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How Does 3D Printing Work?

If you’ve ever seen the TV series DCs Legends of tomorrow, you might be able to get an overview of how 3D printing works.

This futuristic fictional show used a device fashioned by the AI 'Gideon' aboard the Waverider to virtually create anything from food to clothes.

3D printing or additive manufacturing is quite similar to Gideon's contraption.

Instead of manipulating subatomic particles to render three dimensional objects as , 3D printers “print” out materials in successive layers to form an object.

What is a 3D printer?

3D printers are the Generation X machines that can produce everyday objects from ceramic cups to plastic toys, and more. You could even make human body parts, and 3D printers are even used today to make compnents of jet engines - so yes, the possibilities are endless.

​How Does It work?

3D printers use the printing technology in a unique way. While you may want to compare it with the traditional form of printing, it isn't exactly so. Here is how it works.


This is done by making a 3D printable model of the object you want to create. This can be achieved using one of the following methods:

  • A 3D modelling application such as the computer
  • aided design (CAD) program
  • A 3D scanner
  • A plain digital camera and photogrammetry software.


​The 3D printer will build up one layer of the 3D model at a time, starting from the bottom, and repeat the process till the model is built in real time - something we know of as fused depositional modelling (FDM).

The 3Dprinter will create a3D CAD drawing into something real - by adding in sectional layers, where the 2 prints sit on top of the other.

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How Much Does 3D Printing Cost?

By now, 3D printing has made the rounds everywhere — almost everyone has read about it in the papers, on blogs or seen it on TV.

But How Much Does it Really Cost?

Broadly speaking, this depends on several factors such as:-

  • Technology and the material used
  • Size of the object
  • Orientation of the object in the printer
  • Volume of the printer
  • Others things being printed at that time
  • Cost of the printer
  • Cost of finishing and post-finishing and
  • If the machine used is yours or you are ordering it from a service.
  • The cost of the 3D printer will also depend on the brand name that you are ordering from.


The Top Factors that Determine the Pricing

Let’s delve deeper into the factors associated with its pricing to help you understand better.

3D Printer:

3D printing has varied requirements depending on how it is being used. A layman in his garage has fewer needs than a technical university prototyping electronics or a school using it as a teaching aid.

While exposed printers cost as little as $140, there are several other factors that could add up to the cost, viz., the overall running cost, the impact on your IT administrators etc.

Enclosed desktop 3D printers suitable for the use in Education sector are roughly around $2000 to $3500.


3D printing materials are also known as filaments.

Their price is governed by their type, quality, weight, diameter and color. Their costs can vary widely, ranging from $10 per spool to $160 per spool.


Modeling Software

3D modeling software, also known as CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs, can cost into the hundreds or thousands of dollars with features for professional designers. However, the beginner can use the following free tools:
– TinkerCad- OpenSCAD- AutoDesk’s Fusion 360.

In addition to these direct costs, the following indirect costs could also affect the pricing of your 3D printing project:- Maintenance & Service- Print Management Software- Administration costs

How Can I Cut my 3D Printing Price?

Depending on whether you print your parts at home, or you use an online 3D printing service, there are very different ways of cutting the 3D printing costs.

Here are some ways you can save on 3D printing:- Buying your own printer- Selecting the appropriate material- Using or modifying a free design- Using free 3D modelling software- Reducing your print size- Using an online 3D printing service

Thus, although it can be a tad expensive, there are ways to make 3D printing as accessible and affordable as possible.

In fact, if you see the lower end of 3D printers today, you could get one even below just $500!

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