What is a 3D printer and how does it work?

3D printing and 3D printers are a hot topic. But not everybody knows how it works and what it really is. 3D printing opens up a completely new way of production and prototyping. Printing is done with various materials. So, how does a 3D printer work?

Multiple technologies

The first thing that might surprise you is the age of the technology. 3D printers weren’t introduced five or ten years ago. They were used for the first time in 1984, more than 30 years ago. That is when stereolithography (SLA) was invented. But it’s just one of a number of 3D printing technologies, and new ones are still being developed.

Stereolithography is still one of the most common method of additive manufacturing, especially of prototypes. The printing process in SLA is a gradual outlining of subsequent horizontal layers (cross-sections) with a laser on a gradually submerged platform with a photopolymer (resin). The laser causes polymerization, or solidification of the layers.

Other methods

However, there are other methods of 3D printing. Besides SLA there is also fused deposition modelling, or FDM. This method was developed into Layer Plastic Deposition, or LPD, which is used by Zortrax printers. There are also powder printers, which fuse layers of gypsum-like powder. Moreover, it’s possible to print with concrete, paper, rubber and metal. Printing with graphene is still being worked on.


In the LPD technology of Zortrax printers the filament—a thermoplastic material—is melted in the extruder. What’s an extruder? It’s one of the key components of a 3D printer. Its job is to introduce the printing material to the print head (nozzle) and prevent it from getting there when it’s not needed. A movable print head places the filament on a heated platform, thus creating the object layer by layer. Many types of filaments exist. For Zortrax printers some dedicated materials are: Z-ABS, Z-ULTRAT, Z-HIPS, Z-GLASS, Z-PCABS, Z-PETG and Z-ULTRAT Plus.

Dedicated software

For the printer to work, it has to be assigned a task. For this purpose, the proper software is needed. Zortrax printers come with the dedicated Z-SUITE package which can open .stl, .obj, .dxf, and .3mf files which you can prepare with CAD software. Z-SUITE lets you split objects, adjust the filling of the model or the speed of printing, as desired. You can also use the extensive Zortrax Library of 3D projects.

Zortrax is a 3D printer which does not require you to have expert knowledge on how it works before you can use it. Intuitive software and a plug & play printer let you start printing a moment after unboxing your device.

Technology available for anyone

If you examine all the components of the printer and the process of turning a digital model into an actual object, 3D printing is more complex than that. The user, however, is interested mainly in the end result. A 3D printer lets you turn a digital model into a real three-dimensional object in a relatively short period of time.  No casting, no molding, no manufacturing of matrices, our object is printed layer by layer.

Thanks to plug & play printers the technology is available to anyone, pretty much the same way tablets and smartphones are. The user doesn’t have to delve into the technological details. They just select the project they want to print and the type of material—and turn the printer on.