What Does Windows 8.1 Support for 3D Printers Mean?

March 08, 2014



One of the features of the just-launched Windows 8.1 is built-in support for 3D printers. Microsoft has added an API (application programming interface) that makes 3D printers work just like ordinary printers: Select Print from the menu, and the object is printed.

What does 3D printer support mean?

At the moment, the software that works with 3D printers talks directly to the printer, but the new approach creates a software layer between them. You will still need 3D software to design and build the objects to print, but the design software doesn’t need to know anything about the 3D printer. In the same way that Microsoft Word doesn’t need an update every time you buy a new inkjet printer, the new approach could mean that any 3D design software could work with any 3D printer.

MORE: 3D Printer Buyer’s Guide

However, Microsoft is relying on the manufacturers of 3D printers to create the driver software that make their particular printers work with Windows 8.1.

How does 3D printing support in Windows 8.1 work?

Windows 8.1 will handle 3D printers like it does ordinary printers: You plug the printer in, install the driver and other software, and the device is ready to use. To print an object, you select Print from the menu in your 3D application, such as 123D Make or Seamless3d, and select the 3D printer as the destination. The driver software then processes the digital object, creating the code that the 3D printer needs to make it.

Will Windows 8.1 work with any 3D printer?

To work with Windows 8.1, both the application you are printing from and the 3D printer need to support the new API. At the moment, no apps or 3D printers do. In response to a question about availability, a Microsoft spokesman told Tom’s Guide, “Drivers are delivered [as downloads] via Windows Update…Drivers are being tested for publication on Windows Update now, and apps will follow the general availability of supported devices.” In other words, we don’t yet know when software is coming