3D printers are complex devices that can “print” physical objects based on 3D computer models by laying down hundreds of thin layers of a material one on top of another. As these layers of material slowly build up, the object begins to take shape one slice at a time until it is completely formed. 3D printers come in many varieties that use different techniques and different materials. While typical consumer 3D printers use FDM (fused deposition modeling) to print with a variety of plastic filaments, more specialized 3D printers can print with other materials like metals, concrete, food, and even living cells.
Fused Deposition Modeling
There are several different methods of 3D printing, but the most widely used is a process known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). FDM printers begin by melting down a spool of modelling material known as filament. This filament can come in a wide array of materials, but is most commonly made of a thermoplastic known as PLA. Once the filament is heated to its melting point, it is then extruded through a nozzle (like a hot glue gun) and slowly lays down layer after layer to build up a 3D object.
Want more information about 3D printing? Watch this short 45 minute video for an introduction to processes, materials, and potential of 3D printing. Additional print resources are also available below the video.