Explain 3d printing

3D Printing Definition


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Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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Updated November 29, 2021

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What Is 3D Printing?

Three-dimensional (3D) printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital design. The process works by laying down thin layers of material in the form of liquid or powdered plastic, metal or cement, and then fusing the layers together.

Key Takeaways

  • Three-dimensional (3D) printing is an additive manufacturing process in which a physical object is created from a digital design by printing thin layers of material and then fusing them together.
  • Some industries, such as hearing aids manufacturers, airline manufacturers, and car manufacturers, use 3D printing to create prototypes and mass produce their products using custom scans.
  • While it is currently too slow to be used in mass production, 3D printing technology is still evolving and has the potential to massively disrupt both the manufacturing logistics and inventory management industries.

Understanding 3D Printing

Since it was introduced, 3D printing technology has already increased manufacturing productivity. In the long-term, it has the potential to massively disrupt both the manufacturing, logistics, and inventory management industries, especially if it can be successfully incorporated into mass production processes.

Currently, 3D printing speeds are too slow to be used in mass production. However, the technology has been used to reduce the lead time in the development of prototypes of parts and devices, and the tooling needed to make them. This is hugely beneficial to small-scale manufacturers because it reduces their costs and the time to market, that is, the amount of time from a product being conceived until its being available for sale.

3D printing can create intricate and complex shapes using less material than subtractive manufacturing processes, such as drilling, welding, injection molding, and other processes. Making prototypes faster, easier, and cheaper allows for more innovation, experimentation, and product-based startups.

Industrial Uses

Car and aircraft manufacturers have taken the lead in 3D manufacturing, using the technology to transform unibody and fuselage design and production, and powertrain design and production. Boeing is using 3D-printed titanium parts in the construction of its 787 Dreamliner airliner. In 2017, General Electric created a helicopter engine with 16 parts instead of 900–an indication of how big an impact 3D printing could potentially have on supply chains.

In medical sciences, 3D printing is being used to customize implants. In the future, organs and body parts may be created using 3D printing techniques. In the fashion world, Nike, Adidas, and New Balance are using 3D printing to create their shoes. In the construction industry, companies around the world are making breakthroughs in 3D printing of the materials need to build homes. Using layers of concrete, homes can be built in 24 hours, which are stronger than regular cinder blocks and cost a fraction of the price.

In the manufacturing of hearing aids, 3D printing is now customary. The use of 3D printing accelerates the process of manufacturing and enables manufacturers to make custom hearing aids. Audiologists can use 3D scanners to create a custom prototype using reference points from the scan. Manufacturers can feed the scan into a 3D printing machine and after fine-tuning the materials and the ear shapes, print the entire hearing aids.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.

  1. Norsk Titanium. "Norsk Titanium to Deliver the World’s First FAA-Approved, 3D-Printed, Structural Titanium Components to Boeing." Accessed Aug. 23, 2021.

  2. General Electric. "An Epiphany Of Disruption: GE Additive Chief Explains How 3D Printing Will Upend Manufacturing." Accessed Aug. 23, 2021.

  3. Nike. "Nike Flyprint is the First Performance 3D Printed Textile Upper." Accessed Aug. 23, 2021.

  4. Adidas. "4DFWD: Data-Driven 3D Printed Performance Technology Designed to Move You Forward." Accessed Aug.23, 2021.

  5. New Balance. "New Balance Launches a Premium 3D Printing Platform." Accessed Aug. 23, 2021.

  6. Sonova. "3D Printing Technology for Improved Hearing." Accessed Aug. 23, 2021.

What is 3D printing? How does a 3D printer work? Learn 3D printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced cross-section of the object.

3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out / hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine.

3D printing enables you to produce complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.

Table of Contents

  • How Does 3D Printing Work?
  • 3D Printing Industry
  • Examples of 3D Printing
  • 3D Printing Technologies & Processes
  • Materials
  • Services

Jump to your field of interest:

  • Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing
  • Automotive
  • Aviation
  • Construction
  • Consumer Products
  • Healthcare
  • Food
  • Education

Jump to process:

  • All Technologies & Processes
  • Vat Photopolymerisation
  • Material Jetting
  • Binder Jetting
  • Material Extrusion
  • Powder Bed Fusion
  • Sheet Lamination
  • Directed Energy Deposition

How Does 3D Printing Work?

It all starts with a 3D model. You can opt to create one from the ground up or download it from a 3D library.

3D Software

There are many different software tools available. From industrial grade to open source. We’ve created an overview on our 3D software page.

We often recommend beginners to start with Tinkercad. Tinkercad is free and works in your browser, you don’t have to install it on your computer. Tinkercad offers beginner lessons and has a built-in feature to export your model as a printable file e.g .STL or .OBJ.

Now that you have a printable file, the next step is to prepare it for your 3D printer. This is called slicing.

Slicing: From printable file to 3D Printer

Slicing basically means slicing up a 3D model into hundreds or thousands of layers and is done with slicing software.

When your file is sliced, it’s ready for your 3D printer. Feeding the file to your printer can be done via USB, SD or Wi-Fi. Your sliced file is now ready to be 3D printed layer by layer.

3D Printing Industry

Adoption of 3D printing has reached critical mass as those who have yet to integrate additive manufacturing somewhere in their supply chain are now part of an ever-shrinking minority. Where 3D printing was only suitable for prototyping and one-off manufacturing in the early stages, it is now rapidly transforming into a production technology.

Most of the current demand for 3D printing is industrial in nature. Acumen Research and Consulting forecasts the global 3D printing market to reach $41 billion by 2026.

As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.

Examples of 3D Printing

3D printing encompasses many forms of technologies and materials as 3D printing is being used in almost all industries you could think of. It’s important to see it as a cluster of diverse industries with a myriad of different applications.

A few examples:

  • – consumer products (eyewear, footwear, design, furniture)
  • – industrial products (manufacturing tools, prototypes, functional end-use parts)
  • – dental products
  • – prosthetics
  • – architectural scale models & maquettes
  • – reconstructing fossils
  • – replicating ancient artefacts
  • – reconstructing evidence in forensic pathology
  • – movie props

Rapid Prototyping & Rapid Manufacturing

Companies have used 3D printers in their design process to create prototypes since the late seventies. Using 3D printers for these purposes is called rapid prototyping.

Why use 3D Printers for Rapid Prototyping?
In short: it’s fast and relatively cheap. From idea, to 3D model to holding a prototype in your hands is a matter of days instead of weeks. Iterations are easier and cheaper to make and you don’t need expensive molds or tools.

Besides rapid prototyping, 3D printing is also used for rapid manufacturing. Rapid manufacturing is a new method of manufacturing where businesses use 3D printers for short run / small batch custom manufacturing.


Car manufacturers have been utilizing 3D printing for a long time. Automotive companies are printing spare parts, tools, jigs and fixtures but also end-use parts. 3D printing has enabled on-demand manufacturing which has lead to lower stock levels and has shortened design and production cycles.

Automotive enthusiasts all over the world are using 3D printed parts to restore old cars. One such example is when Australian engineers printed parts to bring a Delage Type-C back to life. In doing so, they had to print parts that were out of production for decades.


The aviation industry uses 3D printing in many different ways. The following example marks a significant 3D printing manufacturing milestone: GE Aviation has 3D printed 30,000 Cobalt-chrome fuel nozzles for its LEAP aircraft engines. They achieved that milestone in October of 2018, and considering that they produce 600 per week on forty 3D printers, it’s likely much higher than that now.

Around twenty individual parts that previously had to be welded together were consolidated into one 3D printed component that weighs 25% less and is five times stronger. The LEAP engine is the best selling engine in the aerospace industry due to its high level of efficiency and GE saves $3 million per aircraft by 3D printing the fuel nozzles, so this single 3D printed part generates hundreds of millions of dollars of financial benefit.

GE’s fuel nozzles also made their way into the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but it’s not the only 3D printed part in the 787. The 33-centimeter-long structural fittings that hold the aft kitchen galley to the airframe are 3D printed by a company called Norsk Titanium. Norsk chose to specialize in titanium because it has a very high strength-to-weight ratio and is rather expensive, meaning the reduction in waste enabled by 3D printing has a more significant financial impact than compared to cheaper metals where the costs of material waste are easier to absorb. Rather than sintering metal powder with a laser like most metal 3D printers, the Norsk Merke 4 uses a plasma arc to melt a metal wire in a process called Rapid Plasma Deposition (a form of Directed Energy Deposition) that can deposit up to 10kg of titanium per hour. A 2kg titanium part would generally require a 30kg block of titanium to machine it from, generating 28kg of waste, but 3D printing the same part requires only 6kg of titanium wire.


Is it possible to print a building? – yes it is. 3D printed houses are already commercially available. Some companies print parts prefab and others do it on-site.

Most of the concrete printing stories we look at on this website are focused on large scale concrete printing systems with fairly large nozzles for a large flow rate. It’s great for laying down concrete layers in a fairly quick and repeatable manner. But for truly intricate concrete work that makes full use of the capabilities of 3D printing requires something a little more nimble, and with a finer touch.

Consumer Products

When we first started blogging about 3D printing back in 2011, 3D printing wasn’t ready to be used as a production method for large volumes. Nowadays there are numerous examples of end-use 3D printed consumer products.


Adidas’ 4D range has a fully 3D printed midsole and is being printed in large volumes. We did an article back then, explaining how Adidas were initially releasing just 5,000 pairs of the shoes to the public, and had aimed to sell 100,000 pairs of the AM-infused designs by 2018.

With their latest iterations of the shoe, it seems that they have surpassed that goal, or are on their way to surpassing it. The shoes are available all around the world from local Adidas stores and also from various 3rd party online outlets.


The market of 3D printed eyewear is forecasted to reach $3.4 billion by 2028. A rapidly increasing section is that of end-use frames. 3D printing is a particularly suitable production method for eyewear frames because the measurements of an individual are easy to process in the end product.

But did you know it’s also possible to 3D print lenses? Traditional glass lenses don’t start out thin and light; they’re cut from a much larger block of material called a blank, about 80% of which goes to waste. When we consider how many people wear glasses and how often they need to get a new pair, 80% of those numbers is a lot of waste. On top of that, labs have to keep huge inventories of blanks to meet the custom vision needs of their clients. Finally, however, 3D printing technology has advanced enough to provide high-quality, custom ophthalmic lenses, doing away with the waste and inventory costs of the past. The Luxexcel VisionEngine 3D printer uses a UV-curable acrylate monomer to print two pairs of lenses per hour that require no polishing or post-processing of any kind. The focal areas can also be completely customized so that a certain area of the lens can provide better clarity at a distance while a different area of the lens provides better vision up close.


There are two ways of producing jewelry with a 3D printer. You can either use a direct or indirect production process. Direct refers to the creation of an object straight from the 3D design while indirect manufacturing means that the object (pattern) that is 3D printed eventually is used to create a mold for investment casting.


It’s not uncommon these days to see headlines about 3D printed implants. Often, those cases are experimental, which can make it seem like 3D printing is still a fringe technology in the medical and healthcare sectors, but that’s not the case anymore. Over the last decade, more than 100,000 hip replacements have been 3D printed by GE Additive.

The Delta-TT Cup designed by Dr. Guido Grappiolo and LimaCorporate is made of Trabecular Titanium, which is characterized by a regular, three-dimensional, hexagonal cell structure that imitates trabecular bone morphology. The trabecular structure increases the biocompatibility of the titanium by encouraging bone growth into the implant. Some of the first Delta-TT implants are still running strong over a decade later.

Another 3D printed healthcare component that does a good job of being undetectable is the hearing aid. Nearly every hearing aid in the last 17 years has been 3D printed thanks to a collaboration between Materialise and Phonak. Phonak developed Rapid Shell Modeling (RSM) in 2001. Prior to RSM, making one hearing aid required nine laborious steps involving hand sculpting and mold making, and the results were often ill-fitting. With RSM, a technician uses silicone to take an impression of the ear canal, that impression is 3D scanned, and after some minor tweaking the model is 3D printed with a resin 3D printer. The electronics are added and then it’s shipped to the user. Using this process, hundreds of thousands of hearing aids are 3D printed each year.


In the dental industry, we see molds for clear aligners being possibly the most 3D printed objects in the world. Currently, the molds are 3D printed with both resin and powder based 3D printing processes, but also via material jetting. Crowns and dentures are already directly 3D printed, along with surgical guides.


As of the early two-thousands 3D printing technology has been studied by biotech firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering applications where organs and body parts are built using inkjet techniques. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form three dimensional structures. We refer to this field of research with the term: bio-printing.


Additive manufacturing invaded the food industry long time ago. Restaurants like Food Ink and Melisse use this as a unique selling point to attract customers from across the world.


Educators and students have long been using 3D printers in the classroom. 3D printing enables students to materialize their ideas in a fast and affordable way.

While additive manufacturing-specific degrees are fairly new, universities have long been using 3D printers in other disciplines. There are many educational courses one can take to engage with 3D printing. Universities offer courses on things that are adjacent to 3D printing like CAD and 3D design, which can be applied to 3D printing at a certain stage.

In terms of prototyping, many university programs are turning to printers. There are specializations in additive manufacturing one can attain through architecture or industrial design degrees. Printed prototypes are also very common in the arts, animation and fashion studies as well.

Types of 3D Printing Technologies and Processes

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), developed a set of standards that classify additive manufacturing processes into 7 categories. These are:

  1. Vat Photopolymerisation
    1. Stereolithography (SLA)
    2. Digital Light Processing (DLP)
    3. Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)
  2. Material Jetting
  3. Binder Jetting
  4. Material Extrusion
    1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
    2. Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
  5. Powder Bed Fusion
    1. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
    2. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
    3. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  6. Sheet Lamination
  7. Directed Energy Deposition

Vat Photopolymerisation

A 3D printer based on the Vat Photopolymerisation method has a container filled with photopolymer resin. The resin is hardened with a UV light source.

Vat photopolymerisation schematics. Image source: lboro.ac.uk

Stereolithography (SLA)

SLA was invented in 1986 by Charles Hull, who also at the time founded the company, 3D Systems. Stereolithography employs a vat of liquid curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser to build the object’s layers one at a time. For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. Exposure to the ultraviolet laser light cures and solidifies the pattern traced on the resin and fuses it to the layer below.

After the pattern has been traced, the SLA’s elevator platform descends by a distance equal to the thickness of a single layer, typically 0.05 mm to 0.15 mm (0.002″ to 0.006″). Then, a resin-filled blade sweeps across the cross section of the part, re-coating it with fresh material. On this new liquid surface, the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. Depending on the object & print orientation, SLA often requires the use of support structures.

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

DLP or Digital Light Processing refers to a method of printing that makes use of light and photosensitive polymers. While it is very similar to SLA, the key difference is the light source. DLP utilizes other light sources like arc lamps. DLP is relatively quick compared to other 3D printing technologies.

Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)

One of the fastest processes using Vat Photopolymerisation is called CLIP, short for Continuous Liquid Interface Production, developed by Carbon.

Digital Light Synthesis

The heart of the CLIP process is Digital Light Synthesis technology. In this technology, light from a custom high performance LED light engine projects a sequence of UV images exposing a cross section of the 3D printed part causing the UV curable resin to partially cure in a precisely controlled way. Oxygen passes through the oxygen permeable window creating a thin liquid interface of uncured resin between the window and the printed part known as the dead zone. The dead zone is as thin as ten of microns. Inside the dead zone, oxygen prohibits light from curing the resin situated closest to the window therefore allowing the continuous flow of liquid beneath the printed part. Just above the dead zone the UV projected light upwards causes a cascade like curing of the part.

Simply printing with Carbon’s hardware alone does not allow for end use properties with real world applications. Once the light has shaped the part, a second programmable curing process achieves the desired mechanical properties by baking the 3d printed part in a thermal bath or oven. Programmed thermal curing sets the mechanical properties by triggering a secondary chemical reaction causing the material to strengthen achieving the desired final properties.

Components printed with Carbon’s technology are on par with injection molded parts. Digital Light Synthesis produces consistent and predictable mechanical properties, creating parts that are truly isotropic.

Material Jetting

In this process, material is applied in droplets through a small diameter nozzle, similar to the way a common inkjet paper printer works, but it is applied layer-by-layer to a build platform and then hardened by UV light.

Material Jetting schematics. Image source: custompartnet.com

Binder Jetting

With binder jetting two materials are used: powder base material and a liquid binder. In the build chamber, powder is spread in equal layers and binder is applied through jet nozzles that “glue” the powder particles in the required shape. After the print is finished, the remaining powder is cleaned off which often can be re-used printing the next object. This technology was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993.

Binder Jetting schematics

Material Extrusion

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

FDM schematics (Image credit: Wikipedia, made by user Zureks)

FDM works using a plastic filament which is unwound from a spool and is supplied to an extrusion nozzle which can turn the flow on and off. The nozzle is heated to melt the material and can be moved in both horizontal and vertical directions by a numerically controlled mechanism. The object is produced by extruding melted material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle.

FDM was invented by Scott Crump in the late 80’s. After patenting this technology he started the company Stratasys in 1988. The term Fused Deposition Modeling and its abbreviation to FDM are trademarked by Stratasys Inc.

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

The exactly equivalent term, Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), was coined by the members of the RepRap project to give a phrase that would be legally unconstrained in its use.

Powder Bed Fusion

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of powder into a mass that has the desired three dimensional shape. The laser selectively fuses powder by first scanning the cross-sections (or layers) on the surface of a powder bed. After each cross-section is scanned, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness. Then a new layer of material is applied on top and the process is repeated until the object is completed.

SLS schematics (Image credit: Wikipedia from user Materialgeeza)

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)

Multi Jet Fusion technology was developed by Hewlett Packard and works with a sweeping arm which deposits a layer of powder and then another arm equipped with inkjets which selectively applies a binder agent over the material. The inkjets also deposit a detailing agent around the binder to ensure precise dimensionality and smooth surfaces. Finally, the layer is exposed to a burst of thermal energy that causes the agents to react.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

DMLS is basically the same as SLS, but uses metal powder instead. All unused powder remains as it is and becomes a support structure for the object. Unused powder can be re-used for the next print.

Due to of increased laser power, DMLS has evolved into a laser melting process. Read more about that and other metal technologies on our metal technologies overview page.

Sheet Lamination

Sheet lamination involves material in sheets which is bound together with external force. Sheets can be metal, paper or a form of polymer. Metal sheets are welded together by ultrasonic welding in layers and then CNC milled into a proper shape. Paper sheets can be used also, but they are glued by adhesive glue and cut in shape by precise blades.

Simplified schematics of ultrasonic sheet metal process (Image credit: Wikipedia from user Mmrjf3)

Directed Energy Deposition

This process is mostly used in the metal industry and in rapid manufacturing applications. The 3D printing apparatus is usually attached to a multi-axis robotic arm and consists of a nozzle that deposits metal powder or wire on a surface and an energy source (laser, electron beam or plasma arc) that melts it, forming a solid object.

Directed Energy Deposition with metal powder and laser melting (Image credit: Merlin project)


Multiple materials can be used in additive manufacturing: plastics, metals, concrete, ceramics, paper and certain edibles (e.g. chocolate). Materials are often produced in wire feedstock a.k.a. filament, powder form or liquid resin. Learn more about our featured materials on our materials page.


Looking to implement 3D printing in your production process? Get a quote for a custom part or order samples on our 3D print service page.

What is 3D printing and how it can be used! Interesting!

What is 3D printing

3D printing technology was patented in the 80s of the last century, but gained popularity relatively recently. New, promising techniques have been developed and the possibilities of 3D technologies have reached a completely new level. However, to this day, the technique is not known in all circles, and not everyone is aware of what 3D printing is. In today's article, we will try to explain in detail and in an accessible way what 3D printing is and where it is used.

In short, 3D printing is a technique for manufacturing three-dimensional products based on digital models. Regardless of the specific technology, the essence of the process is the gradual layer-by-layer reproduction of objects.
This process uses a special device - a 3D printer, which prints certain types of materials. More details about it are written here. Other names for the technology are rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing. Often the phrase "additive technologies" is used in the meaning of "3D technologies".

3D printing steps

To make it clearer what 3D printing is, let's take a look at the playback process step by step. Below are the specific stages of 3D printing. How it works:

  • 3D modeling of the required object is performed according to certain rules;
  • The file with the digital model is loaded into the slicer program, which generates the control code for the 3D printer;
  • Sets required 3D printing options;
  • The code is written to a removable memory that connects to the 3D printer;
  • 3D model reproduced.

Objects are reproduced gradually. According to the required shape, the selected material is applied layer by layer, forming the finished product. It is worth noting that the possibilities of 3D printing are almost limitless, that is, anything can be made. In some technologies, very thin overhanging elements are provided with supports, thanks to which they can be avoided from sagging.
Naturally, this is a very simplified description of the stages of 3D printing, but they give a very clear idea of ​​the essence of the technique.

Other questions and answers about 3D printers and 3D printing:

  • Basics What is 3D scanning?
  • Basics What is a 3D model?

3D Printing Technologies

Different 3D printing technologies are used to reproduce different objects. They differ both in the consumables used, and in the speed and accuracy of printing. Here are the main 3D printing technologies:

  • Fused deposition modeling (FDM) . One of the most common 3D printing technologies, used in most desktop 3D printers, and represents an ideal price / quality ratio. Printing occurs by layer-by-layer supply of a thread of molten plastic;
  • Laser stereolithography (SLA) . The formation of the object occurs due to the layer-by-layer illumination of a liquid photopolymer resin by a laser, which hardens under the influence of radiation. One of the variations of this technology is DLP 3D printing. It uses a special projector instead of a laser. Both 3D printing methods are used to create objects with a high degree of detail. In the case of DLP printing, speed is also an added advantage;
  • Selective laser sintering (SLS) . Reproduction is performed by layer-by-layer melting of a special powder under the action of laser radiation. This 3D printing method is widely used in the industry for the manufacture of durable metal elements

3D Printing Applications

As you may have guessed by now, 3D printing is extremely versatile. The second name of the technology - rapid prototyping - speaks for itself. In the manufacture of prototypes and models of models, 3D printing can be simply indispensable. It is also a very cost-effective solution for small-scale production. In the aerospace and automotive industries, 3D technologies are already being used with might and main due to the high profitability and speed of manufacturing components. Culinary professionals are working on the development of 3D food printers, and in medicine, 3D printing has become something of a technology of the future. With the help of 3D bioprinting, it is planned to produce bones, organs and living tissues, but for now, implants and full-fledged medicines are printed on 3D printers. Desktop 3D printers can be used for domestic purposes: for repairs, making various household items, and so on. And designers, fashion designers, sculptors and artists appreciate the possibilities of 3D printing and 3D modeling as an unusual way to realize their talent.

Well, that was a brief description of what 3D printing is. We hope we were able to provide the necessary information in an accessible way. If you have additional questions that we have not covered, write to us by e-mail and we, if necessary, will add your questions! Best regards, 3DDevice team.

We also want to remind you about the possibility to order 3D printing, 3D scanning, 3D modeling services or purchase of related equipment and consumables with delivery throughout Ukraine in 3DDevice. If you have any questions, please contact us at one of the phone numbers listed here. We look forward to collaborating!

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What is 3D printing? Working Principle / Types / Applications

The concept of 3D printing was introduced by David E.H. Jones in 1974. However, methods and materials for making models were not developed until the early 1980s.

The term "3D printing" encompasses numerous processes and methods that offer a wide range of possibilities for the production of parts and products from various materials. These processes have evolved significantly in recent years and can now play a decisive role in many applications.

This overview article aims to explain the different types and processes of 3D printing, how they work, and what their uses and benefits are in the current market. Let's start with the most important question.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating a physical object from a 3D digital or CAD model. It includes various computer technologies in which material is combined or solidified to create a real object.

Typically, material (such as powder particles or liquid molecules fused together) is added layer by layer on a millimeter scale. This is why 3D printing is also called the additive manufacturing process.

Image shows how a 3D printer prints 3D objects layer by layer

In the 1990s, 3D printing was known as rapid prototyping. They were only suitable for making aesthetic or functional prototypes. Since then we have come a long way.

Modern 3D printing technology is advanced enough to create complex structures and geometries that would otherwise be impossible to create by hand.

The accuracy, range of materials, and repeatability of 3D printing have increased to the point where we can create virtually anything from simple prototypes to complex end products such as green buildings, aircraft parts, medical instruments, and even artificial organs using layers of human cells.

How exactly does it work?

All 3D printing methods are based on the same principle: a 3D printer takes a digital model (as input) and turns it into a physical 3D object by adding material layer by layer.

This method differs from traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding and CNC machining, which use various cutting tools to build the desired structure from a solid block. 3D printing, however, does not require any cutting tools: the objects are produced directly on the built-in platform.

The process begins with a digital 3D model (object design). The software (specific to the printer) slices the 3D model into thin 2D layers. It then converts them into a set of machine language instructions for the printer to execute.

Depending on the type of printer and the size of the object, it may take several hours to print. A printed object often requires post-processing (such as sanding, varnishing, painting, or other types of conventional finishing touches) to achieve an optimal surface finish, which requires additional time and manual labor.

Different types of 3D printers use different technologies that process different materials in different ways. Perhaps the most basic limitation of 3D printing, in terms of materials and applications, is that there is no one size fits all solution.

Types/Processes of 3D printing

According to the ISO / ASTM 52900 standard, all 3D printing processes can be divided into seven groups. Each has its pros and cons associated with it, which typically include aspects such as cost, speed, material properties, and geometric constraints.

1. Photopolymerization VAT

SLA illustration: a laser (a) selectively illuminates the transparent bottom (c) of a tank filled with (b) liquid photopolymerizable resin. The lifting platform (e) gradually draws out the hardened resin (d). The

Vat photopolymerization based 3D printer has a container filled with photopolymer resin that is hardened with a UV light source to create an object. The three most common forms of vat polymerization are:

1A) Stereolithography (SLA): Invented in 1984, SLA uses an ultraviolet laser to crosslink chemical monomers and oligomers to form polymers that make up the body of a three-dimensional solid. While the process is fast and can build almost any structure, it can be expensive.

1b) Digital Light Processing (DLP): uses conventional light sources such as arc lamps (instead of lasers). Each layer of the object is projected onto a bath of liquid resin, which then hardens layer by layer as the lifting platform is raised or lowered.

1c) Continuous Fluid Interface Manufacturing (CLIP): it is similar to stereolithography, but continuously and up to 100 times faster. CLIP can produce rubbery and flexible objects with smooth sides that cannot be created by other methods.

2. Material extrusion

Illustration of material extrusion: the nozzle (1) applies the material (2) to the assembly platform (3).

In this process, a filament of solid thermoplastic material is pushed through a heated nozzle that melts the material and deposits it on the build platform in a predetermined path. This material eventually cools and solidifies, forming a three-dimensional object. The most commonly used methods in this process are:

2a) Hardfacing Modeling (FDM): uses a continuous filament of thermoplastic material such as nylon, thermoplastic polyurethane or polylactic acid.

2b) Robocasting: Robotic machining involves the extrusion of a pasty material from a small nozzle while the nozzle moves across a building platform. This process differs from FDM in that no drying or curing of the material is required after extrusion to retain its shape.

3. Sheet Lamination

Some printers use paper and plastic as a building material to reduce printing costs. In this method, several layers of adhesive plastic, paper, or metal laminates are successively bonded together and cut to the desired shape using a laser cutter or knife.

The layer resolution can be determined by the source material. Usually it is from one to several sheets of carbon paper. The process can be used to produce large parts, but the dimensional accuracy of the final product will be significantly lower than that of stereolithography.

4. Directional energy deposition

Directed energy deposition method is widely used in high-tech metallurgy and rapid production. The printing device contains a nozzle that is attached to a multi-axis robot arm. The nozzle applies metallic energy to the build platform, which is then melted by a laser, plasma, or electron beam to form a solid object.

This type of 3D printing supports a variety of metals, functionally classified materials, and composites, including aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. Not only can it design completely new metal parts, but it can also attach material(s) to existing parts, enabling hybrid manufacturing.

5. Inkjet of

Materials Parts printed in the inkjet process of

Material Inkjet printing works similar to inkjet paper printers. In this process, light-sensitive material is dropped through a small diameter nozzle and then cured with ultraviolet light to build the part in layers.

The materials used in this technique are thermoset photopolymers (acrylics). Multi-component printing and a wide range of materials (including rubber-like and transparent materials) are also available.

Because inkjet printing of 3D printed materials can produce highly dimensionally accurate parts with a smooth surface, it is an attractive option for making both visual prototypes and commercial tools.

6. Inkjet binding

Full color sandstone printed with Binder Jetting

Two materials are used for binder jetting: a powder base and a liquid binder. The powder is spread in even layers in the building chamber, and the binder is applied through jet nozzles that "glue" the powder particles to create the desired object.

Wax or thermosetting polymer is often mixed with a bonding powder to increase its strength. After the 3D printing is completed, the remaining powder is collected and used to print another structure.

Since this technology is very similar to inkjet printing, it is also called injection 3D printing. It is mainly used for printing elastomer parts, overhangs and color prototypes.

7. Powder bed fusion

Powder bed fusion is a subgroup of additive manufacturing in which a heat source (such as a thermal head or laser) is used to combine material into a powder form to create physical objects. The five most common forms of this technology are:

7a) Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): A laser is used as a power source to sinter a powdered material such as polyamide or nylon. Here, the term sintering refers to the process of compacting and forming a solid mass of material by applying pressure or heat without melting it to the point of liquefaction.

7b) Selective Laser Melting (SLM): Unlike SLS, this method is designed to completely melt and fuse metal powders together. It can create fully dense materials (layer by layer) that have mechanical characteristics similar to those of traditional fabricated metals. This is one of the rapidly developing processes that is implemented both in industry and in scientific research.

7c) Electron Beam Melting (EBM): In this process, a raw material (wire or metal powder) is placed in a vacuum and fused together using an electron beam. Although EBM can only be used with conductive materials, it has superior assembly speed due to its higher energy density.

7d) Selective Thermal Sintering (SHS): uses a thermal print head to apply heat to layers of thermoplastic powder. Once the layer is finished, the powder layer is moved down and a new layer of material is added, which is then sintered to form the next cross section of the model. This method is best suited for making low-cost prototypes and parts for functional testing.

7e) Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS): It is similar to SLS but uses the power of metal instead. The remaining energy becomes the supporting structure of the object and can be reused for the next 3D print. DMLS parts are mainly made from powdered materials such as titanium, stainless steel, aluminum and several niche alloys. It is an ideal process for custom medical parts, oil and gas components, and robust functional prototypes.


In the last decade, 3D printing has developed significantly. Because it can be used to produce complex structures quickly at a lower cost, it has become an indispensable tool in industries ranging from commercial manufacturing and medicine to architecture and custom design.

Many additive technologies can be used in food production. Modern 3D printers come preloaded with recipes on a built-in computer and also allow users to create their food products remotely on computers and smartphones. 3D printed food can be modified in texture, color, shape, taste and nutrition.

The technology has also proven to be effective in pharmaceutical formulations. The first drug manufactured by 3D Printing was released in 2015. That same year, the FDA approved the first 3D printed tablet.

Zero-G 3D printer sent to the ISS in 2014

In 2014, SpaceX delivered the first 3D printer to the International Space Station. It is currently used by astronauts to print useful tools such as a socket wrench.

Technology companies are now integrating additive manufacturing with cloud computing to enable decentralized and geographically independent distributed manufacturing. Some companies offer online 3D printing services (via a website) to both private and commercial customers.

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