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How Does a 3D Printer Work — The 101

How Does a 3D Printer Work — The 101
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how does a 3d printer work
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

You might have heard about 3D Printers like some folks have. However, many cannot answer the question: “How does a 3D printer work”.

That is still a mystery to many: You are not the only one in that boat.

Yet, we feel it shouldn’t be a mystery. Therefore, this article will demystify the mystery. We explain in simple terms how these innovative devices work.

You’re about to learn a lot…

If you want to know how much these 3D printers cost, click here to find out.

How 3D Printers Work

3D printers share a similarity with inkjet printers. This is because they are operated using a computer.

3D printing is classified under the technology known as additive manufacturing. This type of manufacturing creates objects through a process of adding layer upon layer.

To create a 3D object, the printer keeps printing on a particular area over time. It begins from the bottom to the top and creates a layer at a time.

This technology (method) used in 3D printing is called the fused deposition modeling. Among the types of 3D printing out there, this is most commonly used.

There are other methods or types of 3D printing. We touch briefly on these methods towards the end of the article.

Unlike a normal inkjet that finishes printing in a few seconds, a 3D Printer works for hours or days as it creates the 3D object. The duration depends on the 3D object being printed.

This 3D object is gotten from different layers of 2D images that rest upon each other. In other words, 3D printers print out 2D images but place them upon each other to form the final 3D object.

The reason this is possible is because of the “ink” these 3D devices make use of.

What “Ink” Do 3D Printers Use?

In actual sense, 3D printers do not make use of ink like inkjet printing devices do. The term “ink” is just used to show a bit of similarity between both kinds of printers.

For 3D printers, the ink is called filaments and is gotten from molten plastic. Specifically, they make use of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene plastic aka ABS Plastic.

This is the plastic used by many electronic gadgets such as computer cases, mobile phones, etc. It is perfect because it is a thermoplastic. This means it melts when heated and turns solid when cooled.

Its temperature range makes it perfect for it to be molten in the printer without affecting the printer. And it won’t melt if left under the sun either.

It has a whitish-yellow color that allows the addition of color pigments. Hence, the final object can appear in any color you desire.  

In a 3D Printer, the filament is released through a little nozzle. The nozzle is controlled by the computer to move at specific intervals.

The HATCHBOX PLA 3D Printer Filament is an example of a filament that is used in 3D printing.

Remember we said that 3D printers function by printing layers of 2D images. Now because the filament is molten, it requires time for it to cool off and dry.

Therefore, it prints one layer before it prints another layer. This is because the former must be dry first. The printer repeats this until the 3D object is complete.

Click Here to Get the HATCHBOX PLA 3D Printer Filament Now!

If you want our recommendation for a 3D printer that will serve you well at home, we’ll suggest the LulzBot Mini 2 3D Printer.

Click Here to Get the LulzBot Mini 2 Desktop 3D Printer Now!

Steps to Follow to Print in 3D

Get the 3D Model

You cannot print in 3D without having a model of what you want to print.

There are two ways to get a model.

Let’s say you want to print a 3D bottle. Common models like that can be downloaded from a 3D repository. This is the first way to get a model: By downloading it from a repository.

Check out this article for the best sites to get free 3D models.

The second way is to create it yourself. This is used when the model you want is unique.

You can make use of a 3D scanner, a haptic device, a code, an application, or a 3D modeling software.

We recommend using Tinkercad for anyone just getting into 3D printing. It has beginner lessons; it’s free and can be used straight from your browser without installing it.

Image by mebner1 from Pixabay

Slicing the Model

This process is where the model is divided into multiple horizontal layers. They could be as many as thousands of layers in the end when the process is done.

You need slicing software to perform this process. Examples are Astroprint and CraftWare.

The slicing software is responsible for creating the lattice-like structure that gives the object the stability it requires.

It also creates columns that determine where the molten plastic will be laid down.

If you have a 3D printer that has a built-in slicer, you don’t need to bother with the slicing software. Such printers can receive raw .obj, .stl and even CAD files.

Note: .obj, .stl and CAD are all 3D file formats. You can learn more about 3D file formats here.

Printing the Model

After slicing, you have to send the file to your 3D printer from your computer.

The printer then begins to print layer by layer as we discussed above. It continues this process until the build is complete.

During the process of printing, it is advisable to check the device regularly to prevent errors.

Check out the video below.


Once the object is complete, you need to perform a little post-processing action yourself.

This includes removing the 3D item from the platform where it was built. In most cases, you need to unstick it.

Some objects need brushing and some might even need a bit of cleaning with water.

Post-processing depends on the kind of model built and the process (printing technology) you applied.

And speaking of printing technology, let’s look into that as we promised.

Image by ZMorph3D from Pixabay

Types of 3D Printing Technologies

There are 7 main 3D printing technologies or methods or types or processes: You can call it any of the above.

Let’s quickly list them.

Click on any of the processes below to find out more about them.

I. Vat Photopolymerization.

Under Vat Photopolymerization, we have:

i. Stereolithography (SLA)

ii. Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)

iii. Digital Light Processing (DLP)

II. Material Jetting

III. Material Extrusion

Under this we have:

i. Fused Deposit Modeling (FDM)

ii. Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

IV. Binder Jetting

V. Powder Bed Fusion

Under this we have:

i. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

ii. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)

iii. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

VI. Directed Energy Deposition

VII. Sheet Lamination


Since you’ve finished reading this article, we have a strong belief in you. We believe that you now have a basic understanding of how 3d printers function.

If you still have any questions that you feel will make you better understand the title post, feel free to ask. Let us know in the comments section and we will answer that question.

Click Here to Get the LulzBot Mini 2 Desktop 3D Printer Now!

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