Types of 3D Printers: Starting From The Basics

You have an idea for a new product. You've done your homework and created a strategy based on research, fact gathering, and testing the product's usefulness among the population to determine how likely it is to succeed.

Now, you're ready for the development of your product. But how can you develop your product cost-effectively and efficiently to get your product to market sooner rather than later? Consider rapid prototyping or low-volume manufacturing with 3D printing for your product.

This article gives you an in-depth look at how 3D printing can get your product from conception to market faster and with fewer costs than traditional manufacturing methods. This article will explore the idea of using 3D printing for your particular product by explaining 3D printing and how it works. 

Ovyl On: Types of 3D Printers 

  • Demonstrating the benefits of 3D printing for your product
  • Describing the materials that 3D printing can use and how their use can apply to your product
  • Explaining other considerations when deciding if 3D printing suits your design needs.

types of 3D printers

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing or additive manufacturing transforms a three-dimensional digital model into a physical object by stacking thin layers of material, such as metal, thermoplastics, rubber, and numerous other types of material, one on top of the other until the final product emerges. 3D printing is beneficial in the engineering phase of a product, particularly for rapid prototyping.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

When developing a product, a 3D digital model of a product, a stereolithography file (.STL), is created using CAD software and stored on a server. The 3D printer takes that data and transforms the CAD model into a physical, working prototype.

This transformation works by adding two-dimensional layers of material, building the layers one on top of another until the printing process creates the physical object according to the digital model's specification. Adding material to form the object is why 3D printing falls under the additive manufacturing method.

History of 3D Printing

Although it seems just recently that 3D printing has become more prominent as an engineering tool, 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s. A patent was filed in 1984 for an "Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography," and the first commercial SLA printer was made available. The invention of the STL file came later, in 1987. In the 1990s, different types of 3D printers were made available throughout the decade, including the FDM printer.

Benefits of 3D Printing

Getting your product to market quickly and in a less costly manner is the goal of every product producer. However, if the product languishes in development, this expense can damage your business. 

With 3D printing, your product can reach your customers faster and at a reduced cost, making profitability a reality.

Reduced Cost

Rapid prototyping with 3D printing is a cost-effective method of designing, manufacturing and testing your prototype. Why? Because you don't have tooling costs. And, if the prototype's specifications have to be changed to suit the intended application, you can make the changes in the digital file rather than accumulating more tooling costs.

Design Customization

Because there are no tooling or part mold requirements, you can customize the 3D printing of your design project to specific customer choices simply by making changes in the digital model file and then printing. 

design customization


The speed at which you can manufacture parts using the 3D printing process, usually within hours, is an excellent advantage in the prototype stage of your design. You don't have to wait to construct tooling or molds before you can build your prototype. As a result, your prototype can be manufactured and tested in far less time than with traditional manufacturing methods.


3D printing can help the development of your prototype through rapid prototyping. But did you know this is a great manufacturing tool for low-volume manufacturing? Usually, with traditional manufacturing, low-volume production is more costly. But, with 3D printing, low-volume production requests are no problem and do not add extra costs to the bottom line.

functional prototype

Applications of 3D Printing

It is well-known that there are commercial 3D printers that facilitate the design and manufacturing of commercial products, but it may not be well-known that consumers can have a 3D printer in their homes. So, let's look at some of the applications that consumers and commercial businesses may have for 3D printing.

Consumer 3D Printing

Some might ask themselves why they need a 3D printer for their home. Believe it or not, there are many things you can print using your 3D printer at home. Here are some of those things:

  • Covid-19 masks or mask breathers
  • 3D figurines from your children's drawings or favorite books
  • Dollhouse residents, furniture or appliances
  • Mobile phone case and card holder
  • Board game pieces
  • Lego pieces
  • Measuring spoons

Commercial 3D Printing

You can create almost any design project using a commercial 3D printer because you can use or print on many different materials to complete your project. The different types of material that you could build your design project with are:

  • Metals
  • Wood
  • Paper
  • Rubber
  • Powders
  • Resins
  • Plastic
  • Carbon fiber
  • Graphite and graphene
  • Nitinol

Different Types of 3D Printers

While constructing your project, the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printing process can use several different thermoplastic materials or filaments. Knowing the pros and cons of the FDM process and the various thermoplastics commonly used in the FDM process may help you decide which materials are best for your project design parameters.

FDM 3D printer


Product producers heavily depend upon the FDM 3D printing process to build working prototypes, design models, and manufacturing tools, jigs or fixtures that make manufacturing processes more efficient and cost-effective. In addition, the FDM process allows for extremely strong thermoplastics or filaments, which perform well mechanically, have great visual qualities, and simplify the 3D printing process, to be melted and deposited in layers until the final product emerges.

Although this is a popular method for any part design or manufacturing need, the finished project may require some work after the printing is complete. Because the layer lines are noticeable on some completed devices, they will have to be sanded and finished after the printing.


You may determine that one of the criteria for your product is that it must have strong mechanical properties that can resist impact and heat. In addition, the design parameters may require the product or device to be durable enough to withstand extra usage, wear, and high temperatures before the product or device disfigures or warps. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a material that meets those criteria, and you can use it in the FDM process.

Although, you must note that during the printing process, you will have to carefully control the temperature to avoid a rapid cooling that could warp the printed object. A heated bed or chamber will help in controlling the temperature. Also, when using ABS, it may be beneficial to perform the printing process in a well-ventilated area because of the slight, unpleasant odor that ABS emits.

abs 3d printer


If your design project doesn't need to resist high temperatures, then Polylactic Acid (PLA) may be a suitable material for your product. PLA is a filament that simplifies printing because the printer can use it while printing at low temperatures. This feature makes the printing process far more manageable than ABS material because the temperature doesn't require such careful consideration while printing. This material is also popular because it is economical, environmentally friendly and versatile for almost any application.

However, if your design project needs to be resistant to high temperatures, the object created with PLA is not nearly as resistant to high temperatures as the one created with ABS material. Even sunlight exposure can pose a problem for products made from PLA.

PLA printed elasticity


Partial flexibility may be a parameter required for your design project. If that's the case, Nylon or Polyamide, another durable thermoplastic material that can be processed using FDM printing, may be suitable for your application. Not only is the impact resistance high, but it is flexible to some degree and can withstand abrasion from friction, scraping, or rubbing from other mechanical parts. 

Moisture can be the bane of products or devices printed with Nylon. Nylon is a material that readily absorbs moisture either while printing or as a finished object. Therefore, you will have to apply special considerations to avoid moisture while printing and storing this material, as this will prevent final product quality issues. Also, if your design parameters are for an application used in moist and humid environments, you may want to look for more suitable material.

TPU 3d printedbottle


If your design project needs more flexibility and elasticity than Nylon can offer, then Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) or flexible filaments may be the solution for your final product. Because of its rubber-like qualities, this material has high abrasion resistance and can retain its properties in high-temperature environments. In addition, this material will not degrade when exposed to solvents, grease, or oils.

Although this material has several helpful qualities about it, 3D printing using this material can be difficult because stringing and clogging can occur during the process. In addition, applying any 3D printing post-processing tasks, such as polishing, painting, or sanding, to these flexible filaments can be a chore too. And, like Nylon, this material easily absorbs moisture. Therefore, consider the moisture absorption quality when storing and printing flexible filaments and determine if this material is suitable for the final product application.

PVA 3d printed object


Your design project may consist of very complicated shapes or partially enclosed spaces which are no problem for FDM 3D printing capabilities. However, when these challenging configurations are present, you will need support structures to create these shapes and spaces in the final product. 

However, the support structures aren't part of the final project and need to be separated from the object when they are no longer required. This process occurs by the support structure dissolving away from the object. So the material that makes up the support structure must be a dissolvable material like Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA). PVA dissolves in warm water, and no additional solvents are needed. 

The downside to using PVA for your design project is that the cost of this material is quite expensive and will raise the costs of your 3D printing project. In addition, moisture sensitivity is also a factor to consider for this material, so storage of PVA has to be airtight.

HIPS 3D printed object


High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) is a dissolvable material used as a support structure. However, because it has the same properties and printing challenges as ABS, HIPS is usually used as a support structure for final projects printed with ABS filaments. 

The good news is that this is a low-cost material that, unlike PVA, is not dissolved by warm water but by D-Limonene, a solution created by citrus fruit peels. As a result, your final project won't have any blemishes left by removing the support structure.

Nevertheless, since HIPS has the same high-temperature and odor-emitting challenges as ABS while printing, the same special considerations must be applied when using this material.

Final Thoughts And Other Considerations

Now, there are other considerations to consider when deciding if your projects qualify for the 3D printing process, especially if you are considering purchasing a 3D printer.

Size of Projects

The project size can be a factor in deciding whether the 3D printer can print your part. 3D printers have small chambers that restrict how big a part will allow for 3D printing. If an object is too big, the printing process will print the object in sections, and then the sections will have to be joined together. These extra steps can cause an increase in time and costs. 

3D Modeling Software

3D printing uses two types of software. This article mentioned earlier that CAD software creates very specified digital models of objects for business owners and their products. The CAD software has specialized features that allow for this capability. 3D modeling software has features that help with sculpting or animation. Artists, rather than business owners, usually use 3D modeling software.

Cost of 3D Printers

The cost of commercial 3D printers can range anywhere from $1500 to $20,000, depending on the capabilities you require. However, whether you purchase a 3D printer or outsource your 3D printer needs, a designer like Ovyl will help determine specifications, such as measurements and materials, that will fit your product's applications. 

After determining the specifications, Oval can help you set up your digital model (.STL) file. Once that's set up, you can load it on a desktop computer and start printing.

Making important decisions about your product and business can be the difference between being profitable. One of those important decisions is deciding whether to use 3D printing or a traditional manufacturing method to facilitate your design project. This article intends to advise you about all aspects of 3D printing so that you can make an informative, profitable decision. Contact Ovyl for help on any mechanical, electrical, or industrial design issues you may have.

Or click here to learn more ->