Comprehensive 3D Printing Glossary to Help You Start Your 3D Printing Journey

The world of 3D printing is brimming with innovation and exciting possibilities. Whether you’re a seasoned maker or a curious newcomer, navigating the terminology can feel like deciphering a foreign language. But fear not! This comprehensive 3D printing glossary is here to equip you with the essential knowledge to unlock your creative potential.

Dive into a treasure trove of key terms, from fundamental concepts like “3D printing” and “filament” to more intricate details like “bed leveling” and “G-code.” With clear explanations and insightful breakdowns, this glossary empowers you to:

  • Confidently grasp 3D printing terminology: Gain a solid understanding of the language used in the 3D printing community, allowing you to communicate effectively and explore advanced concepts with ease.
  • Make informed decisions: Equip yourself with the knowledge to choose the right materials, settings, and techniques for your specific 3D printing projects.
  • Troubleshoot challenges: Unravel common printing issues and confidently navigate potential obstacles with a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts.

So, whether you’re eager to bring your 3D design dreams to life or simply curious about this transformative technology, embark on your journey with this comprehensive glossary as your guide!

Ultimate 3D Printing Glossary

  1. 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing (AM)

3D Printing: This is the more commonly used term, often associated with hobbyists and entry-level printers. It emphasizes the creation of physical objects from digital designs.

Additive Manufacturing: This term is often used in professional and industrial settings and emphasizes the “additive” nature of the process, where material is systematically added layer by layer to build up the object. This contrasts with traditional subtractive manufacturing, where material is removed from a solid block to create the desired shape.

Key points to remember

  • Both terms describe the same process of creating 3D objects from digital models.
  • “3D Printing” is more widely used for consumer-oriented applications.
  • “Additive Manufacturing” is often used in professional and industrial settings and emphasizes the technical aspects of the process.
  1. Filament

Filament is the consumable material used in Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), the most common type of 3D printing process. It is typically a thin thread or wire, usually made of plastic, that is fed into the printer and melted by a heated nozzle. The molten plastic is then extruded layer by layer to build up the 3D object.

Common Types of Filament

  • PLA (Polylactic Acid): Biodegradable, user-friendly, and good for beginners.
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): Strong and durable, but requires a heated bed for printing.
  • PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol): Strong, impact-resistant, and known for its good printability.
  • Nylon: Strong, flexible, and heat-resistant, but requires higher printing temperatures.

Additional points about filament

  • Filament comes in various diameters (e.g., 1.75mm, 2.85mm) and needs to be compatible with your specific 3D printer.
  • Different filament types offer various properties like strength, flexibility, heat resistance, and ease of printing.
  • Choosing the right filament depends on the desired properties of the final printed object.
  1. Extruder

The extruder is a crucial component in FDM 3D printing and plays a vital role in building the object layer by layer. It can be broken down into two key sections:

  • Cold End: This section houses the drive mechanism, typically a stepper motor with a gear system. This system grips the filament and pushes it through the extruder.
  • Hot End: This section contains a heating element that melts the filament to a semi-liquid state. It also houses a nozzle, a small opening through which the melted filament is extruded.

The extruder’s function can be summarized as follows:

  • Feeding: The drive mechanism in the cold end pulls the filament from the spool.
  • Melting: The heating element in the hot end melts the filament as it passes through.
  • Extrusion: The molten filament is forced out through the narrow nozzle opening.

By precisely controlling the movement of the extruder and the amount of filament extruded, the 3D printer builds up the object layer by layer.

  1. Bed Adhesion

Bed adhesion refers to the ability of the first layer of the printed object to stick firmly to the build plate (also known as the print bed) throughout the printing process. Good bed adhesion is crucial for successful printing, as it prevents warping, curling, or detachment of the object during printing.

Factors affecting bed adhesion:

  • Material: Different filament types have varying adhesion properties. PLA, for example, typically adheres well to a bare print bed, while ABS often requires additional adhesion methods.
  • Bed temperature: Maintaining the appropriate bed temperature for the filament material helps improve adhesion.
  • Adhesion methods: Various techniques can be used to improve bed adhesion, such as applying masking tape, glue, or specific build plate coatings.

Ensuring good bed adhesion is essential for achieving successful and high-quality 3D prints.

  1. Build Plate/Print Bed

The build plate, also commonly called the print bed, is the platform in a 3D printer where the printed object is formed. It serves as the foundation upon which the layers of filament, resin, or powder (depending on the printing technology) are deposited and build up to create the final object.

Here are some key things to know about the build plate:

  • Material: Build plates are usually made of materials with good thermal conductivity to ensure consistent heating and cooling during the printing process. Common materials include glass, aluminum, and build plate specific materials with enhanced adhesion properties.
  • Surface: The surface of the build plate can be smooth or textured, depending on the desired outcome. A smooth surface is ideal for creating objects with a smooth finish, while a textured surface can improve adhesion for certain materials.
  • Heating: Some build plates incorporate heating elements to reach specific temperatures required for certain printing materials. This helps improve bed adhesion and prevent warping.
  1. Layer Height

Layer height refers to the thickness of each individual layer deposited by the 3D printer during the printing process. It is typically measured in microns (μm), with 1000 microns being equal to 1 millimeter.

Here’s how layer height affects your print:

  • Impact on print quality: Lower layer heights generally result in smoother surface finishes and finer details for your 3D object. However, printing with a lower layer height takes longer and uses more material.
  • Impact on print time: Higher layer heights lead to faster printing times but can sacrifice surface quality and detail.
  • Typical layer height range: The typical layer height range for FDM printers is between 50 and 300 microns. The optimal layer height depends on the desired balance between print quality, speed, and material usage.
  1. Resolution

Resolution in 3D printing refers to the level of detail captured in the final printed object. It is primarily influenced by two key factors:

  • Layer height: As discussed earlier, lower layer heights result in thinner layers and finer details on the surface of the object. This translates to higher resolution prints.
  • Nozzle size: The diameter of the nozzle plays a role in resolution. Smaller nozzle diameters allow for more precise deposition of filament, leading to sharper details and higher resolution.

It’s important to note that resolution is not just about the size of details captured, but also about the smoothness of curves and surfaces. Lower layer heights and smaller nozzles contribute to both aspects of a high-resolution print.

  1. Infill

Infill refers to the internal structure of a 3D printed object. It is typically described as a percentage, indicating the amount of solid material used to fill the interior of the object compared to its hollow space.

Here’s how infill affects your print:

  • Impact on strength: A higher infill percentage generally leads to a stronger and more rigid object. However, this also increases the material usage and printing time.
  • Impact on weight: A lower infill percentage results in a lighter object, but it might be less robust and more prone to deformation under stress.
  • Impact on printing time: Objects with higher infill percentages generally take longer to print due to the increased amount of material being deposited.

Choosing the appropriate infill percentage depends on the intended use of the object. For objects requiring structural strength, a higher infill is preferred. Conversely, for decorative objects or prototypes, a lower infill can be used to save on material and printing time.

  1. Support Structures

Support structures are temporary structures generated by the slicing software and added to the 3D model during the printing process. They serve the crucial purpose of supporting overhanging features or complex geometries within the object that would otherwise collapse or deform without additional support.

Here are some key details about support structures:

  • Material: Support structures are typically printed from the same material as the main object, although some printers offer dedicated support filament with different properties for easier removal.
  • Placement: The slicing software automatically determines the necessary placement and density of support structures based on the model’s geometry.
  • Removal: After printing, support structures need to be carefully removed, often using tools like pliers or cutters. Leaving them on can affect the final finish and aesthetics of the object.
  1. Raft

A raft is a solid base layer added to the bottom of the printed object during the slicing process. It serves several important functions:

  • Improved bed adhesion: The wider surface area of the raft provides better contact with the build plate, significantly enhancing adhesion and reducing the risk of warping, especially for objects with a small footprint.
  • Improved heat distribution: The raft helps distribute heat more evenly across the print bed, which can be beneficial for materials prone to warping due to temperature variations.
  • Easier support removal: When support structures are needed, they can be printed directly on the raft, simplifying their removal from the final object.

Overall, both support structures and rafts play a critical role in ensuring successful and high-quality 3D prints, especially for objects with complex geometries or challenging printing materials.

  1. Nozzle

The part of the 3D printer responsible for extruding the filament. 

  1. Retraction

Retraction is a crucial technique used in FDM 3D printing to prevent unwanted filament flow from the nozzle during non-printing movements of the extruder. It involves temporarily pulling a small amount of filament back into the extruder’s hot end.

Here’s why retraction is important:

  • Preventing oozing: During non-printing movements, such as travel moves between different parts of the object, the molten filament in the nozzle can continue to ooze out, causing stringing or unwanted blobs on the printed object. Retraction helps mitigate this issue by effectively stopping the filament flow.
  • Maintaining print quality: Stringing and blobs can significantly affect the surface finish and overall quality of the 3D print. Proper retraction settings help achieve clean and precise prints.

Factors affecting retraction:

  • Retraction distance: This refers to the amount of filament pulled back during retraction. Setting an appropriate distance is crucial, as too little retraction won’t prevent oozing, while too much can lead to filament grinding and issues with feeding.
  • Retraction speed: This determines the speed at which the filament is pulled back. A faster retraction speed can be more effective in preventing oozing, but it also increases the risk of filament grinding.

Finding the optimal retraction settings often involves experimentation and calibration based on the specific filament type, nozzle size, and printer model.

  1. CAD (Computer-Aided Design)

CAD software is a powerful tool used to create digital 3D models for various applications, including:

  • Product design and development: Engineers and designers use CAD to create and refine product concepts, design components, and generate manufacturing instructions.
  • Architecture and engineering: Architects and engineers use CAD software to design buildings, infrastructure projects, and other structures.
  • 3D printing: CAD models serve as the foundation for creating 3D printable objects. They are exported into specific file formats compatible with 3D printers.

Key features of CAD software

  • Geometric modeling: CAD software allows users to create and manipulate various 2D and 3D geometric shapes, such as lines, curves, surfaces, and solids.
  • Assembly modeling: Complex models can be built by assembling individual components and defining their relationships and constraints.
  • Drafting and annotations: Tools for creating technical drawings with precise dimensions, annotations, and notes are often included in CAD software.
  1. STL (Standard Tessellation Language)

STL is a widely used file format for storing and representing the surface geometry of 3D models. It is particularly popular in 3D printing due to its simplicity and compatibility with most 3D printers.

Here are some key characteristics of STL:

  • Tessellation: STL represents the surface of a 3D model using a collection of triangular facets. The more complex the model, the more triangles needed, impacting file size and detail.
  • Limited information: STL files only store the geometric information of the surface, and do not contain details like color, texture, or material properties.
  • Wide compatibility: Most 3D printing software and hardware support STL files, making it a universal format for sharing 3D models.

While STL has limitations, its simplicity and wide compatibility make it a popular choice for 3D printing. However, other file formats like OBJ can store additional information like color and texture, offering more versatility for specific applications.

  1. G-code

G-code is a specific set of instructions used to control the movements of a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine, including 3D printers. It’s essentially a programming language that translates the digital model into a series of commands that the printer can understand and execute. These commands control various aspects of the printing process, such as:

  • Movement: They instruct the printer head and build plate to move along specific axes (X, Y, Z) at precise speeds and distances.
  • Extrusion: They control the flow of filament, specifying the amount of material to be extruded at each point and the timing of extrusion.
  • Temperature: G-code commands can adjust the temperature of the extruder nozzle and the build plate to ensure optimal conditions for the specific printing material being used.
  • Other settings: Depending on the printer capabilities, G-code can also control additional settings like retraction, fan speed, and filament flow rate.

G-code utilizes a combination of letters and numbers, with each letter representing a specific command and numbers defining the parameters for that command. While the specifics of G-code may vary between different 3D printer models and slicing software, the fundamental principles remain consistent.

  1. FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)

FDM is one of the most popular and widely used 3D printing technologies. It operates on the principle of adding material layer by layer to create a three-dimensional object. Here’s a breakdown of the FDM process:

  • Filament feeding: A spool of filament, typically made of plastic, is fed into the extruder.
  • Melting: The filament passes through a heated nozzle, where it reaches a molten state.
  • Extrusion: The molten filament is pushed out through a small opening at the tip of the nozzle.
  • Layer creation: The extruded filament is deposited onto the build plate in a precise pattern, forming the first layer of the object.
  • Layer-by-layer building: The print head moves horizontally and vertically, depositing subsequent layers on top of each other, following the instructions in the G-code file.
  • Cooling: The deposited filament cools down rapidly, solidifying and bonding with the previous layer.
  • Object completion: The process continues until the entire object is built, layer by layer.

FDM offers several advantages, including:

  • Wide range of materials: It can work with various filament materials like PLA, ABS, PETG, and nylon, offering diverse properties for different applications.
  • Relatively simple technology: Compared to other 3D printing technologies, FDM is easier to understand and operate, making it accessible to hobbyists and professionals alike.
  • Cost-effective: FDM printers and filaments are generally more affordable compared to other technologies, making it a cost-effective option for prototyping and smaller-scale production.

However, FDM also has limitations, such as:

  • Limited resolution: Compared to some other technologies, FDM prints may have a slightly lower resolution due to the layer-by-layer nature of the process.
  • Surface finish: While surface quality can be improved with proper settings and post-processing techniques, FDM prints may not achieve the smoothest finishes compared to other technologies.

Despite these limitations, FDM remains a dominant force in the 3D printing landscape due to its versatility, affordability, and ease of use.

  1. SLA (Stereolithography)

SLA, or Stereolithography, is another popular 3D printing technology that works with liquid resin instead of filament. It utilizes a layer-by-layer approach similar to FDM, but relies on a different principle for solidifying the material. Here’s a breakdown of the SLA process:

  • Digital model: Similar to FDM, the process begins with a digital 3D model sliced into thin layers.
  • Resin vat: The printer holds a vat filled with liquid photopolymer resin.
  • Laser beam: A focused ultraviolet (UV) laser beam is directed onto the surface of the resin vat, following the pattern of a single layer from the sliced model.
  • Photopolymerization: The UV light exposure triggers a chemical reaction in the resin, causing the targeted area to solidify and harden.
  • Platform lowering: The build platform, holding the partially formed object, lowers by one layer thickness.
  • Fresh resin layer: A new layer of liquid resin recoats the surface using a recoater blade or other mechanism.
  • Repeat the process: Steps 3-6 are repeated for each layer of the sliced model until the entire object is complete.
  • Post-processing: Once printing is finished, the object needs to be removed from the build platform, cleaned of excess resin, and possibly cured further under UV light for optimal strength and properties.

SLA offers several advantages:

  • High resolution: Due to the precise nature of the laser curing process, SLA can achieve very high resolutions, resulting in smoother surface finishes and finer details compared to FDM.
  • Wide range of materials: SLA resins come in various properties, offering options for applications requiring high strength, transparency, biocompatibility, or other specific characteristics.
  • Isotropic properties: Unlike FDM where layer lines can affect strength, SLA objects exhibit isotropic properties, meaning they have equal strength in all directions.

However, SLA also has some limitations:

  • Cost: SLA printers and resins are generally more expensive compared to FDM.
  • Safety: The use of liquid resins and UV lasers necessitates proper handling and safety precautions.
  • Post-processing: SLA prints often require more extensive post-processing steps compared to FDM.
  1. Bed Leveling

Bed leveling is a crucial step in ensuring successful 3D prints, particularly for FDM printers. It involves the process of adjusting the print bed to ensure it is parallel to the movement of the print head along the Z-axis (vertical direction).

Here’s why bed leveling is important:

  • Consistent material deposition: An uneven bed can cause the nozzle to be too close or too far from the bed in different areas. This can lead to uneven material deposition, resulting in poor adhesion, warping, or other printing imperfections.
  • Optimal print quality: A properly leveled bed ensures consistent material flow and layer height, contributing to better overall print quality and dimensional accuracy.

There are two main approaches to bed leveling:

  • Manual leveling: This involves adjusting the bed height manually using screws or knobs located at the base of the bed. This method requires experience and fine adjustment for accurate leveling.
  • Automatic leveling: Some 3D printers come equipped with automatic bed leveling sensors that measure the distance between the nozzle and the bed at different points and adjust the bed height automatically.

Regardless of the method used, proper bed leveling is essential for achieving successful and high-quality 3D prints.

  1. Cura/Slicer

While Cura is a popular and widely used slicer software, it’s important to understand that “slicer” is a broader term encompassing various applications that serve the crucial role of preparing 3D models for printing.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Slicer software: This type of software takes a 3D model in a format like STL or OBJ and converts it into a set of instructions (G-code) that the 3D printer can understand and execute.
  • Cura: As you mentioned, Cura is a free and open-source slicer software developed by Ultimaker. It is one of the most popular options due to its user-friendly interface, extensive features, and compatibility with various 3D printers. However, many other slicer software options are available, each with its own strengths and functionalities.

Here are some key functions of a slicer:

  • Model inspection and repair: The slicer allows you to view and inspect the 3D model for any potential errors or imperfections that might affect printability. Some slicers also offer tools to repair or modify the model as needed.
  • Slicing: This core function involves dividing the 3D model into thin layers, typically with user-defined layer thickness.
  • G-code generation: Based on the sliced model and various settings, the slicer generates G-code instructions specifying the movement of the print head, extrusion parameters, and other printer controls.
  • Additional features: Slicers often offer various additional features, such as:
    • Support structure generation for printing overhangs.
    • Infill pattern selection to adjust the object’s density and strength.
    • Printing temperature and speed settings.
    • Previewing the generated toolpath to visualize the printing process.
  1. Heated Bed

A heated bed is a valuable feature in many 3D printers, particularly those using FDM technology. It essentially involves a heating element embedded in the print bed that allows it to reach and maintain a specific temperature during the printing process.

Here’s why a heated bed is beneficial:

  • Preventing warping: Warping is a common issue where the printed object curls or deforms due to uneven cooling and shrinkage of the material. A heated bed helps address this issue by:
    • Maintaining a warm environment around the base of the object, promoting more even cooling and reducing internal stresses.
    • Improving bed adhesion for certain materials like ABS, which require a slightly warm bed for proper adhesion.
  • Enhancing print quality: In some cases, using a heated bed can improve the overall print quality by:
    • Enabling the use of a wider range of printing materials with specific temperature requirements.
    • Contributing to smoother first layer adhesion, which can affect the overall quality of subsequent layers.

However, it’s important to note that not all 3D printing technologies or materials necessarily require a heated bed. FDM printers using materials like PLA often function well with a non-heated bed, while technologies like SLA don’t involve a heated bed altogether.

Understanding when and how to use a heated bed effectively can significantly improve your 3D printing experience and lead to higher quality prints.

  1. Slicer

A slicer is a specialized software program used in 3D printing. It plays a crucial role in preparing a 3D model for printing by performing several key functions:

  • Model inspection and repair: The slicer allows you to view and inspect the 3D model for any potential errors or imperfections that might affect printability. Some slicers also offer tools to repair or modify the model as needed.
  • Slicing: This core function involves dividing the 3D model into thin layers, typically with user-defined layer thickness. This process essentially “slices” the model into horizontal cross-sections, which the 3D printer will build upon one layer at a time.
  • G-code generation: Based on the sliced model and various settings, the slicer generates G-code instructions. G-code is a specific language understood by the 3D printer, and it dictates the movement of the print head, extrusion parameters, and other printer controls.
  • Additional features: Slicers often offer various additional features, such as:
    • Support structure generation: As mentioned earlier, slicers can automatically generate support structures for overhangs within the model.
    • Infill pattern selection: Users can choose different infill patterns to adjust the object’s density and strength, affecting factors like weight and material usage.
    • Printing temperature and speed settings: Slicers allow fine-tuning of printing parameters like temperature and speed to optimize the process for different materials and desired outcomes.
    • Previewing the generated toolpath: This feature allows users to visualize the planned movement of the print head layer by layer, helping to identify potential issues before printing.

Slicers are essential tools in 3D printing, as they bridge the gap between the digital 3D model and the physical printed object by providing the necessary instructions and settings for the 3D printer to interpret and execute.

  1. OBJ (OBJect)

OBJ, also known as OBJect, is another common file format used for storing and representing 3D models in 3D printing. Compared to the popular STL format, OBJ offers:

  • More versatility: OBJ files can store additional information beyond just surface geometry, including vertex colors and texture coordinates. This allows for richer visual details and potential use of textures in the model.
  • Wider range of polygon types: While STL uses solely triangles, OBJ supports various polygon types, including triangles, quads, and others, offering greater flexibility in representing complex shapes.

However, OBJ files also come with some drawbacks:

  • Larger file size: The additional information stored in OBJ files typically results in a larger file size compared to STL.
  • Limited software compatibility: While widely used, some 3D printing software may not have native support for OBJ format, requiring conversion to STL before printing.
  1. Warping

Warping is a common challenge encountered in 3D printing, particularly with FDM technology. It occurs when the printed object unevenly shrinks and curls during the cooling process. This uneven shrinkage can lead to various undesirable outcomes, such as:

  • Deformation: The overall shape of the object can become distorted or warped.
  • Cracking: Uneven shrinkage can cause cracks to appear on the surface of the object.
  • Poor adhesion: Warping can cause the layers of the object to separate from the build plate, leading to print failure.

Here are some strategies to minimize warping:

  • Utilizing a heated bed: Maintaining a slightly warm bed temperature helps reduce the significant temperature difference between the printed layers and the surrounding environment, leading to more even cooling and reducing warping.
  • Optimizing printing settings: Fine-tuning parameters like printing temperature, cooling fan speed, and infill density can help mitigate warping tendencies for specific materials and models.
  • Selecting the right filament: Some filament materials are inherently more prone to warping than others. Choosing filaments formulated with minimal warping properties can be beneficial.
  • Employing a brim or raft: Adding a brim or raft to the model in the slicing software can improve bed adhesion and reduce warping, especially for objects with a small footprint on the build plate.

By understanding the causes and prevention techniques for warping, you can significantly improve your 3D printing experience and achieve higher quality, successful prints.

  1. Bed Leveling

Bed leveling is a crucial step in 3D printing, particularly for FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology. It involves the process of adjusting the build plate (also known as the print bed) to ensure it is parallel to the movement of the print head along the Z-axis (vertical direction).

Why is bed leveling important?

  • Consistent material deposition: An uneven bed can cause the nozzle to be too close or too far from the bed in different areas. This inconsistency leads to uneven material deposition, resulting in:
    • Poor adhesion between the first layer and the bed, potentially causing the print to detach.
    • Uneven layer heights, affecting the overall quality and dimensional accuracy of the final object.
  • Optimal print quality: A properly leveled bed ensures consistent material flow and layer height, contributing to:
    • Smoother surface finish on the printed object.
    • Improved overall print quality and accuracy.

How is bed leveling performed?

There are two main approaches to bed leveling:

  • Manual leveling: This method involves physically adjusting the bed height using screws or knobs located at the base of the bed. It requires experience and fine adjustments for accurate leveling.
  • Automatic leveling: Some 3D printers come equipped with automatic bed leveling sensors. These sensors measure the distance between the nozzle and the bed at different points and automatically adjust the bed height for a level printing surface.

Regardless of the method used, proper bed leveling is essential for achieving successful and high-quality 3D prints.

  1. Calibration

Calibration in 3D printing refers to the process of adjusting and fine-tuning various settings of the printer to ensure accurate and consistent printing results. It encompasses several aspects:

  • Bed leveling: As explained earlier, bed leveling is a crucial calibration step.
  • Filament diameter: Different filament spools may have slight variations in diameter. Calibrating the filament diameter ensures the printer extrudes the correct amount of material for each layer.
  • Extrusion rate: This setting controls the flow rate of the filament extruded from the nozzle. Calibrating the extrusion rate ensures the printer lays down the desired amount of material per layer.
  • Printing temperature: The optimal printing temperature varies depending on the filament material. Calibration helps determine the ideal temperature range for each filament type to achieve optimal printing quality and avoid issues like under-extrusion or burning.
  • Retraction settings: Retraction refers to the temporary withdrawal of filament into the nozzle to prevent oozing and stringing during travel moves between printed features. Calibrating retraction settings helps minimize unwanted stringing and ensure clean, defined features on the printed object.

Regular calibration is essential for maintaining optimal 3D printer performance and achieving consistent, high-quality prints. By fine-tuning these settings, you can ensure your printer operates at its best and produce reliable results across different projects and materials.

  1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a common thermoplastic material widely used as filament for FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printing. It offers a good balance of properties, making it a popular choice for various applications:

  • Strength and durability: ABS is known for its high impact resistance and durability, making it suitable for functional parts and objects that require mechanical strength.
  • Heat resistance: Compared to other common FDM filaments like PLA, ABS has a higher heat deflection temperature. This property allows printed ABS parts to withstand higher temperatures without warping or deformation.
  • Surface finish: ABS can achieve a smooth and glossy surface finish with proper printing settings.

However, ABS also comes with some drawbacks:

  • Warping: ABS is more prone to warping during printing compared to other materials like PLA. This can be mitigated by using a heated print bed (explained in the next term) and proper printing settings.
  • Printing difficulty: Compared to PLA, ABS requires a higher printing temperature and a closed printing chamber to prevent warping and ensure successful printing. This can make it slightly more challenging for beginners to work with.

Overall, ABS is a versatile and valuable filament for FDM 3D printing, offering a good combination of strength, durability, and heat resistance. However, its susceptibility to warping and slightly higher printing difficulty require careful consideration for specific projects and user experience levels.

  1. Bowden Extrusion

Bowden extrusion is a specific filament feeding technology used in FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printers. Unlike the direct drive extrusion system (explained in a future glossary entry), Bowden extrusion employs a different approach for feeding filament into the hotend:

  • Remote motor placement: In a Bowden system, the extrusion motor is located away from the hotend, typically mounted on the frame of the printer. This allows for a lighter and more compact print head design, potentially offering greater freedom of movement and reduced weight on the X-axis (horizontal) carriage.
  • Bowden tube: A flexible Teflon tube, known as the Bowden tube, guides the filament from the extruder motor to the hotend. This tube allows for some physical separation between the motor and the hotend, enabling the aforementioned benefits of remote motor placement.

Here’s a summary of the key points regarding Bowden extrusion:

  • Advantages
    • Lighter and more compact print head design.
    • Potentially better print quality due to reduced weight on the X-axis carriage (less wobble).
    • More design flexibility for the printer frame.
  • Disadvantages
    • Can require more retraction due to the added length of the Bowden tube, which might affect printing speed and filament waste.
    • May be prone to filament jams or inconsistencies due to the added complexity of the filament path.
    • Generally requires more precise tuning and calibration compared to direct drive systems.

Overall, Bowden extrusion is a widely used technology in FDM 3D printing, offering advantages in terms of print head design and weight. However, it also comes with potential drawbacks in terms of printing speed, filament usage, and potential for jams, requiring careful consideration for specific printing needs and preferences.

  1. Filament Runout Sensor

Filament Runout Sensor is a sensor that detects when the filament spool is depleted, pausing the print to avoid printing errors. Commonly called a filament sensor, this is a valuable feature in many FDM 3D printers. It plays a crucial role in preventing printing failures and material waste.

How does it work?

The filament runout sensor is typically located near the filament spool holder or the extruder. It uses various mechanisms to detect when the filament feeding process stops or the filament spool becomes empty. This detection can be achieved through:

  • Mechanical switches: A lever or switch can be triggered when the filament path is no longer occupied by filament.
  • Optical sensors: Sensors using light detection can identify the presence or absence of filament passing through a specific point.

Once the sensor detects a filament runout, it triggers an action:

  • Pausing the print: This is the most common response, allowing the user to intervene and replace the empty filament spool before resuming the printing process.
  • Stopping the print: In some cases, the printer may completely stop the print job upon filament runout, requiring the user to restart the print from the beginning with a new filament spool.

Benefits of a filament runout sensor

  • Prevents printing errors: By pausing the print upon filament depletion, the sensor helps avoid issues like incomplete prints, nozzle clogging, and wasted material due to continued printing without filament.
  • Provides user notification: The sensor typically triggers an alert or notification on the printer interface or connected software, informing the user about the need to replace the filament.

Overall, a filament runout sensor is a beneficial feature that can enhance the reliability and user experience of FDM 3D printing by preventing printing failures and material waste.

  1. Direct Drive Extrusion

Direct drive extrusion is a common filament feeding technology used in FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printers. It functions in contrast to the Bowden extrusion system (covered earlier) by employing a different approach for feeding filament into the hotend:

  • Integrated motor and hotend: In a direct drive system, the extrusion motor is located directly on the print head, mounted next to or even integrated with the hotend. This eliminates the need for a Bowden tube and allows for more precise control over filament feeding.
  • Direct filament path: The filament path is shorter and more direct compared to Bowden systems, as the filament travels from the extruder directly into the hotend without the intermediary tube.

Here’s a summary of the key points regarding direct drive extrusion:

  • Advantages:
    • Offers more precise control over filament feed due to the shorter path and direct connection between the motor and hot end.
    • Generally requires less retraction, which can improve printing speed and reduce filament waste.
    • May be less prone to filament jams compared to Bowden systems due to the simpler filament path.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Can lead to a slightly heavier print head due to the additional weight of the motor, potentially affecting print speed and quality.
    • May limit design flexibility for the print head due to the space occupied by the motor.

Overall, direct drive extrusion is a reliable and popular technology for FDM 3D printing, offering advantages in terms of printing precision and control. However, it also comes with potential drawbacks in terms of print head weight and design limitations, requiring consideration for specific printing needs and preferences.

  1. Dual Extrusion (Multi-material/Multi-color Printing)

Dual extrusion, also referred to as multi-material printing or multi-color printing, is a capability found in some advanced FDM 3D printers. These printers are equipped with two extruders and hotends instead of the usual single setup. This allows for:

  • Printing with two different materials: This opens up possibilities for combining materials with different properties in a single print. For example, a print could utilize a strong and rigid material for the core structure and a flexible material for specific features.
  • Printing with multiple colors: By loading different color filaments into each extruder, users can achieve multi-color prints without the need for post-processing techniques like painting.

Here’s a breakdown of the key aspects of dual extrusion:

  • Hardware requirements: Dual extrusion requires additional hardware compared to single-extrusion printers:
    • Two extruders and hotends: These are the core components enabling independent feeding and melting of different materials/colors.
    • Additional controls and settings: The printer software and interface need to be able to manage and control the independent operation of both extruders and hotends.
  • Printing process considerations: Dual extrusion printing can involve additional complexity compared to single-color printing:
    • Slicing software often requires specific settings and configurations to define how each extruder and material will be used within the model.
    • Potential for increased printing time due to the need for tool changes (switching between extruders) and potentially slower print speeds to ensure proper material flow and adhesion.

Overall, dual extrusion is a valuable technology for specific applications in FDM 3D printing, enabling the creation of objects with diverse material properties and multi-color designs. However, it requires additional hardware, software considerations, and potentially a steeper learning curve compared to single-extrusion printing.

  1. Micron (µm)

Micron (µm) is a unit of measurement equal to one-thousandth of a millimeter (mm). It is commonly used in various scientific and technical fields, including 3D printing, to represent:

  • Accuracy and resolution: Microns are often used to specify the precision or level of detail in various aspects of 3D printing, such as:
    • Layer height: The thickness of individual layers deposited during printing.
    • Nozzle diameter: The size of the opening through which melted filament is extruded.
    • Dimensional tolerances: The allowable variation in the size and shape of a printed object compared to the digital model.
  • Surface finish: In 3D printing, surface finish refers to the smoothness or roughness of the printed object’s surface. Microns can be used to indicate the average roughness of the surface, with lower micron values representing smoother surfaces.

Understanding microns is crucial in 3D printing as it allows you to:

  • Compare the capabilities of different 3D printers: By comparing the layer height and nozzle diameter specifications (often given in microns), you can understand the potential resolution and level of detail achievable with different printers.
  • Evaluate the suitability of a 3D print for its intended purpose: Depending on the application, the required surface finish of a printed object might be specified in microns. For example, a medical device might require a smoother surface finish (lower micron value) compared to a prototyping model.
  1. Masked Stereolithography Apparatus (MSLA)

Masked Stereolithography Apparatus (MSLA) is a 3D printing technology similar to Stereolithography (SLA) but utilizes a different light source and method for curing resin layers. Here’s a breakdown of its key aspects:

  • Process
    • Similar to SLA, MSLA uses a photosensitive resin that hardens when exposed to specific light.
    • Unlike SLA, which uses a laser to cure the resin point-by-point, MSLA employs a masked LCD screen and a powerful UV LED array.
    • The LCD screen acts as a mask, selectively allowing UV light to pass through specific areas and cure the corresponding regions of the resin layer.
    • This process is repeated layer-by-layer to build the complete 3D object.
  • Benefits
    • Faster printing: MSLA can achieve faster printing speeds compared to traditional SLA due to its ability to cure an entire layer at once using the masked LCD screen.
    • Lower cost: MSLA printers generally require less complex and expensive components compared to SLA printers, making them potentially more affordable.
    • High-quality prints: MSLA is capable of producing high-resolution and detailed prints with smooth surface finishes.
  • Drawbacks
    • Limited resin compatibility: Compared to SLA, MSLA might have a smaller range of compatible resins due to the specific wavelength requirements of the UV LED light source.
    • Potential for layer shifting: In some MSLA printers, slight inaccuracies in the layer-by-layer alignment can occur, leading to a phenomenon called “layer shifting” where layers appear misaligned.

Overall, MSLA offers a faster and potentially more affordable alternative to traditional SLA for 3D printing with resin. While it might have limitations in resin compatibility and potential for layer shifting, its advantages make it a popular choice for various applications.

  1. Open Source

Open source refers to a collaborative development model for software, hardware, or any other creative work. It is characterized by the following key aspects:

  • Free access: The source code, blueprints, or design files are freely available for everyone to access, study, and modify.
  • Modification and distribution: Users are not only allowed to access the source code but also encouraged to contribute, modify, and improve upon it. These modifications can then be freely distributed and shared with others.
  • Community-driven: Open source projects often thrive on community involvement and collaboration. Users can contribute by fixing bugs, adding new features, translating documentation, and participating in discussions to improve the project.

Benefits of Open Source

  • Faster innovation: Open collaboration and collective problem-solving can lead to faster development and innovation.
  • Improved quality: The ability for anyone to contribute and identify issues leads to more rigorous testing and potentially higher quality software or hardware.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Open source projects are often developed and maintained without the need for expensive proprietary licenses, making them potentially more cost-effective alternatives to commercially licensed software or hardware.

Examples of Open Source Projects

  • Operating systems: Linux, Android
  • Software: Blender (3D modeling software), GIMP (image manipulation software)
  • Hardware: Arduino development boards

Open source plays a significant role in various fields, including 3D printing, by fostering collaboration and innovation in the development of software, hardware, and even 3D printing materials.

  1. PLA (Polylactic Acid)

PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a common biodegradable thermoplastic filament widely used in FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printing. It offers several advantages, making it a popular choice for various applications:

  • Biodegradable: PLA is derived from renewable resources like corn starch, sugarcane, or tapioca roots. This eco-friendly aspect makes it an attractive option for users who are environmentally conscious.
  • Ease of use: Compared to other filaments like ABS, PLA is generally easier to work with for beginners due to its:
    • Lower printing temperature: This reduces the risk of warping and allows for printing on platforms with lower heat tolerance.
    • Less warping: PLA is less prone to warping during printing, making it more forgiving for users who are still fine-tuning their printing settings.
    • No strong fumes: PLA doesn’t emit strong fumes during printing, making it a safer option for home use.
  • Applications: PLA is suitable for a wide range of applications, including:
    • Prototyping: Due to its ease of use and affordability, PLA is a popular choice for creating quick and inexpensive prototypes.
    • Toys and figurines: PLA’s smooth surface finish and various available colors make it suitable for printing toys and decorative objects.
    • Low-stress mechanical parts: While not ideal for high-stress applications, PLA can be used for functional parts that don’t require significant mechanical strength.

However, PLA also has some limitations:

  • Lower heat resistance: Compared to ABS, PLA has a lower heat deflection temperature, making it unsuitable for parts that will be exposed to high temperatures.
  • Lower strength: PLA is not as strong or durable as some other filament options like ABS.

Overall, PLA is a versatile and user-friendly filament that is a great choice for beginners and for applications where biodegradability, ease of use, and affordability are important factors.

  1. RepRap

RepRap is a pioneering open-source 3D printer project launched in 2005 by Dr. Adrian Bowyer. It aimed to create a self-replicating 3D printer, meaning a printer that could print most of its own parts using readily available materials.

Key Aspects of RepRap

  • Open-source nature: The RepRap project’s designs and documentation are freely available, allowing anyone to access, modify, and contribute to their development. This fostered collaboration and innovation within the 3D printing community.
  • Self-replication goal: Though the project ultimately didn’t achieve full self-replication, it significantly advanced the development of affordable and accessible 3D printers.
  • Impact on the 3D printing landscape: RepRap’s influence can be seen in many aspects of modern desktop 3D printers, including:
    • Open-source hardware and software: The RepRap project helped popularize the open-source approach in 3D printing, leading to the development of various open-source hardware and software tools.
    • Replicated designs: Many modern 3D printers borrow design concepts and principles from the RepRap project, contributing to the affordability and accessibility of this technology.

While RepRap didn’t achieve its initial goal of full self-replication, it has played a crucial role in shaping the landscape of modern 3D printing by promoting open-source collaboration and innovation.

  1. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a 3D printing technology primarily used for printing objects from powdered materials, most commonly metals. It utilizes a high-powered laser to selectively fuse (melt or sinter) particles of powder together layer-by-layer to build the desired 3D object.

Key Aspects of SLS

  • Process
    • A thin layer of powder is spread evenly across a platform.
    • A high-powered laser selectively melts or sinters the powder particles in each layer according to the digital 3D model.
    • The platform lowers, and a new layer of powder is spread on top.
    • The process repeats until the entire object is built.
    • Once complete, the unsintered powder supports the printed object, which is then carefully removed from the build chamber.
  • Benefits
    • High Accuracy and Detail: SLS can produce highly accurate and detailed prints with smooth surface finishes.
    • Wide Range of Materials: While primarily used with metals, SLS can also work with some plastic and nylon materials, offering some versatility in material choice.
    • Strong and Functional Parts: SLS-printed objects are known for their strength and functionality, making them suitable for various engineering and industrial applications.
  • Drawbacks
    • High Cost: SLS printers and materials are generally expensive, making it a less accessible technology for hobbyists or small-scale applications.
    • Post-Processing: SLS parts often require post-processing steps like removing support structures and cleaning residual powder, adding to the overall production time and complexity.
    • Safety Considerations: The high-powered laser and powder handling require proper safety precautions during operation.

Overall, SLS is a valuable technology for creating high-quality, functional parts from metal powders. However, its high cost, complex process, and safety considerations make it more suitable for industrial applications and professional use.

  1. Resin

Resin is a liquid photosensitive material used in 3D printing technologies like Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP), and Masked Stereolithography Apparatus (MSLA). It has the unique property of curing and solidifying when exposed to specific wavelengths of light, typically ultraviolet (UV) light.

Characteristics of Resin

  • High resolution and detail: Resin is known for its ability to produce highly detailed and smooth surface finishes in printed objects.
  • Wide range of properties: Different types of resins are available with various properties, catering to specific applications. These properties might include:
    • Strength and flexibility
    • Heat resistance
    • Biocompatibility
    • Transparency or color

Important Considerations with Resin

  • Health hazards:Most resins contain harmful chemicals and require proper handling and safety precautions to avoid skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion.
  • Proper ventilation:Working with resin requires well-ventilated spaces to avoid harmful fumes.
  • Waste disposal:Proper disposal of used resin and cleaning materials is crucial to avoid environmental contamination.

Overall, resin offers exceptional capabilities for creating high-quality 3D prints with diverse properties. However, it’s essential to handle resin with caution and adhere to safety guidelines due to its potential health risks.

Conclusion: Mastering 3D Printing Glossary

As you delve deeper into the world of 3D printing, remember that this glossary is just the beginning. With consistent exploration, experimentation, and continuous learning, you’ll soon be confidently navigating the ever-evolving landscape of 3D printing technology.

Feel free to revisit this glossary as you encounter new terms and concepts on your journey. Remember, the most important element is your passion for creating and the desire to push the boundaries of what’s possible. So, embrace the learning process, unleash your creativity, and start printing like a pro!

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