It all starts with a 3D model. You can opt to create one from the ground up or download it from a 3D library.
3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created.
A 3D printer essentially works by extruding molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that it moves around precisely under computer control. It prints one layer, waits for it to dry, and then prints the next layer on top.
3D printing uses computer-aided design (CAD) to create three-dimensional objects through a layering method. Sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, 3D printing involves layering materials, like plastics, composites or bio-materials to create objects that range in shape, size, rigidity and color.
3D printers can indeed print almost any shape, structures and objects, but are limited by their build volumes and not being able to print in mid-air. Objects are created by melting thermoplastics and extruding it by very fine layers, as low as 0.05mm so it has great precision and accuracy.
Many different materials can be used for 3D printing, such as ABS plastic, PLA, polyamide (nylon), glass filled polyamide, stereolithography materials (epoxy resins), silver, titanium, steel, wax, photopolymers and polycarbonate.
There are many different software tools available. From industrial grade to open source.
We often recommend beginners to start with Tinkercad. Tinkercad is free and works in your browser, you don’t have to install it on your computer. Tinkercad offers beginner lessons and has a built-in feature to export your model as a printable file e.g .STL or .OBJ.
Now that you have a printable file, the next step is to prepare it for your 3D printer. This is called slicing.
Slicing: From printable file to 3D Printer
Slicing basically means slicing up a 3D model into hundreds or thousands of layers and is done with slicing software. One can also use some of the free open source slicers like Astroprint.
When your file is sliced, it’s ready for your 3D printer. Feeding the file to your printer can be done via USB, SD or Wi-Fi. Your sliced file is now ready to be 3D printed layer by layer.
Examples of 3D Printing
3D printing encompasses many forms of technologies and materials as 3D printing is being used in almost all industries you could think of. It’s important to see it as a cluster of diverse industries with a myriad of different applications.
A few examples:
- – consumer products (eyewear, footwear, design, furniture)
- – industrial products (manufacturing tools, prototypes, functional end-use parts)
- – dental products
- – prosthetics
- – architectural scale models & maquettes
- – reconstructing fossils
- – replicating ancient artefacts
- – reconstructing evidence in forensic pathology
- – movie props
Read about when and how does the 3D Printing started.