How Does 3D Printing Work

Posted by ORD on 10th Oct 2017

Consider this a beginner’s guide to 3d printing. Here we try to answer the most common questions that about 3d printing, etc.

This is a growing post so check back often.

What is 3D Printing?

What do you think of when someone mentions ‘3d Printing’? Most likely you get confused or if you have some idea, you think of a small machine that makes stuff. Well although 3d printing has been around for a few decades, it is only in recent times that people outside of the industry are now looking in.

A basic definition of 3d printing is creating objects layer by layer but these days, there are various forms of printing something in 3d.

What is 3D Printing?

Let’s have a look at what they are:


Polymerization was the first type of 3d printing method created. The way it works is you take a tub of liquid, expose it to UV light and it turns to solid. At least that’s the general idea.

This method of 3D printing does have a couple of disadvantages through. First of all, you can only use a single type of material at a time. Second disadvantage that seems to be the most common with all 3d printing methods today is price.

Polymerization isn’t something you can set up in your backyard. It’s expensive but overtime, it’s definitely gotten a lot cheaper.

FDM or FFF Printing

The next 3d printing technology that we're going to talk about is  FDM or FFF 3d printing (Basically the same process). FDM or FFF printers are the most common 3d printers around.

In fact, this is the technology behind our multicolored Rova 3D printers as well.

If you have a 3D printer at home right now, most likely you are using an FDM or FFF based desktop printer. The technology behind is quite mature and that enables it to be distributed with various 3D printers out there.

It’s also the most affordable of all 3d printers available today and the pricing model can range from medium to high. Best part, additional parts or filaments for these printers are quite in the reach of most people out there. Naturally, this makes FDM printers a popular choice.

Most FFF 3d printers come with only one nozzle so you have to print supports for your design separately. This seems to be one of the few downsides for this type of printer. Another reason why FDM and FFF printers are popular is because there is always a ‘new’ material that comes out which you can use to print your designs. Today you can print things out of wood, plastic, glow in the dark, and the list goes on.

Material Jetting

Next type of 3d printing is called ‘material jetting’. This is where a head, like on your inkjet printer squirts out a material that is liquid initially but solidifies afterwards. It might be that UV cured, heat cured, or solidified in some other but it comes out as liquid, and it’s final form is immediately solid. This is actually one of the main difference when compared to layer by layer printing.

Say what you want but some of these printers are really out of this world. Now they are developing printers with multiple heads so they can work like your basic inkjet printer. What does that mean? It means you’ll have one head print out a rigid material, one flexible one, another one prints out water-soluble afterwards and the list goes on. Imagine all of this happening simultaneously.

Can you imagine what we could make with that kind of technology?

The challenge today is these technologies are held by only a few companies and they're very expensive to get (Including additional costs of the materials involved like filaments, extruders, etc). The real issue is there hasn’t been a iPhone of 3d printers yet. That’s when the game will change by leaps and bounds. for them again are controlled so they're also very expensive this is Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting

In this type of 3d printing, you have a reservoir of material that you lay down on a very thin layer. Almost as thin as dust. Then you go over it with a binder that binds it together just like a inkjet printer. So what makes binder jetting even more special? With binder jet materials, you can actually print in full color. Binder jetting printers are also known as multicolored 3d printers.

Another cool thing is that you don't have to worry about supports because you're filling up your reservoir and your build area with each layer. So the supports are automatically held in place. You just have to (After the print is done) reach into that filled up reservoir of material and pull your print out.

Now there are some disadvantages to this technology. First it's very large and you need to have a reservoir as big as your build area. The build area can also be very messy due to a lot of fine dusty particles. Long story short, this is not a technology that you can have in your home. Binder jetting is generally a bit more expensive than your quintessential 3d printing technology.

When it comes to 3d printing in general, the technology is also limited by the lack of open source solutions. With companies holding on to their patents like an old lady to it’s cats, the 3d printing industry can definitely use some speed in it’s innovation.

Powder Jet Fusion

Same idea as binder jetting but this time, we take the powdery substance and bind it to itself. All is done by using a laser. Powder jet fusion definitely makes the strongest parts of them all. In fac, this is the type of 3d printers that Boeing and other major players in the industry use.

Naturally, this method also happens to be the most expensive in the 3d printing industry. In a nutshell, it’s basically wielding 3d printing style. Instead of taking your typical plastic filament like a typical FFF (Fused filament fabrication), you use metal.

Now as awesome as this type of technology is, there are some drawbacks. Powder jet fusion is only used to make giant parts as it lacks precision. However, this type of 3d printing technology has great potential.

So is it possible that one day, you’d see a FDM printer in almost every household in the world? Well maybe not anytime soon but that’s what people said about the computer when it use to be bigger than a small room.

Keeping that in mind, a 3d printer actually might have a faster chance of succeeding than anything else. As time goes by, everything is getting cheaper and smaller so as the saying goes, “It’s only a matter of time”.

What Is A 3D Printer?

A 3d printer (As the name suggests) is a  machine that creates objects in 3d. You simply upload a design in a computer that is attached to a 3d printer and press print. It will then physically create that design right in front of you. 

So as an example: If you designed an iPhone case, it will literally ‘print’ that iPhone case for you. Which you can use in real life.

3D Printed iPhone Case

How Much Is A 3D Printer?

3d printer prices vary. You can get one for about a couple hundred bucks or all the way up in the 100s of thousands (The ones used by Boeing, NASA, etc). It all depends on what your needs are and how much money you are willing to spend. That said, FDM based printers are the most common as they are the most affordable and cost friendly. Almost 80% of 3d printers you’ll find in homes or on someone’s desktop are FDM printers.

Plus FDM or FFF based printers are easy to maintain and have the most materials in the market (Filaments) for you to work with. The quality of the 3d object created is also quite professional. Especially if you are into creating prototypes or usable parts. We don’t recommend FDM printers for industrial grade products (Example: Propeller for a Boeing 747) or metal parts but they are pretty standard for everything else. FDM and FFF are actually a favorite for 3d printing enthusiasts around the world.

How To Get Into 3D Printing?

The best way to get into 3d printing is by actually seeing it in action. You can check with your local university or colleges (As a lot of these places have 3d printers now). Then try to read up on the technology and see where it takes you. To truly understand why people are so excited about 3d printing, see it live and you’ll see why people are so excited about it.

How Does A 3D Printer Work?

Again, this depends on what kind of 3d printer you are using. There are printers that work with Digital Light Processing (DLP), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Electron Beam Melting (EBM) and the list goes on. Your typical 3d printer works by creating objects in a layer by layer format. This is quintessential 3d printing. To work a 3d printer, the normal way is to upload your design on a 3d printing software (Autocad, add software, names of software), add whatever touchups you want to and press print. Assuming you have a 3d printer already connected to your computer, it will then soon print out your design. Whatever it may be.

How Does A 3D Printer Extruder Work?

An extruder is what controls how much filament (Think of it as ‘ink’ for 3d printers) should be used to create an object. The way it works is filament, which is usually at room temperature is passed through the extruder. It is the extruder that heats up the filament, which raises its temperature and it’s ‘melted’ on to create an object. There are many types of extruders out there but the best extruder is the one which is most compatible with your unique 3d printer.

So how do you load filament in a printer?

Loading a plastic filament into a 3d printer extruder is actually not as complicated as it might appear to a newbie. All you have to do is simply straighten the end of the filament and insert it gently into the extruder. It wouldn’t hurt to print something super small just to get it all setup properly but it’s really this simple.

Naturally, every once in awhile the extruder get’s clogged. The best way to unclog a 3d printer extruder is to first wait till it cools down to room temperature. This in the industry is called a ‘cold pull’. In some cases, if the mess it too much, you might have to just get a new extruder but usually that’s quite rare.

Can A 3D Printer Print Metal? 

Yes. However, you need a special kind of printer to print metal. These printers are based on a slightly different technology.

Three of the main metal 3d printing technologies today are:

  • Powder bed fusion
  • Metal binder jetting
  • Directed energy deposition

Let’s have a look at how does metal 3d printing work and how do 3d printers print metal

Powder Bed Fusion (PBF):

In this process, the bed is already covered with tiny pieces of metal (Layering is not necessary). Then a laser simply ‘sinters’ your design together. Once done, you vacuum out the excess, clean and dry the final product and you’re set.

Metal Binder Jetting (MBJ):

Similar to typical 3d printing. First a binding agent is applied in layers to build up structure. Immediately after application, the binding agent is partially cured. Once done, a special oven is used to fully cure the agent. Once cured, the powder is reclaimed for future builds.

Directed Energy Deposition (DED):

In this method, a metal powder is pushed through the nozzle at the same time a laser heats the powder up (Happens in milliseconds). Almost exactly like your filament based 3d printing except you’re using metal. One of the coolest things to watch really. 

So how much is a metal 3d printer?

These are expensive guys. As we talked about them in our blog [insert link], you won’t find them in anyone’s home. Unless they are a multi-millionaire or a billionaire. Give the technology some time to catch up and the prices will eventually come down.

Can 3D Printers Print Guns?

Yes. Not that we recommend them but the  world’s first 3d printed rifle was made in Canada. It blew into several pieces after the first shot but history was made. Since then, lots of working and solid 3d printing gun models have been uploaded on the internet. The rifle might have blown up after the first shot but today, 3d printed guns work.

As far as the legality issue goes, last time we heard, they are banned. So is it something we recommend that you 3d print?

For your own safety, no.

Print one of the thousands of safe and legal items that are available instead :)

Can A 3D Printer Print A 3D Printer?

Yes. In fact this is one of the most exciting part about this technology. It can literally print it self and take productivity to infinite levels. At the moment, it’s about printing it out in parts and then connecting the pieces together but eventually, perhaps in the next 20 to 50 years, you’ll be printing a full on working printer right off another 3d printer.

How To Buy A 3D Printer Great question. Before you invest into anything, you should always ask yourself this simple question first, “What am I going to do with it?”. If you goal is just get started with 3d printing, then buy a printer that you can easily afford. Your print might not be of decent quality but at least you’ll understand the ins and outs of a 3d printer. So it all depends on what stage of the 3d printing game you’re in.

Once you decide on this, then it’s time to figure out where to buy a 3d printer from?

Since 3d printers are still not common, you can only find them online. At least 98% of 3d printers sold today are bought online.

How to make 3d models for 3d printing?

The best way to make 3d models is to use a 3d model software. There are tons of them in the market these days and a majority of them are free. They will definitely help you design and easily create 3d models to print. Whether you want to print an action figure from one of your favourite video games or print out something big in smaller pieces, a 3d printing software will definitely do the trick.

However, if you are somewhat new, we recommend that you download 3d models to print instead of creating one. Now where can you get these? All you have to do is type in “3d printing marketplace” on Google and you’ll find a handful of these giant sites.

We recommend Thingiverse as it’s the biggest one out there and you’ll find tons of free 3d models and files to print. They truly have some must print 3d models.

So can all 3d models be printed on a 3d printer? Not really. Just make sure you download the ones that your printer can create. After all, you can’t print a metal sword on a FDM printer. That said, you can still print 1000s of models that are online right now. 

What Exactly Is 3D Printer Filament?

Clear 3D Printer Filament

Just like your average ‘paper’ printer uses ink, a 3d printer’s “ink” is called a filament. A filament in actuality could be a roll of plastic, wood-based or one of many other materials that a filament is made of today.

Basically, filaments today can be made from lots of materials. That’s what makes 3D printing especially FDM based 3d printing so exciting.

How Much Filament Do I Need For A 3D Printer?

This is a common question that we get as well. Like a typical desktop printer that runs out of ink, eventually your 3d printer will run out of filament too. To ask how much filament does a 3d printer use or how long it will last won’t be a fair question. As it all depends on what you’re printing. At the end, it will be your 3D design that will dictate how much filament is used or will be used. Just to give you an idea though, about 1kg (Kilo) of filament will create 392 chess pieces. This is on average.

Types And Difference Between Filament Materials for 3D Printers?

Today depending on your 3d printer, you can use all kinds of materials like ABS Plastic (Most popular), Nylon, Resins, Wax, Gold / Silver (Big for jewellery) and many more. Including flexible materials for shoes and clothing.

Anyways, it’s your 3d printer that determines what kind of filament you should use with it.

As far as the “type” is concerned, today you can select from the following.

This little list will also help you how to choose the right type of 3d printer filament as well.

Although there are a few more types of filaments that are out there, these are the main ones.

How Many Types of Filaments Are Out there?

  • PLA (Polylactic Acid) Most common type of of filament. Made out of biodegradable material like corn / starch. How safe is PLA? Considered fairly safe but as a precaution, make sure your young ones don’t start munching away on it. Anyways, if you are a noob, PLA is for you. Although we rather call you an enthusiast :)
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) - After PLA, these are considered the most common. Stronger than PLA. Another favorite for most makers.
  • PET (Household Plastic Material) - Want to make something out of plastic? This is the filament for you.
  • Nylon - Used to create strong prototypes.
  • TPE - If you want to create a product that is flexible, this is the filament for you. Rubber filaments were introduced just a few years ago.
  • Polycarbonate (PC) - Strongest filament of them all. If you ever start your own 3d printing service, PC is where it’s at. To give you an idea on how strong Polycarbonate filament can be, you can actually make full on drones, RC cars, engine blocks of prototype cars and much more.

Now that you have some idea of what type of filament is going to be right for you, let’s have a look at how to install / load filament on your 3D printer.

How To Change Filament In A 3D Printer?

It’s all in the extruder. Relax. It’s not rocket science. All you have to is take the beginning part of your filament role and slide it through the extruder. It’s like putting a thread through a needle.

The thread being your filament and the extruder being the needle. Hypothetically speaking of course.

What Happens To The Filament Once It’s In Your Printer

One of our favorite questions to explain. When you put the filament through the extruder and turn the printer on. It starts to heat up. Which heats up the filament.

When that filament reaches a certain temperature, the extruder starts moving and it starts to create your object. To better understand this process, just think of a baker writing your name while squeezing melted chocolate through a pastry bag.

First the extruder heats up the filament that’s inside it, and then starts squeezing out enough filament to create your object in 3d.

How to take filament out of your 3d printer?

Installing is one thing but what do you when you run out of filament? Well then it’s time to replace it.

The best way to remove a filament is to first wait till the temperature drops down. Although this kind of depends on the printer you are using. Sometimes though, people heat up the extruder just a tad bit because it’s just easier to pull it out of the nozzle. However, in 90% of the cases, just make sure everything is cooled down and then you simply pull out the last bit of filament that is left in the extruder.

As always, refer to the owner’s manual

Of course things are not always this smooth and sometimes, your filament will get stuck in the nozzle. This can be annoying especially if you are trying to switch to a different filament.

Annoying but definitely not impossible to remove the remaining filament.

How does the filament get jammed in a 3d printer

As mentioned earlier, for that filament to do it’s job, it has to be melted. This process naturally stuffs up the nozzle every once in awhile.

The best way to clean a clogged nozzle is to take it out after you up the extruder’s temperature up a little bit, purge if possible (Extrude) then open the roller and pull out the filament. This way it’s out without leaving any mess.

So when you do install the other filament, the particles don’t mix and you get 100% of your new filament. Rule of thumb is to regularly clean your 3d printer’s nozzle. This will help keep things running smooth.

So How Much Is A Roll Of 3D printer filament?

Well just like anything else, it depends on where you purchase them from. That said, most rolls are under 30 bucks so once you do get the big elephant out of the room which is purchasing a 3d printer, then you can relax as 3d printer filaments are pretty affordable.

An average roll has 330 meters worth of filament or around 1080 feet and weighs about 1000 grams or 1 kg.

Plenty of roll to get going with 3d printing your own things.

Where To Buy 3D Filament Near Me?

Surprisingly, it’s easier to buy filament today, even locally than an actual 3d printer. 3D printers can mostly only be purchased online. Whether you are in Edmonton, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Singapore, Utah or anywhere else, you can easily find filaments from a popular electronic store.

Heck if you are looking to purchase filament for your printer, simply type in the following on Google:“3d printer filament” + “vancouver” and you’ll find tons of places.

Storing Your Filaments?

As amazing as filaments are, they can be damaged kind of easily. Especially with water or moisture hanging around. That’s why you need to keep them in airtight containers. Most filaments come with these containers so make sure you keep them in it after each use.

Now Tim Allen forbids that your filaments somehow catch moisture or your kid accidentally dumps water on them.

What would you do? How would you dry them out? Let’s have a look . . .

How To Remove Water From Your Filaments?

The best thing is to throw them in an electric oven. Since for each filament the temperature settings will be different, we encourage you to get some more information directly from them.

Some people even use a filament dehydrator but again, check with the manufacturer of the filament for the proper temperature.

A simple phone call will do the trick.

After all, you don’t want to completely burn your filaments or worst, light the whole house on fire.


How To Make Your Own Filament For 3D Printer?

For our DIY fans (Aren’t we all?) if you want to learn how to make your own 3D printer filament, there are some options out there. In fact, there are some companies in the 3d printing space that are now strictly focusing on diy filament making machines.

What Is The Lowest Density Filament For A 3D Printer?

Polywood seems to be the lowest density filament in the market right now. If you want that wood feel and are making something light, give this filament a try.

Using Acetone On Filament

So what do you do after your object is done printing, well you give it a nice little finish with acetone. Think of acetone as the ‘polish’ you use on your 3d printed objects. So which filament works best with acetone? PLA is actually good to go but just make sure you get a high quality PLA and not some run of the mill filament.

Who Makes 3D Printer Filaments?

Lots of companies. We make our own filament too. Most companies that make 3d printers, usually make their own filaments as well. It’s always advised to purchase the filaments made by your 3d printer manufacturer as they will probably work the best.

What A Gram Of 3D Printer Filament Looks Like?

Weird question to ask but extremely small. You need a few more than a gram to create something usable with 3d printing.

What Are Silk Filaments Made Of?

Well first yes it’s absolutely true. There are silk filaments and not surprisingly, they are coming from China. These are made of Polymer composites. As mentioned a little earlier, 3d printing is being used by the clothing industry as well.

Which 3D Filament is good for Vape models? ABS or PLA?

The best type filament for Vape models is anything that’s organic based and doesn’t melt. That would defeat the purpose.

What is the clearest 1.75 mm 3d printer pla filament?

These come in ABS, PLA and other formats. Reality is it doesn’t matter how clear a filament is. What matters is how many layers you are using in your .STL file. The more layers, the more unclear your final 3d printed object is going to be.