How to Convert STL to G-Code: Prepare 3D Files for Printing

How do you take the 3D model you just downloaded from Thingiverse and convert it into a set of instructions that your 3D printer can read? It’s a question that confuses many newbies to 3D printing. The good news is that it’s really simple and you can use free software to do it in just a few minutes.

G-Code is the standard language for most 3D printers, but note that some use other formats such as .x3g. In this tutorial, we explain how to convert an STL file into G-Code printing instructions.

How to convert STL to G-Code using Ultimaker Cura

It’s likely that your 3D printer is supplied with some software like Cura that supports .stl to .gcode conversion, but we recommend downloading the latest version directly from the vendor’s website. At the time of writing, it’s Cura 3.3.1 – download it for free here. Double-click the .exe file to install Cura.

How to add a printer in Cura

With Cura installed on your computer, you need to configure it for your 3D printer. Go to Settings, Printers, Add Printer. You may see your printer listed, even though ours isn’t.

We’re using the Creality3D Ender 3, a great budget 3D printer that you can buy right now from GearBest for just £183.10 (reviewed here). We select Other, Creality CR-10, enter Ender 3 as the printer name and then click Add printer.

If you have to manually add printers, you’ll also want to specify the size of your printer bed. Go to Settings, Printers, Manage Printers, and with your model selected, click Machine Settings. We set X and Y to 220mm and Z to 250mm. Cura will remember these settings, so you won’t have to add them every time.

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Download or create a 3D model

You are now ready to bring your 3D model in for printing. There are plenty of sources online, and you can even choose to create your own in a separate 3D modeling application. We are using Thingiverse as an example, from where you can freely download 3D models in STL format under a Creative Commons license.

If you choose to download a 3D model from Thingiverse, you should find a model and then click the ‘Download All Files’ button. The files are free to download, but you can tip the designer if you want.

On your computer, find the file in the Downloads folder using File Explorer, then right-click the file and select Extract All. You only need the .stl file, which will be in the Files folder. Double-click this file to open it in Cura, or launch Cura and go to File, Open File and browse to it on your computer.

Prepare your 3D model for printing

In Cura, you should click on the 3D model to select it, then select the Scale icon from the menu on the left. Use the options here to specify the size you want the model to be printed at. Any changes you make will be applied accordingly.

Cura Scale 3D Model

On the right side of the page, you’ll find you can adjust the layer height, which affects the print speed. If each layer is 0.06mm, your model will take longer to build than if each layer is 0.2mm (default). The smaller the layer height, the better the quality; The larger the layer height, the lower the quality, but faster printing.

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Cura Adjust the quality

When you’re ready to ‘Cut’ the model (prepare it for printing), click the Prepare button at the bottom right of the screen. You’ll see how long it takes to print the model at those settings, as well as how much resin the model will use. (Of course the latter won’t change when you adjust the print speed or layer height.)

Cura tile file

If you want to reduce the printing time, you should increase the layer height or reduce the size of the model, then click Prepare again. If not, you can go ahead and click Save to File.

Cura Prepare G-Code

Cura will save to your computer a .gcode file that will be recognized by your printer as a set of instructions for recreating the model in 3D. You can now transfer this file to the printer and select it to print.

Learn more about 3D printing.

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