3D printing software is a very dynamic topic that I could spend hours and an entire article covering. For the purpose of this guide, I will just hit on the basics and what I feel is the best software for your 3D Printer. There are basically three main firmware packages that are in use today. Each works basically the same, but is tailored to fit certain types of 3D printers better.
Marlin/Sprinter - This is the default, go-to firmware if you are running a current generation RepRap derived 3D printer such as a PrintrBot, Lulzbot, Mendel, Prusa Mendel or Mendel Max. It works out of the box. Marlin features a few innovative features such as "Look Ahead" which keeps up the speed of the print head when approaching and turning corners. It is also able to utilize an SD Card and LCD for PC-less printing. Marlin / Sprinter is compatible with RAMPS, Generation 7 and Sanguinololu as well as several other 3D printer electronics packages.
Teacup - Teacup avoids C++ in favor of plain C, uses 100% integer math and works very hard to minimize/eliminate long math operations in interrupt context. As a result, it offers optimum precision over a wider range (integer = 31 bit, float = 23 bit), it's only half the binary size of similarly featured firmwares, runs on about any ATmega microcontroller existing, including the USB-equipped ones, and can still be tailored to run on controllers as small as the ATmega168. It runs fine on RAMPS, Generation 7 and Sanguinololu as well as several other 3D printer electronics packages.
Sailfish - Sailfish is the firmware of choice for Makerbot's current generation 3D printers and is billed as being faster than Marlin. Sailfish builds on Makerbot's Gen4 and MightyBoard firmwares using acceleration derived from the RepRap firmware Marlin. It also adds a number of original improvements, including the asymmetric JKN Advance algorithm, the Yet Another Jerk jerk control, and use of fixed point computations for speed. Previous to Sailfish 4.0 for Thing-O-Matics and Cupcakes and Sailfish 6.2 for The Replicator 1, Sailfish was known as Jetty Firmware.
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