What is 3D Printing?

What is it?
In short, “3D Printing” is the process of fabricating solid 3 dimensional objects from a 3D digital model.  The 3D print is created using an additive process with the print material laid down in layers.


Why is 3D printing in the news?  Is it new?
3D printing has been important in the manufacturing industry since the 1980’s.  Only recently has the process of creating 3D printed objects (the design software, the print material, and printers) become affordable for individuals or interest groups to purchase.   Public access and a rising interest in the 3D desktop printer has triggered the growth in 3D printer design and functionality.  Additionally, the philosophy of the Open Source and Maker movements engenders designs that allow the user to modify/adjust the physical and digital mechanics of the 3D printer and software to create a “new” product.


To begin a 3D print project; you first need an idea! Work with your own idea or look at online galleries of 3D projects that others have made and are sharing the digital file for free or purchase.  Several free or inexpensive software programs are available for you to design your own 3D objects.  If you have an object to use as a model for your 3D project you can use software to create a 3 dimensional digital model from a series of  your own photographs (called photogrametry).

Or, you can use a combination of camera and software to create your own 3D scanner.  3D design programs range in ease  (or difficulty) of use, but creating a 3D object and making it ready to print does take some time – be ready to learn, practice, experiment, create, test, tweak and test again – before you even start printing!


The Maker Movement
MakerSpaces, HackerSpaces, & FabLabs are just a few of the types of community spaces developed by “DIY” (do-it-yourself) interest groups.  They are created around an enthusiasm for learning and creating in a community of collaboration, innovation, and exploration.  These community spaces pool resources to purchase & maintain a variety of tools and equipment.  Hook up with one of these spaces, and they can help you get started, or can point you to someone who can.  Nearby Maker groups include spaces in Champaign-Urbana (Illinois) and St. Louis (Missouri).


Introductory Videos
Here are links to a few of the many videos that can introduce you to the world of 3D printing.