A substantive ABC; terminology of 3D printing

By - - Price update: 20 May 2024 -

The 3D print world is full of jargon and very specific 3D terms. Below you will find a list with the most common and important terms and a short explanation of their meaning.

ABS is the abbreviation for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. ABS is a thermoplastic that can be used by a 3D printer. ABS comes in the form of a filament. Click here for our Special about print materials.

Additive Manufacturing File Format also known as STL 2.0. AMF is the improved version of STL. While STL makes use of straight lines for the drawing of an object, AMF makes use of curved lines.  As a result, you will need fewer triangles to achieve the same result. Click here for our Special about 3D file formats.

Bed or Printbed
With the bed or printbed, the plate is meant on which the object is printed. The printbed is also called the build platform.

Bowden extruder
A Bowden printhead (extruder) is a printhead that is not placed directly above the hot end but on the outside of the printer. This is done, so that the printhead is lighter and can reach higher speeds.

BOM (Bill Of Materials)
BOM stands for 'Bill Of Materials'; the parts list. There are parts lists for the entire 3D printer and for individual components.

CAD (Computer Aided Design)
Computer Aided Design is design with the help of a computer. A CAD package is a design and drawing package that is used by engineers and architects. The best known example is AutoCAD. We distinguish between 2D and 3D. Nowadays you also have programs that are more user-friendly and accessible.

CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing)
CAM stands for Computer Aided Manufacturing. A CAM program carries out what is designed with CAD.

The moving cart on the X-axis of a 3D printer where the printhead rests. The cart is also known as the 'x-carriage'.

Copolymers are additives that are added to polymer mixes to give certain characteristics to the primary polymer. All polymers have certain desired characteristics, but some also bring unwanted characteristics into the mix. A good example is Styrene, which is a transparent and accurate polymer. But it becomes very brittle under the influence of sun light. In certain commercial varnishes butadiene is added for increased flexibility and UV protectors to make it more durable. The biggest difference between copolymers and fillers is that the first takes part in the chemical reaction and enters into a bond with the primary monomer.

The deposition of molten print material on the build platform. Normally this happens through the warming of a thermoplastic that is pressed through a nozzle.

With extruder, the 3D printhead is meant. The printhead supplies and extrudes the molten print material on the build platform. The printhead is made up of two parts: a cold-end that pulls the thermoplastic thread from the roll and a hot-end that warms the thermoplastic and extrudes it.

A triangular element for accessing the surface of a model. A facet is defined as a three focal points and outer surfaces. You require thousands of triangles to define a complex model. The facet data is stored in an STL file. Click here for our Special about 3D file formats.

FDM (Fused Deposition Method)
the same as FFF.

FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication)
The FFF 3D print process starts with a wire of solid material called a filament. This wire is lead from a roll on the 3D printer to a heated nozzle within the 3D printer that melts the material. When the filament has melted, it can be extruded on a specific and previously defined path via the 3D software. When the material is extruded as a layer of the to be printed object, it immediately cools and hardens. This layer then becomes the basis for the following layer of material and the process is repeated until the whole object has been completed.

Filament (wire)
The word filament is derived from the Latin word filum, which means wire. When people talk about 3D print material filament, then the 'ink' of the 3D printer is meant. The 3D filament is usually made of thermic plastic or thermoplastic. Click here for our Special about print materials.

Hot end
The part of the printhead that melts thermic plastic (or other materials). Hot end parts can be heated to temperatures of around 392 to 482 degrees F (200 to 250 degrees Celsius) . The hot end is at the end of the printhead, where it needs to be the hottest.

Heated bed
A heatable printbed prevents your object from cooling too fast and shrinking. Shrinkage leads to warping through internal tension within parts. Often the result is that the corners of a part separate from the printbed. 3D printers with a heatable printbed often produce objects with a higher build quality.

Kapton Tape
Kapton Tape is heat resistant polyamide tape. It is used to secure the heating element to the extruder tube. It can also be used on a heatable printbed.

A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a chemical reaction without being included in the reaction.

A monomer is a molecule that can, under the right circumstances, bind to one another, so that larger molecules, called polymers, can be formed. A monomer must be able to form two or more of such compounds with other monomers.

Usually used to refer to a specific stepper motor size.

  • NEMA 14 - A small stepper motor;
  • NEMA 17 - A larger, stronger stepper motor equipped in most 3D printers;
  • NEMA 23 - A much larger and stronger stepper motor.

Nichrome is an alloy of nickel and chrome. Nichrome wire is used as a heating element in many extruder tubes and some designs use it for the heating plate. Simpler and less cluttering enamel resistors can be used for the same purpose.

Oligomers are large molecules that are made up of monomer units that are linked more or less in a kind of tree structure, in order to lay out the polymerization seeds for the final polymer. A good analogy would be that monomers are to oligomers what water molecules are to snow flakes. In commercial resins oligomers are mixed with their monomer components in order to get a polymer with the wanted characteristics. This is thanks to possibility to organize the polymerization process spatially.

PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone)
PEEK is a high temperature thermoplastic that is used as a thermal barrier in the extruder.

PLA (Polylactic Acid)
PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic polymer and is used as a raw material for 3D printing. When talking about PLA in 3D printing, then PLA filament is meant. Click here for our Special about PLA print material.

PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon))
PTFE is a thermoplastic with smooth characteristics. Often used in the bus of the extruder to minimalize friction with the wire.

A RepRap-machine is a rapid prototyping machine that can produce a significant portion of its own parts. The RepRap project has the goal of creating a desktop-size RepRap-machine.

RP (Rapid Prototyping)
3D printing is very suitable for RP, because the creation of an object in a 3D printer only costs a few hours, as opposed to sending a job to the model shop where the process can take days or weeks.

Stepper motor
Motors that operate with discrete rotational intervals. This is the most used motor type for 3D printers.

Slicing is the process of converting a 3D model into a tool path for your 3D printer. It is called slicing, because the 3D model is sliced into thin horizontal layers.

STL (Stereo Lithography)
STL is the recommended data format that is used to describe 3D objects. A design program can produce an STL file that can be fed to a printer or 3D rending program. Click here for our Special about 3D file formats.

The process where the printed object hardens into its final form.

Viscosity is the property of fluids that defines their flow resistance. The higher the viscosity, the harder the material will extrude or dispense. More energy/pressure will be required. It also applies that the higher the viscosity, the less the material will sag or deform during hardening.

Fillers are solid materials that are added to polymers (or cement), but do not chemically interact with them. They remain inert but add certain wanted mechanical properties to the agent. This may be for adjusting the density (making the agent heavier or lighter), increasing strength (fibers), increasing resistance against abrasion, improving thermal properties (sand), or diluting the agent to make it cheaper on average.

Wade’s Extruder
An alternative for the standard printhead.

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