3D Printing Technologies 2017-07-05T20:00:49+00:00

3D Printing Technologies

3D Printing has several patented methods and technologies for creating an object.  In fact, if you’ve read about the specifics of 3d printing before, you’ve likely heard some of the many acronyms used to describe these processes.  FDM, FFF, SLA, etc.   For the sake of simplicity, clarity, and ignoring the lexical quagmire of listing patented acronyms as a resource, we have grouped these processes into the 5 most common types of 3d printing.

  • Material Extrusion
  • VAT Photopolymerization
  • Material Jetting
  • Binder Jetting
  • Powder Bed Fusion

Material Extrusion

How it works: 

Material Extrusion 3D printers work by extruding spooled filament through a heated nozzle which melts the material.  It is the deposited layer by layer.  As the material quickly dries, the build plate moves down in the Z-axis and then another layer of material is deposited.  This way of 3d printing is very similar to how a hot glue gun works.

Build Volume Size:

Although the build volume varies by machine, the typical max size you can print is around 8″x8″x6″ tall, or the size of a small shoebox.


Depending on the resolution, there may be visible “stepping” of layers.  This is when the horizontal layers of each material deposit is visible.  The lower the quality print, the more evident the stepping will be.

Support Structure:

With material extrusion, or FDM, 3d prints, a secondary support material is often needed.  This helps with overhangs or bridges so that each layer of material has a surface to build on.

There are two types of support structures.  One kind of support structure is made from the same material, PLA for instance, but is deposited in a pattern generated by the slicing software so that it is brittle and can be broken off of the main model after printing.

The second type of support structure is done with a different material that can be dissolved away afterwards leaving the original print in tact.  This method of FDM supports is typically for higher end models and has higher quality results.

The shape of the “Y” slopes gradually so no support is needed.

The “bridge” in the middle of the “H” would have no surface to deposit on if it weren’t for supports.

The overhangs on the “T” need supports to be able to print properly.

Material Extrusion Materials







ABS/ Polycarbonate Composite Materials

Flexible (Thermoplastic Elastomer)

Some 3d printing filaments, such as those sold by Ninjaflex, are flexible.  These are a bit more difficult to print, but can have really effective results.

Wood and Metal Composites

Wood (sawdust) and metal powder can be mixed with polycarbonate and made into a composite material that has a similar appearance and some material qualities as either wood or metal.  For instance, wood composite filaments can be sanded.

Reinforced Composites

Another composite filament available is carbon fiber filament.  This is an experimental material for extra strong prints.  Markforged is a 3d printer manufacturer that makes printers specifically for printing from strong carbon fiber reinforced materials.

Experimental Materials


3D printed concrete has been seen in speculative (and sometimes practical) building applications as a potential exciting new way to make built structures.


Groups like Emerging Objects have been hacking 3d printers to extrude experimental materials such as clay and ceramics.  Custom gcode paths are created to make unique and beautiful vases like the ones pictured.


Yes, that is a PancakeBot.  It’s a “3d printer” for pancake.  Nearly any food that can be liquified or melted can likely be used in a 3d printing application.

Material Extrusion Printers

Desktop Printers

($300 – $3,000)

Includes: Makerbot, Ultimaker, RepRap, Lulzbot, Zortrax

Large Material Extrusion Printers


Commerical Printers


VAT Photopolymerization (SLA)

Vat photo-polymerization refers to the process wherein a liquid resin is selectively cured with a laser or UV light, layer by layer, until a finished object is cured and removed from the liquid solution.  Typically, these materials are acrylic based and proprietary solutions.  The most common 3d printing method that fits under the Vat photo-polymerization umbrella is “stereolithography”, or SLA.

Support Structures

Advancements in algorithmic support structure generation results in using less material.

Objects are snapped of from the support structures after being cured.

SLA 3D Printers



Carbon M2

($40,000/ year)

3D Systems ProX 950


Material Jetting (Polyjet)

How it Works:

Material Jetting Materials

High Detail Rigid Parts

Simulated Rubber

Tranparent High Detail Prints

Material Jetting (Polyjet) 3D Printers

Objet 30


Connex 500


Objet 1000


Binder Jetting (CJP)

How it Works:


Architecture Models

Figurines & Props

Full Color 3D Replicas

Binder Jetting 3D Printers:

Projet 460


Projet 660


Projet 860


Powder Bed Fusion (SLS)

How it Works:

Laser Sintered Nylon (Polyamide)

Nylon 3d prints are sometimes referred to as “strong and flexible plastic”.

Dyed Nylon

Laser sintered nylon is nearly always monochromatic white – but can be dyed many other monochromatic colors.  This process is similar to dyeing nylon fabric.

Laser Sintered Metal

Powdered metal can also be sintered together using this technique.  Pictured is a 3d printed aluminum belt buckle.

SLS 3D Printers:

EOS Formiga P110


Pro X SLS 500