A Primer for 3D Printing

Interested in being on the cutting edge of technology?  3D printing is now available for home and small business owners and some are finding a way to make money.  This post covers some basic ideas and concepts associated with 3D printing.  The next post will follow-up with some home business suggestions and a mini-guide to home 3D printers.

What is it?

3D printing,  also known as additive manufacturing are various processes used to synthesize a three-dimensional object.  3D printing uses multiple and successive layers of material guided by computer control to ultimately create an object.  Objects can take myriad forms, use various geometric configurations and materials from plastic to metal, wood, and even human tissue.

Some believe the technology represents a third industrial revolution and will eventually succeed the manufacturing/assembly lines of the 19th and 20th centuries.  It is feasible today, using the Internet and cloud computing, to send a print job anywhere in the world, provided the end-user has appropriate software and hardware  to run the print job.

Early additive manufacturing began in the 1980s  with stereolithography and fabrication methods using a three-dimensional plastic model and photo-hardening polymers.  Hideo Kodoma and Chuck Hull are largely responsible for developing the concepts and standards that remain in use today.

Originally, 3D printing referred to a process employing standard and custom inkjet print heads. The technology used by current 3D printers —especially hobbyist and consumer-oriented models—is fused deposition modeling, an application of plastic extrusion.


3d printing



3D printable models can be created using computer-aided design (CAD) software, with 3D scanners or via a digital camera and photogrammetry software.  3D models created using CAD are more error-free and can be viewed and modified prior to printing.  The manual process is similar to plastic arts like sculpting.  3D scanning collects digital data on an object and creates a digital rendering based on that data.


A 3D model gets its data from an STL file, a similar process to printing a Word document from a .doc or .docx file on a traditional deskjet or inkjet printer.  The STL file has instructions needed for the 3D printer and should be error-checked or repaired prior to printing.  The STL file is subsequently sent to software called a slicer which converts the STL file to a series of thin layers and a G-Code file is produced with printer-specific instructions.

Printing or construction of the model may take anywhere from hours to days, depending on the size and complexity of the model, type of printer used, and number of simultaneous models produced.

Traditional machines like injection moulding are faster and better for high quantities of product.  Desktop 3D printers and additive manufacturing are easier to modify and ideal for concept models or prototypes.

Various printing techniques from fusion modeling to lamination to metal wire processes are available, but beyond the scope of this article.  More information may be found at:’





Image source: http://www.123dapp.com/dremel3d