Cura is the most popular 3D printing file preparation software or “slicer” in the world.
The program has all you need to properly prepare your file. But there are some extras or plugins that can be added to enhance the user experience.
The program Cura is produced by Ultimaker who are a well-respected manufacturer of 3D printers and have developed this software over many years.
It’s now used by the majority of 3D printing enthusiasts and is an essential tool for manipulating and preparing files for printing.
The software itself is free and open-source, so can be used and adapted by anyone with the ability to do so.
As we’ve said, the basic version of Cura has the essentials you’ll need. As with most things, there are extras that can be added.
We call these extras plugins. These have mostly been developed by users of Cura who have an interest in improving its performance as well as sharing their own expertise.
As a result, there are quite a lot of plugins to choose from, and in this article, we’re going to be looking at some of the best available at the moment.
So, let’s dive right in and see what’s out there.
Best Cura plugins
Cura plugins can be found either in the program itself or on the Cura website in the Marketplace section, where you’ll see a total of over 60 additional extras.
Not all of these will add greatly to your own Cura experience, but there’s always something that may take your interest.
We’ll be looking more closely at where to find these and how to install them later on.
First, let’s look at some of the most useful plugins you can add to Cura.
These are in no particular order of preference, but all add some interesting extras to Cura.
ThingiBrowser (Author: Chris ter Beke)
This plugin allows the user to directly access popular 3D printing file repositories such as Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory.
Rather than having to search separately online and then save and import the files you find, the plugin lets you both search for and import the files right into Cura and start working on them straight away.
This is a bonus to those who might not have a great aptitude for design but want to print ready-made designs from other users.
Thingiverse in particular is a great resource for that and has over 2.4 million files in its catalog to date.
It also makes sense to have this link as the site is also run by Ultimaker!
Auto-Orientation (Author: nallath)
When placing your model or design in Cura, it’s sometimes difficult to work out how to best to orient it for printing.
In particular, with complex or unusually shaped models, there may not be an obvious position to set your model which would give it the best chance of printing successfully.
This extension sets the position or orientation of your model to reduce the need for supports where possible, and thereby reduces wastage of filament and printing time.
Z Offset Setting (Author: fieldOfView)
This is a simple add-on which automatically sets the z-offset prior to the start of the printing process.
The z offset is the distance between the nozzle and the build plate and may need to be adjusted, particularly if you’re using an auto bed leveling system.
Often this setting isn’t saved in your printer, so having this in the G-Code file ensures the correct distance is maintained each time you print.
Settings Guide (Author: Ghostkeeper)
Again this is a fairly basic extension but may be useful for new users who may not be familiar with all the settings in Cura.
Right-clicking on a setting will access a guide to show you what it does and how to use it.
There is already a basic version of this embedded within Cura, but this plugin will give you far more insight and guidance on how to correctly apply each setting.
Mesh Tools (Author: fieldOfView)
This Mesh Tools plugin allows you to analyze and repair the model directly using Cura without having to use any other file repair software.
It does this by adding more mesh analysis and manipulation tools to the ones that already exist within Cura.
By doing this, you have more opportunity to see whether your model is likely to succeed or where there are areas that need attention.
For instance, the mesh analysis will show you if there are any areas of your print that may not be watertight.
This might not seem relevant unless you’re trying to print an object that will be subjected to water, but it will also show you where any weak spots are in your model that may need filling or extra supports added.
OctoPrint Connection (Author: FieldOfView)
Octoprint is a very popular piece of software which was developed mainly for use with the Raspberry Pi single board processor.
The system allows the user to completely monitor and control their printer directly from their laptop or PC. In the case of the Raspberry Pi there’s a separate Octopi program that works in exactly the same way.
With the addition of this plugin, you can access the ability to enable networked printing and monitoring through Cura.
Universal Cura Settings (Author: 5axes)
This will add additional adjustments to some main recommended settings in Cura and allow more detailed changes to be made to your current configuration.
These additional settings are:
Standard, Bed adhesion, Extra quality, Mechanical, Figurine, Prototype, Support, Save material, Small part, Small details, Top surface, Vase, Warpings.
Once the plugin is added you’ll be able to see these extra adjustments in the menu with their appropriate parent setting.
Have a look at each setting in the main Cura program to get a better insight on what each one will add.
Custom Supports Eraser Plus (Author: 5axes)
A support blocker or support eraser as it’s sometimes known is a tool that’s used to prevent supports from being printed in certain areas of your model.
The support blocker/eraser works by placing a transparent or invisible block wherever you need it, and this will then block an actual support from being generated.
If for instance you set the supports to be added generally throughout the whole of your model, you may well end up with additional supports where they really aren’t necessary.
The standard support blocker setting will allow you to take out which supports you feel aren’t necessary, and this custom support eraser will add the ability to customize the style and shape of the blocker.
AutoTowers Generator (Author: Brad Kartchner)
When setting up and using your 3D printer, the word calibration is one that you’ll hear often.
Getting the right calibration of your machine is essential for its proper performance and ultimately the success and quality of your prints.
Printing calibration tools is a good way to test the settings and performance of your printer, and this plugin gives you the ability to quickly and easily print a variety of different calibration towers for just that purpose.
There are a number of pre-generated towers to choose from and once installed, the plugin will give you the easy option of just clicking and printing without any extensive setup.
CuraBlender (Author: Alexander Wiegel)
This final plugin on our list provides support for reading and writing BLEND files.
These are files that have been created in the popular Blender design software and could be a 3D image or animation project.
These files are fairly complex compared to a standard STL file and will contain much more data than you probably need to work with in Cura.
Blender can of course produce STL file format models which can be used easily in Cura but with this plugin, you’ll be able to design more complex models and save them in the format they were meant to be in.
Adding this plugin will then enable you to add the files as they are, which will add more detail to your model which can then be adjusted in Cura.
Where to find and install Cura plugins
The best place to find and view plugins is on the website in the Marketplace and as we’ve already discussed, there are over 60 plugins currently available.
You can also directly access these through Cura itself, and again this would be by accessing the Marketplace but via the dropdown menu.
Installation is fairly straightforward, but still needs to be done properly, so let’s see how to go about that.
The first thing to do then is to work out what it is that you need to add to Cura to make your own user experience better.
We’ve looked at some options together, but have a look in the Marketplace and see if anything else fits your needs.
However, we’ll look at how to install the ThingiBrowser plugin first, but by using the dropdown menu as we’ve mentioned.
- Open Cura
- Go to Marketplace: In the toolbar at the top right of the screen, find and click on the Marketplace button. This will take you directly there and give you the full list of available plugins and ThingiBrowser can be found alphabetically
- Click on “Install”: Firstly select ThingiBrowser and then click on the Install button at the bottom left. This will bring up a standard user agreement, so you’ll need to agree to that before continuing. Once this is done the installation only takes a few seconds
- Quit Cura: In order for any changes to take effect, you’ll need to quit and restart Cura. Of course, if you want to add more than one plugin then make sure to do this before quitting otherwise you’ll have to restart Cura several times
And that’s it, a very simple process really but one that will enhance your Cura user experience.
Once you’ve installed the plugins you need you’ll find then by going to Extensions in the toolbar at the top left of the screen where the dropdown will show all that have been installed.
The main consideration when using Cura is that it’s an excellent tool for 3D printing. The slicer provides you with everything you need to prepare and manipulate your files.
However, there are adaptations that can enhance and improve the user experience by extending Cura’s capabilities through the use of plugins.
These extensions to the main Cura software are an invaluable resource and shows that Cura is constantly improving and evolving over time into a highly sophisticated slicer.
That’s the reason it stands where it is today as the 3D printing world’s most popular and most used slicing software.
So, even if you’re happy enough using Cura in its natural form, there may always be something that you can add to make it even better.