How A 3D Printer Works

What is 3D Printing?

Making a three dimensional solid object from a digital file by using additive manufacturing is called 3D Printing. In these additive processes, objects are created by laying down layers of material in a successive manner until the objects are created.

Normally, each of the layers is seen as a thin slice of the cross-section of the eventual object. In recent years, 3D printing has moved from being theoretical to practical or reality. Further, these printers are available in different models.

3D printing has the following qualities:

· Objects are created by depositing layers of material and no cutting out some pieces from a block of material.

· The computer with details about your desired model has to be converted into slices which the printer will be able to create one layer after another.

· It can take hours or a few days to finish a three-dimensional object. However, this will depend with the size and complexity of the object.

· Expenses are based on the amount of material used besides other factors. If for instance you are using a certain piece of wood to create your object, you’ll pay for this original piece of material.

How 3D Printing is used:

This technology is used when making objects for students, business people and anyone who needs small objects to demonstrate their skills and ideas. Fundamental examples include replacing the plastic back of your TV set, creating medical implants, creating frames for glasses among other fashion activities.

How 3D Printing Works


You first need to make a virtual design such as a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file of the object you want to create. The CAD file is created using a 3D scanner or modeling application which copies the existing object. A 3D scanner readily produces a 3D digital copy of the object.

3D Scanners:

They seem like science fiction but they are indeed real. You can think of 3D scanners as intense cameras that create 3D renderings rather than videos and photographs.

Further, they collect information from objects placed in a visual field. Unlike the usual cameras, these scanners gather the object’s information about their position instead of appearance and color. They achieve this by calculating the distance between them and the surface of the object.

There are two types of 3D scanners, that is, contact scanners and non-contact scanners.

· Contact Scanners- as the name suggests, these type of scanners need direct contact with the object being scanned.

· Non-contact Scanners- they use laser light or radiation like ultra-sound or X-ray to collect information about the object.

The major drawback with 3D scanners is that they can only gather information from the visible parts of the object which is in line with the line-of-sight of the camera.

For you to get a full 3D rendering, you’ll have to make several scans from different points and aggregate them into a single file. However, recently advanced scanners are tailored towards taking many scans in the shortest time possible.

Many commercial 3D scanners use laser light. The laser is directly shone onto the desired object. Some have several linear projections while others have one laser point. Now, the scanner has a sensor that collects data from the object and uses a 3D scanning software to decode this information.

3D Modelling Softwares

There are a variety of 3D printing softwares to cater for different 3D printing needs ranging from 3D modeling to slicing and from beginner to professional.

· 3D Modeling Tools- these modeling softwares are categorized into CAD tools, modeling and sculpting tools. Each tool has a different input. For instance, CAD tools are mostly used when dealing with geometrical shapes to create models.

Freeform modeling tools are used to develop freeform shapes while sculpting tools are essential when creating items that you can pull, push, pinch or grab to model.

· 3D Printer Hosts and Slicers- this involves such actions as rotating, scaling or placing the object on a print bed. Slicing provides a G-code which is necessary in your printer.

Cross section tools available in this section are important in your 3D printer which doesn’t have a native software. Cloud based solutions require internet connection just like slicing, mesh repair and print queue management.

Best software picks for free include Autodesk 123D Design for CAD, the SketchUp Make designed for developing polygons and the Scuptris for sculpting.

3D Printing Process

3D Printing Model

Printing a three-dimensional model is not easy like printing on a 2D printer. Here’s how to print your 3D model:

– Create model with any of the suitable softwares above.

– Prepare the model for printing. For example, ensure it has no gaps.

– Create a file that will convert your model into a code that the printer understands using a similar software.

– Print the model and adjust the printer as required.

Materials used in 3D Printing:

Many non-resin 3D printers use ABA or PLA plastic which later becomes solid when heated. Other thermoplastics may also be used if necessary. Some of these printers use metal wire. Recently developed 3D printers can print ceramics with foodstuff.

The printer’s spool that has plastic or other material is usually fed with desired materials.

Resin printers use formulated plastics which are poured into a tank. The resin hardens when light hits on any of its parts because this material is light sensitive.

There are different 3D printing technologies and processes. Some methods use softening while others employ melting to produce the layers. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) are the most common printing technologies. However, Stereo-lithography (SLA) is widely accepted because it uses photo-reactive resin with UV laser.

The laser beam traces a cross section on the surface of resin. UV light helps in solidifying the pattern that has developed on the liquid resin that joins each layer and this is how the object is formed by this project.

Stereo-lithography needs supporting structures to attach the elevator platform and to hold the object which floats in the resin-filled basin. These are normally removed manually after the process of creating the object is complete.

3D printing is a technology that has been around for the last twenty five years. It is possible that the process will take part in humongous manufacturing activities like creating cars and other technologies in the near future.