How Does A 3D Printer Work?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: June 25, 2022

Are you tech-savvy and excited about the new 3D printing technology? Or merely wondering how 3D printers work? Stick around and worry not! We conducted comprehensive research on how 3D printers work so that you may have an idea of the 3D printing process and 3D object manufacturing methods.

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3D printers use the state of the art technologies in designing and manufacturing 3D objects. The 3D printer works like an inkjet printer and is operated from a computer. If you are interested in knowing how a 3D printer works, let us dive into this detailed guide.

The desktop 3D printers use computer-aided design (CAD) on 3D printing materials. Still, the 3D printer works by extruding molten plastic through its tiny nozzle.

The 3D printing technology involves layering a wide range of materials like composites, plastics, and bio-materials to manufacture objects using 3D printers. The 3D printer layering technology is referred to as modeling FDM. Layering technology is also referred to as additive manufacturing.

The 3D printer prints a layer and waits for the object layer to dry before printing the next layer. Due to the fact that the 3D printer uses a liquid resin, the drying process is quick.

Can a 3D Printer Print Anything?

The 3D printer does an amazing job using selective laser sintering which is an additive manufacturing technique.

Well, the 3D printer can print almost anything. However, printing depends and is subjected to a certain level of limitations that are discussed below.

The 3D printers have a maker movement ability and can print almost any object. Using the 3D powder bed fusion, an additive manufacturing technology, and a 3D printer, you can print any item. You can print a 3D part one layer at a time using fine powder or the metal powder print medium.

However, the 3D printers are only limited to what they can print by their build volume. Therefore, this means the bigger the printer, the larger the shapes and volumes of 3D printed objects.

The 3D slicer software is a 3D printer software program that helps you input a 3D print model’s information into a digital file in the 3D desktop printer. This determines the extent to which 3D printers can print.

Thus, it gives a pointer to the limitations of what the 3D printers can achieve. The more advanced the 3D slice program, the better the models produced in 3D printing. It equally determines the variability, as you have more options to print with this software.

When you look at a cross-section of the 3D printed objects that were printed in any 3D printing project, you will appreciate the 3D printing technology’s uniqueness. The 3D print is sought after since the 3D printers print almost any material, shape, and object you can imagine.

Powered by the powder bed technology, a cross-section of 3D printers, and Stereolithography (SLA), 3D printing technology creates models, prototypes, patterns, and many other objects you may desire.

You might like: What Is 3D Printing Used For?

Interestingly, a house can be printed using 3D printing technology. The process uses the SLA type of 3D printing.

The printers can print body parts of a vehicle or a vessel, a phone lockbox, a Tesla Cybertruck, and a pet food dispenser. Additive manufacturing provides a wide range of 3D printing options that go beyond this shortlist

How Does 3D Printing Actually Work? [Step by Step]

Here is how 3D printers work:

Step One: Creation

The Creation of a blueprint slash three-dimensional digital file of objects you may want to print is the first step. You need to use modern state of art technology in creating images of items that you desire.

Designing is an important step during the creation of an object. Therefore, you can use Computer-aided Design (CAD) deployment to create designs used for rapid prototyping in 3D format. Many professionals from different industries in the economy build platforms that use CAD for 3D printing with exceptional laser cutting.

Apart from the CAD, numerous other software that can produce files for 3D printing processes are available—Some of these 3D design software includes AutoCAD, Blender, Solid Works, Sketchy up, and Photoshop.

3D scanning provides an alternative to CAD. The third-dimensional file for Scanning could be a printed object that can be scanned out of thousands of images from multiple digital files across the web.

This type of 3D printing design, 3D Scanning, is a technology that provides digital replicas after you analyze real-world objects.

3D Scanning tends to be used in reverse engineering by industry professionals. Therefore, it gives unique qualities as you can alter or modify the desired object’s image after scanning. The 3D Scanning enables the manufacturing of varied designs of things through the 3D printing project.

Downloading images of objects that you plan on 3D printing is an aspect of creation you should not ignore. If you are not interested in designing your own images, rest assured that you can download pictures of objects as part of getting the best 3D object designs, saving your precious time.

Several websites are known to provide images of objects, and you can pay to download them. Such websites are; Shape ways, CrabCad, My Mini Factory, and You Megane.

Step Two: STL File Format

Any 3D printing file format needs designing. The STL is the most common file format that works in a 3D printing project. STL stands for Stereolithography. The names take a historical angle because it originates from the first-ever 3D printing process.

It marks the second step in the 3D printing process, once you finish the CAD design. After picking a compatible STL format design, the object’s image is sent to the printer.

Remember, the 3D printing format must be designed ostensibly with the 3D printing process in mind, this allows it to function at the printing stage.

Step Three: Slicing

Slicing is the process of chopping or dividing the 3D printing model into a hundred or thousands of horizontal layers that instruct the machine on what to do procedurally. In other words, slicing translates 3D files into instructions the printer follows.

You need to appropriately adjust the 3D printer and get the right settings to achieve the best results.

After the slicing process is completed, a new file format is generated called a G-Code. It is the machine’s language and the only way to communicate with the 3D printer.

3D printers create an object using G-Code language technologies by extruding hot plastic filaments at the nozzle tip with appropriate settings.

The printers follow the CAD-designed lines that represent the path the printers should follow when binder-jetting or layering plastic filaments to create the model design or the desired object through the language.

You can adjust the settings to suit your printer to get the right language code, and to simplify the process. Take note that you do not need any coding knowledge to adjust your 3D printer settings. However, should you need someone else to do it for you, professional service providers can be utilized.

You don’t have to worry about slicing with the service providers because they’ll take care of it.

Step Four: Printing the Model or Object

The printers are made of numerous, complicated movable parts. Therefore, you need to handle them with care to ensure they last long.  Most of these printers don’t have to be monitored when the material extrusion is on course.

The printers will automatically follow the inbuilt G-Code and continue printing. More so, provided the raw material has not run out, and it has not experienced any software error that can bring the printing system to a halt.

What Material Does a 3D Printer Use?

You can use numerous materials in 3D model manufacturing processes. The most commonly used 3D printing materials include the ABS and PLA plastic filaments. ABS and PLA filaments are just part of a long list of supporting material for 3D manufacturing processes.

Here are some of the 3D manufacturing raw materials commonly used in the printing process.

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ABS is an oil-based thermoplastic material. Most 3D printed models made of this material boast a higher strength, flexibility, and durability than the other 3D manufacturing plastic materials such as the PLA.

The ABS remains the most popular plastic filament for injection modeling. It is credited with the variability of copolymers and ease of processing, making it the most popular 3D plastic filament among engineering polymers.

3D printer users need to take safety precautions when printing using the ABS plastic filament as it is one of the least safe plastic filaments widely used.

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PLA belongs to the elite and most popular 3D manufacturing plastic filament. Unlike the ABS filament, PLA plastic filament is a vegetable-based plastic filament or a polylactic acid. Cornstarch is a significant raw material used for manufacturing PLA plastic filament.

The material is cheaper compared to the oil-based ABS plastic filament, and it remains quite easy to use. PLA is the most commonly used natural raw material in 3D printing and the safest thermoplastic material in manufacturing 3D models.

PLA plastic material is preferred for making packages for the food industry as a substitute for oil-based plastic filaments such as the ABS.

Related: Is PLA Food Safe?

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The 3D printing and manufacturing process uses resin a lot. Resin is the material used to aid the process of cooling down plastic filament materials used in additive manufacturing. Resin is highly applied in technologies such as SLA, DPL, Multijet, and CLIP.

Resin comes in various types; the most commonly used wax for 3D printing are Castable resin, Flexible resin, and Tough resin.

Because of its low shrinkage capability, it is used in many 3D printing applications. Resin has a high chemical resistance making it a rigid and delicate 3D printing material.

How Much Does It Cost to Use a 3D Printer?

The cost of using a 3D printer depends on several factors. The most glaring factors that affect the 3D manufacturing processes’ are the printing technology, the printing materials, the design and finishing touch of the 3D printed object or model.

3D printers and printing technologies are based on various diverse technologies. So, if you want to buy a 3D printer, you need to consider the technology it uses to determine the cost of the printer and the additive manufacturing process.

The technology elements that you may need to figure out before making a purchase are the size of the 3D printer, the printing speed, precision, and printing technology.

A basic FDM printer that meets your needs can cost you as low as $200. It certainly can’t be compared to the best 3D printers in the market because this technology lacks the speed, accuracy, or precision of the most sophisticated 3D printers. Nonetheless, It will introduce and grant you exposure to 3D model printing at a very low cost.

The more sophisticated a printer is in terms of 3D printing technologies, the more it costs. A good example is the SLS printer which costs around $5000. It can carry out advanced manufacturing processes that basic 3D printers can’t do.

For this reason, you only purchase it if you are engaged in printer work that is truly advanced in nature.

How a 3D printer works overly depends on the type of 3D plastic filament you use. When choosing the kind of plastic filament to use for your 3D printer, you may need to consider the filament’s compatibility with the printer and the filament cost.

The plastic filament cost impacts directly on the overall cost of 3D printer work. For example, the oil-based 3D printing plastic filaments such as the ABS cost more than the bio-degradable, vegetable-based plastic filaments like the PLA.

The Least expensive 3D printing materials are for FDM technologies. Thermoplastic materials are commonly used in 3D printing. Luckily, they are quite affordable.

Cost of High-End 3D printing material

The plastic filament material used in 3D printing cost is high if the 3D printed models need high-end fused deposition modeling. These types of 3D printing cost high because a sophisticated process needs high-end 3D printing materials.

The cost goes higher depending on how technical and precious the material is in the manufacturing process.

A good example is a resin that advanced 3D printers use. The material used in polyjet technology is expensive compared to its SLS polymer counterparts. The cost difference is due to the variability of the materials in the market.

Materials used in SLM and DMLS technologies cost more compared to those seen in recent years.

 Take an example of the SLM and DMLS technologies that use a material that costs $100 compared to materials that cost $10.


This article delves deeply to answer the question “How does a 3D printer work?” We have walked you through several aspects of the 3D printer, more so, the objects it prints, the material its uses, and how much it will cost you to use a 3D printer.

With this detailed information, you are highly placed to benefit from 3D printing and manufacturing processes.

Michael Brooks is the founder of He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.