We’ve rounded up all the 3D printing glossary words of some common vocabulary and not so common 3D print glossary terms that every 3D print designer, user, maker, and business should know in our 3D printing glossary below. Entering the world of 3D printing can be confusing enough as it is, let alone that the industry made up a few terms that should have been left alone (ex: slicing vs printer settings!), and it’s our hope that this 3D print glossary demystifies some of the insider lingo to the additive manufacturing world. Leave us a comment if there’s a 3D print term out there that needs some more in-depth explaining and we will do our best to break it down into non-techie terms.
3D Printing Glossary
ABS – Saying acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a mouthful, but ABS is a well-tested thermoplastic used for 3D Printing filament. It has a high melting point of 105°C/221°F. It has high impact resistance and lasts long. It’s smooth finish quality is ideal for print areas that need to run smoothly and not bind up. ABS is acetone soluble, so you can post finish and smooth it even more. A printer with a heated build plate works best. We personally don’t use ABS because we don’t want the smell of the fumes in our home office. Make sure you have a well-ventilated area.
Acetone – Acetone is a common solvent with many uses, but it is ideal for dissolving ABS plastic, and is also used for vapor smoothing of 3D printed ABS parts.
Bespoke – Dealing in or producing custom-made articles. 3D print designs that are meant to be customized are referred to as Bespoke Designs. Check out our interview with the Lowe’s Bespoke Design team.
Build Plate – The platform (bed) on the 3D Printer that your part prints on is called a build plate. Some build plates are heated and some are not depending on the printer or filament being used. Most build plates are made of glass, but there are some other material used as well. Many filaments will not stick easily to the build plate surface alone, so an additional coating of a disposable material if often used to assist in build plate adhesion. There are a wide variety of materials available including adhesive films, tape, glue sticks, and brush on liquid solutions. The coatings available also often make it easier to remove your finished part from the build plate.
Blue Tape – This is the most commonly used Build Plate coating, especially when you are printing with PLA filament. PLA sticks to it very well, and you can usually print 5-10 items before having to replace it. We use 3M Blue Tape on all our build plates because we find it works best, and is easy to replace. While some manufacturers sell large sheets of it for $1 each, we buy it on a 6” wide x 60 yard roll from McMaster Carr for about $60, which makes our cost about $0.27 per linear foot. Even if your build plate requires two lengths joined together, that cost is about half of what most others charge.
Caliper – A precise measuring tool that is very useful in developing 3D printed parts, and confirming accuracy. They measure down to 1/100th of a millimeter. Accurate measuring is very important, especially if you need to make one part fit to another.
CAD – Computer Aided Design – CAD is a process of designing 3D models in the computer, but the term is most frequently used to refer to different software applications for creating 3D models, i.e. CAD Software. Examples of CAD software include AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Tinkercad, Autodesk 123D, Rhinoceros, Blendr, ZBrush, SketchUp, among many others.
Cartesian – 3D printers are defined by how they function. Most FFF 3D Printers are called Cartesian. This means that they build 3D models in a rectilinear build volume by moving a filament extruder in X (left to right) and Y (front to back) axes to extrude filament in the shape of the part being built. They do this one layer at a time, moving the extruder Up, or the build plate Down, vertically in the Z axis. Some 3D printers only move the extruder in one axis (X), and the build plate in the other (Y).
Copolymers = filament made out of two different types of plastic.
Closed Printer System = 3D printers that are designed to be used with their own software and their own filament. MakerBot 5th Generation printers are an example of a closed system. The advantage of a closed system is that it is usually easier to learn and operate, the disadvantage is usually the features and functions are limited.
Calibration – The process of leveling the build plate and setting the distance between the nozzle and the build plate to a recommended precise distance (varies by printer).
Creative Commons (CC) License – One of several public Copyright licenses that allow the free distribution of a copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. The author of the work can limit the ways in which it can be used. For example, the author can restrict the use to allow only non-commercial use.
Dissolvable Support – support material that dissolves in water, detergent, or other specified liquid. It is used on dual extrusion printers to build more complex parts that require support material to avoid the manual labor that would otherwise be required to separate it from the printed part.
Dual Extrusion – 3D printers that have two nozzles. They can extrude two different materials or colors in one print. They are often used to extrude one material for the printed part and one material for support (usually a dissolvable material).
Extruder – The assembly of the printer that heats and squirts out the plastic filament. Extrusion is actually more of a process than any one specific part. It is usually inclusive of the heating chamber where the plastic is melted and the nozzle where the plastic exits.
Filament – The “ink” or material that 3d printers use to create a 3D object. The filament is a long strand or cord that is either 1.75mm or 2.88mm in diameter and coiled on a spool. Filaments are usually plastic based materials, but can include other ingredients including wood, metal, marble, among others.
FDM – fused deposition modeling, one name for the process filament based 3D printers use to build objects.
FFF – fused filament fabrication, a more common name for the process filament based 3D printers use to build objects.
gCode = the instructions a slicing software creates to tell a 3D printer exactly what to do to build a specific print. The instructions can be sent to the printer via wifi or USB cable. The instructions can also be saved to a file that can be read by the 3D printer via SD card or USB Flash drive.
HIPS = high impact polystyrene, is a dissolvable support material that is used in combination with printing ABS plastic because the temperature settings are similar. It is also BPA free and more flexible than ABS or PLA. Melting point is 235° C HIPS dissolves in Di-Limonene, a common citrus detergent and solvent.
Infill – In order to 3D print objects with large geometric volumes quickly, and to save material, only the outer skin of objects are printed with solid material. The insides of objects are 3D printed in a open pattern that saves material and provides necessary structure. Infill patterns vary from grids to triangles to hexagons. The thickness of the skin of an object and the density of infill are variable.
Leave a comment below for any 3D Printing glossary “J” words you’d like for us to define!
Knurled = The textured part of the nut and the bolt so it can be grabbed with your finger to tighten it. It is a good way to hide 3D printing layers in a final print. See an example here.
Layer – The foundation of FFF 3D printing is one layer at a time. 3D CAD models are split into slices that get printed on top of each other in order to build complete 3d objects.
Lofting = feature in most CAD programs including Rhinoceros, and SolidWorks to create solid geometry or surface geometry from various cross section shapes in a linear arrangement.
Micron = 1/1000th of a millimeter. Layer thickness of 3D printed objects are measured in Microns. Layers of 300 microns are considered thick. Layers of 200 microns are considered medium thick. Layers of 100 microns are considered fine or thin. Layers of 50 microns or less are considered very fine. The thicker the layers of a print are the faster an object will print. Conversely the thinner the layers of a print are the longer an object will take to print.
Meshmixer = a free CAD program for making creative free form objects online.
Makerspaces = shared workspaces that have many different kinds of shop machines for fabricating objects of all kinds. They can include 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, saws, mills, lathes, and many other machines. Many makerspaces offer monthly memberships to cover the cost of maintaining the machines, staff, and space. Most are co-ops or non-profit companies, while some are operated as businesses for profit.
Mudbox – CAD software by AutoDesk that allows the user to create 3D objects through sculpting techniques. It is more suited to artists than engineers, and can create very detailed organic looking models. It is also very useful to add surface textures to 3D models created in other programs. This is not a program to use for dimensionally specific or high tolerance parts and assemblies. See our review here.
Netfabb = a free and easy to use program, to fix common errors in STL files before you try to print. It can save time to check your STL files with Netfabb for errors before you print, rather than discovering that an STL file has errors only after a print fails.
Nylon – A common plastic material that was invented in the 1930’s. It was first used to make toothbrush bristles, and in the 1940’s became famous as the material women’s stockings were made of because of its silky feel. Several companies have now made 3D printing filament out of Nylon, as it is still a very popular material.
Occipital = The name of the company that manufactures the Structure Sensor, a 3D scanner that projects a light map onto subject to be scanned to collect depth and RGB color data. The Structure Sensor must be installed on an iPad or iPhone in order to work. It can be considered an accessory for the iPad or iPhone, as it will not function on its own.
Open Source = software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition.
PLA = polylactic acid = biodegradable thermoplastic. Is the most environmentally friendly and most common 3D Printing filament in the market. It is made from plants, and generally considered the easiest 3D Printing material to work with. Extruded 160C – 220 C
Photochromatic = filament that changes colors when exposed to different levels of light. (ex: exposed to sunlight)
PVA = polyvinyl alcohol. Used as a support material when creating 3D prints and it will dissolve in water. Soft filament, not very rigid. Extruded at 190 C.
PTFE = Polytetrafluoroethylene aka Teflon. Often used as a liner in the extruder of a 3D printer to minimize filament friction.
Leave a comment below for any 3D Printing glossary “Q” words you’d like for us to define!
Rapid Prototyping = A term used to refer to any prototype or manufacturing process that does not require tooling, and is meant to quickly deliver a quantity of one. 3D printing is one of many different rapid prototyping processes.
Raft = set of thick base layers extruded to provide better adhesion for the first layer of the part to be printed. A raft is always extruded in a predicable pattern that is designed to adhere to the build plate with great consistency. The bond between the raft and the printed part is such that the raft can be easily separated from the part. (Tracy calls it a sled)
RepRap = Is a community and an organization that started the open source 3D printing revolution. http://reprap.org/ The Rep Rap community developed the first low cost 3D printer, and continues to develop the technology today.
Rhino 3D = NURBS-based 3D modeling software. It is uniquely suited to create more organic forms as well as rigid engineering models. Rhino features an open architecture for 3rd party companies to create plugins that expand and enhance its functionality. It can import and export over 30 file formats, so it acts as a converter tool. Recommended for intermediate designer level to professional. See our Rhino review episode here.
SLA = the abbreviation used to describe one of the earliest 3D printing processes, called Stereolithography. It uses UV light to cure a photopolymer resin layer by later to build a 3D object.
Slicing Software = A program that translates a 3D model (STL File) into the machine instructions necessary for a 3D printer to build the 3D object. The program analyzes the 3D model and separates it into layers (or slices) and sends information to the 3D printer layer by layer. The user makes choices and selects desired settings to achieve the quality or speed preferred. Some of the choices include if a Raft or support material are to be used, and what layer thickness (resolution) to print at. Common slicing software packages include Cura, and Simplify 3D. Some 3D printers come with their own proprietary slicing software, like MakerBot, Polar3D, M3D, among others.
SLS = Selective Laser Sintering, a 3D printing process where lasers are used to cure powder based plastic and other materials to form 3D objects. The powder material serves as support material, so no supports are needed in the slicing software. One key fact about SLS, is that models that hollow models need to leave holes in them so that the uncured powder can be shaken out from the interior of the part.
Support Material = is additional material printed that is not a to support other parts of your print such as arches or overhangs. Is broken away or dissolved (depending on what secondary material you use) after print is completed
Tinkercad = Cloud based 3D modeling program for beginners. Models are built from 3D primitives (Cube, Sphere, Taurus, etc) that can be scaled, rotated, added, and subtracted. Its interface is easy to understand and use, but capabilities are limited. Objects created can be exported easily to be 3D printed. Check out our Tinkercad review here.
TPE = 3D printing filaments made of this thermoplastic elastomer produce flexible prints with elastic properties. Recommended extruder temperature: 210 – 230°C. Recommended platform temperature: 30 – 40°C
T-Glase = aka “T- Glass” or “tough-glass”. A 3D printing filament made by Taulman 3D, this nylon filament offers a glass like appearance. FDA approved for food handling.
Threaded = When a hole or a shaft that has grooves to mate with a bolt or a nut. Threads can be made in a wide variety of sizes, and are used to make a mechanical connection between parts. Mentioned by Tom in episode 64
Tolerance = An engineering term that refers to the specification of a range of dimension (size) that a part is required to meet. This range of dimension is referred to as the ideal or target size, plus or minus an acceptable variance. It is unrealistic, and inherently difficult, to plan to make multiple of the same part, or different mating parts, to one exact dimension. For example, if you make a 10mm hole, a 10mm shaft will not be able to fit in it. There needs to be some free space between the parts in order for them to fit together. This free space is another kind of tolerance. The higher the required tolerance for a part, the smaller the required range of size, and the more difficult it is to make. The lower the required tolerance, the larger the acceptable range of size, and the easier a part is to make.
Tooling = Generally refers to molds, dies, or fixtures needed in order to produce a part or product. The cost of making tooling can be tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it cost prohibitive for many companies to compete. 3D printing is allowing companies to produce prototypes and production quality parts and products without incurring tooling costs.
UVW Map = a flat or “unwrapped” representation of where 2D color information will be placed on a 3D model.
Viki = A LCD interface and display commonly used on reprap based 3D printers. It features a click wheel to scroll through and select machine readings and functions. We have used many Viki interfaces when testing different 3D printers, and while it works we are not a big fan of it.
Watertight = is a term used to describe a mesh model (STL file) that is complete and contains no holes or errors that would cause problems when preparing (slicing) it for 3D printing.
Workflow = The process and order of operations necessary to complete a desired task. In 3D printing, the process of creating a CAD model and converting it into the machine instructions necessary for a machine to print the model is referred to as a workflow.
XYZ Printing = one of the largest manufacturers of desktop 3D printers in the world. They are known for making very affordable 3D printers, typically less than $400 retail. See review of the XYZ daVinci Jr. 3D printer here.
Leave a comment below for any 3D Printing glossary “Y” words you’d like for us to define!
Zbrush CAD Software – a very popular CAD software with artists and character designers. Modeling in Z-Brush is more like sculpting a block of clay than conventional CAD software. See review of ZBrush here.
- Mudbox CAD Software Review
- Rhino CAD Software Review
- Tinkercad Software Review
- XYZ daVinci Jr. 3D Printer Review
- ZBrush CAD Software Review
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