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How Does a 3D Printer Work? [Simple Answer]

Holding a physical model of something you’ve created gives you a great sense of achievement. Much like when an architect’s design is brought to reality into a building or a mechanical engineer seeing the car he designed moving in front of him.

3D printing is much like traditional printing except, well, it’s three-dimensional. Rather than seeing your design on a flat 2D paper, you can hold a three-dimensional model of your design in your hands.

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What Even is 3D Printing?

What Even is 3D Printing

Let’s start with the traditional printing method we all know; a printer disposes ink into paper. However, the ink is not absorbed by the paper. The ink just rests on top of the paper in a thick layer. Another example is printing on T-shirts, you can feel the layer of ink sitting on top of the material rather than sinking into it.

So, imagine printing hundreds of layers of the same image or the same text on top of each other. You’d notice a thicker layer of ink. Repeat that process thousands of times; theoretically, you’d end up with a 3D-like model of the text or the image you’re printing.

That’s how 3D printing was based on. Printing layers upon layers of your design until eventually, you end up with a 3D model of the design.

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Why Was 3D Printing Invented?

Why Was 3D Printing Invented

However, 3D printing didn’t ‘invent’ the model-making of a design. Maquettes have been around for years, but they have their disadvantages. Most importantly, they take hours, days, or even weeks to be made. Besides, a human isn’t as accurate as a computer.

Besides, 3D printing saves you a lot of wasted material. The 3D printer uses precisely the amount of material needed for the design. On the other hand, when building a maquette, you’d need, for example, a larger piece of wood that you’d cut and shape until it fits the design you’re aiming for.

Read also: The Top 5 3D Printers under $500

What You Need to Start 3D Printing

What You Need to Start 3D Printing

To start, you’d need a design. An image is 2D, and the text is just text. So, you’d need to design a 3D model using Computer-Aided Designed (CAD). There are many CAD software that you can use in general; however, not all CAD software programs are suitable for 3D printing. From the CAD applications that work well for 3D printing are AutoCAD, Solidworks, and many others.

Also, you’d need a 3D Printer(duh).

In Addition, you’d need slicer software, which is further explained in the next paragraph.

you can also read this guide of the popular 3D printers for cosplay to buy in 2021

So, How Does 3D Printing Work?

How Does 3D Printing Work

Like mentioned before, the main idea that 3D printing was built on is printing thousands of layers until a 3D model is created. In order to split your design into thousands of layers for the printer to use, your design goes through a process called Slicing.

Slicing is pretty much self-explanatory; your design is sliced into layers. Think of what you need to design, for example, a jacket. You don’t just start by cutting the material into a jacket directly. You start by making smaller parts: the sleeves, the front, the back, and whatever parts that make up the jacket. A slicer software breaks down your 3D design into thin layers that the printer can understand. In addition, the slicer software will add any necessary foundation that your design is missing.

Techniques of Printing

Not all 3D printers work the same. They differ in speed, quality, finish, and of course, cost.

Stereolithography (SLA)

SLA technique uses liquified plastic as a resin material and then solidifies that plastic using an ultraviolet laser. After solidification of the first layer, the printer starts on the next layer. The printing keeps repeating that process until all the layers are printed and solidified.

  • High accuracy.
  • High speed.
  • High cost.
  • Limited color choice.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

FDM works by melting the suitable material and disposing it into a path determined by the printed. The nozzle from which the material is disposed can move in all three dimensions: X, Y, and Z.

  • Low cost.
  • A wider range of materials can be used.
  • Low accuracy.
  • Not the best finish.

Digital Light Processing (DLP) 

Much like SLA, DLP uses a resin material that is later solidified; however, instead of using an ultraviolet laser, DLP uses a traditional light bulb. The light emitted from the bulb can cover more surface area than an ultraviolet laser; therefore, the material can dry quicker.

  • Higher speed compared to SLA.
  • Safer
  • Shorter lifespan.
  • High cost.

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Nothing Is Perfect, Including 3D Printing

No matter how various the materials used are, they are still limited compared to factories. In addition, 3D printing is not economical when it comes to mass production; the cost per item of 3D printing is higher than in factories.

Besides, having multiple machines design your model results in a better finish than just one machine. The finish of 3D printing is not at all bad, plus it keeps developing by the day. However, the finish is not as high as the finish of a product made in a factory.

Bottom Line

3D printing is an exciting new technology that makes you bring your design to life. It has many advantages as well as disadvantages. Let’s be honest, though; it’s fun. Slowly watching your design being made layer by layer is a great feeling that designers love.

There are many techniques for 3D printing. Each has its own cost, finish, and quality. Choosing the suitable techniques depends on your product and how you’ll be using it.

3D Printing in 30 Seconds


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