What is 3D Printing? How Does 3D Printing Work ?

What is 3D Printing?

What is 3D printing?, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects from digital files.

Additive processes are used to create a 3D printed object. An additive process creates an object by layering successive layers of material up until it is finished. Each layer can be seen as a cross-section of the object.

3D printing is the antithesis of subtractive manufacturing, which involves cutting out or hollowing out a piece from metal or plastic using a machine like a milling machine.

3D printing allows you to create complex shapes with less material than traditional manufacturing techniques.

What is 3D printing?

All it takes is a 3D model. Either you can create it from scratch or download one from a 3D library.

3D Software

Software tools are available in many formats. There are many software tools available, from industrial-grade to open source. Our 3D software page has an overview.

Tinkercad is a great tool for beginners. Tinkercad can be used in any browser. You don’t need to download it. Tinkercad has beginner lessons, and a built-in function to export your model as a printable document e.g..STL or.OBJ.

Once you have created a printable file, it is time to prepare it for your 3-D printer. This is known as slicing.

Slice: From printable file to 3D printer

Slice basically refers to slicing a 3D model into thousands or hundreds of layers using slicing software.

Once your file has been sliced it is ready to be sent to your 3D printer. You can feed the file to your printer via USB, SD, or Wi-Fi. Now your sliced file can be used to 3D print layer by layer.

3D Printing Industry

The adoption of 3D printing is at an all-time high. Those who have not yet integrated additive manufacturing into their supply chains are in a shrinking minority. 3D printing is rapidly becoming a production technology. Initially, it was used for prototyping and one-off manufacturing.

The majority of 3D printing demand is currently industrial. Acumen Research and Consulting projects that the global 3D printing market will reach $41 billion in 2026.

3D printing technology will transform nearly every industry as it develops and change how we live, work and play in the future.

3D Printing Examples, What is 3D Printing

3D printing can be used in many industries. It is important to view it as a group of diverse industries that have a multitude of applications.

Here are some examples:

  • – consumer products (eyewear, footwear, design, furniture)
  • – Industrial products (manufacturing and prototypes, functional parts, etc.
  • – dental products
  • – prosthetics
  • – architectural scale models & maquettes
  • – reconstructing fossils
  • Replicating ancient artifacts
  • Reconstruction of evidence in forensic pathology
  • – movie props

Rapid Prototyping & Rapid Manufacturing

Since the late seventies, 3D printers have been used by companies to design prototypes. Rapid prototyping is the use of 3D printers to create prototypes.

3D printers are great for rapid prototyping

It’s quick and inexpensive. It takes just days to go from an idea to a 3D model and to have a prototype in your hand. You don’t need costly molds or expensive tools to make iterations.

Rapid prototyping is not the only use of 3D printing. Rapid manufacturing is a new way of manufacturing. Businesses use 3D printers to produce short runs or small batches of custom-made products.


3D printing has been used by car manufacturers for years. 3D printing is used by automotive companies to print spare parts, tools, fixtures, and end-use parts. On-demand manufacturing has allowed for lower stock levels, shorter design cycles, and reduced production times.

Auto enthusiasts around the globe are using 3D printing to repair old cars. An example of this is the Australian engineer who printed parts to restore a Delage Type-C. They had to use parts that were no longer in production.


3D printing is used in many ways by the aviation industry. This is a major milestone in 3D printing manufacturing: GE Aviation 3D printed 30,000 Cobalt chrome fuel nozzles to its LEAP aircraft engines. This milestone was achieved in October 2018, and given that they currently produce 600 per week using forty 3D printers it is likely to be much greater.

Twenty-two parts were previously welded together and consolidated into one component 3D printed. It is 25% lighter and five times stronger than the original. Due to its efficiency, the LEAP engine is one of the most popular in aerospace. GE also saves $3 million on each aircraft by 3D printing fuel nozzles. This single 3D printed component generates hundreds of millions of dollar of financial benefits.

The GE fuel nozzles were also included in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. But it is not the only part 3D printed in the 787. Norsk Titanium 3D printed the 33-cm-long structural fittings holding the aft galley to the aircraft. Norsk Titanium specializes in titanium due to its high strength-to weight ratio. It is also more expensive than cheaper metals, which means that 3D printing can have a greater financial impact. The Norsk Merke 4 uses a plasma beam to melt metal wires in a process called Rapid Plasma Deposition (a form Directed Energy Deposition). It can deposit as much as 10kg of titanium every hour. To make a 2kg titanium part, you would need a 30kg block to machine it. This would generate 28kg of waste. However, 3D printing the same part requires just 6kg of titanium wire.


Can you print a building? Yes, it is possible. 3D-printed houses are commercially available. Parts can be printed prefabricated by some companies, while others are made on-site.

Concrete printing stories that we have seen on this site are mainly focused on large-scale concrete printing systems using large nozzles to achieve high flow rates. This system is great for quickly and easily laying concrete layers. For intricate concrete work that makes use of 3D printing‘s capabilities, however, you will need something more agile and finer.

Consumer Products

3D printing was not yet a viable option for mass production when we started blogging about 3D printers in 2011. There are many examples of 3D-printed consumer products that can be used for end-use.


Adidas’ 4D range features a 3D printed midsole. It is being printed in large quantities. Back then, we wrote an article explaining how Adidas initially released only 5,000 pairs of shoes to the public and had set a goal to sell 100,000 pairs by 2018.

They seem to have achieved or are well on their way towards achieving this goal with their latest versions of the shoe. These shoes can be purchased at local Adidas shops and online through various third-party outlets.


3D printed eyewear will reach $3.4 billion in 2028, according to forecasts. End-use frames are a rapidly growing segment. Because of the ease with which the individual’s measurements are taken in 3D printing, eyewear frames can be made.

It’s possible to 3D-print lenses. The traditional glass lenses are not thin and light. They are made from a larger block of material, called a blank. About 80% of this material goes to waste. If you consider the number of people who wear glasses and the frequency they need to replace them, 80% is a lot. Labs must also keep large inventories of blanks in order to meet clients’ custom vision requirements. However, 3D printing technology has allowed for the production of high-quality custom ophthalmic lense. This eliminates the need to keep inventory and reduce waste. Luxexcel VisionEngine 3D printer prints two pairs of lenses per hour using a UV-curable acrylicate monomer. There is no need for polishing or post-processing. You can customize the focal areas to provide clearer vision at distance and a different area for closer inspection.


You can make jewelry using a 3D printer in two ways. There are two ways to produce jewelry with a 3D printer. Direct manufacturing refers to creating an object directly from the 3D design. Indirect manufacturing is when the object (pattern), is 3D printed and used to make a mold for investment casting.


These days, headlines are often about 3D printed implants. These cases are often experimental and can lead to the perception that 3D printing remains a fringe technology in healthcare and medical services. However, this is not true anymore. GE Additive has 3D printed more than 100,000 hip replacements in the past decade.

Dr. Guido Grappiolo designed the Delta-TT Cup. It is made from Trabecular Titanium. This material is hexagonal in shape and mimics trabecular bone structure. By encouraging bone growth, the trabecular structure improves the biocompatibility and biocompatibility for titanium. Some of the original Delta-TT implants still function strong a decade later.

The hearing aid is another 3D-printed healthcare component that can be easily disguised. Thanks to collaboration between Materialize & Phonak, nearly every hearing aid manufactured in the past 17 years was 3D printed. In 2001, Phonak created Rapid Shell Modeling (RSM). RSM was introduced in 2001 by Phonak. Previously, one hearing aid needed nine steps, which involved mold making and hand sculpting. The results were often not accurate. RSM uses silicone to make an impression of the ear canal. After some tweaking, the model can be 3D printed using a resin 3D printer. After the electronics are attached, it is shipped to the user. This process allows for the 3D printing of hundreds of thousands of hearing aids each year.


Molds for clear aligners are the most commonly 3D printed items in dentistry. The molds can be 3D printed using either powder-based or resin-based 3D printing processes. Material jetting is also an option. As well as surgical guides, crowns and dentures can be 3D printed directly.


Biotech companies and academia have been studying 3D printing technology since the early 2000s. This technology is used in tissue engineering applications, where organs are created using inkjet techniques. Layers of living cells are placed onto a gel medium, and then slowly built up to form three-dimensional structures. This field of research is called bio-printing.


The food industry was dominated by additive manufacturing long before this. This is a selling point that restaurants such as Melisse and Food Ink use to attract customers from all over the globe.


3D printers have been used in classrooms by students and educators for years. Students can quickly and inexpensively create their ideas with 3D printing.

While additive manufacturing-specific degrees are fairly new, universities have long been using 3D printers in other disciplines. To learn more about 3D printing, there are many courses you can take. There are courses offered by universities that cover subjects related to 3D printing, such as CAD and 3D Design. These can be used at a specific stage of 3D printing.

Many universities are now turning to printers for prototyping. You can get a specialization in additive manufacturing through degrees in industrial design or architecture. Printing prototypes is also a common skill in fashion, animation, and arts.

Different types of 3D Printing Technologies & Processes

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed standards to classify additive manufacturing processes in seven categories. These include:

  1. Vat Photopolymerization
    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
    2. Fused Filament Fabrication
  5. Powder Bed Fusion
    1. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF).
    2. Selective Laser Sintering
    3. Direct Metal Laser Sintering
  6. Sheet Lamination
  7. Directed Energy Deposition

Vat Photopolymerization

A Vat Photopolymerisation 3D printer uses a container filled full of photopolymer resin. The UV light source hardens the resin.

Stereolithography (SLA).

Charles Hull, the inventor of SLA, also founded 3D Systems in 1986. Stereolithography uses a vat liquid curable photopolymer and an ultraviolet laser to create the layers of each object. The laser beam traced a cross-section on the surface liquid resin for each layer. The ultraviolet laser light cures the resin, solidifies the part pattern and fuse it to the layer below.

Once the pattern is traced, the SLA’s elevator platform drops by an amount equal to the thickness of one layer. This is typically between 0.05 and 0.15mm (0.002’s to 0.006 ). Next, a resin-filled blade is used to sweep across the part’s cross section, re-coating it with new material. The next layer pattern is traced on the new liquid surface. It joins the previous layer. SLA may require support structures depending on the object and print orientation.

Digital Light Processing (DLP).

Digital Light Processing, also known as DLP (Digital Light Processing), is a type of printing that uses light and photosensitive polymers. It is similar to SLA but has a key difference in the light source. DLP uses other light sources such as arc lamps. DLP prints in a much shorter time than other 3D printing technologies.

Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)

Carbon has developed CLIP, which stands for Continuous Liquid Interface Production. It is one of the fastest Vat Photopolymerization processes.

Digital Light Synthesis

Digital Light Synthesis technology is the heart of CLIP’s process. This technology uses a sequence UV images to expose a cross section from the 3D printed parts. The UV curable resin is then partially cured by the light coming from an LED high-performance light engine. The oxygen permeable window allows oxygen to pass through, creating a thin liquid interface between the window’s printed part and the uncured resin known as the dead area. The dead zone can be as thin as 10 micrometres. The dead zone is where oxygen blocks light from curing resin located closest to the window. This allows for continuous flow of liquid under the printed part. The part is curled by UV light that shines upwards just above the dead area.

End use properties are not possible by printing only with Carbon’s hardware. After the part has been shaped by the light, the second programmable curing process is used to achieve the desired mechanical properties. The 3d printed part can then be baked in a thermal oven or bath. Programmable thermal curing is a process that causes the material to strengthen and achieves the desired final properties.

Carbon’s technology allows components to be printed at the same level as injection-molded parts. Digital Light Synthesis creates parts that are truly isotropic by creating predictable and consistent mechanical properties.

Material Jetting

This process involves the application of material in droplets through a small diameter, similar to how an inkjet printer works. However, it is applied layer by layer to a build platform, and then hardened with UV light.

Binder Jetting

Binder jetting uses two materials: a powder base material and liquid binder. The powder is evenly spread into the chamber. Binder is then applied using jet nozzles to “glue” the powder particles into the desired shape. The remaining powder can often be reused to print the next object. This technology was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993.

FDM uses a plastic filament that is not wound from a spool. The flow is controlled by an extrusion tube which can turn on and off the flow. The material is heated by the nozzle and can be moved horizontally and vertically using a numerically controlled mechanism. Extruding the melted material into layers is how the object is made. The material hardens within seconds of being extruded from the nozzle.

Scott Crump invented FDM in the late 1980’s. He patent this technology and founded Stratasys Inc. in 1988. Stratasys Inc. trademarked the term Fused Deposition Modelling and its abbreviation FDM.

Fused Filament Fabrication

To give an equivalent term, Fused Filament Fabrication was created by members of the RepRap team to allow for a phrase that is legally unrestricted in its use.

Powder Bed Fusion

Selective Laser Sintering

SLS uses a powerful laser to fuse powder particles into a mass with the desired shape. First, the laser selectively fuses powder by scanning cross-sections or layers on a powder bed. The powder bed is then lowered by one layer after each cross-section has been scanned. A new layer of material is then applied to the top. This process continues until the object has been completed.

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF).

Multi Jet Fusion technology was created by Hewlett Packard. It uses a sweeping arm that deposits powder, and then another arm with inkjets that selectively apply a binder agent to the material. To ensure smooth surfaces and precise dimensions, the inkjets also deposit an agent detailing around the binder. The agents are then exposed to a burst thermal energy, which causes them to react.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering

DMLS uses metal powder, which is the same thing as SLS. The object’s support structure is made of any powder that has been unused. You can reuse any powder that is not used for your next print.

DMLS has become a laser melting process due to its increased laser power. You can find out more about this and other metal technologies at our metal technologies overview page.

Sheet Lamination

Sheet lamination is the process of gluing sheets together using an external force. You can use sheets made of metal, paper, or any other type of polymer. Ultrasonic welding is used to join metal sheets. Then, the sheets are CNC machined into the desired shape. You can also use paper sheets, but they must be glued with adhesive glue and then cut by precise blades.

Directed Energy Deposition

This process is used mainly in metal industries and rapid manufacturing. A 3D printer is attached to a multi-axis robotic arms. It consists of a nozzle which deposits metal powder or wire onto a surface, and an energy source (laser beam, electron beam, or plasma arc), that melts it into a solid object.


In additive manufacturing, multiple materials can be used: plastics and metals, concrete, ceramics and paper, as well as certain edibles (e.g. chocolate). Material are often made from wire feedstock, also known as. Filament, powder form, or liquid resin are all possible options. Find out more information about our featured materials at our materials page.


Are you interested in 3D printing for your production processes? Request a quote or request samples from our 3D printing service page.

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