A Rose By Any Other Name – Why We Need A Glossary For 3D Printing

3D Printing is still relatively young.  The ideas for it came in the ‘80’s, but the ideas for it weren’t really put to use until the ‘90’s and it wasn’t until recent years that the prices for 3D printer have come down to a level that home users can start affording them.  As a result, everyday there are more and more 3D printers in the homes and in small businesses and the number of people using 3D printers is growing all every day.  But the whole 3D printing industry is so young and new, there are still many areas and parts left to define. As an example, what do you call a person who uses a 3D printer?  You can’t call them a “3D Printer”, that’s already taken.  The term “3D Printer User” or “Someone who 3D prints” just seem to be too cumbersome and long to say.  What if we use a different spelling: “3D Printor”, with an ‘o’ instead of the ‘e’, for someone who 3D prints?  Nah!  On paper, that would work, but it would be hard to tell the difference in spoken conversation.  I’ve searched and searched other people’s term for someone who 3D prints and I’ve ran across almost nothing out there.  I did once hear someone use “Digital Maker”.  It’s something, but it doesn’t quite nail it down.  A person who uses a 3D printer certainly is making in the digital arena, but so is a person using a CNC machine, plasma cutter or even a digital photographer, for that matter. But “Digital Maker” is better than anything I’ve come up with.  Maybe you’ve got an idea for what we can call a person who uses a 3D printer.  If so, now’s your chance to grab a spot in history.  You can be the first to coin the phrase for all of posterity.  If you have any ideas, leave them in the comment section below and if you come up with something good enough, our readers may discover it and start using it.  If it’s really good, I don’t see how anyone could help but use it.


There are a lot of unknown terms in the developing 3D printing world that haven’t yet been discovered or even clearly defined.  There are many functions, actions and objects that haven’t been labelled yet.  Heck, there are a lot words, phrases and acronyms that are so new or have new 3D printing meanings added to them that their definitions are still being worked out and refined.  Some people may think of the terms as one thing, while others may think of them very differently and still yet, some people are unfamiliar with them completely and not just because they are newbies to 3D printings.


What we need is a good glossary.  What we need is a really good, reliable source of definitions that is kept up-to-date.  It was my original intention for this website to NOT create any content, other than my blogs, I would just LINK to the best stuff about 3D printing I could find on the internet.  But, in the case of a truly good glossary, I couldn’t find any that was worth pointing to.  Oh, there are plenty of 3D printing glossaries out there, but they’re either incomplete, not kept up-to-date or just poorly made .  That is, at least of the first few hundred or so I looked at.  Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I did find and read a lot of glossaries.  So, I think we are going to have to come up a glossary ourselves and go ahead post it here on this website.  I’ll try to get it started as best I can, but I’m hoping I can count on some help from my readers, correcting me where I get a definition wrong or when a definition has changed and/or introduce me and the rest of us to new terms as they are developed.


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3D Modelling
The use of a computer and CAD software in creation of three-dimensional object represented in a computer file.  (See also: STL, OBJ)


3D Pen/3D Printing Pen
A pen shaped tool that can melt thermoplastic filament and used to “draw” in three-dimensions.


3D Printer
A device that uses one type of many different technologies and many different types of materials to create a physical three-dimensional object from digital computer files.


3D Printing
Using a 3D printer to create a three-dimensional object.


3D Scan/3D Scanning
The process of digitization of a real-world object into a 3D model file by means of a scanner or other device that can acquire any data necessary to mathematically represent the object in a computer file.

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Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene used in filament form as one type of thermoplastics used in the FFF or FDM type of technologies of 3D printers.


Acetone/Acetone Processes
Propanone or Dimethyl Ketone.  It’s a highly flammable organic compound usually used as a solvent, especially in 3D printing, where it readily dissolves ABS thermoplastic, so it is used as a binding agent when mixed close to 1:1 with ABS and/or in a post-build process of 3D printed objects by allowing it’s fumes to subtly melt the surfaces of the object to give it a smooth, glossy finish.


Additive Manufacturing
(See also: 3D Printer)

A part having different strengths or physical properties when measured across different axis’: Anisotrophy.


Axis’ (X, Y, & Z)
The three (3) cardinal directions of a Cartesian type 3D printer.  The “X” axis is usually the axis that crosses side-to-side.  The ”Y” is usually forward and backward, while the “Z” is usually the up and down direction.

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The build plate or build surface of a 3D printer.


Binder Jetting
Any ink-jet type of technology that sprays a liquid onto a powdered material to bind the powdered material together and build a 3D printed object, layer by layer.


A culture of live organic cells which are used as the material type in a special 3D printer used in creating replacement human parts.


Blue Tape/Blue Painter’s Tape
A type of tape applied to the print surface of a 3D printer and improve adhesion of the thermoplastic to the print bed.


Bowden Extruder
An extruder mounted on the 3D printer separately from the print head to lighten the carrying weight on the carriage and connected to the print head by a Bowden tube.


Bowden Tube
A plastic tube designed to guide the thermoplastic from the extruder to the hot end.


Any part of a 3D printed object during the printing process that is only supported at the ends and has no support under any part in the middle.


An extra amount of build material laid down flat, outside the perimeter of the first layer of a 3D printed object, used to insure adhesion of the object to the print bed and to help prevent warping of the object during the build process.  It is sometimes used as an initializer, to insure that the plastic is coming out of the nozzle and is adhering to print bed.  It gets its name from looking similar to the brim on a hat and its size predetermined by the user during the slicing process.


Build Box / Build Volume
The build area of a 3D printer on and above the print bed, defined by the limits of the “X”, “Y” and “Z” axis’.  It is usually measured in millimeters.


Build Chamber
A sealed or semi-sealed box built around the 3D printer or its build surface and build volume, to hold in heat to help maintain adhesion or warping during the build process.


Build Plate / Platform
(See also: Bed)

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Computer Aided Design.  The use of computers and CAD software to create and/or modify the three-dimensional designed files of virtual objects.  These files are also used by 3D printers to create the physical three-dimensional objects.


An often used tool in 3D printing and CAD design to make fine measurements of real world objects.


Pouring liquid or molten material into a mold to produce a three-dimensional object after the material has harden by curing or cooling.


Computer Aided Manufacturing.  The use of computers and software to control machines for manufacturing three-dimensional objects.  3D Printing is one type of CAM.


(See also: Print Head)


Cartesian 3D Printer
A 3D printer that makes use of simplifying the three dimensions of the real world into three (3) directions or axis’ of “X”, “Y” and “Z” axis.


Computer Numeric Control.  Machines which use subtractive manufacturing, that is they take material away from the original source in such a way to create three-dimensional objects.  CNC machines also use CAD files to create these 3D objects.


The hardening or allowing to harden of resin objects.

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Delta 3D Printer
A 3D printer uses three (3) control rods to move the print head and convert the three dimensions of the real world into three (3) directions or axis’, an “X”, “Y” and “Z” axis, but usually have a circular print bed.


Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
This technology uses a laser to selectively melt a metal powder substrate, layer by layer to create three-dimensional objects.


Do-It-Yourself.  This is broad category term representing any form of crafting, repairing, developing and or making things yourself rather than having something made or repaired for you or purchasing off the shelf.  (See also: Maker)


Digital Light Processing (DLP)
A type of 3D printing technology in which the process makes use of resin which hardens when exposed to UV light and whole layer images are projected onto the resin to harden in the pattern of each projected image.


Dual Extrusion
A 3D printer that has the ability to print with two (2) separate materials at the same time.

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Elephants Foot
This is an unintentional widening at the bottom lip of a 3D print, especially found at the bottom of vertical walls, usually caused by the bed and nozzle being set too close together during levelling.


(See also: Build Chamber)


End Use Part/End Part
This is a type of 3D printed object that is intended to be used quasi-permanently and not as a prototype for the creation of the permanently used parts or objects.


Escape Hole
Intentional holes designed into 3D printed objects to allow trapped build material to get out of hollow pockets inadvertently created in the bodies of objects built by some 3D printing technologies.


The device for pushing filament, usually thermoplastic toward the “hot end” of a 3D printer to be melted and deposited onto a 3D object during the build process.

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This refers to the extruder supplying the hot end with material to melt and emit through the nozzle.


This is the plastic wire or other type of material, usually wound around a spool and fed to the 3D printer by the extruder.  It is measured in weight, diameter and length.  Common diameters are 1.75 and 3.00.


The software instructions built into some of the memory of the control board of a 3D printer.


Floor Surface
Any upward facing surface of a 3D printed object that is not the top of the object.


This is a part of the 3D printer that connects to the ‘Y’ axis and resembles a squashed frog.


Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Both the term and the acronym are trademarks of Stratasys and is less often used.  See also: Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).


Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
This is one type additive manufacturing technology that fuses materials on top of preceding layers to create 3D objects, layer by layer.

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The vertical portion of the frame or chassis of a 3D printer.


Happens when printing a 3D object, a shape or feature of the design such as an opening or crease is echoed through the adjacent walls of the object.


This is file format most 3D printers use, that contain the direct instructions that command the 3D printer’s actions in creating the 3D objects.

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Heated Bed
A type of build plate/surface that can produce heat to keep objects being printed warm during the build process.  This is essential for some types of plastic to keep them from warping if the cool too fast.


This causes the 3D printer to send the hot end to its origin position, usually the front, left corner of the build plate.


Hot End
This is the nozzle end of the 3D printer where the melted plastic comes out to build the final object.

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Usually expressed as a percentage, is the amount of build material applied to the inner parts of a 3D printed object inside the shell.  In order to prevent a waste of build material, the interior of a 3D printed object can made into a lattice structure (as in a honeycomb), if not solid, which size and density is predetermined by the user to create enough support to the outer walls as to appear solid.


Occurs during some type of 3D printing technology refer to cross-sectional areas of the model are not connected.


A part having the same strengths or physical properties when measured across any axis’: Isotrophy.

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Kapton Tape
Polyimide adhesive tape which is heat resistant and is often used on the bed/build plate as a bonding surface for the 3D object being created.

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Laser Cutter
A subtractive manufacturing technology that uses lasers to rapidly and precisely cut (or burn) away material into exact, easily reproducible parts/objects.


Laser Engraver
A technology that uses laser to partially cut (or burn) away material in order to engrave an object.


Level (Or Leveling The Bed)
This is a misnomer.  It is not the actual paralleling of the build surface to the local horizon or to the ground or work surface on which the printer is sitting on, but if done correctly is the calibration setting of the build surface to be parallel to the ‘X’ axis of the 3D printer and parallel to the travel path of the ‘Y’ axis.  (See also: Tramming)


Limit Switch
A switch used to cause a 3D printer to know when the build surface or gantry has reached the acceptable end of its movement along any of its axis’.

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The collection of vertices, edges and faces that make up the shape of a three-dimensional object represented in a computer file.


A three-dimensional object represented in a CAD/software file, typically intended to be printed out by a 3D printer.


A solid form of material usually made of two (2) or more parts/blocks with a hollow cavity in the negative shape of some three-dimensional object used to reproduce a positive shape of the object by having liquid or molten material poured into it and allowing to cure or cool before removing from the form.  (A side note: Sometimes molds are made from a single part/block.  If so, the mold material has to be torn away and is usually used once or if the mold is a single part/block, it is a two-dimensional form with depth and is used “open-faced”; think: the way an ice tray is used.)


Movement/Movement Speed
Movement refers to when the printhead moves from one part of the print to another while it is NOT extruding plastic and the speed is how fast is it moving during that time.  Otherwise, when it is moving and extruding plastic it is known as ‘print speed’.

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The part of the hot end of a 3D printer where the molten thermoplastic is deposited onto the print.  Usually labelled by the size of the aperture in terms on millimeters.

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A computer file format commonly used by some CAD software programs to create three-dimensional objects with 3D printing.


Is an intentional misalignment of one or more of the axis’ of a 3D printer.


Open Source
Any project, the creation of an object or software program, where any or all data, knowledge and instructions are accessible to any user interested in recreating or adding to the original project, object or program.  It is a type collaborative mechanism designed to improve or increase the development process.


Any part of 3D object during the printing process which is not directly supported underneath by other parts of the same or different object.  Note:  If consecutive layers use a partial self-support and the angle of this self-support is greater than 45 degrees, support structure will usually be needed.

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Part Cooling Fan
A fan mounted on the print head, directed to blow on and immediately cool the most recently deposited thermoplastic to improve adhesion to the previous layer of plastic or print bed.


A generic name for processes which use light to solidify photopolymers, such as used in stereolithography.


A liquid plastic resin which hardens when exposed to light.  Used in stereolithography 3D printers.


Polylactic Acid.  A biodegradable thermoplastic used in filament form in FFF or FDM type 3D printers.


Plasma Cutter
A subtractive manufacturing technology that uses plasma jets to rapidly and precisely cut (or melt) away material into exact, easily reproducible parts/objects.


Polar 3D Printer
A 3D printer uses a rotating print bed and a control arm to move the print head up, down, in and out and it converts the three dimensions of the real world into polar coordinates.


Is a type of 3D printer technology that uses jets to spray drops of liquid material onto the print bed to harden into the solid layers of a 3D printed object.


Post Processing
Any acts performed to a 3D printed object after the printing is done to bring it to its final condition.


Print Bed
(See also: bed, Heated Bed)


The part of the 3D printer, usually FFF or FDM type, that contains the hot end, nozzle and associated parts that moves during the build process depositing material that will become the 3D printed object.


Print Volume
The total volume of the build box, usually measured in millimeters.  It is determined by multiplying the “X”, “Y” and “Z” dimensions of the build box.


An object or device created for temporary use, used to evaluate the feasibility of form, fit and/or function on which to base the final form of the object and not necessarily built of the same material as the final object.


Polytetrafluoroethylene is a low friction thermoplastic used in extruders and hot ends to guide the plastic filaments toward the nozzle where friction needs to be minimized.


Polyvinyl Alcohol.  A thermoplastic which is soluble in water used to make support structures during the FFF or FDM 3D printing process, which can be broken or washed away after the print is done.

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Several layers of melted build material laid down on the build surface, covering a virtual showdown and more of the object to be printed, if light was projected directly downward, creating a disposable mat which the 3D object will be printed on to provide better adhesion for the object to the build surface.


One or more of the RepRap “Official” electronics.


Rapid Prototyping
The original term for 3D printing and other computer controlled technologies in which prototypes are created quickly.  (See also: 3D Printing.)


An open source FFF or FDM type 3D printing technology designed to create many of the part necessary to replicate itself and created by a non-profit organization of the same name.


A thermoplastic in liquid form until it is hardened by heat, light or catalyst.


The minimum feature size you can expect of any particular 3D printer, determined by many factors: nozzle size, filament diameter, the printer’s speed and more.


When the printhead stops emitting plastic during a move to another area of the item being printed, the FDM will retract the filament a set amount and speed to prevent unneeded plastic from oozing from the nozzle causing the undesired condition of stringiness.

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Salmon Skin
Seen as a minor problem, it is a pattern on the surface of 3D printed objects, usually along their ‘X’  and ‘Y’ axis’, that resembles the look of salmon muscle tissue.  Most new 3D printers have eliminated this pattern from their prints, but for older printers and newer ones that still have the problem, it can be fixed with the edition of devices that adds a special arrangement of diodes into the control wires of the stepper motors, called smoothers.


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
A 3d printing technology which uses a laser and heat to melt a powdered material, usually a metal, one layer at a time.


The outer perimeter of a finished 3D printed object.  Usually expressed as the number of walls.


Heating up a powdered material to fuse the granules together.  Used in 3D printing technologies.


An additional ring/loop of build material laid down flat, outside and equidistant from the perimeter of the first layer of a 3D printed object used to initialize plastic is coming out of the nozzle before beginning the actual object print, to add better adhesion of the object to the bed of the 3D printer and check the current adhesion of build material to the print bed.


A computer program used to convert a digital 3D model in to the instruction set or g-code file to be followed by the 3D printer.  One part of the process of conversion is to cut the 3D model into layers (or slices), hence the name.


A special arrangement of multiple diodes added into the control path of stepper motors to smooth out the stair step or digital pattern on the surface of 3D prints.


Usually a putty knife or palette knife used to wedge under and pry off the 3D printed object from the bed because of its wide, flat, semi-sharp blade.

A filament delivery, cylinder shaped device with larger ends than the middle section designed to wind filament on and usually to feed the filament into a 3D printer.


Squashed Frog
(See also: Frog)


Stereolithography (SLA)
A type of 3D printing technology that uses UV lasers to solidify thermoplastic resins into three-dimensional objects by drawing each layer at a time.


A computer file format commonly used by some CAD software programs to create three-dimensional objects with 3D printing, which is thought to have likely gotten its initials from stereolithography.


The leading 3D printer company creating high-end 3D printers and the first commercially successful 3D printer manufacturer.


A problem of extra plastic in the form of fine fibrous webbing in the open areas of an FDM print caused by a retraction distance and/or speed set too low.


Subtractive Manufacturing
Is a type of manufacturing process, where build material is removed from the source to leave only the material required for the 3D object to remain.  (See also: CNC)


Supports/Support Structure
In FFF/FDM printing, they are disposable parts of a 3D printed object designed to temporarily brace parts of an object during printing that cannot hold themselves up.  These braces are designed to break-away or wash away after completion of the print.  In SLA/DLP technologies, they are used to keep the parts from floating away before they attach to the main body of the object as it is fully printed.

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A type of plastic which is designed to become malleable or molten with a certain amount of heat without burning and solidifying again when cool.  Used in a few 3D printing technologies, usually FFF or FDM.


This is the actual name of the type of calibration setting of the build surface to be parallel to the ‘X’ axis of the 3D printer and parallel to the travel path of the ‘Y’ axis.

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(See also: Shell)


The deformation of 3D printed parts during the printing process or shortly thereafter, due to the rapid cooling of the build material.


Water Jet Cutter
A subtractive manufacturing technology that uses high-speed water nozzles or a mixture of water and abrasive material to rapidly and precisely cut (or melt) away material into exact, easily reproducible parts/objects.

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The side-to-side (left and right) direction and/or movement of the 3D print head or print bed relative to the observer.

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The front-to-back (forward and backward) direction and/or movement of the 3D print head or print bed relative to the observer.

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The top to bottom (up and down) direction and/or movement of the 3D print head or print bed relative to the observer.

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Darren Hughes

Darren is a Nerd/Jock hybrid. In fact, he maybe the original nerd. In the '60's, he and his Sister were certainly among the first Trekkies, having pretended to be the crew of Enterprise at night (after watching the original series during it's inaugural run) and playing little league in the day. Darren holds a few college degrees. One of them for Engineering and another for Computer Networking. He's always been a fan of learning and technology. Darren has only been 3D printing for a couple years and still considers himself a novice. It is his hope for this blog site to share what he learns as he goes with other beginners, to save them time and hassle finding the best 3D printing and avoiding the worst.