Guide to 3D Printers and Printing Methods


Today's 3D printers are so varied in their technologies and applications that every sector will find a use for them. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is one of the best ways to make manufacturing prototypes. As this technology improves, costs will go down as speed and quality rise. Regardless of your field, you must keep an eye on this technology to determine how to best incorporate it to improve your current processes. With applications ranging from prototypes to educational parts, you're sure to find a use for this technology.

3D Printing Applications

Applications for 3D printing appear in every field. Because the technology is so versatile, it's important to note that limitations depend on the printing material and design. Otherwise, how you use the technology is up to you.

Medical Industry Uses

A growing field for the use of 3D printed technologies is in medicine. Because implanted parts and medical devices often require customization to the patient, 3D printing is a natural solution. One of the most exciting uses for additive manufacturing studied in this industry is bioprinting. To print out viable tissues, the scientists use a variety of existing techniques such as extrusion, stereolithography, inkjet and laser-assisted printing but use biologically based materials, bioinks, instead of plastics or metals. Scientists are currently studying ways to use this technology to print bones, liver tissue, cartilage and breast tissue. In the future, scientists may even print transplantable organs.

Another use of 3D printing in the medical industry comes from the mind of a young, self-taught engineer named Guillermo Martinez, who used a 3D printer to create prosthetic arms. Due to the materials and the ease of creating them, each arm costs around $50. Martinez has taken his prostheses to impoverished areas, where his printed arms help the people restore motion they haven't had in years. This proof of concept shows the viability of printing prostheses on a larger scale in the future medical industry.

Engineering Uses

On the engineering side, 3D printers can create customized parts for machines, planes and cars. One company, XEV, has taken this to the next level and built a car made entirely from printed parts. Already, the Poste Italiane has requested 5,000 of these two-seater vehicles to have a customized design that replaces the passenger seat for a mail holder.

Educational Uses

Because the future will require knowledge of using 3D printers, the devices help educate students at all levels. Additionally, encouraging students to experiment with the printers could result in the next innovations for this technology.

Manufacturing and Industrial Design Uses

Designers typically plan prototypes on the computer. With 3D printing, these designs quickly come to life. Whether to help choose equipment for production or show a model to investors, having a prototype makes it easier for designers to communicate their vision of a product. Additive manufacturing makes it easier to go from design to a tangible model.

Prototypes are not the only way manufacturers can take advantage of additive manufacturing. With 3D printers, designers can also make molds used for the manufacturing process.

Architectural Uses

Future architects may not consider what materials to use to piece together to create a house, but print one instead. Printed 3D dwellings exist. The earliest tiny house models cost under $10,000 and required fewer than 48 hours to produce. This price cuts the cost of building a similarly sized home by traditional means by more than half.

Using additive manufacturing could pave the way for affordable housing for those in the future. Homelessness and housing insecurity could decrease with lower-cost homes that take less time to build. One company at the forefront of using this technology, New Story, hopes to use the funding they receive to create safer, stronger homes in slums around the world.

Types of 3D Printing Materials

Printing materials range from plastics to metal. Properties of the components used, the 3D printing method and the finished project will determine the best supplies for your printer.


Fused deposition modeling, FDM, printers use filaments to create the finished design. These come in a variety of types on rolls.

  • ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
  • ASA (acrylonitrile styrene acrylate)
  • Carbon fiber
  • Flexible filament
  • HIPS (high-impact polystyrene)
  • Metal filament
  • Nylon
  • PC (polycarbonate)
  • PETT (polyethylene terephthalate, or t-glase)
  • PLA (polylactic acid)
  • PP (polypropylene)
  • PVA (polyvinyl alcohol)
  • Wood filament

Metal and Polymer Powders

Printers use metal powders with selective laser sintering (SLS), electron beam melting, binder jetting or selective laser melting (SLM) printing.

  • Copper alloys
  • Gold
  • Titanium
  • Cobalt-chromium
  • Nickel alloys
  • Stainless steel
  • Silver
  • Platinum
  • Aluminum alloys

You can also use polymer powders in powder bed 3D printers, like those that use multi-jet fusion (MJF), high-speed sintering (HSS), SLS or SLM technology. Some polymers you can choose from include nylon (polyamide), PAEK (polyaryletherketone) and PEKK (polyetherkeytonekeytone).

Liquid Resins

Stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP) printers start with liquid photosensitive resins which harden into solid materials. Printing with liquid resins — urethane, polyester or solid ester epoxy — produces much more intricate details compared to filament-based methods.

3D Printing Technologies

The technology behind creating 3D printed images starts with the underlying mechanisms the printers use. For an accurate 3D printing methods comparison, you must understand the differences among the technologies and how you can best use each.

Fused Deposition Modeling

FDM, also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology, starts with solid filaments, which the printer melts and deposits into layers onto the printing surface. After each layer hardens, the nozzle adds another layer, slowly building up the product. While easy to use with ABS and similar plastics, FDM technology requires supports you must remove in the postproduction process.

Vat Polymerization

Vat polymerization techniques, SLA and DLP, start with liquids, which the printer then solidifies with light into solid layers. The resins harden when exposed to light. The major difference between DLP and SLA is the light source. SLA uses a laser to solidify the resin, whereas DLP uses a light projector. Of the two, DLP prints faster because the light hardens each layer as a whole, whereas the laser in SLA must pass over the resin.


Inkjet printing shares its name with the 2D technology for a reason. This printing method similarly creates 3D images, by depositing layers from a moving nozzle. There are two main types of 3D inkjet printers.

  1. Binder jetting: Binder jetting forces a binder from the nozzle into a thin powder bed. As each layer solidifies, the powder bed support drops, and the printer spreads another thin layer of powder on top of the first. By adding a fresh covering of powder, the machine can now add the next tier of the binder, which builds the model.
  2. Material jetting: One major advantage of material jetting is the ability to use multiple materials, though typically all are photopolymers. Because these parts form from liquid resin, the finished results tend to be smoother due to the more accurate detail possible with the technology.

Powder Bed Fusion

Powder bed fusion technology uses powdered metals or polymers to create finished products. Sintering and melting processes both use powders. Using either an electron beam, in EBM, or a laser, as in SLM or SLS, the powder fuses into the product design. SLS differs from EBM and SLM in that it does not fully melt the powder, but sinters it. EBM and SLM both entirely dissolve the powder first. With the availability of metal and strong polymer powders, powder bed fusion printed objects can be more durable than those created with other methods.

Sheet Lamination

You cannot print heat-sensitive materials, such as electronic components and paper, with other types of 3D printing technology that require high temperatures. Sheet lamination does allow for working with these types of materials, though, at the cost of accuracy. This technology adheres thin layers of the material together with low temperatures.

Types of 3D Printers

Printers come in a variety of grades, depending on what you need to use them for. Additionally, not every printing technology is available in every category. Your most frequent use for the printer will help you decide the right one for your business. Consider whether you need rapid, high-volume printing or a compact model for prototyping. These decisions are only some of those you will need to make to select the best printers for your task.

Professional-Grade 3D Printers

When you need a printer capable of producing a high-quality product in low quantities, a professional-grade printer is your best option. Depending on the model you choose, you can get a printer that creates high-quality results with minimal post-processing. We have ColorJet, Multi-Jet and Figure 4 DLP printers from 3D Systems.

Other professional-grade printers we carry come from the trusted MarkForged brand. These printers allow you to scan the product during production to correct any problems before the process finishes. The X3 model uses standard FFF technology, but the X5 and X7 use a variation on FFF called continuous filament fabrication (CFF) that makes stronger products. This technology uses a second nozzle to deposit fibers into the FFF-deposited structure. The added fibers strengthen the final product considerably. The brand's Metal X printers use metal powder in a plastic binder material. Because Metal X printers combine metal powder with a binder, it makes the device safer to use without sacrificing the strength of the finished product.

Production-Grade 3D Printers

Production-grade printers have a design best suited to producing substantial amounts of printed goods. We carry 3D printers capable of printing with several technologies, including SLA and SLS from 3D Systems and the MarkForged Metal X printer. With these printer options, you can use sturdy, dense metals to craft machine parts, tools, medical devices and much more. When high quality, speed and volume are vital to your printing project, you need a production-grade 3D printer.

Desktop 3D Printers

Perhaps you need a 3D printer for small prototypes, or prefer a device that takes up minimal space. First-time users often start with desktop models before upgrading to professional or production grades. In-house prototyping and rapid changes to your designs are some of the benefits of using our desktop printer models.

We carry MarkForged brand desktop printers. The Onyx One model uses black chopped carbon to create finished parts. This model is an ideal printer for educational purposes, tools and prototypes. The Onyx Pro enhances the Onyx One's design by using more durable CFF technology, making this a good choice for tools, end-use products and education. Like the Onyx Pro, the Mark Two also uses CFF technology with a wide range of materials, including nylon, Kevlar and carbon fiber.

Lastly, we offer the FabPro 1000. This desktop printer uses DLP stereolithography technology to create layers of 30 to 50 microns thick. Such precision allows you to create finely detailed parts. Compared to similar printers, this printer prints three times faster, giving you the advantage of speed and accuracy in a compact desktop model.

Parts of a 3D Printer

The parts that make up a 3D printer depend on the technology used. However, many have standard features such as the build platform, where the printer deposits the layers of the finished product. Extrusion-type printers have a nozzle that pushes the liquified material onto the surface. Some types of printers have lights for photocuring the segments, such as stereolithography printers.

While the parts of a printer are essential, the accessories are just as vital to the device's operation. A printer will not work without accompanying scanners, software and base materials.

  • Scanners and software: Scanners dramatically reduce the time needed to measure and input information about a 3D form. The software enables you to manipulate the digitized 3D model in a computer to make changes or otherwise adapt it. If you use CAD software for designing 3D printed objects, using scanners and software to amend existing parts will drastically save you time.
  • Materials: The printing materials you use will naturally depend on the printer you have. For instance, with a ColorJet modeling printer, you may need binders, powders and infiltrants. These supplies differ considerably from the required filaments for an FDM printer.

Why You Need a 3D Printer

Whether you're an engineer, designer, manufacturer or have any other role in the business world, you will benefit from the versatility of a 3D printer. Now, technology has evolved to make these devices operate better than in the past. You can rest assured this is the best time to purchase a 3D printer. You can rapidly create prototypes, molds and even replacement parts with one of these printers. In fact, the usefulness of additive manufacturing is such that you can't afford to not purchase one for your operations.

If you now recognize the importance of having a professional-grade 3D printer for your company, contact us at Duncan-Parnell. We supply businesses like yours with the printers and accessories they need to make full use of 3D printing technology. Whether you need software, services, scanners, supplies or printers, we have what you need. You'll find out why we say, "Successful projects start here." Get started improving your business today with a new 3D printer from our selection at Duncan-Parnell.

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