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Back to basics: A 3D printing guide

3D printing guide

Confused about 3D printing?

Here at GoPrint3D, we have been inundated with questions about the technologies, components, filaments and features of 3D printers from people who struggle to wrap their heads around what is, admittedly, a jargon-rich industry. So we thought we’d put together a handy guide for you split into four parts: 1) Technologies, 2) Components, 3) Filaments and 4) Features to help you understand your guide holes from your extruders and your SLA printers from your SLS printers.

If we have missed anything off our list that you would like more information about, please do not hesitate to send us an email and we’ll reply to you as soon as we are able. So without further ado, let's begin:

Technologies

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

FFF 3D printers melt plastic and layer this plastic by way of an extruder. Melted plastic is extruded layer by layer to create a 3D object. It is the most common 3D printing technology.

Some examples of FFF 3D printers include the 3DP 1000 Large Format 3D Printer and the Zortrax range.

Fused deposition modelling (FDM)

This is the same technology as FFF.

Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF)

CFF is a printing process that refers to the use of composites in combination with traditional FFF. A dual extruder setup is used; one to print nylon and the other to print composites.

There is only one CFF 3D printer on the market, The Mark One by Markforged.

Stereolithography (SLA)

SLA printers use a resin (liquid plastic) to print objects in a photopolymer process. A laser is directed across a tray of resin causing a thin layer to solidify. The part is then lifted by the build platform and the tank raised up a layer.

SLA 3D printers include the Formlabs Form 1+ and Form 2.

Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL)

SDL is a 3D printing technology that uses A4 paper and glue to create 3D models. It is an eco-friendly technology and parts are fully recyclable.

SDL 3D printers include the Mcor Iris and Mcor 300+.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS is a printing process where tiny particles of thermoplastic powder are fused together by heat from a laser. Layer by layer, models are built up to form a 3D object.

Selective Heat Sintering (SHS)

SHS is a patented technology by Blueprinter in use with the M3 3D printer. It is similar to SLS, except it uses a thermal print head instead of a laser to fuse plastic particles together.

Components

Filament

A filament is the material you print with. It can be thought of as the ink to an inkjet printer.

Build plate/platform

The build plate or platform is what printed filament sticks to while being printed. Most 3D printers use a glass build plate, while high end ones use a heated build plate to improve adhesion. Some, such as the Form 2’s build platform, pull the model upwards clear of the resin tank.

Guide hole

The guide hole is used to guide filament into the top of the extruder. On most printers, you manually push your filament into the guide hole to a certain point, so that the extruder has a healthy supply of filament to print with.

Extruder

The extruder extrudes filament - it is the component your filament passes through before being forced out of the print head’s nozzle. Some FFF 3D printers have a dual extruder set up – this can be for a variety of reasons; some printers have a dual-extruder setup simply to speed up the print process, while others have one extruder dedicated to high-melting point filaments and the other to low-melting points filaments. In most 3D printer applications, one extruder will be dedicated to printing supports for the model being printed.

Materials

ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)

ABS is one of the most common filaments. It offers good impact resistance and it is sturdy with a long lifespan. It has a high melting point and it is ideal for making parts for machines.

PLA (Polylactic acid)

PLA can be printed on a cold surface and it is softer than ABS. It is more environmentally friendly being bio-degradable and it is easier to work with. It will deform if exposed to heat.

Nylon

Nylon is stronger and more durable than ABS and PLA. It is flexible and extremely strong and relatively cheap to buy. Only specialised printers support it.

Resin

Resin is a filament supported by stereolithography 3D printers, such as the Formlabs Form 1+ and Form 2. Resin is liquid plastic and it is converted into solid plastic by curing with an ultraviolet (UV) laser. It is similar in texture to ABS, but it offers greater detail overall.

Composites

Composites are printed by Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF) printers. They include Kevlar, carbon fibre and fibreglass. The only printer that can print composites is The Mark One by Markforged. This printer reinforces nylon parts with strands of Kevlar, carbon fibre or fibreglass to create industrial-strength parts. It is perfect for engineering applications.

Thermoplastic power

Thermoplastic powder is a filament supported by SLS and SHS printers, such as the Blueprinter M3. Thin layers of plastic powder are sintered and built up to form a part. This filament offers high levels of detail and it is relatively cost-effective, however the printers that support it are expensive.

Features

Build volume

Build volume refers to the size of parts and models that can be printed in one sitting. For example, the Form 2 has a build volume of 145 × 145 × 175 mm, or 5.7 × 5.7 × 6.9 in.

Connectivity

Connectivity refers to how a printer connects to a computer or network, or how you provide your printer with data. Five years ago most 3D printers accepted USB or SD card, however most printers now feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in addition to the options above.

Layer height

Layer height is the thickness of each layer a printer can print. It is one of the main indicators of print quality. The thinner the layers a printer can print the better the detail will be.

Layer resolution

Layer resolution is the same as layer height. Printing at a minimum layer resolution will result in a very detailed model. The best commercial 3D printers can print at 0.1mm or less.

Print speed

This is the speed at which a printer can print. However, several factors can influence print speed including the filament used, layer resolution and the complexity of the print.

Have we missed anything?

So there we have it, a handy guide for the 3D printing industry. We hope you have found it as useful as we intended it to be, and we’ll update our article as and when new technologies emerge to keep it as relevant as possible. If we've missed anything off that you feel should be included, be sure to let us know!

Image credit: Thingiverse, more models of this kind can be found here.