3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.
How does 3D printing work?
It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is for instance a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. This CAD file is created using a 3D modeling application or with a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner can make a 3D digital copy of an object.
3D scanners use different technologies to generate a 3D model. Examples are: time-of-flight, structured / modulated light, volumetric scanning and many more.
Recently, companies like Microsoft and Google enabled their hardware to perform 3D scanning, for example Microsoft’s Kinect. In the near future digitising real objects into 3D models will become as easy as taking a picture. Future versions of smartphones will probably have integrated 3D scanners.
Currently, prices of 3D scanners range from expensive professional industrial devices to $30 DIY scanners anyone can make at home.
3D modeling software
3D modeling software also comes in many forms. There’s industrial grade software that costs thousands a year per license, but also free open source software, like Blender, for instance. You can find some beginner videos.
When you have a 3D model, the next step is to prepare it in order to make it 3D printable.