3D printing is also known as direct digital manufacturing or additive manufacturing. It is a process whereby a real object is created from a computer generated 3D design. The digital 3D-model is saved in STL format and then sent to a 3D printer in slices. The 3D printer then prints the design layer by layer and forms a real object.
There are several different 3D printing technologies. The main differences are how layers are built to create parts.

SLS (selective laser sintering), FDM (fused deposition modeling) & SLA (stereolithograhpy) are the most widely used technologies for 3D printing. Selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) use melted or softened materials to produce layers.

This video describes how laser-sintering processes melt fine powders, bit by bit, into 3D shapes.

This video shows how FDM works.

The video below explains the process of Stereolithography (SLA).

Generally, the main considerations are speed, cost of the printed prototype, cost of the 3D printer, choice and cost of materials and color capabilities.

If you’re just getting started you can try some of 3D modeling software which can be downloaded for free.
  • Google SketchUp – This Google SketchUp is fun and free, and is known for being easy to use. To build models in SketchUp, you draw edges and faces using a few simple tools that you can learn in a short time. With with Push/Pull tool you can extrude any flat surface into a 3D form. Furthermore, it works together with Google Earth, that you can import a scaled aerial photograph directly from Google Earth, or use SketchUp to build models which can be seen in Google Earth.
  • 3Dtin – The simplest 3D software. You can draw directly from your browser.
  • Blender – Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems under the GNU General Public License. Blender was developed as an in-house application by the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo and Not a Number Technologies (NaN). It is a powerful program contains features that are characteristic of high-end 3D software.
  • OpenSCAD – OpenSCAD is a software for creating solid 3D CAD objects. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, MS Windows and Mac OS X. it does not focus on the artistic aspects of 3D modelling but instead on the CAD aspects.
  • Tinkercad – Tinkercad is a new and faster way of creating designs for your 3D printer. With only three basic tools you can create a wide range of useful things. Once your project is ready simply download the STL file and start your 3D print.

Check out the more software in the free software list.

Commercial software such as CAD software AutoCAD and Pro Engineer, software packages Rhino, Maya, and SolidWorks are all pretty good for designing 3D models.

The cost associated with 3D Printing depends on the file because it’s based on material consumption and machine run time. Depending on the size of the file, it will determine the amount of materials that are consumed and it gets priced accordingly.
3D Printing gives you the ability to test your designs and to verify that everything works and fits properly before you go to tooling or production. It’s a great stage in product development in order to ensure that the end product really is what you want it to be. It is also a great time and money saver because you can get a 3D Print done extremely quickly, have the design in your hand – something to either show to investors or your clients or to test it yourself. It can save you a ton of money as opposed to going straight to tooling – if there are any mistakes made in the file in the process of the product design, tooling is going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars where as rapid prototyping is going to cost you a couple hundred bucks and you can fix that problem right away.
The standard delivery time indicated on our website represent the time between the placement and the shipment of your order. Except from priority orders which ship in 48 hours, standard delivery time ranges from 6 to 20 business days.

In most cases we ship out orders earlier than the estimated shipment date. On average, they are shipped within 10 business days.

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to 3D printing. Every material is produced using its own particular production technology. The reason for the time it takes to produce a high-quality 3D print is simple: It’s not only about the printing (which often only takes one or two days). It’s about a process of file checking, planning, printing, cleaning, finishing, quality-checking and packing your products. And these steps can add up.

Visit our Lead Times page to find specific production times for each material.

Unfortunately we can’t make a 3D print out of an image file, a PDF or a photo. Before you can 3D print anything, you always need a 3D model. A 3D model is the virtual input that a 3D printer needs to print an object.

There are free apps, like 123D Catch or Smoothie 3D, that can transform photos into a 3D models. Please take note that a successful outcome for these apps strongly depend on the complexity of the object/photos.

You can also get a 3D file through 3D scanning, designing something from scratch in your favorite 3D design tool or have our in house designer do the modeling for you.

3D Scan Data:

Non-contact 3D scanning:

  • can detect warpage.
  • provides the benefit of full 3D data.
  • captures millions of points (xyz coordinates)

In seconds, scanning will fully define the shape and size of objects. The data can then be measured more accurately than a physical part can be. Because 3D scanning captures an entire part at once, there is no chance of missing areas and then having to go back to redo them. 3D scanning greatly reduces the amount of human error that is possible, especially compared to caliper measurement.

CMM / Calipers:

  • CMM’s output data in the form of a finite number of points (xyz coordinates), many of which have been manually taken.
  • Calipers provide only a measure of distance dependant on the accuracy of the position and person taking the measurement.
  • CMM’s and calipers do not capture an entire part at once. This brings in the element of human error when measuring a part.
  • Since CMM’s cannot detect warpage in an object, they are subject to misreadings.
  • Human error is a large factor, especially for caliper measurement.

Additional advantages of 3D scanning are that it removes the element of probe compensation error and is much faster on curved, free-form shapes. Unless you are measuring a box or an object with very prismatic features, 3D scanning provides a huge time savings advantage.

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