Lesson 1: What is 3D Printing?


What is 3D Printing?

A brief introduction to the basic principles of 3D printing.

3D printing is a layering process. Layer by layer, material is deposited on top of one another until a 3D object is printed. The successive layering process known as 3D printing is sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing.

Time lapse of object being 3D printed Time lapse of an object being 3D printed. Notice how it grows layer by layer.

You might be asking yourself "Why is it called printing? How is a 3D printer related to my paper printer?" There is a close relationship between both. You could even consider your 3D printer a direct descendent of your paper printer. Copy machines and paper printers print in two dimensions by depositing material on a flat sheet, in this case ink on paper. In math we would call these two dimensions the X and Y axes.

A triangle being printed in two dimensions A triangle being printed in two dimensions with whipped cream.

3D printers work in the same way but it adds an additional axis, the Z axis, to print in 3 dimensions. Each individual layer of a 3D printed object is printed along the X and Y axes. When the 3D printer finishes a layer in the X and Y axes, it moves up along the Z axis to begin printing the next layer. To continue with our example, if we continue to draw a triangle on top of a triangle, moving up along the Z axis after completing each one, we will end up with an object. In this case a delicious whipped cream 3 sided pyramid or tetrahedron.

Time lapse of a tetrahedron being additively made with whipped cream Time lapse of a tetrahedron being additively made with whipped cream. Notice how each layer builds on top of the last to create a 3D object.

This layering process is how all 3D printers work regardless of differences in material and deposition method. By definition, 3D printing is the process of making a physical object from a digital file by additively layering material.

Click here to go to the Lesson 2: Parts of a 3D Printer

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