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What is 3D Printing?

3D printing—also known as additive manufacturing—is a method of creating a solid, three-dimensional object from a digital file. The most common type of 3D printer uses a process called fused deposition modeling (FDM). This consists of heating a filament of thermoplastic material and forcing it through a nozzle—much like a hot glue gun—to create an object. The process is precisely controlled by a computer and is capable of creating complex shapes—many of which could not be created by conventional machining.

Additive manufacturing is widely used for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from rapid, inexpensive prototyping, to making toys and decorative objects. Printer quality and overall capability has improved in recent years, making it possible to create finished products via additive manufacturing, such as customized prosthetic medical devices.

By the early 2020's, 3D printers had reached a point where high-quality FDM machines were available for less than $300 USD. This put 3D printing within reach of a new wave of potential "makers." 3D printing technology is now widespread. Moreover, a person interested in 3D printing may not even need to purchase a printer to take advantage of the technology. Some public libraries and other organizations offer free or low-cost printing services. All the user needs to do is find something they wish to print from an online library of objects. The file(s) needed to print the object can be downloaded and sent to the printing service, much like downloading an online, public domain essay and printing it on paper with a laser printer.

Subject Librarian

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Marlo Brown
University of the Incarnate Word
4301 Broadway CPO# 297
San Antonio, TX 78209
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