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3D Printing at the Innovation Space: What Is 3D Printing?

How-To Guide for 3D Printing

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing refers to the additive manufacturing process that builds a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model. There are many different types of 3D printing machines used for both personal/hobbyist and industrial purposes.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

  • Most entry-level desktop 3D printers are equipped with a heated extruder. The extruder takes the plastic filament, melts it,  and lays down the material layer by layer to create a 3D object. This is 3D printing by the Fused deposition modeling method,
  • Fused deposition modeling (FDM),  Selective laser sintering (SLS), Stereolithography (SLA) are a few examples of different 3D printing technologies used for different types of 3D printers.
  • Machine Process of 3D printing (FDM)
    • A geometrical manifold model is created by a 3D modeling software.
    • A Slicer program takes this model, translates into individual layers, then generates the code (Gcode) that the 3D printer understands.
    • A 3D printer user interface or control software sends the code to the 3D printer and controls the settings of the printer such as the printing speed, flow, temperature, and the positions of the extruders on x, y, z, axes.

Examples of 3D Printing in Academia

  • Create 3D models as teaching and learning tools
  • Model a 3D object and 3D print it for rapid prototyping.
  • Rapid prototyping of an experimental medical device for testing
  • Create custom lab equipment or models of DNA or human anatomy.


  • Desktop 3D printers usually use ABS and PLA plastic.
  • More sophisticated 3D printers can use various types of materials such as ceramics, resin, metal, clay, plaster, cement, and even biological matter.

Funding Notice

Modernization projects such as the Innovation Space initiative are made possible by the generosity of donors through the UMB Foundation. If you would like to support projects such as these please visit or contact us at (410) 706-7545.