesh modifiers
Make your prints cooler with mesh modifiers (Source: Ondřej Stříteský via PrusaPrinters)
  • Conditional G-code: The ability to add conditional “if” statements to control and insert additional functions such as a pause or a color change can be quite powerful.
  • Modifier meshes: A more recent addition to PrusaSlicer, this function allows one to add unique settings to different parts of the same STL. Thinner sections can be made denser without affecting the overall infill, both saving time and improving part strength. (A similar function has been part of Cura for some time.)
  • Variable layer height: Instead of having a fixed layer height, users can customize it. For example, you can have finer layers where there are more intricate features and have thicker layers on straight sections. In this way, print time is reduced without having to compromise on quality. Our article on this very topic dives into greater detail about the variable layer height feature. (Again, this functionality isn’t unique to PrusaSlicer.)
  • SLA and MSLA supported: PrusaSlicer can slice models for printing on either FDM or MSLA in the same program. That said, as of right now, the resin slicing functionality is only meant to be used with the Prusa SL1.
  • Connectivity: While Cura can connect with a few SBC boards, Prusa has settings to connect with FlashAir (an SD card that has Wi-Fi capability) and also the AstroBox.
  • Print host upload queue: With this feature, sliced files can be pushed to an OctoPrint setup and then printed one after another. Essentially, you can slice all your files at once and then keep them queued up until you’re ready to print.

User Interface

Cura's UI is easy to navigate
Cura's UI is easy to navigate (Source: ahoeben via Ultimaker)

The user interface is a key part of any software’s design, as it can make or break the user’s experience. Both Cura and PrusaSlicer have different levels of settings, from beginner all the way up to expert. This helps clear the clutter for newbies until they want to dive deeper.

Cura

Overall, the Cura user interface and user experience is very positive. It’s easy to learn and users can start out slow before heading to advanced and customized operation.

  • Intuitive interface: Cura maintains a clean and neat layout with the majority of the space dedicated to viewing the build area and the model. The settings are tucked away in drop-down style menus with further subheadings that logically divide them. To learn more, check out our brief overview of Cura’s latest UI.
  • Dark theme: Another neat feature is the dark theme, which definitely makes using it easier on the eyes.
  • Visual queues: The settings panel on the left lights up when the model is selected, giving you a very subtle hint to check out the movement settings.
  • Print estimations: It’s extremely useful to see the estimated print time icon that can be found above the slice button after the slicing is complete. This allows the user to tune and optimize their settings further based on which part of the print consumes the maximum time.
  • Preview animation: The animation under the preview option helps you check if you forgot anything before starting a print, like activating support structures.
  • Workflow extensions: There many extensions that can be added including helping with saving file names systematically and adding an SBC or OctoPi to upload prints directly.

PrusaSlicer

Variable layer height slider bar is an interesting implementation
The innovative variable layer height bar (right) (Source: Hussain Bhavnagarwala via All3DP)

PrusaSlicer’s interface is simple yet effective. It’s organization, which employs modes, categories, and views, is centered around intuitive access and adjustment of settings and profiles.

  • Setting levels: PrusaSlicer’s settings are visible based on the user’s understanding of the machine, from simple to expert. This helps clear the clutter and lets you focus on settings that are important.
  • Setting groups: Prusa’s strategy of having their settings in three distinct buckets and then further subdividing keeps things a bit more organized.
  • Smart manipulation: PrusaSlicer has an arrange command that automatically arranges models on the build plate in an optimized position. This is very useful when you’re printing multiple parts at the same time.
  • Easy G-code insertion: The sliding bars on the side of the preview view is an intuitive way to add a pause or other custom G-code commands.
  • Simple layer adjustment: The variable layer height feature has a neat sliding bar as well, which makes it simple to set your layer heights.

While both slicers have worked to make their UI as intuitive as possible, it still does have a small learning curve. Rest assured that the best experience can be after a few failed prints!

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PRUSASLICER VS. CURA

Use Cases & Applications

Ultimaker is often used in industrial applications
Ultimaker is often used in industrial applications (Source: John Hitch via IndustryWeek)

The origin stories of both Ultimaker and Prusa Research are similar, with both starting out as low-cost open-source desktop 3D printer manufacturers. Over the years, both have realized the need for in-house slicer development. Ultimaker acquired Cura while Prusa borrowed heavily from Slic3r. While there are many similarities in their growth stories, these two companies have since headed in different directions.

Cura

Cura has worked more towards specialized materials for industrial applications by partnering with large polymer manufacturers such as DuPont, BASF, Solvay, and so on, integrating materials into their Marketplace. Additionally, plug-ins that help Cura to work with proprietary CAD software, such as SolidWorks, Inventor, and NX, make the professional workflow more efficient.

The general trend and outlook for Cura has been to have their desktop systems placed in manufacturing locations to help create customized jigs and fixtures, replacement parts, and even bridge production capabilities for some companies.

PrusaSlicer

Prusa, on the other hand, has been working at creating reliable machines for hobbyists and small-scale professionals who don’t need a wide variety of materials.

A great example is a company called Out of Darts, which manufactures partially 3D printed foam blasters. That being said, large visual effects agencies are also known to use this slicer.

Just like Prusa’s printers, the slicer is community- and hobbyist-oriented. The company has also started building a repository of pre-sliced parts with PrusaPrinters (25,00o+  free 3D models and counting), which makes it easier for makers to share files and designs.

Community & Company Support

We all need help sometimes
We all need help sometimes (Source: ana-mbh via Ultimaker)

Cura and PrusaSlicer have amassed a great following because they’re the two best open-source slicers that can work on any 3D printer. The primary discussion grounds are community forums, where people talk about issues, tips, and tricks.

For both slicers, the majority of company support comes in the forms of guides, manuals, FAQs, and the like. Direct communication isn’t officially provided, but one can learn a lot through forums, tutorials, and videos.

Cura

Cura has never had a dedicated support team to help users with issues when using their slicer. What they have provided, though, is a platform for users to discuss issues and problems that they face.

Moderators from the Cura team do get back to issues raised. Often, these bugs get fixed in newer updates and, thus, the software keeps improving over time. Additionally, forum members try to help one another.

Cura also has a dedicated page for users to learn about each setting in more detail.

PrusaSlicer

PrusaSicer also doesn’t have a dedicated support team, but its large user base and community posts tons of videos on fixes and upgrades. Still, the Prusa team does post videos from time to time on different upgrades and applications, as well. You can find discussions on Prusa’s community forum.

Final Thoughts

PrusaSlicer's community continues to grow
PrusaSlicer's community continues to grow (Source: PrusaPrinters)

We’ve seen the use of desktop 3D printers go from a hobby in a garage to a full-blown industrial manufacturing aid over a decade, and a lot of this development has been due to free and open-source slicing software.

Both Cura and PrusaSlicer have evolved to become some of the most powerful and commonly-used slicing programs available. We love how each team keeps coming up with new features that push the boundaries of what we thought was possible. The user interfaces have also become beginner friendly, and tutorials on how to get started are plenty.

So which is better for you? The answer is, as you might have guessed, it depends.

Cura’s major advantage comes from its longer presence in development and community involvement. Its Marketplace of plug-ins is testament to that. Meanwhile, Ultimaker has been working towards partnering with industry leaders and moving towards becoming a reliable solution for professionals. Cura might therefore be the choice for those looking for the complete, streamlined experience.

On the other hand, thanks to Prusa Research’s apparent drive to grow in all directions, PrusaSlicer has become a major contender, and we expect it that it will go on catering to community requests. PrusaSlicer is also unique in the sense that they come up with innovative offerings, such as mesh modifiers, conditional G-code, variable layer height, and so on.

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