3D printing is the process of making a three-dimensional object from a digital file. The digital file, a three-dimensional design, is created using computer software. 3D printing is the member of the additive manufacturing (AM) family. Additive manufacturing is the process in which the object that needs to be printed is created by adding material to the object, layer by layer. The material is added till the final product is created.

While all 3D printers create objects using additive methods (the opposite of a CNC machine), different approaches exist to actually physically depositing the material. Now, let’s have a brief review of the most common 3D printing technologies:

FDM (FFF): Fused Deposition Modeling (Fused Filament Fabrication) - A very common method in which the object is printed by extruding molten strings of material that melt together to create the object. This is usually the cheapest method, but quality can suffer, and materials are limited.

SLS: Selective Laser Sintering - More common in industrial style prototyping settings, a laser melts together powdered plastic, ceramic, or other material, then spreads more powder on top, repeating the process to build the object layer by layer. The main advantage of this is the wide variety of materials that can be printed.

3DP: Powder Bed and Binder - Similar to Laser Sintering, an inkjet head distributes binder to the correct location on a bed of powder. The most notable advantage is the ability to print in many colors.

SLA: Stereolithography - Here, an ultraviolet laser hardens resin in a vat layer by layer until the part is built. It can quickly create high definition objects that can be machined. However, the resin is fairly expensive compared to other 3D printing materials.

DLP: Digital Light Processing – A vat of liquid polymer is turned into a very strong solid by exposing it to light. Very high accuracy/resolution can be achieved with this technique — and again, this is an industrial method.

Each of these 3d printing technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages. What 3d technology to choose depends on the material used, how many colors needed, the resolution required, and also the budget.

We all see that in recent years, 3D printing technology is growing rapidly in various fields, like medicine, aerospace, automotive industry, toy manufacturing, fashion, architecture, art etc. Maybe we cannot imagine what crazier things that 3D printing is capable of now, but its potential is unlimited.