How 3D Printing Works

While the idea of printing something out in 3D right from your own printer at home may seem impossible, recent technology has made this extraordinary feat a reality. This new technology has given 3d modelers and artists the ability to design their very own products and then bring them to life with the help of a 3D printer. Although the process may seem tricky and complex, this is simply not true and anyone can make their own 3D designs as long as they understand how to work their 3D printer. All it takes is an initial idea and a little concentration, and you can be creating your very own jewelry, utensils, home décor, and plenty more in no time at all.

How it works

In order to grasp a basic understanding of the way 3D printing works, it’s important to first understand that unlike most ways we build or make things today, termed subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing. This means that rather than sawing, drilling, and using other tools to break apart and re-arrange materials in new ways, additive manufacturing creates an object by continuously adding material together, layer by layer, until the object is finished.

The process

To begin your 3D printing project, you must first design and create a 3d model of your item in a computer aided design (CAD) or 3d art software program such as Solidworks, Blender 3D and ZBrush. 3D printers can only print files that are saved in specific formats such as .STL, .OBJ, and .WRL.  The options for exporting may vary depending on what 3d software you are using. If you don’t want to design your own 3d model but would rather use one that already exists, you can search for 3d printable models online.

After designing your own 3d model from scratch, or downloading / purchasing one online, you must decide what type of material you’d like your creation to be made of. Nylon, PLA, ABS plastic are just a few of your options. The proper way to load said material differs from printer to printer but you can find the instructions in your specific printer’s product manual. Be sure you have a full understanding of all instructions before beginning your project or you risk the possibility of all your hard work going to waste.

When your design is complete and the materials are loaded, you’re ready to print. The 3d printer software will divide your template into sections and send this information to the printer so that it will know how to print your design. The amount of time it takes your 3d model to print will depend on how tall your object is because the 3D printer starts from the bottom and works its way up. After the first layer is complete, it will dry and the printer will automatically begin the next layer and so on until your entire object is finished.

Although all 3D printers work off this basic printing concept for the most part, there are several different 3D printers you can purchase and they all have slightly different methods or printing, with varying results.

The most common types of 3D printing include:
• Fused deposition modeling
• Inkjet printing
• Selective laser sintering
• Digital light processing

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