As the name indicates, a 3D printer is a manufacturing tool used to create three-dimensional artifacts. Designed on a computer, these items can come in wide range of shapes, sizes, and types, and even be crafted from a fairly large range of materials.
Although it may seem like a complicated process to understand, you can think about 3D printing the same way to you think about regular ink printing. For example, paper printers lay down ink in one layer to create an image, and 3D printers lay down or cure material layer by layer to create a three-dimensional object.
In order to better understand the process from start to finish, we prepared a more detailed explanation of the elements involved. Here are the eight types of 3D printing basics for beginners:
1. What is a 3D printer?
As a machine itself, 3D printers fall under a couple different categories. Due to the fact that they are all controlled by a computer, they are all Computer Numerical Controlled, machines. Further, the process 3D printers use to create classifies them as additive manufacturing machines. This means that instead of cutting or drilling parts out of a block of raw material to form a certain shape, 3D printers add material layer by layer to form the final product.
2. What can a 3D printer do?
It seems that just about every day new applications for 3D printers emerge. One of the first and steadily useful of such is that designers are able to use them to quickly and efficiently test out new product ideas. Additionally, manufacturing companies use them to make complicated parts for assemblies, while these days creative souls are using them for DIY fabrication of just about anything they can imagine.
3. Why do people use 3D printing?
One of the big draws of 3D printers is that they can be very inexpensive, making the process of creation a lot more democratic. They largely eliminate the waiting period and let designers go straight from idea to reality. Allowing for rapid iterations on designs, you can basically push a button and watch your creation come to life.
4. What are the benefits of 3D printing?
In addition to be being quick and easy to use, 3D printers also have very minimal associated setup costs or procedures. In terms of a prototyping tools, you can’t really get any more efficient. Although not really intended for large scale production, using a 3D printer means that an individual part can be cheaply designed and made. The design can then be modified, printed, and tested multiple in quick succession to reach the ideal state and then be sent off for full scale production.
5. Can 3D printers print intricate geometries?
Thanks to the fact that 3D printing largely eliminates the element of human error, they can make many parts with intricate geometries easily and consistently. This includes everything from natural shapes like prosthetic limbs to more complicated shapes like scale building replicas. The level of automation also means that people can make things with a level of precision they simply didn’t have before.
6. Are there different types of 3D printing?
As 3D printing can become more popular, it has also become more diverse. Some processes are better suited for larger scale manufacturing, others allow for multiple materials or colors during prints. Although there are a few other types of printers out there, for the most part they stem from the following four: fused deposition modeling, stereolithography, selective laser sintering, and laminated object manufacturing.
7. Which type is the most popular?
Currently, fused deposition modeling is probably one of the most common types of 3D printing. Fairly straightforward to understand, in this type of 3D printing, the material, usually ABS or PLA plastic, is melted down by the printer head and extruded onto the printer bed, similar to how ink is deposited onto a page on a paper printer. Then applied layer by layer, they fuse to one another as the previous one as it cools.
An inexpensive and easy way to build, these are the most common desktop printers. Although precision will vary according to the quality of the motor, due to the fact that the material is built up layer by layer, printed parts tend to be weak along their horizontal cross sections.
8. What about the others?
Stereolithography is the oldest 3D printing method, and it uses a laser to solidify liquid resin with ultraviolet light. Essentially an improvement on stereolithography, selective laser sintering uses powdered materials instead of liquid resin. In the laminated object manufacturing process, on the other hand, a laser or knife is used to cut slices of the 3D model out of sheets of material. Then each sheet of material is pulled over the previous sheet and cut out by the cutting tool, after which a layer of glue is laid down so that the next sheet will adhere to it.