ZE Printer 2.jpg

Rapid Prototyping AKA 3D-Printing

If you’re new to the wonderful world of 3D printing, then may we be the first to offer you a warm welcome. You’re going to have lots of fun.

The immediate challenge newcomers face with 3D printing technology is distinguishing between the different processes and materials available.

What’s the difference between types of 3D printing like FDM and SLS, for example? Or SLS and DLP? Or EBM and DMLS?

It can be pretty confusing. With so many different acronyms, you’d be forgiven for mistaking a type of 3D printing for a genre of dance music.

The first thing to understand is that 3D printing is actually an umbrella term that encompasses a group of 3D printing processes.

The ISO/ASTM 52900 standard, which was created in 2015, aims to standardize all terminology and classify each of the different types of 3D printer.

In total, seven different categories of additive manufacturing processes have been identified and established. These seven 3D printing processes brought forth ten different types of 3D printing technologies 3D printers use today.


Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Material Extrusion devices are the most commonly available — and the cheapest — types of 3D printing technology in the world. You might be familiar with them as Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM. They are also sometimes referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication, or FFF.

The way it works is that a spool of filament is loaded into the 3D printer and fed through to a printer nozzle in the extrusion head. The printer nozzle is heated to a desired temperature, whereupon a motor pushes the filament through the heated nozzle, causing it to melt.

The printer then moves the extrusion head along specified coordinates, laying down the molten material onto the build plate where it cools down and solidifies.

Once a layer is complete, the printer proceeds to lay down another layer. This process of printing cross-sections is repeated, building layer-upon-layer, until the object is fully formed.

Depending on the geometry of the object, it is sometimes necessary to add support structures, for example if a model has steep overhanging parts.


Material extrusion is a 3D printing process where a filament of solid thermoplastic material is pushed through a heated nozzle, melting it in the process. The printer deposits the material on a build platform along a predetermined path, where the filament cools and solidifies to form a solid object.

  • Types of 3D Printing Technology: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), sometimes called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
  • Materials: Thermoplastic filament (PLA, ABS, PET, TPU)
  • Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.5% (lower limit ±0.5 mm)
  • Common Applications: Electrical housings; Form and fit testings; Jigs and fixtures; Investment casting patterns
  • Strengths: Best surface finish; Full color and multi-material available
  • Weaknesses: Brittle, not sustainable for mechanical parts; Higher cost than SLA/DLP for visual purposes