3D printing technologies


Bioprinting: A 3D printing technology in which living tissue is deposited by a print head. Various techniques exist; find out more in our guide to 3D bioprinting.

3D-Bioplotter: A trademark by EnvisionTEC in which materials may range from viscous pastes to free-flowing liquids, and are inserted using syringes moving in three dimensions. Air or mechanical pressure is applied to the syringe, which then deposits material according to the length of the movement and the period of time the pressure is applied. Parallel strands are plotted in one layer. For the following layer, the direction of the strands is turned over the center of the object, creating a fine mesh with good mechanical properties and mathematically defined porosity.


Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM): Developed by MarkForged for the Metal X 3D printer, the ADAM 3D printing process creates 3D parts using a bound metal powder rod embedded inside a plastic filament. Heating allows the removal of the plastic and the sintering of the metal powder into a strong and dense part. The bulk sintering step provides crystal growth through all axes, giving 3D printed parts excellent mechanical properties in all directions.

Directed Energy Deposition (DED): An additive manufacturing process in which focused thermal energy is used.

Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF): A technology developed by Markforged that is very similar to that of other FFF 3D printers: parts are built by depositing two-dimensional slices on top of each other.

Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM): A trademark by Sciaky in which Sciaky’s electron beam gun deposits metal (via wire feedstock), layer by layer, until the part reaches near-net shape and is ready for finish machining.

Extrusion or Material Extrusion (ME): The most common and simplest 3D printing technique. It is suitable for domestic use and can be deployed in almost every environment. Extrusion uses plastic filament as the 3D printing material. The filament is heated, melting right before it is pushed out of the 3D printer’s nozzle.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): A trademark by Stratasys. FDM is an additive manufacturing technology in which the model or part is produced by extruding small, flattened strings of molten material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle.

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): A non-trademarked term for filament-based 3D printing, equivalent to the trademarked Fused Deposition Modeling.

Plastic Jet Printing (PJP): A 3D printing technology that uses heat and pressure to extrude a continuous bead of material. Thermoplastics are the only material used in PJP 3D printing.

Bound Metal Deposition: Desktop Metal‘s proprietary 3D printing process; a powder-free, FDM-like technology that works by extruding rods of bound metal.


Composite Based Additive Manufacturing (CBAM): CBAM is a lamination 3D printing technology patented by Impossible Objects. 3D printed materials include fiber-reinforced composites (such as carbon, Kevlar, and glass fiber fabrics) bonded with a thermoplastic matrix (such as Nylon/Polyamide, Polyethylene, PEEK, …).

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM): Layers of adhesive-coated paper, plastic, or metal laminates are successively glued together and cut to shape with a knife or laser cutter. The technology was developed by Cubic Technologies (previously Helisys Inc.).

Lamination: This technique consists of manufacturing a material in multiple layers so that the composite material achieves improved strength, stability, soundproofing, appearance, or other properties from the use of differing materials. A sheet of material is deposited, glued, and cut layer after layer to construct an object.

Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL): A 3D printing technology where a 3D printer selectively deposits an adhesive material to bond sheets of paper together. Adhesive drops are deposited in high density within the area that will become the part, and a much lower density of adhesive is applied in drops to the surrounding area serving as the support.

Sheet Lamination (SL): An additive manufacturing process in which sheets of material are bonded to form an object.

Selective Lamination Composite Object Manufacturing (SLCOM): A Laminated Object Manufacturing technique coined by envisionTEC. It uses thermoplastics reinforced with fibers, such as carbon fibers.

Material jetting

Aerosol Jet: A trademarked technology by Optomec which is totally different from inkjet, using aerodynamic focusing to precisely deposit electronic and other materials in dimensions ranging from 10 micrometers (microns) and up to several centimeters.

Binder Jetting (BJ): A binder-based 3D printing technology developed at MIT and used by ExOne 3D printers. Inkjet print heads apply a liquid bonding agent onto thin layers of powder. By gluing the particles together, the part can be built up layer by layer.

Drop on demand (DOD): A method developed by Solidscape (now a Stratasys brand) where 6,000 to 12,000 droplets of a wax-like material are deposited onto a build plate to create 3D models.

Laser Metal Deposition (LMD): A 3D printing process which casts and fuse metal with a laser beam.

Material jetting: A process in which material and glue are jetted on a platform layer after layer to construct an object.

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF): An HP technology that starts by laying down a thin layer of material in the working area. Next, the carriage containing an HP Thermal Inkjet array passes from left to right, printing chemical agents across the full working area. The layering and energy processes are combined in a continuous pass of the second carriage from top to bottom. The process continues, layer by layer, until a complete part is formed.

MultiJet Printing (MJP): A patented printing technology from 3D Systems that uses thermoplastic material deposited in layers on a platform.

Photopolymer Jetting (PJ): Print heads jet liquid photopolymers onto a build platform, where UV light cures the photopolymer to solidify it.

PolyJet: A Stratasys 3D printing technology similar to inkjet printing, but instead of jetting drops of ink onto paper, PolyJet 3D printers jet layers of curable liquid photopolymer onto a build tray. This technology is able to produce full-color 3D prints.

Pressurized Spray Deposition (PSD): A technology that was coined by HotEnd Works to manufacture ceramics parts. The 3D printer simultaneously deposits two different materials on the print bed: the parent material (ceramic powder) and a polymeric binding material, which also serves as a support material.

Thermojet: A patented printing technology by 3D Systems in which thermoplastic material is deposited in layers on a platform.


3SP (Scan, Spin and Selectively Photocure): A trademark by EnvisionTEC where a multi-cavity laser diode with an orthogonal mirror spinning at 20,000 rpm reflects the beam through a spinning drum, where the light passes through a series of optical elements thereby focusing the light onto the surface of the photopolymer across the Y direction. The Imaging Light Source (ILS) contains the multi-cavity laser diode, its driver, and all optics. The ILS travels in the X direction at 1-2 inches per second (material dependent) while the laser light scans the Y direction and selectively photo-cures liquid resin based on the data path.

Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP): a chemical process that balances light and oxygen to selectively photo cure liquid resin. This 3D printing technique uses an oxygen-permeable membrane to create a “dead zone”. This dead zone is a persistent liquid interface that prevents the resin from attaching to the vat window. Unlike SLA, the 3D printing process is continuous.

Daylight Polymer Printing (DPP): A 3D printing process patented by Photocentric.

Digital Light Processing (DLP): A projector is used to cure photopolymer resin. The only difference is that instead of using a UV laser to cure the photopolymer resin, a safe light (light bulb) is used.

Gel Dispensing 3D Printing (GDP): A 3D printing technology that utilizes movement similar to what is used in FDM systems, while working with a UV-sensitive material that hardens when exposed to UV light. Massivit uses this technology.

Lithography-based Ceramic Manufacturing (LCM): A process for the structuring of ceramics that was developed by Lithoz. The LCM process is based on the selective curing of a photosensitive resin that contains ceramic particles. Photopolymers constitute the backbone of the formed part during the production process, acting as a binder for the ceramic particles.

MFP: A trademark by Prismlab that is similar to laser Stereolithography (SLA) where a laser beam is used to photo polymerize liquid resin.

A trademark by Prodways that is similar to Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Stereolithography (SLA). It uses a powerful energy source to photopolymerize liquid resin. MovingLight technology relies on a fast and precise moving DLP heat to photocure a high-viscosity material. Compatible 3D printing materials include composites, ceramics, metals, and alloys with biocompatible properties.

Photopolymerisation: A 3D printing process where liquid resin is photopolymerized by a light source to create layers of solid material. Find out more about resin 3D printers here.

Photo-solidification: A 3D printing technology that cures a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or other similar power source.

Solid Free-form Fabrication (SFF): The process of producing freeform solid objects without part-specific tooling or human intervention by curing a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or another similar power source.

Solid imaging: A 3D printing technology that cures a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or other similar power source.

Stereolithography (SLA or SL): A 3D Systems patented 3D printing technology used for producing models, prototypes, patterns, and production parts one layer at a time by curing a photo-reactive resin with a laser.

Vat Photo-polymerization (VA): An additive manufacturing process in which liquid photopolymer in a vat is selectively cured by light-activated polymerization.

Powder bed fusion

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS): An additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material (typically metal), aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, binding the material together to create a solid structure.

Direct Metal Printing (DMP): A trademark by 3D Systems that uses a laser to harden and bond small grains of metal into layers in a 3D structure. The laser traces the pattern of each cross-section of the 3D design onto a bed of powder. After one layer is built, the bed lowers and another layer is built on top of the existing layers.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM): A type of additive manufacturing for metal parts, originally patented and developed by Arcam. It is very similar to SLM, but EBM uses an electron beam as its power source, as opposed to a laser.

High-Temperature Laser Sintering (HTLS): A trademark by EOS that uses a layering process on high-melt polymers at temperatures of up to 385 °C, producing parts with remarkable properties.

Laser Melting (LM): A process where a thin layer of metal powder is selectively melted by a laser. The parts are built up layer by layer in the powder bed.

Laser Metal Fusion (LMF): A 3D printing process where a layer of metal powder is selectively melted by a laser. The parts are built up layer by layer in the powder bed.

Laser Sintering (LS): A 3D printing technology that uses a CO2 laser to heat and fuse thermoplastic powder to build parts with high elongation at break.

LENS: A trademark by Optomec that uses a high-power laser (500W to 4kW) to fuse powdered metals into fully dense three-dimensional structures.

Powder bed fusion (PBF): A process where a material in powder state is locally melted to generate precise layers of materials.

Selective Heat Sintering (SHS): A type of additive manufacturing process that works by using a thermal printhead to apply heat to layers of powdered thermoplastic. When a layer is finished, the powder bed moves down, and an automated roller adds a new layer of material which is sintered to form the next cross-section of the model.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM): An additive manufacturing process that uses a high-power laser beam to create three-dimensional metal parts by fusing fine metal powders together.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): An additive manufacturing (AM) technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material (typically metal), aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, binding the material together to create a solid structure.

3D scanning technologies

Structured light 3D scanning

Structured light (white or blue): A 3D scanning technology that casts a structured light (typically a grid or “crosses”) and calculates the deformation of the grid when it hits the surface, therefore determining the object’s shape and topology.

Laser triangulation 3D scanning

Laser triangulation: A process that casts a laser and calculates the deviation of the beam, therefore determining the object’s shape and topology.

Photogrammetry 3D scanning

Photogrammetry: A 3D scanning technology that uses multiple photographs of the object to reconstruct it in 3D. This technology is now often available in combination with structured light or laser triangulation in order to obtain the object’s textures (colors) or to aid in scan alignment.


Contact: A process that registers the coordiates of every point of the surface it touches, therore deducting from multiple samples the surface properties.

Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM): A device for measuring the physical geometrical characteristics of an object. Measurements are defined by a probe attached to the third moving axis of this machine. Probes may be mechanical, optical, laser, or white light, among others.

Laser pulse 3D scanning

Laser pulse: A 3D scanning technology that casts a laser and calculates the time of flight (ToF) to deduce the distance from samples of the surface.

Laser Phase-shift: Similar to Laser pulse technology. In addition to pulsing the laser, the system also modulates the power of the laser beam, and the scanner compares the phase of the laser being sent out and the one returning to the sensor.

3D printing materials

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): A thermoplastic, stronger than PLA. ABS can withstand higher temperatures. ABS contracts when cooled and requires a heated printing surface, and ideally a closed build chamber.

Alumide: A thermoplastic with a matte surface that is somewhat porous and shiny. Alumide is no more or less durable than polyamide. In fact, their physical properties are very similar.

Bendlay: An extremely translucent (91% of light passes through) and flexible thermoplastic.

Carbon: A thermoplastic reinforced with carbon fibers.

Clay: This material can be 3D printed with a clay 3D printer.

CPE or PET (polyethylene terephalate): PET is a thermoplastic with excellent wear resistance, low coefficient of friction, high flexural modulus, and superior dimensional stability. Also called UPET.

High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS): A thermoplastic that is very similar to ABS. HIPS is solvable in limonene and is sometimes used to print easily removable support structures.

Nylon: A thermoplastic that prints as a bright natural to white with a translucent surface, and can absorb color added post process with clothing dyes. Benchtop SLS 3D printers often use Nylon powder as a consumable.

Polyamide: A strong and flexible thermoplastic that can take small impacts and resist some pressure while being bent. The surface has a sandy, granular look, and is slightly porous.

Polycarbonate (PC): A strong and very resistant to impacts thermoplastic. Polycarbonate is namely used to make bullet-proof glass.

Polycarbonate-Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (PC-ABS): A thermoplastic that offers the best features of two great FDM thermoplastics: the strength and heat resistance of PC and the flexibility of ABS.

Polyether ether ketone (PEEK): A crystalline material that is known for its high resistance to heat, humidity, chemicals, and more. PEEK is challenging to 3D print and requires a high-temperature 3D printer. Some prefer to use a similar but easier material called PEKK (Polyether ketone ketone).

Polylactic Acid (PLA): A thermoplastic that is made from renewable resources (corn starch) and the ‘default’ recommended material for most 3D printers. It is a common 3D printing material for beginners.

Polystyrene (PS): A clear, hard, and rather brittle thermoplastic. It is an inexpensive resin per unit weight. It is a rather poor barrier to oxygen and water vapor and has a relatively low melting point.

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA): A thermoplastic that is characterized by its super-absorbent quality, great durability and cleanability, and super-soft texture when moist. Compared to other spongy materials such as PU and cellulose, products made from PVA are more durable and last longer.

Silicone: This material is challenging to print and requires a silicone 3D printer.

Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE): A flexible thermoplastic material that feels and acts much like flexible rubber.

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU): A 3D printing material with many properties, including elasticity, transparency, and resistance to oil, grease, and abrasion.

Thermoplastic Polyetherimide (PEI, ULTEM): A thermoplastic that offers outstanding elevated thermal resistance, high strength and stiffness, and broad chemical resistance. It is mainly commercialized by SABIC under the name “ULTEM”.

Wax: A malleable near ambient temperatures 3D printing material that insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents.