What is 3d printing?

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3D printing is a manufacturing process that turns a digital model file into a physical object. The method works by building up a whole thing layer by layer of material.

An overview of 3D printing

The term “rapid prototyping” was coined in the 1980s to describe the 3D printing process. It allowed businesses to create prototypes more rapidly and accurately than they could with other approaches. After more than 30 years of development, its applications are significantly broader now.

The technology is used by manufacturers, engineers, designers, educators, medics, and hobbyists alike for a wide range of applications.

Close-up of the 3D printing process

3D printing is an ‘additive’ manufacturing method that creates an object layer by layer.

In the automotive industry, a 3D-printed part is in use.

Costs have decreased, and more compact ‘desktop’ 3D printers have been developed, making the technology more accessible over time.

What is the process of 3D printing?

The 3D printing technique, as we saw previously, entails piling up layers upon layers of molten plastic to make an object. As each layer dries, the object is built up by printing the following layer on top.

A digital file that directs the 3D printer where to print the material is required to make a 3D print. G-code files are the most frequent file type for this. The X, Y, and Z axes are also known as the X, Y, and Z axes. This file effectively includes ‘coordinates’ to control the printer’s movements, both horizontally and vertically.

Layer height is a term used to describe how thick these layers can be printed on 3D printers. More layers in a print, similar to pixels on a screen, will result in a higher resolution.’ This will result in a better-looking final product, but it will take longer to print.

What is the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing?

3D printing is sometimes known as ‘additive manufacturing’ because of the layering process.

The names are frequently used interchangeably to refer to the same manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing is the polar opposite of subtractive methods, such as CNC machining, in which material is removed (or subtracted) from a bigger block to make the finished thing.

FDM vs. FFF 3D printing — what’s the difference?

Newcomers to 3D printing may also be confused by references to FDM (fused deposition modeling) and FFF (fused filament fabrication) methods. Both refer to a specific sort of 3D printer, therefore these are effectively alternative names for the same thing.

What are the many types of 3D printers? Yes! But don’t worry if you’re perplexed; we’ll take a quick look at these next.

What are the different types of 3D printing?

Because plastics are such a versatile material, there are numerous ways to manufacture them. Let’s have a look at the numerous ways of 3D printing.

FFF 3D printing, SLA (stereolithography), and SLS (stereolithography) are the most extensively used technologies (selective laser sintering).

What is FFF 3D printing, and how does it work?

A heated nozzle in an FFF printer extrudes a thick string of material, generally referred to as filament. The nozzle is moved around a build region, where melted filament is deposited onto a build plate, by a motion system. The build plate travels down by a fraction of a millimeter layer by layer as the material cools and hardens, until the item is complete.

What is SLA 3D printing, and how does it work?

The raw material for SLA 3D printing is a UV-curable resin. A construct platform is submerged in the resin, which is poured into a glass-bottomed container. To selectively harden a cross-section of the appropriate shape, a laser focuses UV light on the resin. To build up the print, the platform progressively elevates out of the container.

What is SLS 3D printing, and how does it work?

A powdered raw material, usually a polymer, is used in SLS 3D printing. A blade distributes a thin layer of material onto the construction surface from the powder in a container. The microscopic particles of material are fused together by a laser to form a single horizontal layer of the part, after which the container moves a fraction of a millimeter to begin a new layer and the blade swipes across the build area to deposit a new layer of raw material. The finished product is created by repeating this process.

This is by no means a comprehensive list; you may also encounter the following:

  • DLP (direct light processing) is a resin-based, SLA-like technology. Instead of using a laser to cure a single point of resin at a time, DLP projects an image of the entire layer into the resin using light.
  • Binder jetting is a powder-based process similar to SLS, except that instead of a laser, a binding agent is used to fuse the powder.
  • Material jetting is a type of ‘2D’ inkjet printing that allows you to make 3D parts by depositing wax or plastic and curing it with UV light.
  • SLM (selective laser melting) is one of several SLS-based metal 3D printing technologies.

What are the different types of materials used in 3D printing?

The most frequent material used in 3D printing is plastic polymers. It is possible to use different materials. There are metal 3D printers, for example, although they are a limited market compared to polymer printers. In addition, super-sized machines based on 3D printing technology are being developed for building materials such as concrete.

FFF and SLS 3D printers, for example, can create polymer and other material mixtures (such as metal, glass, or wood). Composites are materials that have some of the qualities of a combined substance.

The words ‘3D printing material’ and ‘3D printing filament’ are often used interchangeably in the context of FFF 3D printing. Because the raw material comes on spools of tiny filament, this is the case.

In the sections below, we’ll go through different 3D printing filaments in further depth per category.

3D printing materials for beginners:


PLA is the go-to beginner’s filament since it is made from organic, sustainable resources and is simple to print with. PLA also offers excellent visual qualities. PLA is typically disregarded for functional and mechanical applications due to its low-temperature resistance and the fact that mechanical qualities might decrease over time.


PETG has grown to become one of the most extensively used 3D printing materials due to its well-balanced blend of qualities. It’s easily classified as a ‘engineering material,’ yet its printability makes it a suitable choice for beginners. It’s the go-to filament for engineering applications for many users since it combines impact and chemical resistance with high thermal qualities while still being less expensive than many other engineering materials.

Materials for 3D printing engineering


Nylon is a versatile option for end-use parts due to its chemical resistance and ability to tolerate severe mechanical stress.


ABS is a material for more demanding applications since it has better mechanical and thermal resistance qualities than PLA. However, printing using it can be problematic, especially on a low-cost, open-frame 3D printer. A controlled temperature and enclosed build chamber provide a considerably more reliable experience.

Taking a look at a 3D printed prototype

Aesthetic and tactile qualities should be present in visual prototypes.

In usage, a 3D-printed end-use part

Material qualities such as wear resistance and flame retardancy are required for end-use parts.

Materials for 3D printing that are flexible


TPU can be twisted, stretched, and endure blows thanks to its rubber-like characteristics.


PP (or polypropylene, as it’s also known) is semi-flexible and fatigue resistant, making it perfect for applications like hinges and liquid containers.

3D printing materials that are specialized:

Materials that are made up of several different materials

To improve characteristics, these filaments blend a polymer with fibers from another material. There are two major groups. Glass, carbon, or metal fibers in engineering composites improve mechanical qualities including strength and stiffness. There are other composite choices for 3D printing with distinctive visual features, such as ceramic or wood filaments, or even glow-in-the-dark filaments. (Before using composite filaments, make sure your printer is compatible with them because the fibers can cause abrasion.)

There are many more specialized 3D printing filaments to discover on the market, such as ESD-safe or flame-retardant materials, while they sometimes overlap with the categories above.

Supplementary materials

Let’s start with a brief explanation of what these are.

Each new layer of a 3D print necessitates the support of the layer beneath it. When a print’s design calls for an overhang or an element hung in mid-air, problems arise. As a result, these materials support it during the printing process and are then removed. Supports can be printed in the same material as the remainder of the print, but their removal can compromise the surface quality and dimensional accuracy of the final product. Specialized support materials have been developed to avoid this.

Support substance that is soluble

Because soluble support materials dissolve, there is no chance of your part being damaged during manual removal. PVA support material dissolves in water, but HIPS necessitates the use of d-limonene as a solvent.


A material like Ultimaker Breakaway is a distinct support material that is manually removed anywhere between the alternatives given thus far. This speeds up the process compared to waiting for it to dissolve while maintaining the dimensional correctness of the part.