Microsoft Updates Its 3D Printing App

The major update features a user-interface revamp, new model manipulation tools and support for 3D Systems' cloud printing service.

Microsoft 3D printing app

Microsoft has issued an update to its 3D printing app for Windows 8.1 that allows users to get their hands on physically printed objects without investing in additional hardware.

"Now you can print 3D models from the 3D Builder app without having to own a 3D printer," wrote Gavin Gear, a Microsoft program manager, in a Sept. 6 Blogging Windows post. "This new service is offered in partnership with 3D Systems, through its consumer cloud printing service Cubify."

3D Systems, headquartered in Rock Hill, SC, is a provider of consumer and commercial 3D printers and associated services. Its Cubify Cloud Print service provides users with access to professional-grade 3D printing technologies and materials, including a variety of substances that are not typically found in consumer solutions.

"By integrating with our Cubify cloud printing service, Microsoft's 3D Builder R5 gives you access to expanded material options beyond what is typically offered by consumer 3D printers," stated 3D Systems in a company blog post. "Materials range from opaque and frosted plastics, to metallic and mixed plastics, to full-color 'Colorstone' and even ceramics."

The new R5 version of the software also features a "totally overhauled" main control, a circular, icon-packed tool that acts as the user's primary interface with the software. Optimized for touch, the main control now sprouts an expanded outer ring with additional controls that relate to a desired function.

The enhancements help users explore the software's expanded feature set in an intuitive, clutter-free manner, according to Gear. "The new Main Control in 3D Builder R5 makes it easy to drill down on particular tasks and to keep the interface as clean and usable as possible. This clean design is especially useful since more and more features have been added to the app during the last several releases."

A new Selection Control allows users to "manage the selection state of multiple parts on the virtual build platform," he said. New model manipulation arrows allow users to move, scale and rotate their models with greater precision. "In prior versions of 3D Builder, you would need to use the Main Control (Ex: manipulation of rotation angle) to control these parameters," added Gear.

Joining the app's built-in library of 3D models is a new category, trophy parts. "Want to make a cake topper? You can easily scale the trophy down. Want to make an 18-inch tall trophy with your MakerBot Z18? Just scale it up with one easy dragging motion."

Microsoft announced that it was adding 3D printing support to Windows 8.1 in June 2013. "Making a 3D object on your PC will be as easy as writing a document in Word and sending it to print. Just as desktop publishing transformed how we write, we think desktop manufacturing will transform how we create," Shanen Boettcher, general manager of Microsoft's Startup Business Group, stated at the time.

In November 2013, coinciding with the release of the 3D Builder app, Brooklyn-based MakerBot released a 3D printer driver for Windows. "With Windows 8.1 and using the new MakerBot 3D Printer Driver, users can open a 3D design in a program like 123D Design or SolidWorks, and tell the file to print directly to a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer; it's as fast and easy as printing a Word document on a 2D printer," the company said in a statement echoing Boettcher's comments.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...