A Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing | How Does a 3D Printer Work?

You’ve probably heard about the hype on 3D printing and how it is changing the manufacturing industry. In the past, you need to spend thousands of dollars to get a good 3D printing machine and scanner. Today, there are more affordable options for hobbyists or people who just want to try how it works.

3D printers are new machines that can create everyday things. They are extremely amazing because you can produce different objects out of different materials. You can do all these with just a single machine. If you’re planning to try 3D printing or you plan to enter this industry, it is important to know how it works and how it can benefit you.

What Is 3D Printing?

Additive Manufacturing (AM Printing) or 3D printing is the process of creating three-dimensional objects from a digital file. Just like a traditional printer, you can print an object based on a digital file. However, instead of putting the object on a piece of paper, you are printing a tangible item. As the name implies, the material will be printed or added on top of each other to create a physical item.

You can use 3D printers to create toys, musical instruments, mobile phone cases, jewelry, and more. It is very beneficial as you can use it to print complex objects without the need for large machinery. It has been around for over three decades, but it was only introduced to the public recently because cheaper alternatives were sold in the market.

The Different Benefits of 3D Printing

It’s easy to say that 3D printing is the best option right now, but for beginners, will it really benefit you in the long run? Before you consider this type of option for your business, here are some of the benefits that you should know about.

1. Speed

One of the best reasons to consider 3D printing is its speed in creating physical prototypes. Traditionally, it would take days or even weeks to create a prototype. But, with a three-dimensional printer, you can create one in just a few hours.

Rapid prototyping is very popular right now as it allows companies to try and test new products faster. It is also more efficient as you won’t waste a lot of money on design flaws.

2. Cost

Based on how 3D printing works, you can easily say that the cost is lower compared to other manufacturing methods. These printers are usually computer-controlled and the objects that are printed come from digital files. It means that you can mass-produce digital designs.

This is called Rapid Tooling. You can create identical items faster, making the manufacturing process more affordable at the same time. Since the time it takes to create a single item will be significantly lessened, the power consumption will also be reduced.

3. Customizing the Objects

When you are printing 3D objects, you can customize the design as much as you want. Designs that are nearly impossible with traditional manufacturing can now be done using 3D printing.

When you are making the designs, you can use your imagination and add whatever you want. The printer can create it for you, allowing you to see if your design is feasible or not. Through this, you can make the necessary adjustments to make sure that you can get the design right.

4. Flexibility

The best thing about 3D printers is that you can create anything as long as it fits its build volume. The printers have different sizes and it would determine whether you can build a specific object or not.

By looking at the traditional manufacturing process, every new part will require a new mold, tool, or jig to create a new part. For 3D printing, the design will be placed on the slicer software, add some supports and it will be printed with almost no change with the machine.

It is so flexible that you can print a different design right now and print a new one later. You won’t have to change any settings or you don’t need to buy any expensive parts for the machinery. As long as you want to change the design, you can just replace it with a new one.

5. Competitive Advantage

If you have a business that revolves around product manufacturing, it is very important to use 3D printing. It will allow you to improve, enhance, and make changes to the product in a shorter time frame.

You can also create a prototype for a demonstration to customers and investors. Instead of just explaining it to them, you can show the prototype for the finished product so they can have an idea of what to expect from it.

Basically, you have a competitive advantage over your competitors as you can create prototypes faster and you can demonstrate them right away to your investors and customers. You can also get feedback from potential customers based on the prototype that you created.

6. Faster Product Testing

We’ve already mentioned that 3D printing will allow you to create products faster. You can show it to your customers and get immediate feedback from them. The best thing about this is that you can make the necessary changes immediately and print or create a prototype the next day for another round of evaluation.

With faster product testing, the release of your new product will speed up as well. You can easily create the perfect prototype.

7. Consistency

When creating a specific part, you can monitor it and prevent any problem from occurring during the manufacturing process. In traditional manufacturing, you can only see the problem after seeing the batch of parts. If one of them is defective, you can expect that more of the parts have problems as well.

For 3D printing, every part is created in succession. It means that you can stop the process immediately if you see any problem with one of the parts. This will reduce the number of failed parts and wasted materials and improve the quality of the manufactured parts.

8. Accessibility

3D printers are now more accessible than traditional manufacturing machinery. These printers can now be bought by hobbyists and normal individuals. There are cheap printers and scanners in the market that you can use to try how it works.

How to Choose the Best 3D Printer

If you are convinced about the benefits that a 3D printer can offer, the next step is knowing how to buy the best one that would fit your needs. Whether you’re a hobbyist or you are the owner of a manufacturing company, knowing how to choose a 3D printer can help you save more money in the long run. Before you run off and buy one, here are some of the tips that you can follow.

1. What Do You Need from a 3D Printer?

Before we go to the more advanced tips, you need to ask yourself what you actually need from a 3D Printer. If you are a person how loves to create DIY projects, a hobbyist, or a business owner, then you definitely need this type of printer. But, it is not enough to figure out what you need from a 3D printer. Here is a checklist that you can consider:

  • What do you want to print? You have to remember that there is a big difference between printing a simple gadget tool and industrial-scale objects. You need to figure out if you need it for simple projects or you’re going to use it for manufacturing large orders.
  • How frequently are you planning to use it? For typical hobbyists, they will not use the printer too often compared with a manufacturing company. This will boil down to the quality of the printer because if the materials are too cheap, you can’t expect it to withstand frequent printing.
  • How much time are you willing to wait for the printing process? There are printers that are very slow and some are extremely fast. Take note that faster printers are more expensive.

2. Types of 3D Printers

There are different types of 3D printers and you have to choose one based on how you plan to use it.

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): This type of printer works by heating a filament and directing it through the tube. It will then be extracted on the X, Y, and Z axes to create the 3D object that you want to make. This printer is also known for its horizontal layer lines and it will smooth out the final prints.

  • Digital Light Processing (DLP): This printer uses vat polymerization to create your desired object. A light will target a certain point on the material and the polymer will start to harden in that specific place. With this process, DLP can produce much smoothing final prints than FDM.

  • Stereolithography (SLA): In this kind of printer, a photo-solidification process happens. The fusion of the chemicals will form the layers of the object that you’re printing. The process is pretty much the same with DLP printers. But, SLA printers will focus on a single point and solidify the resin.

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): The other printers use filament or resin, but this model uses a vat of powder. Just like the DLP and SLA printers, it also makes new layers by focusing on a single point. If the laser moves to a different position, the vat of powder will begin to solidify. This is the best printer to use for objects that are very complex.

3. Material

When choosing a 3D printer, you need to know what type of material they can handle. Before you choose one, make sure that you know the best materials to use on specific tasks. Here are the two materials that you can choose from:

  • Filament: This kind of material is made from plastics like PETG, ABS, and PLA. If you plan to manufacture different objects and you plan to sell them in the market, this is the best material to use.

  • Resin: This material is perfect for small desktop gadgets and they are often used for prototypes. However, they are too light to be used for an actual product. This is also the material used for medical needs like hearing aids, custom dental objects, and more.

4. Safety Features

There are a few safety features that you need to consider when you’re buying a 3D printer.

  • Automatic Nozzle Cooling: This is a feature that will indicate if the printing is done. It’s hard to know if the printing is finished just by looking at the final result. Doing anything while it’s printing might damage the printer.

  • Heated Bed Automatic Shut-Off: If your printer has a heated bed, look for a printer that will automatically turn it off when the printing is done.

  • You should also check if the printer moves the nozzle away when the printing is done or when you pause it. Leaving the nozzle on the printing platform can cause heat damage because of the excess filament that would form in the area.

  • Storing Task Progress: You need to look for a printer that can store your task progress just in case a blackout happens. With this, you can resume the printing and avoid starting over.

  • Flexible Steel Plates: Your 3D printer should have flexible steel plates that you can use to remove the final product from the printer.

5. Quality

Your main priority when buying a 3D printer is quality. You should focus on the best quality printers as they offer the best features and they last for a long time. Although there are cheaper alternatives, they are often catered to hobbyists or people who just want to try 3D printing. If you’re serious about this, you need to focus on quality.

It’s better to focus on the print speed and print resolution of the printer as they will affect the quality of the final product. If you want the best 3D printing experience, then you should focus on the build quality of the printer.

6. Price

It is safe to say that the price of the 3D printer is related to its overall quality. More expensive models are definitely better in terms of features and quality. But, you should check the features first and make sure that you can use all of them before buying an expensive model.

Although price is a very important consideration, you need to check the features first before you decide on the price. The cost of the 3D printer will be very important once you’ve found several models with the same features. You can choose based on their price.

7. Maintenance Costs

When you buy a 3D printer, you should not only think about the cost of the machinery. You need to consider the costs of running it. Well, it may not be a big deal if you are only a hobbyist, but if you plan to manufacture multiple products, then you should know what you’re dealing with.

You need to think about the supplemental materials that your 3D printer will need in the future. Always remember that your 3D printer is not resistant to damage so you should know the common problems that you might experience while using it. You can ask around for maintenance tips or you can check some of the spare parts to help you out in case a problem occurs.

You should always look for 3D printers with energy-saving features. It may not be too noticeable when you are only printing a few times every week. But, if you start mass-producing products, energy-saving features will surely be beneficial to you.

8. Customer Support

Reliable customer support is always important when buying a 3D printer. This product is very expensive so you need to make sure that you are getting the best one for your money. But, there are instances where you will be sent a defective product.

You can read some reviews online and look for positive reviews on the customer support of a specific brand. This will give you an idea if they are approachable and if they can handle your concerns as soon as possible.

Different Applications of 3D Printing

3D printing is extremely popular right now, but do you have any idea where they are used? You’ve heard about manufacturing and product creation, but it is only one of the different applications where 3D printing can be applied. Here are some of the other applications that use 3D printing.

1. Prosthetic Limbs

The medical industry has benefitted greatly from 3D printing as it is used to create prosthetic limbs. Thousands of people lose a limb every year, which might be caused by an accident or a health issue. However, only a few people get access to prosthetic limbs as they are very expensive in the past.

With 3D printing, prosthetic limbs became more affordable and you can now get access to a customized prosthesis that would fit you perfectly. You won’t have to spend too much money on this because 3D printing simplified the manufacturing process.

2. Creating Homes and Buildings

This is unbelievable if you are not updated with the latest innovations in the 3D printing industry. It can now create entire houses and even buildings. This is a life-saving feature as it would help build houses for people in times of natural disasters. Earthquakes and large storms are very common right now and the ability to build a house in just a few days will be very helpful.

In Moscow, Russia, a team used 3D printing to create a 400 square foot house in less than 24 hours. This speed can potentially save lives, especially if you have multiple printing machines that are capable of performing the same feat.

3D Printing will also give way to new architectural designs that were considered impossible. They can make prototypes and perform the necessary changes to create the perfect design.

3. Food

If you think that 3D printers can only use very specific materials, you’re making a mistake. A few people recently made a breakthrough and used 3D printing in culinary arts. With the use of a plastic 3D printer, they can print chocolate based on a digital design. As long as you have a design in mind, you can put it in the 3D printer and you can use chocolate to create it.

There are some companies that even managed to print edible foods with the use of ice cream, marzipan, cookie dough, and burgers.

4. Firearms

There is a controversial issue about the ability of a 3D printer to create firearms after the gun “Liberator” became a working plastic. Yes, this is a firearm created with the use of 3D printing. It is a dangerous thing because anyone can make a firearm if they can get access to the design blueprints. They can even make their own blueprints and develop guns if they want.

If you look at it positively, the military will benefit greatly from this because guns made from 3D printers are lighter. This is beneficial for the military as they can bring more guns and ammunition to the battlefield.

5. Musical Instruments

After the success of Sweden’s Lund University in its first live concert featuring 3D printed musical instruments, 3D printing became the focus of attention once again. If you can create flutes, violins, banjos, and other musical instruments with 3D printers, then you can mass produce these instruments and sell them.

We will probably see a lot of companies in the future manufacturing musical instruments and they are all made from plastic.


3D Printers are very in demand right now and more and more industries are finding more uses for them. Since they are accessible and readily available to the general public, you can get one and try it out for yourself. You will surely realize how this simple machinery can slowly change and improve the world.

As of today, product engineers will benefit greatly from it. But, if you’re not really fond of creating something new or developing new objects, then it won’t really have a huge impact on you.

If you are planning to start with your product development and you want to try 3D printing, there are a lot of affordable options that you can try.