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Working with 3D: Intro to 3D Printing

You have your digital 3D model; get it in shape for printing on a desktop 3D printer.


3D printing is an additive manufacturing process which permits the creation of a physical object from a digital model file. There are a wide range of 3D printing techniques, only a few of which are typically available in consumer 3D printers. Learn about them below, and follow the rest of this guide to find, prepare, and print your own 3D models!


Consumer 3D printers use one of three different processes to create physical objects from virtual models. 

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Most desktop 3D printers, including the ones at the Auraria Library, use a technique called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). These printers use melted material (usually a form of plastic) to lay down one layer of an object at a time until the entire object is built. Because the object is being built from the "ground up," certain forms are difficult to print, or might require the creation of support material. You'll learn about these possible issues in the following pages.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography is a 3D printing process where models are composed of successive layers of a resin material. UV light is projected in the pattern of the 3D model, so as to only fuse (polymerize) the resin together in the desired form. Objects printed with an SLA printer usually require a special rinse afterwards.

On average SLA printers are more precise (higher resolution) than FDM printers. Overhangs in objects still require support structures.

Selective laser sintering (SLS)

SLS machines tend to be extremely costly, although some consumer models do exist. SLS machines selectively sinter a powder substrate, layer by layer, to create a form. Basically a thin layer of powder is put down with each pass of the machine. The device heats only the areas of the powder that should become part of the final object, fusing the powder into a solid mass only in those places.

SLS machines can print extremely complex forms without difficulty, because the surrounding powder creates a kind of support system for the object. It also tends to have a very fine finish. Although the Auraria Library does not own an SLS 3D printer, you can access these machines through paid 3D printing order services such as Shapeways and Sculpteo.


There are many different 3D modeling programs. If you're hoping to print your final object, look for one that can save or export files as a .obj or .stl file. If your preferred modeling program cannot export .obj or .stl files, you can use a program like MeshLab to convert most 3D filetypes into these.

Once your object has been exported, it will need to be converted into a format that a 3D printer can read. This format is called G-Code and most 3D printers are accompanied with a software capable of slicing and converted objects automatically. You'll find more information on the "Generate G-Code" page. At the Auraria Library Innovation Garage, we use either Cura Ultimaker Edition or Cura Lulzbot Edition to prepare the G-code for our prints.


3d Software for creating models to print