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Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »
Battle In the Wireless 3D Printing Software Arena: OctoPrint Vs. AstroPrint
July 28th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe
All 3D printers need host software to function. That’s a given. Host software sends the commands to a 3D printer that tells the printer how to build an object. Most host software communicates with the printer via a wired USB connection. For almost all 3D printers, a computer running the host software must stay tethered to the 3D printer at all times while it is running. Obviously, this is not always a great situation, hence the advantage of being wireless.
There are basically two ways to perform wireless 3D printing. First, a G-code file can be saved onto an SD card using a computer, then the SD card can be transferred to the 3D printer where the print job is initiated via a controller into a 3D printer.
This arrangement allows wireless 3D printing, but it lacks most the advantages of a truly wireless setup. The 3D printer can still be placed away from a work area, but beyond that, using the SD card transfer method is really no different than transferring data over a cable. The second way to do (truly) wireless 3D printing is by running the host software on a small embedded device, like the Raspberry Pi, that is connected to the 3D printer.
Which Is Better, OctoPrint or AstroPrint?
This is analogous to using a dedicated computer for 3D printing that stays connected to the printer at all times. But, instead of using a computer for this purpose, the host software can be run on something, such as a Raspberry Pi, which is just powerful enough to run the software.
The two most popular host software packages developed for wireless 3D printing are OctoPrint and AstroPrint. AstroPrint is, in fact, based on OctoPrint, and claims to have an optimized codebase for running on embedded computers. The AstroPrint team has made changes and additions to the software, making the two host software offerings quite a bit different in many ways.
While OctoPrint and AstroPrint do share some similarities, they are also different, primarily with regard to their intended users.
OctoPrint is an open source web-based host for RepRap-based and many other 3D printers that provides a web interface to upload and print g-code files. The software is maintained by open-source proponent Aleph Objects. It’s compatible with many fused deposition modeling (FDM)/fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers with Marlin firmware or its variants, however, and not too surprisingly, it’s not compatible with MakerBot .xg3 files.
AstroPrint is also an open source, cloud platform, and app designed for consumer 3D printing by 3DaGoGo Inc. AstroPrint was developed to enable the management of 3D printing from just about any web enabled device.
AstroPrint works by taking an uploaded STL file, adding supports, slicing it, and saving it as G-code in an account online. You can then access, download, modify, and print models wirelessly via supported 3D printers. AstroPrint is built with a combination of 3D printing software, including Cura, Repetier Host, Slic3r, and OctoPrint.
AstroPrint also provides a monitor for live video streaming of a 3D printer while it’s printing. AstroPrint is compatible with most consumer 3D printers and its software can be run on a Raspberry Pi.
In the end, both OctoPrint and AstroPrint are very capable 3D printing host software apps. AstroPrint is widely regarded as a more sophisticated package than OctoPrint (which is the basis for AstroPrint). It’s obvious that the AstroPrint development team has put a great deal of effort into making the user experience as easy as possible – and therein lies the biggest differentiator between the two offerings – they have been developed for two different groups of users.
On the one hand, OctoPrint is better suited for experienced 3D printer operators who want complete control over their 3D printer settings and operations. OctoPrint provides extensive customization options, and provides data that experienced users can use to tweak the performance of their printer, as well as the OctoPrint software.
On the other hand, AstroPrint has been developed for novice 3D printer operators with low to intermediate levels of experience. AstroPrint is focused on providing a smooth and relatively easy user experience. For example, AstroPrint is easier to set up than OctoPrint, and requires less user input and interaction for the results you want.
Although OctoPrint and AstroPrint are different, they both do basically the same thing. In the end it’s largely a matter of personal preference. I recommend that you check them both out and decide which is the better one for you, your 3D printer, and the 3D objects you print.
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