3D Printing Terminologies: A Beginner’s Guide

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Diving into the world of 3D printing, it’s like stepping into a sci-fi novel. The technology, fascinating in its complexity, is also riddled with unique jargon that can be baffling to newcomers.

Understanding these essential terminologies is not just about getting the lingo right; it’s about grasping the very heart of the process.

Let’s unravel these terms together, making sense of the intricate dance of 3D printing.

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FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is a prevalent 3D printing method, characterized by its distinct process and wide applicability:

  • Process: Involves heating and extruding thermoplastic filament through a nozzle.
  • Control: A computer guides the nozzle along a predetermined path.
  • Layer-by-Layer Construction: Deposits material in layers, building the object from the ground up.
  • Material Solidification: The extruded plastic cools and solidifies quickly, forming a strong bond.
  • Material Variety: Compatible with various materials like ABS, PLA, and TPU.
  • Applications: Ideal for prototyping, educational models, and functional parts.
  • Advantages: Offers cost-effectiveness, ease of use, and material diversity.
  • Accessibility: Widely used in both professional and hobbyist settings.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography, commonly known as SLA, is a sophisticated 3D printing technology renowned for its precision and detail:

SLA | 3D Gear Guide
  • Process: Utilizes a laser to cure and solidify liquid resin.
  • Layer Formation: Constructs objects layer by layer from a vat of photopolymer resin.
  • High Precision: Achieves fine details and smooth surface finishes.
  • Laser Control: A computer-guided laser traces each layer’s shape, hardening the resin.
  • Versatility in Materials: Compatible with a range of resins, each offering different properties.
  • Applications: Ideal for intricate prototypes, jewelry, dental models, and high-detail parts.
  • Advantages: Produces parts with exceptional accuracy and surface quality.
  • Consideration: Requires post-processing, including washing and curing

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective Laser Sintering, or SLS, is a powerful 3D printing technique known for its versatility and strength in printed parts:

  • Process: Involves fusing powdered material using a high-power laser.
  • Layer-by-Layer Approach: Builds objects layer by layer from powdered material.
  • Laser Function: A computer-controlled laser selectively sinters the powder, bonding it together.
  • Material Diversity: Works with a variety of materials, including nylon, polystyrene, and metals.
  • Self-Supporting: Eliminates the need for support structures, allowing complex geometries.
  • Applications: Suitable for functional parts, complex prototypes, and production components.
  • Strength and Durability: Produces parts that are robust and suitable for mechanical use.
  • Post-Processing: Often requires removal of excess powder and may involve additional steps for finishing.

Build Plate/Printing Bed

The Build Plate, also known as the Printing Bed, is a crucial component in 3D printing, serving as the foundation for print construction:

Printing Bed
  • Function: Acts as the surface on which 3D objects are printed.
  • Material Compatibility: Can be made of various materials like glass, aluminum, or BuildTak.
  • Heat Application: Often heated in FDM printing to improve first layer adhesion and reduce warping.
  • Surface Treatment: May be treated or coated to enhance adhesion and ease of removal.
  • Adjustability: Leveling and calibration are essential for optimal print quality.
  • Variability: Different 3D printing technologies use different types of build plates.
  • Maintenance: Regular cleaning and maintenance are required for consistent performance.
  • Customization: Users can modify or replace the build plate to suit specific printing needs or materials.

Layer Height

Layer Height is a fundamental concept in 3D printing, determining the resolution and surface finish of the printed object:

DALL·E 2023 11 24 00.36.03 A detailed image illustrating the concept of layer height in 3D printing. The image shows a cross sectional view of a 3D printed object with layers c | 3D Gear Guide
  • Definition: Refers to the thickness of each layer of material deposited during printing.
  • Resolution Impact: A key factor in print resolution; thinner layers yield higher detail.
  • Print Time Relation: Thinner layers increase print time, while thicker layers reduce it.
  • Surface Finish: Affects the smoothness of the final print; lower heights result in smoother finishes.
  • Material Consideration: Different materials may require adjustments in layer height for optimal results.
  • Printer Capability: Dependent on the printer’s precision and nozzle size.
  • Balance: Requires balancing between print quality and printing time.
  • Setting Adjustment: Can be customized in the slicing software before printing.

Post-Processing

Post-Processing in 3D printing refers to the various techniques applied after printing to enhance or finalize the appearance and properties of a printed object:

  • Purpose: Improves aesthetics, mechanical properties, or functionality of prints.
  • Common Techniques: Includes sanding, painting, sealing, or chemical smoothing.
  • Material Specific: Different materials may require unique post-processing methods.
  • Support Removal: Involves removing any support structures used during printing.
  • Surface Finishing: Techniques like sanding and polishing to achieve a smoother surface.
  • Painting and Coating: Applied for color or to protect the object from environmental factors.
  • Resin Prints: Often require washing in solvent and curing under UV light.
  • Functional Enhancement: May include threading, tapping, or assembly for functional parts.
  • Time and Effort: Can be time-consuming and requires additional skills and tools.

Elephant’s Foot

Elephant’s Foot is a specific issue encountered in 3D printing, particularly noticeable in the initial layers of a print:

ele1 | 3D Gear Guide
  • Appearance: Characterized by a slight flaring or bulging at the base of a printed object.
  • Cause: Occurs due to excessive pressure or heat on the first layers, squashing them outward.
  • Impact on Print: Can affect the accuracy and aesthetics of the print, and may cause issues with assembly or fit in multi-part models.
  • Prevention: Can be minimized by adjusting bed leveling, nozzle height, and print bed temperature.
  • First Layer Settings: Fine-tuning the settings for the first layer is crucial, including speed and extrusion rate.
  • Bed Adhesion: Ensuring optimal bed adhesion without excessive squishing of the first layer.
  • Calibration: Regular printer calibration helps in reducing this issue.
  • Post-Processing: In some cases, can be corrected or minimized through careful post-processing techniques like sanding.

Extruder, Hot End, & Nozzle

In 3D printing, the Extruder, Hot End, and Nozzle are key components that work together to deposit material and form the printed object:

  • Extruder:
    • Function: Feeds printing material (like filament) into the hot end.
    • Types: Comes in direct drive and Bowden configurations.
    • Mechanism: Uses gears to push the filament consistently.
  • Hot End:
    • Role: The part of the printer where the filament is melted.
    • Components: Includes a heat block, a throat, and a heat break.
    • Temperature Control: Precisely controlled to melt different types of materials.
  • Nozzle:
    • Function: The outlet where the melted material is extruded onto the build plate.
    • Size Variability: Available in various diameters, affecting print resolution and speed.
    • Material: Often made of brass, stainless steel, or hardened steel for different filament types.
  • Interplay: These components work in unison to control the flow, temperature, and deposition of the printing material.
  • Maintenance: Regular cleaning and occasional replacement are necessary to ensure optimal printing performance.
  • Customization: Can be swapped or upgraded to suit different printing requirements or materials.

Supports

In 3D printing, Supports are critical structures used to uphold parts of a model during the printing process:

  • Purpose: Prevents overhangs and complex geometries from collapsing or warping during printing.
  • Design: Strategically placed based on the model’s geometry to provide stability.
  • Material: Often made from the same or a dissolvable material different from the main object.
  • Removal: Designed for easy removal after printing, either by hand or through dissolving.
  • Slicer Software: Automatically generated by slicing software, though manual adjustment is possible.
  • Necessity: Essential for models with overhangs exceeding a certain angle, typically 45 degrees.
  • Types: Can vary in density and structure, from light-touch to heavy, depending on the print’s needs.
  • Impact on Surface: Can leave marks or require post-processing for a smooth finish.
  • Consideration: Balancing the need for support against the ease of post-processing and material usage.

Bed Leveling

Bed Leveling is a crucial step in preparing a 3D printer for accurate and successful printing:

bed leveling | 3D Gear Guide
  • Purpose: Ensures the printing bed is perfectly flat and parallel to the printer’s nozzle.
  • Importance: Critical for achieving good adhesion of the first layer and overall print quality.
  • Manual Leveling: Involves adjusting screws or knobs under the bed to level it.
  • Automatic Leveling: Some printers come equipped with sensors for automatic bed leveling.
  • Frequency: Should be checked regularly, especially after moving the printer or changing the bed.
  • Indicators of Need: Poor first layer adhesion or uneven extrusion are signs of a leveling issue.
  • Tools: Can involve using a piece of paper or feeler gauges to gauge the distance between the nozzle and bed.
  • Impact on Prints: Proper leveling reduces the risk of print failures and improves the consistency of prints.
  • User Skill: Requires some practice and understanding of the printer’s mechanics.

Build Chamber

The Build Chamber is a fundamental component in certain types of 3D printers, particularly those using powder-based or resin technologies:

  • Definition: An enclosed space where the 3D printing process occurs.
  • Function in SLS/SLM Printers: In Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) or Selective Laser Melting (SLM) printers, it contains the powder bed where the laser fuses or melts the powder.
  • Temperature Control: Often temperature-controlled to ensure optimal printing conditions, especially important in SLS and SLM processes.
  • Resin Printers: In Stereolithography (SLA) and Digital Light Processing (DLP), the build chamber holds the vat of liquid resin.
  • Atmosphere Control: In some advanced printers, the chamber’s atmosphere can be controlled to prevent oxidation or improve print quality.
  • Size Limitation: Determines the maximum size of the objects that can be printed.
  • Safety and Quality: Enclosure helps in maintaining consistent environmental conditions, which is crucial for print quality and safety.
  • Post-Processing: Objects printed in these chambers often require post-processing, like cooling in SLS or washing and curing in SLA/DLP.

Infill

Infill is a key concept in 3D printing, referring to the internal structure of a printed object:

  • Definition: The patterned internal structure within a 3D printed object, not visible from the outside.
  • Purpose: Provides strength and stability to the print while saving material and reducing weight.
  • Density Variation: Can be adjusted from low (sparse) to high (dense), affecting the print’s strength and weight.
  • Patterns: Comes in various patterns like grid, honeycomb, triangles, or lines, each offering different properties.
  • Customization: Can be customized in slicing software according to the specific needs of the print.
  • Impact on Print Time: Higher infill density or complex patterns can increase print time and material usage.
  • Balance: Requires balancing between structural integrity and resource efficiency.
  • Applications: Essential for functional parts that need to withstand mechanical stress, less critical for purely aesthetic models.

Raft

In 3D printing, a Raft is a foundational layer used to enhance the adhesion and stability of a print:

  • Purpose: Acts as a stabilizing base for the actual print, especially useful for objects with small footprints or uneven bottoms.
  • Structure: A thick, flat layer of material laid down on the build plate before the main print begins.
  • Adhesion Enhancement: Helps in adhering the print to the build plate, reducing warping and movement.
  • Ease of Removal: Designed to be easily separated from the finished print.
  • Material Usage: Increases the amount of material used and can extend print times.
  • Surface Finish: The bottom of the print may have a different texture where it interfaces with the raft.
  • Printer Types: Particularly useful in FDM printers where bed adhesion and warping are common issues.
  • Selective Use: Generally used when necessary, as it adds to the material cost and post-processing time.

Brim

The Brim is an important feature in 3D printing, designed to enhance the adhesion of a print to the build plate:

  • Function: A thin, flat layer of material that extends outward from the base of the print.
  • Adhesion Improvement: Increases the surface area of the first layer, enhancing its grip on the build plate.
  • Warping Prevention: Particularly useful for preventing corners of the print from lifting or warping.
  • Design: Consists of several outlines or rings around the object, without covering the bottom of the print.
  • Material and Time Efficiency: Uses less material and is quicker to print compared to a raft.
  • Removal: Easily removed post-printing, leaving a clean edge on the bottom of the print.
  • Application: Ideal for prints with small footprints or those prone to warping.
  • Consideration: Does not provide as much stability as a raft but is less wasteful in terms of material.

Slicer

A Slicer is a crucial software tool in 3D printing, bridging the gap between a 3D model and a physical print:

  • Role: Converts 3D models into printer-readable instructions, known as G-code.
  • Functionality: Allows users to set various print parameters like layer height, infill density, print speed, and temperature.
  • Customization: Enables customization of supports, rafts, and brims.
  • Model Preparation: Slices the model into layers, generating a path for the printer’s nozzle or laser.
  • Printer Compatibility: Often specific to printer types or brands, with some slicers being universal.
  • User Interface: Typically features a graphical interface for viewing and modifying the model before printing.
  • Preview Capability: Offers a preview of how the print will proceed, layer by layer.
  • Accessibility: Ranges from beginner-friendly to advanced options with more detailed controls.

STL File

An STL file is a standard file format widely used in 3D printing, representing the surface geometry of a 3D object:

  • Origin: STL stands for Stereolithography, a 3D printing technology for which the format was originally developed.
  • Structure: Comprises triangular facets that approximate the surfaces of a 3D object.
  • Geometry Representation: Encodes the surface geometry of a model without color, texture, or internal structure information.
  • Compatibility: Universally accepted by 3D printing software and machines.
  • File Size: Can vary significantly based on the complexity of the model and the resolution of the facets.
  • Limitations: Does not support color or material information, which can be a drawback for multi-material or color 3D printing.
  • Conversion: Most 3D modeling software can export models to the STL format.
  • Preparation for Printing: Requires slicing in a slicer software to be converted into G-code for 3D printing.

G-Code

G-Code is a fundamental language used in 3D printing to control and direct the printer’s operations:

  • Definition: A programming language that instructs the 3D printer on how to create the print.
  • Role: Contains detailed commands for movement, speed, temperature, and other printing parameters.
  • Generation: Created by slicer software, which converts a 3D model into G-Code.
  • Customization: Advanced users can modify G-Code for specific needs or troubleshooting.
  • Structure: Comprises a series of commands, each beginning with the letter ‘G’ followed by specific coordinates or parameters.
  • Printer Interaction: Directs the printer’s motors, extruder, and other components during the printing process.
  • Universality: A standard language understood by most 3D printers.
  • Accessibility: While typically generated automatically, understanding G-Code can be beneficial for fine-tuning prints and diagnosing issues.

Overhang

In 3D printing, an Overhang refers to a feature of a model that extends beyond its base, challenging the printing process:

  • Definition: Any part of the print that juts out without direct support from the layer below.
  • Angle Limitation: Typically, overhangs up to 45 degrees can be printed without support; steeper angles may require support structures.
  • Print Quality: Overhangs can affect print quality, leading to drooping or warping if not properly supported.
  • Support Structures: Often necessitate the use of supports to maintain shape and integrity during printing.
  • Design Consideration: Effective 3D design involves minimizing overhangs to reduce the need for supports.
  • Material and Printer Dependence: The ability to print overhangs without support can vary based on the printer’s capabilities and the material used.
  • Post-Processing: Prints with overhangs may require more post-processing work to remove supports and smooth the surface.
  • Challenge and Solution: Represent a common challenge in 3D printing, often addressed through careful design and printer settings optimization.

Resolution

In 3D printing, Resolution is a critical factor that determines the level of detail and smoothness of a finished print:

  • Definition: Refers to the smallest movement a printer can make, typically measured in microns (µm).
  • Layer Resolution: Dictates the thickness of each printed layer; thinner layers result in higher resolution and finer details.
  • XY Resolution: Pertains to the printer’s ability to accurately reproduce small features in the horizontal plane.
  • Impact on Print Quality: Higher resolution prints have smoother surfaces and more precise details but take longer to print.
  • Printer Specific: Varies among different types of printers, with SLA and DLP printers generally offering higher resolutions than FDM.
  • Material Consideration: Some materials may not show significant benefits at extremely high resolutions.
  • Balancing Act: Requires balancing between print time, material usage, and the desired level of detail.
  • Setting Adjustments: Can be adjusted in the slicing software, allowing customization based on the needs of each print.

Filament

In 3D printing, Filament is the thermoplastic material used in Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers:

DALL·E 2023 10 29 21.18.34 Realistic image of two spools of filament side by side one labeled PLA and the other labeled PLA. Both spools are placed on a table with a 3D pr | 3D Gear Guide
  • Form: Typically comes in spooled, thin strands of plastic.
  • Types: Includes a variety of materials like PLA (Polylactic Acid), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol), and TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane).
  • Diameter: Common diameters are 1.75mm and 2.85mm, which must match the printer’s specifications.
  • Melting Point: Each type of filament has a specific melting point for optimal extrusion.
  • Color and Properties: Available in a wide range of colors and properties, including transparent, glow-in-the-dark, or infused with materials like wood or metal for different effects.
  • Storage: Requires proper storage to prevent moisture absorption and degradation.
  • Application: Chosen based on the desired properties of the final print, such as strength, flexibility, or aesthetic qualities.
  • Environmental Considerations: PLA is biodegradable, while other types like ABS require more careful disposal.

Resin

In 3D printing, Resin is a key material used in Stereolithography (SLA) and Digital Light Processing (DLP) technologies:

  • Form: A viscous liquid composed of photopolymers that harden when exposed to specific light wavelengths.
  • Curing Process: Hardens under UV light, layer by layer, to form solid 3D objects.
  • Varieties: Available in different types, each with unique properties like flexibility, strength, or transparency.
  • Precision and Detail: Offers high resolution and fine details, ideal for intricate models and parts.
  • Safety Handling: Requires careful handling due to its chemical nature and potential toxicity.
  • Post-Processing: Printed objects often need washing in isopropyl alcohol and further curing under UV light.
  • Storage: Sensitive to light and heat, requiring proper storage to prevent premature curing or degradation.
  • Applications: Widely used in dental, jewelry, and prototyping industries for its precision and finish quality.
  • Environmental Considerations: Disposal and handling of resin and its byproducts should be done considering environmental and health guidelines.

TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)

Thermoplastic Polyurethane, or TPU, is a flexible and durable material used in 3D printing:

  • Flexibility: Known for its elasticity and ability to return to its original shape after bending, stretching, or compressing.
  • Durability: Resistant to abrasion, wear, and tear, making it suitable for parts requiring flexibility and toughness.
  • Printing Difficulty: More challenging to print than rigid materials like PLA due to its flexibility.
  • Printer Requirements: Often requires a direct drive extruder for optimal printing performance.
  • Applications: Ideal for creating flexible parts like phone cases, footwear, automotive parts, and medical devices.
  • Variants: Available in different grades, offering varying levels of hardness and flexibility.
  • Temperature Resistance: Exhibits good performance in a range of temperatures.
  • Surface Finish: Produces prints with a smooth surface and a rubbery feel.

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS, short for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a common thermoplastic used in 3D printing:

  • Properties: Known for its strength, durability, and heat resistance.
  • Printing Temperature: Requires a higher extrusion temperature compared to PLA.
  • Heated Bed: Often necessitates a heated print bed to prevent warping and ensure proper adhesion.
  • Post-Processing: Can be smoothed with acetone vapor for a glossy finish.
  • Applications: Widely used for creating functional parts, automotive components, and toys (like LEGO bricks).
  • Odor and Ventilation: Emits fumes during printing, requiring good ventilation.
  • Toughness: Offers greater impact resistance than PLA, making it suitable for mechanical parts.
  • Solubility: Soluble in acetone, allowing for easy post-processing and welding of parts.

PLA (Polylactic Acid)

PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is a widely used biodegradable thermoplastic in 3D printing:

Article PLA Cover | 3D Gear Guide
  • Eco-Friendly: Made from renewable resources like cornstarch or sugarcane, making it biodegradable under certain conditions.
  • Printing Ease: Known for its ease of printing, with a lower melting point and minimal warping.
  • Odor: Emits a sweet, non-toxic smell when heated, unlike some other plastics.
  • Strength and Rigidity: Offers good strength and stiffness, but can be brittle.
  • Color and Finish: Available in a wide range of colors and finishes, including translucent, glow-in-the-dark, and metallic.
  • Heat Sensitivity: Less heat-resistant than ABS, can deform under high temperatures.
  • Applications: Ideal for prototypes, educational models, and decorative items.
  • Post-Processing: Can be sanded, painted, or glued for further finishing.

Heated Bed

The Heated Bed is an essential component in many 3D printers, particularly in FDM technology:

| 3D Gear Guide
  • Function: A build platform that can be heated to improve the first layer adhesion of thermoplastic materials.
  • Warping Prevention: Helps in preventing warping, especially with materials like ABS that contract when cooling.
  • Temperature Control: Allows for precise temperature settings to match different filament types.
  • Uniform Heating: Ensures even heat distribution across the build surface.
  • Adhesion Enhancement: Aids in maintaining a stable temperature, reducing the likelihood of prints detaching mid-print.
  • Material Compatibility: Particularly beneficial for materials prone to warping but can also benefit PLA and other materials.

Dual Extrusion

Dual Extrusion in 3D printing refers to printers equipped with two extruders:

  • Multi-Material Printing: Allows printing with two different materials in one print job.
  • Color Printing: Enables printing in two colors without the need to change filament mid-print.
  • Support Material: One extruder can print the model while the other prints dissolvable support material.
  • Complex Models: Facilitates the creation of more complex geometries and multi-material prints.
  • Calibration: Requires precise calibration to ensure both nozzles work in harmony.
  • Cost and Size: Generally more expensive and larger than single-extruder printers.
  • Software: Needs compatible slicing software to manage the dual-extrusion process.

Print Speed is a critical setting in 3D printing, influencing the time and quality of prints:

  • Definition: The speed at which the printer head or bed moves while laying down the filament.
  • Quality Impact: Faster speeds can reduce print time but may compromise print quality and detail.
  • Material Consideration: Different materials may require adjustments in print speed for optimal results.
  • Printer Capability: Dependent on the printer’s mechanical stability and precision.
  • Balance: Requires a balance between speed and the desired level of detail and print quality.
  • Layer Height Relation: Often adjusted in conjunction with layer height settings.
  • Customization: Can be tailored for different sections of a print, like slower speeds for intricate details.

Conclusion

Embarking on a journey through the terminologies of 3D printing is like learning a new language. It’s a path filled with challenges but also immense satisfaction.

As you become fluent in this language, you’ll find that not only do your prints improve, but your understanding of this incredible technology deepens.

Keep exploring, keep experimenting, and let the world of 3D printing reveal its wonders to you.

Shamim Ahmed
Shamim Ahmed
I’ve been an innovator in this space for years and am really excited to share my knowledge with you. I’m an entrepreneur and love helping others achieve their goals by teaching them how to build a business around the newest innovations in technology.

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