Introduction to 3D Printing

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3D Printing is an amazing technology that has made it easier and faster than ever to go from a concept to a physical item that you can hold and use. There’s a few different types of 3D printers but the basic mechanism is building a layer of material in the shape that you want it and then putting another layer on top of that. Eventually you have an object in 3D!

If you’re having a little trouble picturing that, imagine a piece of paper. A piece of paper has barely any thickness at all, but if you stack a bunch of paper together, then it has some thickness to it. Fun fact, there are some 3D printers that use paper as the material to print with! We don’t have any of those, though, because they’re really expensive. Our 3D Printers use a variety of plastics as their material and you’ll learn more about the specific machines we have and the plastics you can use in the next topic.

Printing with a 3D printer is easier than you might think. With 3D printing, first we create or download a 3D model, usually represented by an .STL file (we’ll get more in depth with file types later). Next we take that model and run it through a program that “slices” it up into multiple layers. The program then outputs a printer readable format, called “gcode” (Pronounced “gee code”). This gcode is then sent to the printer, and the printer follows those instructions to create the object. If all goes well, you’ll have a physical object that looks just like it did on your screen!

The basic workflow for 3D printing is shown in the image below. Don’t worry if you’re not super familiar the terms used in the text!