Below you'll find some of the most commonly used 3D printing terminology:
3D file: A software file format that describes the surface of 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: A method of digital fabrication created in the mid-80s, 3D printing allows for complex geometries to be made from a computer file. Materials are deposited layer by layer onto the print bed, until the desired structure is complete.
ABS: The opposite of subtractive manufacturing where products are made by carving a structure out of another material, additive manufacturing adds materials layer by layer to build a shape. Also commonly referred to as 3D printing, additive manufacturing as a term tends to be used for industrial settings.
Accuracy: Accuracy refers to how close the overall dimensions a 3D print will be when compared to the original model file–combining factors like layer height, shrinkage and polishing.
Additive manufacturing: The opposite of subtractive manufacturing where products are made by carving a structure out of another material, additive manufacturing adds materials layer by layer to build a shape. Also commonly referred to as 3D printing, additive manufacturing tends to be used in 3D printing terminology for industrial settings.
ASTM International – This organization serves to provide testing and technical standards for a wide range of items, to include products and systems, materials, and far more.
Binder jetting: Created in the mid-90’s, Binder Jetting is named for the agents used to bond granular particles together layer by layer. This technology relies on one or more nozzles to build dense parts which are sintered in a furnace and left to strengthen, or a separate post-processing step may be used for coating and strengthening the final part. Binder liquid serves as the ‘glue’ to build parts.
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: Computer-Aided Design is behind the creation of digital designs. In relation to 3D printing, designers are able to create a CAD file, convert it to a 3D file, and optimize the model for 3D printing.
CAM: Computer-Aided Manufacturing relies on software and other computerized tools for production.
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.
DED – Directed Energy Deposition technology uses a laser or electron beam to melt materials, relying on the use of a robotic arm or a nozzle moving in multiple directions to complete the desired structure. DED is usually associated with metal 3D printing, and often on a large scale.
Density: Density refers to the material composition of a 3D printed part and how tightly packed the material elements are after printing. See sparsity.
DfAM – Design for Additive Manufacturing is a method of designing for the process to maximize the product for efficiency, cost, and strength.
DMLS – Created by EOS, Direct Metal Laser Sintering is a type of Laser Powder Bed Fusion that uses lasers to melt metal powder to create structures out of materials like Stainless Steel and Cobalt Chrome.
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.
Elastomer – Typically used to create rubbery materials, elastomers are made up of chainlike polymers which are able to return to their natural state easily after being stretched.
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/FFF – Fused Deposition Modeling and Fused Filament Fabrication are both 3D printing terminology falling under the category of Material Ext. Thermoplastic materials are heated into a molten form in the printhead and then deposited layer by layer onto the print bed, building the desired structure.
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.
ISO – The International Organization for Standardization develops standards and certifications meant to strengthen innovation and offer solutions for areas like quality management in technology.
ISO 9001 – Developed by The International Organization for Standardization, ISO 9001 focuses on strengthening standards for quality control and management.
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.
Laser Sintering – For this type of 3D printing technology, a high-powered laser sinters powdered material together, layer by layer, to create a solid structure.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.
Material Jetting – MJ technology uses small, multi-nozzle printheads to project resin droplets onto the printhead. Multiple materials can be mixed within one print job for impressive texture and color.
Multi Jet Fusion – MJF technology, released by HP in 2016, is a subcategory of powder-bed fusion, and a powerful form of 3D printing that uses an inkjet array to move back and forth, separately releasing fusing and detailing agents onto the powder material. Thermal heat melts the layers together, until the desired structure is complete.
Multi-part or multi-shell: 3D model files that have multiple disconnected and distinct manifold objects.
Non-manifold: A 3D model 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.
Nylon 12 – Shapeways offers both Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] and MJF Plastic PA12. These 3D printing materials are very popular due to flexibility for thinner structures, and great strength for thicker structural components.
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.
PA – Polyamide is nylon, a material widely used in 3D printing due to its high tensile strength.
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 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.
Polyjet – Similar to inkjet technology, Polyjet 3D printing falls under the category of Material Jetting. The 3D printing method ‘jets’ drops of photopolymer material onto the print bed, to be cured by UV light. Advantages of Polyjet include the ability to make detailed, photorealistic parts. Polyjet was originally introduced by Objet, now Stratasys.
Powder: Powder is used as the key ingredient in certain 3D printed materials, like Shapeways' Nylon 12 [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.
Powder Bed Fusion – This category encompasses 3D printing technology like Selective Laser Sintering, Laser Powder Bed Fusion, and Electron Beam Melting (EBM). While each method varies, they all rely on a coating of power spread across the build surface to be melted or sintered, one layer after the other.
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 – The rapid prototyping process accelerates product development, allowing for quick iterations of product designs to evaluate aesthetics, fit, and functionality before moving on to full-scale production.
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.
Stereolithography (SLA) – Known as the oldest method of 3D printing, SLA is still one of the most respected methods of 3D printing, falling under the Vat Polymerization category. SLA 3D printing relies on light reactive resins that are cured by UV light to build structures layer by layer. Manufacturers count on SLA technology for strong, intricate prototypes and precise functional parts that can be printed on the small or large scale.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – A subcategory of powder-based fusion, SLS technology relies on powerful lasers to sinter a thin layer of nylon powder distributed onto the print bed. SLS reigns as one of the most powerful and effective methods of 3D printing.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM) – Used for complex metal parts, SLM 3D printing falls under the Powder Bed Fusion category, and is another form of Laser Powder Bed Fusion, which uses metals. SLM relies on lasers to melt fine metallic powder particles for creating extremely precise parts. Manufacturers choose SLM 3D printing for creating complex prototypes and high-performance end parts.
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.
STL – One of the most common formats for storing 3D designs, STL files are usually created with a CAD program during the modeling process. This is an older file type that does not contain units or texture.
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.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) – This rubber-like material is used for elastic end-use products, 3D printed with SLS 3D printing technology. TPU is popular due to its flexibility, durability, and suitability for interlocking features.
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.
Wax Casting – 3D printing wax molds for casting metal is not only an age-old technique, but a fascinating one too, allowing designers to create highly detailed parts for applications like fine jewelry.
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.’
Looking for the most up-to-date additive manufacturing 3D printing terminology? Visit our blog.