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The Ultimate 3D Printing Glossary

Learn all the terminology in additive manufacturing, from A to Z-Offset.

Learning all the terminology of 3D printing can sometimes feel like trying to learn a rapidly-evolving language.

Knowing your filament from your brim or your slicing software from your infill is a big help when sourcing 3D printing parts.  

That's why we've put together this glossary to help you decode the language of 3D printing. We've broken down the jargon so you can better understand the ins and outs of the printing process.


Additive Manufacturing: A process of building objects layer by layer, often synonymous with 3D printing.

Automatic Tool Changer (ATC): A device that improves the efficiency of the printer by automatically changing different print heads or tools.



Bed-Leveling: The process of calibrating the print bed to ensure it is level to the X and Y axes.

Blasted: A finishing option to create a uniform surface by blasting abrasive materials.

Brim: A thin layer printed around the base of an object to help with adhesion to the build plate.

Build Plate: The surface on which a 3D printer creates a print.

Build Volume: The maximum size a 3D printer can print in one piece.


CAD (Computer-Aided Design): The use of software to create, modify, analyze, or optimize a design.

Cloning: The duplication of 3D printer settings across multiple machines.


Dual Extrusion: A 3D printer capable of printing with two different types of materials or colors at the same time.

Design for Manufacturing (DfM): To maximize efficiency, designing products specifically for the 3D printing process that eliminates errors and flaws. Here's a helpful DfM guide for Laser Powder Bed Fusion.



Extruder: The part of the printer that feeds the filament to the nozzle.



FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling): A popular 3D printing technology that uses thermoplastic material to build objects layer by layer. This technology is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, making it often used for prototyping.  

An FDM printer in action
An FDM printer in action

Filament: The material used in FDM 3D printers, typically in a spooled string-like form.

Finishing: Post-process steps to improve the appearance or performance of the print.



Heat Treated: A finishing option where the printed part is heated to improve its properties.

Heat treament adds special material properties to your 3D-printed parts.

Heated Bed: A heated build plate to help with the first layer adhesion.



Infill: The internal structure of a 3D printed object, which can be adjusted to balance strength and weight.


Layer Height: The thickness of an individual layer in a 3D print.

Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF): A 3D printing technology that uses a laser to fuse metal powder together. This highly versatile technology makes it popular for prototyping and high-performance end-use parts.

A series of metal 3D printed parts.


Mesh: A network of vertices, edges, and faces that define the shape of a 3D object.

Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF): A 3D printing technology that builds parts by fusing layers of powdered material using a print head.

A part made with MJF 3D printing technology.
A part made with MJF.


Nozzle: The part of the printer that extrudes the molten filament onto the build plate.



Overhang: Parts of a 3D model that extend outward, unsupported by the layer below.



Part Orientation: The positioning of a part on the build platform can affect the print's appearance and strength.

Photopolymer: A type of resin used in SLA 3D printing that hardens when exposed to light.



Rapid Prototyping: Quick creation of a prototype or model via 3D printing. Rapid prototyping speeds up product development and accelerates time to market.

Resin: A liquid material used in certain types of 3D printing such as SLA.

Resolution: The level of detail a 3D printer can achieve is often related to layer height.



Sanded: A finishing option to smooth the surface by sanding it with abrasive paper.

Sealed: A finishing option that seals the surface to make it watertight or protect it from environmental factors.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): A manufacturing method that uses lasers to sinter powdered material into a solid structure.

Shell: The outer layers of a 3D printed object.

Slicing Software: A program that converts a 3D model into instructions for a 3D printer.

STL File: A type of file used for 3D printing that represents the surface geometry of a 3D object.

Supports: Structures built from the print bed to support overhangs and bridges. This photo illustrates of what happens to LPBF parts at certain angles when supports aren't used.

SLA (Stereolithography): A 3D printing technology that uses light to solidify liquid resin into hardened plastic.


Thermoplastic: Plastic that becomes pliable or moldable above a specific temperature and solidifies upon cooling.

Tolerance: The allowable variation in a physical dimension.

Toolpath: The route or path the 3D printer's nozzle will follow to create the object.



Underextrusion: A common problem in 3D printing where insufficient filament is extruded, often leading to weak or incomplete prints.



Voxel: The 3D equivalent of a pixel. It represents a value in three-dimensional space.



Warping: An issue in 3D printing where the print cools unevenly, causing it to pull away from the print bed and warp.



X-Axis: In a Cartesian coordinate system for 3D printing, the X-axis is usually the horizontal left-to-right dimension.



Y-Axis: The Y-axis is usually the front-to-back dimension in a Cartesian coordinate system for 3D printing.



Z-Axis: The Z-axis is the vertical dimension in a Cartesian coordinate system for 3D printing.

Z-Offset: The initial distance or gap between the nozzle and the build plate. Adjusting the Z-offset can help with first-layer adhesion.


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