The 3D printing industry is a relatively new field, and its jargon is continuously evolving. 3D printing terms are usually coined by engineers, and they don’t always resonate with consumers. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard believe that it is about time the 3D world adopts a more accessible vocabulary that doesn’t sound confusing and intimidating to laypeople. On the other hand, they reflect on whether this has any significance to the future of 3D printing anyway. Join as they demystify some of the most common and confusing terms in 3D printing, such as “slicing,” “microns,” “extruder,” and “STL.”
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Where Can I Find Definitions To 3D Printing Vocabulary Terms?
This is the Ask Us Anything segment.
This anything is about vocabulary. It’s one of my hot buttons.
You’re picky about that, aren’t you?
It’s because I think it doesn’t do the market a service. You want to make 3D printing consumer-friendly. The question is, “Where can I find some definition of the vocabulary words surrounding it?” The real question was, “Where can I find your vocabulary page?” We used to have one, but it’s been taken down on the new site. It’s not there. Maybe we will put it back up again. I’m not sure. We’ll have to think about that.
We’re figuring out how to put all the resources up on our new 3DStartPoint.com site in the most logical and user-friendly way. Bear with us as we work through that.
Thank you for asking, and I’m glad somebody used the vocabulary page because I worked pretty hard on it. Anyway, some of the vocabulary words don’t belong in the 3D print world anymore. We need to rethink them in a future world where everyone has a 3D printer. That’s the way we need to think about it. If the word is in conflict with something we can’t understand or it gives us the wrong message and wrong impression, then we need to change it, like slicing. I hate the word slicing. I hate slicing software, the whole idea of it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the people who are making the slicing software, but it’s printer settings. You’re just doing printer settings, why can’t we call it that? We already understand that. Slicing we don’t get. It doesn’t work in our brain.
For your typical consumer and beginner getting in the industry going forward, that’s true, you’ve got to realize these software are created by engineers. They’re creating code that makes this stuff layer by layer because that’s how the printers work, so it is sliced. You can understand why they came up with that term.
In a marketed 3D printer world, it needs to have marketing language that resonates with the consumer so that they don’t feel like they’re learning yet another new thing, and that’s a problem.
I don’t think people care how the dots are put onto their normal inkjet paper. All they care is that the printer is processing, it’s printing and they get their picture.
It’s a good model. Slicing software that has that one single page where it’s the simple settings or the easy settings, there are a lot of them that do that. MatterControl does it and 3D Simplify has an easy page where you don’t go into the advanced settings.
Not really. It’s pretty advanced. That’s a hell to use. I’d say more of your MakerBot software.
AstroPrint has their apps that they’re doing that are quite like that.
3DPrinterOS certainly has a simplified interface. You can always get more details if you want to.
That’s the idea. Ninety percent of the people don’t dial into their advanced settings on a regular printer anyway, but the minute you try to print something high-end graphic or whatever, and you need to bump your color, use special paper, or do these things, you know where it is. You’re willing to go into it and understand that, but to keep it all there, it makes everyone overwhelmed with all they have to learn that they’re more likely to quit on you. More likely to say, “3D printing is too difficult.” We don’t want that to happen. We want them to ease into it and love it, because once you get hooked, you’re hooked.
For new readers, because we always have some new readers, and bear with us if you’re a long-time reader.
Let’s define slicing.
Slicing software is really print setup software. That’s all it is in its simplest form, and you choose all the parameters that you want to. There’s usually a lot of software, like you said, with simpler settings to get you printing quickly. Usually, they’ve chosen the best or the most likely settings for you.It’s time for the 3D printer world to have a marketing language that resonates with the consumer. Click To Tweet
As a default.
As you get into it more, you can always go deeper, go more advanced and improve upon things at a more detailed level if you want to yourself.
This is where you can get caught up in that hours of technical trying to get the print to look good once you know you have a good file to start with. That’s the key there. This is where you can get caught up. Sometimes it takes us 100 hours to dial in a complicated print for us. Your average might take you 3 or 4 iterations before you’re going to get it right.
This is true even for the companies making the printers. They have technicians employed full-time to work on these things. It’s not necessarily easy.
Just think of them like print settings. Hopefully some people out there are going to stop calling it. I know the ones that crunch it through on their own and they have their own proprietary, they don’t call it slicing software because you’re not doing an extra step. You’re preparing the file for print. That, I think, is a much more accurate way to describe it to the general population and I think you should.
I’ve even seen some other terms within those simpler software that can be confusing to new users. One of the next terms we’re going to talk about is one of those. We need to help demystify some of it and that is, microns. What’s a micron?
That’s a good question. For a lot of us, we didn’t get a lot of metric system in our education, which is problematic, to begin with. I got it because I studied overseas when I was in grade school. I did have it as my first basis when I had to come over and use our system which confused me so I had to reverse them. I see my daughter, she’s learning it both at the same time, but a lot of people are not comfortable in metric. You need to get comfortable with it.
I agree. It is a metric term. A micron is 1,000th of a millimeter.
It’s really small.
It’s thin, and in fact, you want in general printers that can print thinner layers. They are able to print finer quality or higher quality looking prints than ones that don’t print layers that are as thin. The tradeoff is printing a lot of thinner layers takes a lot longer than printing thicker layers. You’re trading off speed for quality, but it’s a little counterintuitive. Think about when you’re buying, whether it’s a TV screen, a laptop screen, or an inkjet printer. You think about DPI, Dots Per Inch, 300 DPI, 600 DPI, and generally the larger number, the better the quality. Microns is the opposite of that and that’s why it’s a little confusing for people.
You have a hard time making that mental shift that you’re talking about resolution, but you’re talking about resolution being better smaller.
A printer that prints that advertises that it does 150-micron layer thickness and another one that advertises that it does a 50-micron layer thickness. The 50-micron layer, the smaller number is actually the higher quality capable printer in this case, because thinner layers are the finer quality. At the SoCal Maker Con, we interviewed a couple of companies, at least two that have printers coming out that go down to ten microns, which is incredibly thin and fine quality. That’s great news, but again, the lower number is the higher quality.
That’s a mistake. It’s a thought process. It’s a convention that’s difficult. Maybe we have to get to a DPI kind of thing. More of a resolution, but in reality, this is one where we do need a new term that is like DPI that we start to understand because microns is resolution and layer thickness, but it’s also speed. I want to hear a term that combines the both of them. If you’re going to ten microns, but you’re losing so much speed, I want to know an average.
A combination of ratio, speed, and layer thickness that gives you a rating, a reference number, or term. I like that idea.
I’d love to see that, because when we talk about resolution and DPI, we do know it slows down our machine a little bit. If you’re going to print the higher DPI, it’s going to slow down your machine.
Also, if you print multiple colors, even. Some of these six-color printers, they’ll make slower passes.
You’re talking about seconds, maybe minutes, not hours. It’s more significant here and we need to understand that because at the end of the day, even though, “That great resolution made great,” it may only matter if you’re doing something fine like a piece of jewelry.
A very small object that even though that small object may take six hours to print, but a larger object with that same resolution may take five days to print. We’ve done that 100-hour print.
Especially because it’s something that they consider a selling point, like, “I’ve got 50 microns.” “I’ve got ten microns capability.” It has to be countered by an understanding of what that tradeoff in speed is. Some way, you have to measure that and we have to get it out there because we need to compare printer to printer. This is something the industry does need to work on. We need to demystify the term and when we start calling it like DPI, where somebody can clearly see that that’s what that means.
I’m getting to think on that. I like the idea. Maybe we can come up with a suggestion.
Let’s talk about my favorite one, because sometimes I say this and then Tom corrects me all the time or whatever. It’s extruder. The extruder in the way that most printer companies talk about it does not include the nozzle. I don’t know why but when I say, “The extruder’s clogged or whatever.” Tom goes, “You mean the nozzle is clogged?”
That’s the thing. A lot of people think the extruder is the actual, usually brass or other metal tip, that the plastic is coming out of onto the build plate. Generically, the assembly that moves around the printer that includes that nozzle is called the extruder. Also, generically that assembly, it’s fair and it’s fine to call it the extruder. The reality is the extruder is the whole thing. If anything, the extruder may be just the chamber where the plastic is being heated on its way to the nozzle, but the point at which it comes out is actually a nozzle.
I get that, that’s the tip of it, but the reality is that, especially when you’re talking about replacement parts or anything like that, to not consider the entire thing the extruder. I’ve done this. I’ve had to go and try and buy our replacement parts for things and then realized I had to buy three different parts to make it work or whatever. That’s not an acceptable thing for you to do to consumers. We all need to seriously think about the whole thing. If it’s coming out of there like a glue gun, and that’s what we talk about to a lot of people in a generic situation, that’s what they see and think. It’s going all the way through there. It is still hot, and it is still extruding and that needs to be the whole thing that you call it. Make sure that if you’re making printers or these replacing parts, that it’s the whole assembly. You’re getting the whole thing, including the nozzle.
I hear what you’re saying, Tracy, I understand that from a less technical perspective.
It pisses me off a little bit.
It makes you feel as a layman. As a person who’s not that technical about this new machine that you bought, and you go to buy a replacement part and you end up without the nozzle at the end of the day. It makes you feel like some engineer just said, “You’re dumb,” and that’s not okay because you made an assumption.
I don’t know if I agree with that, because it depends on the printer. Let’s take a MakerBot printer. You cannot separate the nozzle from the extruder and when you’re buying a smart extruder, you’re buying the whole thing, but on another printer, like a lot of the open-source printers or the Builder printer, the Leapfrog printer, you can’t replace the extruder. You can only replace that little brass tip that is a nozzle. You’re not replacing the extruder. Take 3D jets, for instance, they have their printer, their new one that we’ve seen at the show, that whole extruder assembly is interchangeable with the nozzle and all. That would apply in your case.
You would pull it out and you’d change it out. I think you just need to be clear. Whatever you do, if you are selling your printer parts, your extruder parts, include a new tip, please, because it is not logical to think that I’m buying a replacement part for all of that and it’s not all included. People have to think about it as a consumer thinks of it as a whole piece, even if it’s not a whole piece.
I agree in general that the whole industry needs to use language that’s more easily understood and less technical, even if they are selling very technical products and producing very technical products. Sure. That makes a lot of sense. They don’t want to alienate customers. They don’t want to make them mad, but I do understand why there are some different terms and because different companies have multiple parts, others don’t.
What I’m saying to you is that bundle them and consider them a whole extruder as one because you’re just going to create much more upset consumers and users at this point. You have to start getting user friendly and stop treating them that they’re all capable of being hackers.
I’ll wear out nozzle long before I wear out an extruder and I will want to just buy a nozzle and not buy the whole thing. I don’t want to pay for all of that.
I’m just saying if you’re going to replace the whole assembly, give them an extra nozzle. It doesn’t hurt you. Anyway, let’s talk about STL and G-code. File names. This is one that I’m not a proponent of changing even though I think it is confusing, complicated and it’s a whole new computer language, but I don’t think you should change it because STL has existed for a long time. Pretty much every CAD system has an STL output, even Adobe Photoshop has it, I think. STL is capable of coming out of all kinds of programs. From that standpoint, this is one where, as a user, we need to learn it. It’s like learning PDF for the first time or learning XLS for the first time or whatever. It’s the file format you need to learn.
Every CAD software can output an STL file. STL is the standard that was adopted. Others are proposing other standards going forward.The 3D industry needs to use language that is less technical, even if it is producing and selling very technical products. Click To Tweet
It’s like moving the Titanic and it’s ridiculous. You’ve already actually got all these companies making it. The problem is, it’s like JPEG. It’s like flavors of STL and that’s the issue right there.
That’s always going to be. Every different CAD program saves its own STL and you can save it to be higher resolution or low resolution.
These are things that, as you get into CAD, you start to need to understand.
Essentially, it’s an output file for 3D printing. It’s what is. It’s a 3D model file ready for 3D printing.
What is STL, Tom?
Stereolithography. That’s where it came from and that was one of the very first, if not the very first, form of 3D printing that was invented quite a long time ago.
That’s what that means and that’s what it stands for. Do I think we care about the G-code? I don’t think we should even care about what it’s called or what it is. It’s the printer file. It is what it is.
When you think about it, it’s the same type of thing. People don’t do it much anymore, but a lot of times, before printers were all networked and you would plug your computer directly into a printer. You could take a print file, and if you had a computer that wasn’t connected to your paper printer, you could print it to file and then copy that file to the printer and it would print it. It’s the same thing.
I think of G-code like a PDF. That’s the way I think of it, like the JPEG and all of those things. You can print them and in certain printers, you can do the same thing here because you can send your file in it. It crunches it and it does everything you need to do. In a sense, G-code has the settings all in it.
The G-code is specific for whatever printer you’re printing to. It won’t necessarily work on another printer. Not quite the same as a PDF in that regard, but I agree, understanding that.
I think about PDF being viewable in email. The reason you send a PDF file to people is generally they’re going to view it the exact way you intended it. This way, if you print it, as long as it’s the same printer, it will print the same way you intended it. That’s the thing, assuming you only have one printer here and so, but you shouldn’t be sending G-code files to other people. It’s not going to work on their printer, unless they have the same setup you do. You’re going to be in the STL world. I also think we’re going to be in a streaming world. None of these file formats may matter to anyone at all.
Going forward in the future of this whole industry, obviously the industry is mostly the 3D converted, but if it’s going to expand, you and I believe it will, it’s going to grow tremendously in this country and across the world. It’s going to be with people that don’t know CAD software well and don’t want to.
That’s why these terms shouldn’t matter in that future world.
I don’t think it will. You’re going to be picking models, maybe modifying them in an app to make it how you want it within a fun, small set of parameters. After that, you’re going to say, “Print to that printer.” That’s it.
Using an app and it just prints. It converts it. It’s set right and it works. That’s why I’m saying for right now, I don’t think we should change these terms. There’s no reason to go about that. In the future world, you won’t even know that’s what they’re called.
I agree with that and that’s fine. I’m happy with a world like that. I want people going online to their favorite retailer or whatever and finding the model they want to have a product made and say, “Print that and ship it to me.”
This is one of those complications where we have sat back and said, “Why aren’t we offering up our designs?” Number one is because I would love to offer them up, but I want to make sure that they’re going to work on everybody’s printer. Right now, that’s not the case. I don’t want to make designs that you guys can’t print. To me, then I haven’t done my job, but it’s impossible to do right now unless I had all those printers here to dial in the settings and spend all the time and then I’d have to sell you every single G-code file for your printer already. That also includes your material choice. It’s hard.
That’s where a company like 3DPrinterOS can come in and help you smooth that process out and make it so that we don’t have to do all that work.
The AstroPrint apps are also going to be great. We’re going to talk more with him in the future because we had a nice little talk with him at SoCal Maker Con. He’s going to be in an upcoming interview because we had so much to talk about that we didn’t get to.
You couldn’t do a deep dive at that show.
Especially with all the drone noise. If any of you have other vocabulary words you want to throw out for us to either define or debate, we’re happy to do here, we would love to hear from you. You can find us anywhere on social media @HazzDesign.
Thanks again for reading.
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