How does 3D printing work?

3D printer is a  machine that can turn digital files into real-life objects, which opens an entirely new field of possibilities. Rapid prototyping, small-batch production, research, development, medical applications, fun and entertainment… 3D printers are an incredibly useful tool in a vast range of industries - and even at home. 

You can print nearly anything. Functional items, figures, miniatures, molds, teaching supplies, recreations of 3D-scanned items, household tools, board games, decorations and even metal parts and food! There are various kinds of 3D printers and none of them can do everything. However, some models are more universal than others - especially FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) and SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus) 3D printers, which are exactly those that Prusa Research manufactures.

Open-source breakthrough

Even today, 3D printers may look like some sort of sci-fi technology, yet these machines exist since the 1980s. Back then, various teams and nations tried their hand at creating functional 3D printers, but very few companies saw any potential in this technology. The start was very slow and the first machines were incredibly expensive. A major breakthrough came in 2005 with Dr. Adrian Bowyer who introduced the RepRap project - a 3D printer that can print its own parts, thus replicating itself. This international, open-source effort quickly gained traction and drew in developers from all over the world - including young Josef Průša. It didn’t take long before the first version of “Prusa Mendel” was published. From there, things picked up quickly. Nowadays, you can get a very good user-friendly 3D printer with a full warranty and tech support for less than 500 USD. Or you can still build your own using guides available on the internet.

How does 3D printing work?

If you ever saw a normal “2D” paper printer, then you already have some basic understanding of the technology. A print head moves from left to right, applying a thin layer of ink onto a sheet of paper, which moves in the perpendicular direction. This creates a 2D image. Now add the height element and you have the basic concept of a 3D printer.

The most common type of 3D printer uses a thin plastic thread (filament) to create three-dimensional objects. Drive gears feed the filament through a print head with heated parts and finally through a small nozzle. The heating elements cause the filament to melt, so it can be pushed out of a nozzle. The material quickly solidifies once it’s pushed out. Simply put, the object is created by adding (stacking) thin layers of plastic onto each other. It’s like working with an extremely precise glue gun.