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3D Printing Acronyms and Technicalities

3D Printing Abbreviations As soon as I started reading more about 3D printing I knew that sooner or later, I would make room for a 3D printer in my office. But, before jumping to that step I had to familiarize myself with a bunch of terms. After all, how could I possibly make the right choice in terms of 3D printers if I didn’t understand what the differences are? Once I worked out the industry jargon I encountered, my quest became a lot easier!

On this page of my website, I aim to make it as easy as possible for you to understand various terms the 3D printing “industry” uses especially if you’re new to the whole world of this type of printing. So, below you will find a few of the abbreviations I have come across during my research.

Additive fabrication
Known as additive manufacturing and additive layer manufacturing. These are the scientific terms for the more user-friendly 3D printing. It’s a process which involves joining materials by inkjet, with the purpose of creating solid objects from 3D model data. In this process layers are normally placed one over another.

ABS
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. This is a lightweight thermoplastic with resistance to high heat. It’s a material often used in the 3D printing process and it can be employed to manufacture items like toy bricks, desktop ornaments, or small kitchen utensils like a lemon squeezer for instance.

Binder Jetting
A printing process in which a liquid bonding agent is spread across the model to bind the powder materials.

Build Plate
The area where the 3D printed model takes shape.

Build Platform
The build plate’s supporter.

Build Envelope
The dimensions of the printing space which determines just how big a 3D model can be.

CAD or Computer Aided Design
The name pretty much speaks for itself. It’s the use of computer technology to create precise designs for 3D printing.

Curing
This is the last stage of the 3D printing, which is the solidification of the model.

Directed Energy Deposition
This is a process where materials are fused together then melted using an energy source, for instance a laser.

Dual Extrusion
The ability to simultaneously print 3D models in two colors.

Extruder
A 3D printer component which melts and places the melted plastic.

Filament
A plastic material used in the Fused Deposition Method of 3D printing, which melts and is deposited by the extruder.

Fused Deposition Method (FDM)
The same as Fused Filament Fabrication or FFF (see below).

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
A 3D printing process in which a spool of plastic reaches its melting point through heating and is deposited. It’s built from bottom to top, layer by layer until the 3D object is finalized.

Infill
To prevent the waste of plastic, 3D models usually feature a patterned “mesh” responsible for filling in the void on the interior. That interior structure is called infill.

Material Jetting
Same as binder jetting, except the liquid bonding agent is replaced with liquid material distributed in drops. Examples include wax, resin and photopolymer.

Material Extrusion
Similar to material jetting, with the difference that the material isn’t distributed in drops, but through a nozzle.

OBJ
An acronym for Object File which is a frequently used file format by software responsible for 3D modeling.

PLA or Polylactic Acid
A plastic filament which alongside ABS, is used in the Fused Deposition Method. Unlike ABS it doesn’t give any fumes mainly because it warps less therefore, it doesn’t need a heating bed. It’s a biodegradable material used in areas like garments and medical implants.

Raft
A technique which consists of a removable material used for printing which ensures that warping doesn’t happen in the process. This is achieved by the 3D models being printed on top of a flat layer of support material (raft) instead of the build plate.

Shell
The exterior layer of a 3D printed model.

Photopolymer
A liquid plastic that changes its properties and becomes solid once it faces light exposure.

PIM or Plastic Injection Molding
A frequently used technique to mold parts belonging to thermoplastic materials (ABS, polystyrene, nylon, etc).

Powder Bed Fusion
The process through which areas of a powder bed are fused by a thermal energy source.

Prototype Tooling
Also known as a soft tooling or bridge tooling. This is the collective name for the dyes and molds which contribute to the production of prototypes.

Rapid Tooling
The use of printing to create tools quickly. This can be done in two manners: Directly or indirectly. Directly involves manufacturing parts which are the actual tooling components (mold inserts), while indirectly refers to the production of patterns which will eventually produce the tools afterwards.

SLA or Stereolitography
The printing process that models the photopolymer and hardens it with the aid of an ultraviolet laser.

SLS or Selective Laser Sintering
A printing process that creates solid objects through the laser fusion of materials made out of powder.

STL
It has stereolithography at its origins. It’s a frequently used file format for 3D designs created on a computer (CAD), in order to build the actual components. This format employs triangular facets for a better determination of the shape of an object.

Support Structure
Additional material which is automatically generated in the correspondent software meant to support the structure of the model which wouldn’t have any stability otherwise. The material can be adjusted before the printing process.

Whilst this is a pretty comprehensive list, it’s still far from being a complete one. I have done my best not to leave anything out, and I hope that you will find this glossary enlightening. If after reading all these definitions, you feel you have a better grip on 3D printing, my mission has been accomplished.

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