How does a 3D printer work? [The Full 3D Printing Guide]

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As human beings, we rely on tools and other objects to empower us and get us through our day. Ten thousand years ago, we needed needles for sewing clothes, spears to hunt animals, and ropes to create shelters and traps.

Now the modern world requires us to use microwaves, stoves, cars, shoes, and water bottles, amongst many other things.

Imagine the ability to create anything you want exactly the way you want it and hold it in the palm of your hand in a few hours. Scientists, sorcerers, people who have dabbled in witchcraft, and those with extremely vivid imaginations, like comic book writers, fantasized about creating objects with your own hand and nothing more for centuries.

Well, we will need more than just our own hands and willpower to create objects, but thanks to the 3D printer, the day that we can conjure anything we want in a few short hours is here.

The 3D printer is a type of printer that can create 3D objects in less than a few hours. To create the 3D objects, the user needs 3D designs, so files from text documents and basic art software will not do. If a person has ever worked in video game designs, they know all about 3D models.

So, how does a 3D printer work?

What are the types of 3D printing, and how do they work?

When it comes to 3D printers, there are four popular printing techniques that most users will come across. They are:

  • FDM or Fusion Deposition Modeling. This printer uses material or filament and squeezes it out of a nozzle. This printing applies the filament in layers. The nozzle head constantly readjusts as the layers are placed down.
  • SLA or Stereolithography. This type of printing is not like normal printing. Stereolithography uses ultraviolet light to grow 3D designs and models from a melted material source. When a calibrated amount of ultraviolet light touches the melted resin, it solidifies and creates a new layer. Because ultraviolet light is much more precise than a nozzle, SLA printers can create objects with extremely fine details.
  • Laser Sintering. This type of printer uses a powerful laser to ignite fine powder together and solidify it. If you see sparks as if a firecracker is lighting up, you know the laser centering printer is working. Then more powder is applied to the solidified part of the object by a brush, and the process begins repeatedly.
  • Polyjet. Nozzles within the polyjet printer squeeze light-sensitive resin on the building platform, which is then quickly hardened by a high amount of ultraviolet light. This process creates amazingly detailed objects at record speed, and it is also the most expensive.

Every 3D printer has its own unique printing process, and each process takes a while to master. The most common 3D printer that most at-home hobbyists have is FDM or Fusion Deposition Modeling.

How FDM printers work:

First, the user of the 3D printer downloads a 3D file onto the printer software. An electronic circuit within the printer digitizes the file and turns it into machine-readable information. Now it is time to print.

The filament inside the FDM printer is heated up to pass through the tubes and nozzles. The nozzle head then glides down to the bottom of the printer to place the first layer of filaments on the printer bed. A printer bed can be heated or unheated, depending on the model.

The nozzle head can move throughout the printer on its XY or XYZ axis. Some FDM 3D printers have a nozzle head that can move in three different directions while the printer bed remains still, or the nozzle head can only move on the X & Y axis, and it is the printer bed that will move up and down.

Since it is on an axis, the nozzle head will need to mark a home position to start building the 3D object.

This may sound strange, but the 3D printer does not see the object as a whole. Instead, it is up to the 3D printing software to take our design and cut it into layers. This is how the printer knows two layers of the filament on top of the previous layer. It is building the object as a series of different layers.

Although the 3D printer moves quite fast, it actually relies on a combination of building and drying. The melted material is not so hot that it drips out of the nozzle, but it is sticky and malleable.

So when the 3D printer lays a layer of material down, it has to wait for the material to dry before adding another layer.

One of the best aspects of owning a 3D printer is that once the printer starts designing the object from the 3D design, there is no need for the user to monitor it.

The 3D printer can do everything automatically, and the only reason a user will have to intervene is if it runs out of material.

But its hands-on experience is just another reason why adjusting the 3D model to the printer’s settings is so important. Once the material comes out of the nozzle, it cannot be changed or altered.

So if the user programs their 3D printer and then leaves home for a few hours, only to come back to an ugly object, well, that’s on the user, not on the printer.

What type of material does a 3D printer require in order to make objects?

There are several types of printing material available to 3D printers, and all of these materials come in low, medium, or high-quality substances.

Depending on the quality of material and the type of material, a kilogram of building material can be as low as $10 and as high as $300.

Before getting used to a single type of material, a user of a 3D printer must use all of the material a printer allows. This is because some prints require different materials in order to look their best.

A poorly made model which should have never been created with a certain material will look like someone laid a bunch of toothpaste on top of one another. In addition, you will see definite lines and nozzle marks, which will make the design look ugly.


Creating your own objects with a 3D printer will open up a world of design for you. So if you are considering buying a printer, try practicing with a local club or library’s printer first. Then you can buy a beginner’s kit!

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