How 3D Printers Work

image of 3d Printer

3D Printer is a machine that creates 3D objects from data files where the objects are built up layer upon layer automatically. The process is called additive manufacturing, ie adding layer upon layer. The opposite is subtractive manufacturing, where you remove layers, e.g. cutters.

3D printers are available in many different variants, but all of them basically require two things to work:
Raw material , and Data file .

Depending on the 3D Printer, the process is performed in different ways. In this guide, we will go through how a 3D Printer works, what different technologies are available for 3D Printers, what raw materials are available, and the data files that are needed.

The technology for 3D printers

3D Printer Guide for Beginners 2

How 3D printers work

3D Printers work differently depending on the technology used. Here we see how an FFF (FDM) 3D Printer works, which is the most common type of printer that accounts for about 70% of all 3D Printers on the market today.

Such a 3D Printer works by passing Filament (No. 1) on to an Extruder (No. 2) where it finally enters a nozzle (No. 3) which is heated to a certain temperature, to then create a 3D print. .

The extruder unit can move in the X and Y directions, while the building plate can move in the Z direction.
The picture illustrates how it goes in general terms.

What are the different 3D Printers?

3D Printers work in different ways (different processes) to achieve the same thing, a 3D Object. These are the processes that distinguish 3D printers. There are pros and cons to all processes. Below we go through some of the most common processes. It is worth noting that FFF (FDM) is the most common process and about 70% of 3D Printers on the market work according to this process.

Processes for 3D Printers

  • FFF (Also called FDM)

    FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication), also called FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is the method of creating 3D objects layer by layer by melting filaments (the raw material). This is by far the most common type of process within 3D Printers.

  • SLA

    SLA (Stereolithography apparatus) is a method of creating 3D objects by using light rays to “bind” the raw material. More used in industry and professional organizations.

  • DLP

    DLP (Digital Light Processing) is a method of creating 3D objects similar to SLA, by using light rays to “bind” the raw material.

  • SLS

    SLS (Selective laser sintering) is a method of creating 3D objects where a laser is pushed against the raw material and binds it to a solid shape.

Raw Materials for 3D Printers

atom printer filaments
A 3D Printer uses raw materials to build its 3D Object. Which raw material to use depends on which 3D Printer you have.

FFF 3D Printer uses a raw material called Filament , which you see in the picture next to it.

The principle is the same regardless of 3D Printer: The raw material in = The material that the printout consists of.

The raw materials can also have different properties or modifications, which are then reflected in the printout. For example. you can have a mixture of metal powder and plastic to get a slightly more metallic look on the 3D print, or you can have a flexible material to get flexible properties on the 3D print.

Since Filament is the most common raw material, we have a whole guide for filaments only. Below we briefly describe some common raw materials.

About the different raw materials for 3D Printers

  • Filament

    Filament is the raw material in the form of “string” on a spool, which is then pulled up to the 3D printer. As the printer prints, it pulls on the Filament spool very much like a sewing machine. Filaments are available with different modifications and different properties, as well as in different diameters. Filament is used by FFF (FDM) 3D printers and is the most common form of raw material for 3D printers.

  • Powder

    Powder form as a raw material for 3D Printers is more common in industrial organizations. The most common powder materials are Polyamide and Alumide. Powder is mainly used in SLS 3D printers. It is very advantageous to use powder in larger quantities as it will be easier to transport it.

  • Resin

    Resin is a liquid material for 3D printers. The material becomes solid in the 3D printer when it is printed. Resin is mainly used in SLA / DLP 3D Printers and is also mostly used in industrial organizations.

Data Files for 3D Printers – Why Is It Needed?


The data file needed to control the 3D The printer usually comes in the STL format. This file contains a mesh structure needed for 3D writing. There are also other file types, some of which also contain color codes.

After the data model is completed, it must be converted to numeric codes that a 3D printer can interpret. This is done with a special program, which usually accompanies the printer when purchasing. After the program has converted the 3D model to numeric values, a new file is created, called G-CODE. It is this command file that is used and interpreted by the 3D Printer, which in turn creates the 3D object.

Which 3D Printer is Best?

You can read aboutwhich 3D Printer is best for small business in our comparison of 3D Printers updated 2019.

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