How does 3D printing work?

Let's take a closer look on how 3D printing really works.

What is 3D printing?

Think of 3D printing the same way as you think about normal printing. The difference is that instead of sending a document to put ink on paper, 3D printing uses materials to construct slices of a digital image. Using design programs, operators are able to construct full scale models and prototypes of images. There are several different types/methods of 3D printing. These methods include Stereolithography, Digital Light Processing, Fueled Deposition Modeling, Selective Laser Sintering, Selective Laser Melting, Electronic Beam Melting and Laminating Object Manufacturing.


We will focus on Stereolithography. Stereolithography was the first process to be invented in 1986. This process specifically uses molten plastic to construct an image. Check out the steps in the stereolithography process below!

What Is 3D Printing and How Does It Work? | Mashable Explains

How does 3D printing work?

3D printing isn't as new or as complicated as most people think. 3D printing was invented by a man named Chuck Hull in the mid-1980s and has continued to evolve. There are several different steps involved in the process. Let's take a look at the steps in the process!


Step 1: Decide what type of object you would like to develop. Make sure that you have the exact dimensions and final product specifications desired before starting the 3D design process.


Step 2: Using computer aided design software, create a virtual blueprint of your prototype. The software will then divide your image into "slices" so that the 3D printer will be able to print the object layer by layer.


Step 3: The file will be converted to a .STL file. This type of file contains 3 dimensional shapes that enables the printer to easily read the image and prepare to construct the image.


Step 4: Once the printer receives the .STL file, the creator will choose which specific material they wish the printer to use to construct the image. 3D printers can use various types of materials including metal, plastic, rubber and many more to construct the image.


Step 5: Once the material has been selected, the 3D printer begins to construct the image. The 3D printer passes over and deposits materials layer by layer. Each layer is immediately fused together until the final object is completed.

How are people using this technology?

People have used 3D printing to create numerous different types of objects. Retailers have used this technology to create items such as jewelry, musical instruments, detailed medical models, shoes, Iphone cases and many more items. Medical researchers have utilized 3D printing technology to create customized prosthetics that have had great success. These researchers have been able to create personalized prosthetic arms, legs, hearing aids and even a 3D printed ear!

Let's Get Started

Activity One:

Have you ever even seen a 3D printer? An easy way to get exposure to the industry and get a hands on look at 3D printing is to attend a Maker Faire. These events occur at locations all around the world and allow people to showcase how they have used new technology to create amazing things. People are able to share their creations and interact with others. This would provide you with a great opportunity to share your ideas and learn from people who use 3D printing to create wonderful items.


Activity Two:

Want to make something on your own? Many local colleges, vocational schools, and libraries might have 3D printers that use can use. Also, there are locations called Hackerspaces where paying members gain access to technology. Many of these Hackerspaces have 3D printers. After you identify that there is access to a 3D printer somewhere in your area, try downloading a computer aided design software (CAD) to develop the 3D representation of your idea/creation. There are several free CAD softwares on the market including 123D Design, 3DSlash, Lagoa and many more. Most of these CAD provide guides to help beginners familiarize themselves with the software and creation process. Once you are familiar with the CAD software, you may begin to craft your very own model.