3D printing refers to the technology used to create 3D objects in the real world from digital 3D files. The objects are typically created layer by layer using a 3D printer. There are two main types of 3D printers available on the commercial market, FDM and resin printers.
3D printers work by interpreting a 3D file and recreating its design one layer at a time using filament or resin. Most 3D models need to be prepped for printing in a process called slicing. Once the 3D model is "sliced" it can be printed on a machine.
FDM 3D printing
FDM printers use spools of material called filament. Filament can be made from a range of plastics like PLA and PETG to ABS. You can read more about FDM printer filament in our guide.
Resin-based 3D printing
Resin-based printers typically use liquid resins, like photopolymer resin for UV curing. To learn more about resin (SLA) printing, check out our resin printing FAQ page.
3D prints can take as little as a few minutes to multiple hours. The amount of time it takes will depend on the size of the object you want to print, what kind of printer you choose, the type of printing material, slicer settings, and local settings on your printer. It's important to familiarize yourself with all aspects of the printing process to optimize your workflow.
You can print almost anything that you can create a 3D design of with a 3D printer. 3D printers are useful for a huge range of applications—from functional prints to artistic creations. If you use the right filament, you can even print food-safe items to use as kitchen tools.
To 3D print, you must first prepare the 3D model you want to print by slicing it. This process prepares the file for the printer, designating elements of the design into specific layers to be printed.
When the file has been sliced to your printer's specifications, you need to transfer the sliced file to the printer. You can usually do this with a flash drive or SD card. If you set up your printer with OctoPrint, you can transfer the file over your network.
Make sure the printer is loaded with the right printing material (filament, resin, etc). When everything is ready, start the print job.
You can find FDM printers on the low end of around $150. More expensive devices can reach up into multiple thousands.
Resin printers are typically more expensive, costing around $250 on the cheaper end while reaching into thousands for high end or industrial-grade machines.
You can make money 3D printing through a variety of channels. You can sell things that you've printed, you can print things for people as a service, you can even use your prints as tools for another business. Check out our guide on how to make money 3D printing for more info on how to get started.
Metal can be 3D printed using metal 3D printers. The process typically involves melting metal powder with a laser beam to construct objects.
If you want the look of metal, you can always try using metallic infused PLA filament. This has a shiny metallic look without the need of a metal 3D printer.
You can easily paint your 3D prints when they're completed. Most 3D printing materials can be painted, like PLA filament. It helps to sand your prints smooth before painting to help the paint adhere. Be sure to wear a mask or respirator when sanding to avoid inhaling filament particles.
3D printable models can be designed with almost any 3D design software. As long as you can export the design to an STL file, you can slice it for printing.
If you're looking for an application to use, here are a couple of popular options to help your research:
3D printer filament is readily available from online platforms like Amazon and eBay. You can also buy filament directly from some manufacturers and specialty shops.
If you're lucky enough to live near a brick and mortar 3D printing business, you may want to investigate whether or not they sell 3D printer supplies like filament.
3D printer nozzles will become clogged with filament over time as it continuously cools and heats with use. Eventually, you will need to clean it.
Remove the nozzle from the printer and soak it in acetone for 10 - 15 minutes. Wipe off the nozzle when done. If necessary, you can use heat to soften any remaining filament debris.
Most objects printed with FDM and resin printers can be smoothed by sanding. Acetone can be used to smooth objects printed with ABS. When exposed as a vapor, it will gently break down the outer layer leaving a smooth finish. Too much acetone will cause ABS printed objects to deteriorate.
A 3D-printed house? What about a store that 3D prints you a custom shoe? And will we be able to, one day, 3D print our way to Mars? It's all possible!