Below you'll find some of the most commonly used terms in the 3D printing industry:
3D file: A software file format that describes the surface a 3D object.
3D model: A software-based description of a three dimensional object, usually made in a computer aided design (CAD) software.
3D modeling: The practice of creating an object on CAD software that represents a 3 dimensional object made with 3D printing.
3D printing: Also called additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping, 3D printing is a method of creating physical objects from a CAD software model.
Accuracy: Accuracy refers to how close the overall dimensions a 3D print will be when compared to the original model file. It's a combination of factors including layer height, shrinkage and polishing.
Additive manufacturing: An umbrella term that covers the different processes that fall under 3D printing.
Binder jetting: A 3D print process in which inkjet print heads apply a liquid bonding agent onto thin layers of powder. By gluing the particles together, the part is built up layer-by-layer.
Bounding box: At Shapeways, a bounding box is used in the software design space to visualize the maximum three-dimensional space that an object can occupy in the intended 3D printing process.
CAD: CAD stands for Computer Aided Design, which can refer to several digital design methods, but usually denotes software used for 3D designing, modeling and engineering.
Cantilever: In 3D printing, cantilevers can be elements of a design that extend unsupported over the base footprint of a 3D print design. A cantilever mechanism is used in many snap-fit joints to fit two 3D printed parts together, characterized by a supported protrusion designed to lock into place upon insertion into its slot or cutout.
Chamfer: A transitional edge between two faces that is usually flat and 45° to the joining surfaces, chamfers are often used to make sharp corners less severe.
Clearance: Sometimes called part tolerance, clearance is the amount of negative space between two shells (aka parts) within a 3D model file. For example, if you are designing a 3mm peg to fit inside a 3mm hole, the peg will not fit due to lack of clearance space within the design. Each material has different clearance requirements for designing parts that fit together or move around each other, like gears.
Cyanoacrylate: Cyanoacrylates are a family of strong fast-acting adhesives that, in addition to industrial, medical, and household uses, can be used as a binder for powder-based 3D printing methods.
De-sprue: Once a cast metal design has been cast using lost wax methods, the cooled metal object must be removed from its sprues, the manufacturing support structures used as passage ways to inject the casting mold with molten metal.
Density: Density refers to the material composition of a 3D printed part and how tightly packed the material elements are after printing. See sparsity.
Edge: In 3D modeling software, an edge is a line segment connecting two vertices, often serving as a boundary or connection between two faces or surfaces of an object or mesh.
Emboss: A stamping process for producing raised or sunken designs, also known as relief. The embossing effect can be created using 3D design software to add surface area to a 3D model with boolean operations and/or sculpting tools. Each Shapeways material has its own requirements for embossed details to ensure the design is printed at full resolution.
Engrave: The practice of incising a design onto a hard, usually flat surface by cutting grooves into it. This effect can be created using 3D design software to remove surface area from a model using boolean operations and/or sculpting tools. Each Shapeways material has its own requirements for engraved details to make sure the design is printed at full resolution.
Face: In solid geometry, a face is a flat planar surface that forms part of the boundary of a solid object. 3D design meshes are typically built from triangular faces, but can also be built with other types of polygons.
FDM Fused Deposition Manufacturing: Fused Deposition Manufacturing works on an additive principle by laying down, or extruding, material in layers; a plastic filament or metal wire is unwound from a coil and supplies material to produce a part. Shapeways does not offer printing using this technique.
Feature: A distinct physical part of a model, such as a detail, wall, wire, or protrusion.
Fillet: A technique in 3D modeling to round or flatten edges of rectilinear objects to create user-friendly surface edges for products. Fillets can be applied to the curves, edges, and surfaces of a 3D model in most 3D modeling software.
Food-safe: Food-safe materials are intended to be in contact with food, such as glass, or a can for soft drinks, but also machinery in a food factory or a coffee machine. Shapeways does not offer any food safe materials.
Free wall: Also known as an unsupported wall, a free wall is one connected to other walls on less than two sides.
FUD: An acronym referring to Fine detail plastic (previously known as Frosted Ultra Detail), a popular Shapeways material for miniatures and prototyping.
Hole: An opening in a 3D model wall. In 3D printing, holes are used in the designs of powder-based 3D printing to allow the unused powder material to escape after initial production to reduce weight and cost.
Infiltration: A finishing process used in binder jetting to strengthen the final print. At Shapeways, infiltration for sandstone is done with cyanoacrylate and infiltration for the steel printing process is done with bronze.
Interlocking: Derived from railway safety mechanisms, the term interlocking at Shapeways denotes a design element of a 3D part printed as one unit that would otherwise need to be assembled by hand or during post processing in traditional manufacturing.
Laser: A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. In 3D printing, lasers are used to precisely heat and fuse materials based on the structure of your 3D model.
Liquid binder: In 3D printing, liquid binder is used for manufacturing fused powder materials either temporarily as a part of the printing process, or as part of the final product to fuse the material layers together.
Loose shells: In 3D design software it is possible to have shells represented in the software that do not translate to solid objects when conveyed to a 3D printer for production. There are 3D printing software tools available to detect and remove loose shells so that a design can be successfully printed.
Lost wax casting: The process by which a duplicate metal sculpture (often silver, gold, brass or bronze) is cast from an original sculpture, such as a 3D model printed in wax.
Manifold: In 3D printing, a model is called manifold if it is geometrically sound, with no self-intersecting faces, naked edges, or holes in its mesh. Mathematically, a manifold surface locally resembles flat, two-dimensional Euclidean space near each point. A 3D model is best able to be conveyed to a 3D printer when its surfaces are manifold or as near to manifold as possible.
Mesh: In 3D modeling and computer graphics, a mesh is a collection of vertices, edges, and faces that defines the shape of the surface of a 3D model.
MJP Multi-Jet Printing: A 3D printing technology that extrudes two liquid components from a printing head and then clears and solidifies it with UV light. At Shapeways this technology is used for Fine Detail Plastic.
Multi-part or multi-shell: 3D model files that have multiple disconnected and distinct manifold objects.
Non-manifold: A 3D model is has non-manifold geometry if its mesh includes self-intersecting faces, naked edges, or holes. Non-manifold geometry usually requires repair in mesh modeling or slicing software.
NURBS: Non-Uniform Rational B-Spines, are used in computer graphics and 3D modeling to generate and represent curves and surfaces. NURBS surfaces are defined by functions of two parameters that map to three-dimensional space. In 3D modeling software, the shape of NURBS surfaces can be determined by control points.
Orientation:The position of a 3D model in three-dimensional space. Orientation can affect the quality and final appearance of a 3D print in certain materials because it affects the order in which the layers are fused.
Overhang: An overhang refers to any protruding part of a 3D model that extends beyond the foundation of the object. Some 3D printing methods, like FDM, require the use of material supports when printing overhangs, while other 3D printing methods can print overhangs without the use of supports, like SLS.
PLA: Polylactide, or PLA, is a popular plant-based thermoplastic material used in fused deposition modeling 3D printing. It is both light and strong. In the FDM printing process, stepping is visible and creates a coarse surface finish. Shapeways does not offer this material.
Plating: A thin coating of metal applied around the exterior of an object.
Polishing: A surface finishing technique that uses abrasives to create a smooth surfaces on finished products.
Polygon: A flat subset of a plane bounded by a finite number of edges. Many 3D model files are a mesh of polygons connected at their edges.
Powder: Powder is used as the key ingredient in certain 3D printed materials, like Shapeways' Versatile Plastic. To 3D print in this material, a bed of Nylon powder is sintered with a laser layer by layer, solidifying the powder in each pass.
Product: Once a 3D model is uploaded to Shapeways, you can choose to open a shop and list the model for sale as a product on our marketplace in a range of materials.
Rapid prototyping: A group of methods for quickly fabricating a physical model using three-dimensional CAD data from a 3D file. Construction of the part is usually done using 3D printing or additive manufacturing technology. Rapid prototyping is helpful when developing a product or project due to quick turnaround time and low financial barrier for entry.
Scale: The scale of a model is the size it will be after manufacturing. Different materials have different requirements for the minimum and maximum scale of a model (see bounding box).
Scale model: A representation or copy of an object that is larger or smaller than the actual size of the object being represented.
Shell: The walls of a print that make up the exterior boundary surface of the model. In FDM 3D printing, shells are the number of walls with which the boundary of the model is printed in each layer.
SLA: Stereolithography Apparatus, a 3D printing technology that uses a process by which light causes chains of molecules to link, forming polymers that eventually constitute the solid 3D form of the model. This process is known as photopolymerization. At Shapeways we use this technology to print our Accura materials.
SLS: Selective Laser Sintering is the process of fusing particles together to form a solid mass of material, using heat or pressure without melting it. Our Versatile Plastic material uses SLS in the form of precision, low-temperature lasers to 3D print in thermoplastics, such as powdered nylon.
Sparsity: Sparsity refers to the negative space between a 3D model and its bounding box, in terms of the material volume used to manufacture the part. For example, wiry models have higher sparsity than non-wiry models of the same size. See density.
Sprue: Wires that keep two or more models together. Sprues are more likely to break compared to other wires because they typically connect parts with high mass on either side. For this reason, they need to be thicker than our minimum wire thickness requirements.
A sprue is also the passage through which liquid material is introduced into a mold. Spruing is the skill of placing the guide markers for the production of cast objects.
Stepping: Depending on the shape of your model and orientation in the print tray, you might see print lines, or “stepping” on your model, which is a natural artifact of 3D printing using the SLS process. SLS printing works by printing layer by layer, and while our layers are around 0.1mm thin, there is a "step" between each layer, much like a staircase.
Support material: Support material refers to any material generated during the printing process to allow for the accurate deposition of overhanging geometry. The kind of support material varies by technology.
Supported wire: A wire feature within a model that is supported on both of its ends; for example, in a 3D model of a ladder, the rungs would be considered supported wires.
Texture map: A texture map is an image applied (mapped) to the surface of a shape or polygon. Texture maps are used in full color printing to convey accurate color information to the surface of a print.
Thermoplastic: A plastic material or polymer that becomes pliable or mold-able above a certain temperature and solidifies upon cooling.
Tolerance: The amount of empty space allotted in a 3D model between physical components that are interconnected so as to achieve the mechanical function of the design. For example, tolerance between a door and the frame around a door must be enough for the door to open while being just enough to also allow the door to close against it on all sides when desired.
Tray: The part of a 3D printer where models are fabricated.
Triangle: A polygon with three sides and three vertices; in 3D modeling and 3D printing, meshes are often comprised of triangles. Shapeways can print 3D models with meshes of up to one million triangles.
Unsupported wire: A feature which has a length that is greater than five times its width. An unsupported wire is connected to walls on less than two sides, and can be less structurally sound than a supported wire.
UV map: The 3D modeling process of projecting a 2D image to a 3D model's surface for texture mapping, which is required for 3D printing in full color. UV texturing allows polygons that make up a 3D object to be painted with color (and other surface attributes) from an ordinary 2D image.
Variant: Variants are a helpful tool for shop owners to offer a product in different physical versions, such as various ring sizes or different sizes for scale models. When you create a product from one of your 3D models you have the option to upload different 3D models for each variant of the same product.
Vertex: In computer graphics, a vertex is a data structure that describes the position of a point in 2D or 3D space, at multiple points on a surface.
Volume: The quantity of three-dimensional space enclosed by a closed surface.
Wall: The outer surface boundary of a 3D model. Wall thickness is an important consideration for both printability and cost.
Watertight: A model is watertight if its polygon mesh is free of holes and cracks, so that all edges of each polygon in the mesh are matched to other edges in a manifold way. It is the mesh that is watertight, not the design overall, so for example a properly-meshed model of a colander strainer could be a watertight 3D model, while a poorly-meshed 3D model of a coffee mug could fail to be watertight.
Wire: A feature within a 3D model which has a length that is greater than five times its width.
Wire frame: A visual presentation of a 3D or physical object used in 3D computer graphics. It is created by specifying each edge of the physical object where two mathematically continuous smooth surfaces meet, or by connecting an object's constituent vertices using straight lines or curves. The object is projected into screen space by drawing lines at the location of each edge. The term wire frame comes from designers using metal wire to represent the three-dimensional shape of solid objects.
XYZ axis: 3D space can be described in terms of X, Y, and Z directions, where every point in space corresponds to a coordinate (X,Y,Z). In some software the Y-axis points "up" by default, while in other software the Z-axis points "up."