Silicon Enhance: What is 3D printing?

Star Blogger

“3D printing is actually a misnomer. It's actually 2D printing over and over again.” - Joseph DeSimone, CEO of Carbon3D

Have you read about 3D-printed guns or 3D-printed houses? What about 3D-printed cars or 3D-printed organs?

Outside of school, I run a small 3D printing business, and for my first blog I will give a basic explanation of what 3D printing is and how 3D printers works.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing method that fabricates objects by adding small amounts of material together until the object is completely built. Professionally, 3D printing is known as “additive manufacturing.”

Imagine playing with Legos. We have our instruction booklet and our Lego blocks. To manufacture the model depicted in the instruction booklet, we add Lego blocks together. After adding enough Legos together, we will have created the model depicted in the book.

Building with Legos is like 3D printing. Small amounts of material are added together, and eventually a larger object is created.

How does 3D printing work?

There are three basic components to 3D printing:

  1. The model file, which tells our 3D printer what to print.
  2. The 3D printer, which creates our model.
  3. The material used by our 3D printer to print our model.

Using 3D modeling software (like AutoCAD, SketchUp or Blender) we create our 3D model. Next, we upload that file to our 3D printer. Then, we insert the material we would like our model to be made of into our 3D printer. Finally, we adjust a variety of quality settings and wait for our 3D printer to finish printing.

But how does the 3D printer itself work?

There are many different types of 3D printers, and I don't have enough room to explain how each type works. So, watch the first two minutes of this video:


That is a video of a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printer. Basically, material is being melted and emitted layer by layer, until the object is completely constructed. If someone tells you they have a 3D printer, chances are they have a FDM printer.

To learn about other types of 3D printing I suggest Googling Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Stereolithography (SLA).

What can a 3D printer print?

Like I said, there are many different types of 3D printers, and each type can print different things. Some print metal parts. Some print food. Some print organic matter (Google: “printing a human kidney”).

Here is a picture of a plastic Iron Man helmet I printed on my 3D printer.

What is the killer application of 3D printing?

3D printing is an efficient way for independent inventors and startups to build prototype. 3D printers give us the power to manufacture one unique item at home, rather than relying on a manufacturer overseas who would require us to order 100 copies of the item. 3D printers can also manufacture objects with unique shapes that cannot be made through any other means.


With all that said, I have barely scratched the surface regarding what there is to know about 3D printing. There is much more depth and nuance to the topic, which I may discuss in greater detail later, but for now you can send me any questions you have about 3D printing at