Glossary of 3D Printing Terms

3D printing terminology is often technical and obscure. Use this Glossary of 3D printing terms to find the definitions of (almost) all common terms as well as many uncommon terms.  The glossary includes terms related to 3D printing, additive manufacturing more generally, and rapid prototyping.

For a shorter list of just the most common terms, check out our list of common terms in 3D printing.

3D Pen3D pens look like regular ink pens but extrude plastic filament. 3D pens are used to create 3D drawings and sculptures.
3D Printer3D printers are machines that use a process of additive manufacturing in which successive layers of material are deposited on top of each other to create three-dimentional objects.
3D Scanner3D scanners are machines that collect data about an object's shape and appearance. This data can then be used to construct a digital model of the object.
ABSAcrylonitrile butadiene styrene
AccelerationChange in the speed of the extruder when it changes directions during printing
AcceleratorMicrocontroller accessory that allows the processor to operate at maximum speed without the need to induce wait states while executing from Flash memory
AcetoneSolvent used for giving ABS prints a smooth finish
Additive manufacturingProcess of depositing successive layers of material on top of each other to synthesisize three-dimentional objects
ArduinoOpen-source platform for designing and creating micontroller-based interactive electronic objects
ArtifactsUnwanted imperfections in printed pieces that are usually caused by some aspect of the printing process not performing optimally
Auto-tensionerControlls filament tension as it passes through the extruder in order to maintain an optimal flow rate. Useful for compensating for variations in filament diameter.
BedPlatform onto which the printer extrudes material
Bed adhesion materialAdhesive material applied to the printer be to prevent warping and to secure the printed piece in place during printing
Belt (timing belt)Component of the pulley systems and used for controlling the movement of extruders. They are one of the most important parts of 3D printers.
Belt driveDrive system where the motor delivers power to the driven unit via a flexible belt
BenchyBoat design popular for testing materials and printer settings
Blue painter's tapeCommon bed adhesion material
Bowden cableFlexible cable designed to transmit mechanical force by movement of an internal cable through a hollow outer casing. In 3D printing, the internal cable is filament.
Bowden extruderExtruder design that decouples the nozzle from the drive mechanism (motor and transmission) using a bowden cable. Useful for reducing the moving mass of the printer head on cartesian 3D printers which allow faster printing and higher accuracy. Pioneered by Ed Sells in 2009 here (
BridgingBridging is a part of a print that is printed horizontally in mid air without support structures. Optimization of printer settings will usually lead to the best bridging results.
BrittlenessThe property of a material to fracture without significant strain when subjected to stress. Brittle filaments will break or snap easily.
Calibration cube20mm x 20mm cube printed in order to test settings and materials
CAMComputer aided manufacturing. In 3D printer systems, the CAM toolchain includes the slicer, printer communication program, and controller firmware.
Carbon fiberFibers about 5–10 micrometres in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms
Cartesian 3D printerSo-called due to the left to right, front to back movement of the extruder across a horizontal plane according to a cartesian coordinate system. Related to cartesian bots.
CBAMComposite based additive manufacturing
Center holeHole at the center of a spool of filament that the spool holder fits through. The most common size of spool center holes is 2.2 inches.
Ceramic3D printing using clay, silica and other materials to produce pottery, glass, and porcelain objects
CFRPCarbon fiber reinforced plastic
CLIPContinuous liquid interface process
CloggingFlow of material through the extruder is blocked or obstructed
CNCComputer numerical control
Co-PolyesterPolyesters are combinations of diacids and diols. Copylyesters are formed by adding other diacids or diols to a polyester material.
Cold zoneHeat sink; the stepper motor is sometimes considered part of the cold zone as well. The cold zone is the part of the printer head that precedes the transition zone. It's purpose is to keep filaments cool until just before entering the hotend. If filaments are not kept cool, the heat from the hotend may soften the filament further up the printer head and make it more difficult for the stepper motor to propel the filament into the hotend at a controlled rate. Worse, without a cold zone, molten plastic may clog the stepper motor.
Controller3D printer controller boards are the electronic brains of 3D printers. The processing power of the controller determines the accuracy, detail, and functionality of a 3D printer.
Cubic printingAnother term for hydrographic printing. See "Hydrographics"
D-LimoneneMajor constituent of many citrus oils (orange, lemon, manderin, lime, and grapefruit); used to dissolve 3D printing support structures
DelaminationPrinted layers separating due to poor bonding
Delta 3D PrinterDelta printers are designed such that the extruder is suspended between three equally spaced columns in a triangular formation. Delta printers offer greater stability of the printer bed than cartersian printers and can often be used to print larger objects.
DessicantSubstance that absorbs water and is used to maintain dryness. Dessicant packets are often included in 3d filament packages to protect the filament from humidity and moisture build up, which can negatively affect filament quality.
Direct driveDirect drive is a drive system where the motor is connected directly to the drive shaft; as opposed to geared drives (as well as belt drives and chain drives, although these two aren't usually used in Reprap derived 3D printer designs). See also: Wade extruders, screw drives, and rack and pinion gears.
Direct drive extruderA printerhead design in which the filament drive mechanism is mounted directly above the hotend; as opposed to a bowden extruder
Drive gearGrips filament and pushes it into the hotend
Dual Extruder3D printer with two extruders. Can be used to extrude two materials in conjunction with each other. Useful for prints that require supports or more than one color.
EBMElectron beam melting
EchoingPrinting artifact generated by z wobble
Empty spool weightThe weight of a spool when it has no filament wound around it. This is a useful metric for determining how much filament you have used while printing.
ExtruderA part that pushes a material through a nozzel in a controlled and continuous manner so that the material forms a specific shape. Extruders can have subsections including a cold end and hot end.
FanPart of the coolend of the printer head. The fan is mounted above the hotend to keep the filament cool before being pushed through the nozzle
FDMFused deposition modeling
Ferromagneticmaterials such as iron that are highly susceptible to magnetization
FFFFused filament fabrication
Filament3D filament is plastic wire that is used to print plastic objects with a 3D printer. 3D filament is often coiled around spools.
Filament extruderA machine that makes plastic filament by heating raw plastic and then extruding it in a controlled manner.
FirmwareAny software that is written into read-only memory in a computing device, often by the hardware manufacturer. Used to control, monitor, and manipulate data and communications with other devices
Flash memoryErasable, rewritable, non-volatile memory that can store data without a power source
Flexible filamentThe most common type of flexible 3D printer filament is TPU. Flexible filaments are not as rigid or brittle as PLA and ABS.
G CodeG-Code is the most common numerical control programming language used to control automated machines in computer-aided manufacturing
Geared extruderExtruders with added gears to provided smoother movement of the printerhead, less torque, and constant pressure. Examples include Greg Wade's extruder (AKA wade extruder), Adrian's geared extruder, and planetary extruders.
GhostingRipple lines in printed objects caused by vibrations of the printer or printer bed
GITDGlow in the dark
GlossinessSurface shine of printed objects
GrapheneSingle layers of graphite that are composed of carbon atoms in the form of a one atom thick honey-comb latticework. This material is electrically conductive and 100 times stronger than steel.
HDPEHigh-density polyethylene. HDPE is a common plastic material used for a variety of applications, from milk jugs to fireworks
Heat breakAlso known as a thermal break, the heatbreak is used to keep the filament int the area just before the hotend cool. This prevents the filament from melting before entering the hotend, which could otherwise cause clogs.
Heat sinkHeat sinks disperse heat from, most commonly, CPUs and related electronics.
Heated Build Plate (HBP)A printer bed that is heated to improve the quality of printed objects.
Heater (block)The heater block is responsible for heating the filament and maintaining a constant temperature while extruding. The heater block is often insulated with kapton tape.
Herringbone gearGears with V shaped helical grooves. These gear have the advantage of having multiple interlocking grooves at the same time, making the transfer of power smooth. But unlike other helical groves, herringbone grooves distribute the thrust equally across both sides of the groove.
HIPSHigh impact polystyrene
Hobbed boltThe hobbed bolt, also called the knurled bolt, drives filament intot he hotend
HobbingA process for cutting gears, splines and sprockets.
HomingHoming a 3d printer refers to calibrating the printer to its starting position. This is called the homed position.
Hot end (hotend)The hot end is responsible for melting the filament before is passes through the nozzle during the extrusion process
HydrographicsThe process of applying designs to a 3-dimentional surfaces, often using water immersion or liquid films
ICIntegrated circuit
IdlerPart that grips the filament and holds it against the drive gear so that it can be pushed through the hotend.
Immersion printingAnother word for hydrographics. See "Hydrographics"
InfillInternal structure of a printed object. These internal structures cover various percentages of the space inside the object. These internal sturctures come in various patterns. The percentage of space that is filled can affect the transluscency and strength of the printed object.
JerkVibrations that are caused by changes in the direction of the printer head during printing
Kapton tapeTape made from polyimide film with silicone adhesive; used for insulating the hotend
Kit3D printer kits allow you to construct 3D printers yourself. Each kit contains the set of parts you will need to put the 3D printer together on your own and instructions showing you how to do it.
Layer hieghtRefers to the thickness or height of each stacked layer of material in an additively manufactured object
LOMLaminated object manufacturing
MatteLow gloss or shine. Matte finishes diffuse light in different directions, which reduces the reflectiveness of the surface.
Melt zoneRefers to the part of the hotend where the filament begins to melt. The melt zone is primarily composed of the heater block.
Metal fillMetal-filled filaments are filaments that contain some amount of metal.
MicrocontrollerA small computer processing unit. A single integrated circuit that contains a processor, memory and programmable inputs and outputs.
MJFMulti jet fusion
Motor MultiplexerMicrocontroller board that allows control of more than one motor or sensor.
Multi-jetmultijet printing uses multiple materials to print complex objects quickly.
Multiplexer (or mux)Microcontroller board that processes multiple streams of analog or digital signals over one communication channel
MultiplierThe extrusion multiplier determines the extrusion flow rate and visibly impacts the outcome of the prints
NozzleMetalic part where the filament or material exits the hotend and deposited onto the print surface.
NylonA family of synthetic polymers that are strong, elastic and lightwieght; often used in textiles and plastic products.
ODMOriginal design manufacturer (R&D plus manufacturing); as opposed to OEM
OEMOriginal epquipment manufacturer (manufacturing only without R&D); as opposed to ODM
Ooze wallA wall that is printed around support structures and other design featured to prevent filament from oozing
Opaquenontransparent; not able to be seen through
OverhangAny part of the print that is not contacting the previous layer
PCBPrinted circuit board
PEEKPolyether ether ketone
PelletsSmall beads are used in some 3d printers instead of filament
PETPolyethylene terephthalate; Most common thermoplastic polymer of the polyester family; Created by combining TPA and ethylene glycol
PinIn microcrontrollers, the pin is the metal leads that sticks out of the IC and alows it to electronically to other components
PJPPlastic jet printing
PLAPolylactic acid
Polar 3D printerA type of 3d printer that relies on a roating printer bed and a single arm that travels along the z-axis
Post-processingAny modification of a printed object after it printed
PowderA dry solid composed of a large number of very small particles that flow freely when disturbed. Some 3d printers employ powders in the printing process
Print SpeedSpeed that extruder moves while printing
Print temperatureThe temperature at which a material melts before being extruded
Print volumeThe total volume of an object that is printed
Printer headSection of a printer that is composed of the extruder, hotend, nozzle and related components
PulleyA wheel on an axel that alters the direction of a cable or belt running along its circumfrence as it spins. In the 3d printers, pulleys are often employed to move the printer head.
PVAPolyvinyl acetate
Rack and pinionA fixed toothed bar that engages with a gear. Some 3d printer designs employ rack and pinion systems.
RaftA few layers of filament printed onto the bed that helps the print stick to the bed. A raft usually has larger surface area than the print itself.
RAMRandom access memory
ReprapReplicating rapid prototyper. An open project devoted to a develop 3D printer that can print most of it's own parts, thereby replicating itself.
ResinA solid or highly viscous material that is usually able to be converted into polymers. Some 3d printers employ resins in the printing process
ResistorA passive electrical component used to reduce the flow of current through a circuit
RetractionThe process of withdrawing filament during non-print moves of the printer head. The purpose of reversing the movement of the solid filament is to relieve pressure from the melt zone in order to reduce or entirely stop the flow of filament through the nozzle during moves that do not require extrusion. Contrary to popular belief, retraction does not really "suck" molten filament back up since no negative pressure is created. Issues involving stringing and oozing are often caused by retraction errors.
RibbingA type of z-artifact
SCARA 3D printerSelective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm (SCARA) is precise 3d printer design with a smaller footprint than more conventional printers. The extruder is mounted on a robotic arm that is rigid on the Z axis but moves on (or in robotics, is 'compliant' in) the X-Y axes. Hence the term 'Selective Compliance'
Screw driveA motor rotates a screw shaft, which engages a gear or ball screw to produce linear motion. Stepper motors make use of this kind of drive system.
SensorA transducer that detects physical properties and responds to them.
ShapeThe shape of a filament is important. A filament must maintain a certain roundness or ovality in order to prevent clogs and jams when it enters the printerhead.
ShroudA fan shroud is an attachment to the fan that allows the fan to be attach to the printhead.
SkirtAn outline printed around the base of the print before beginning of the print in order to establish smooth flow of filament through the printer head
SlicerSoftware that converts an STL file into GCode and allows you to visualize, analyze and manipulate a three dimentional graphical representation of the object.
SLMSelective laser melting
SLSSelective laser sintering
SpoolHolds filament, in the same way that thread is wrapped around a spool.
Spool holderHolds the spool on or near the 3D printer
Spool winderA filament spool winder, or filament winder, is a machine that winds filament onto a spool.
Stepper motorDC motors that move in discrete steps
StrengthFilament strenth typically refers to the amount of force a printed object can withstand without deforming
StringingStinging refers to unwanted material left behind as the printerhead moves to a new location. It is often caused by retraction issues.
SupportSome objects require additional structures to be printed in order to accomodate large overhangs. Support structures can be printed with HIPS and removed after the print is finished.
Terminal BlockAlso known as a terminal strips, blocks connect the ends of electrical wires without having the actual ends of the wires touch.
ThermoplasticSubstances (in this case usually polymers) that becomes plastic when heated and hardens when cooled, and this process can be repeated.
Timing BeltA toothed belt that syncronizes the crankshaft and various other rotating components of a device or machine.
ToleranceVariance in diameter of a length of filament
TPATerephthalic acid; precursor to PET
TPUThermoplastic polyurethane
Transition zoneThe gap between the cold zone and hot zone of the printhead
Transparentsee-through, low opacity; transparent filament is see-through
VitaminIn Reprap lingo, a vitamin is a term for a part that cannot be produced by 3D printing
VoxelPixel with volume
Wade's extruderA geared extruder designed by Greg Wade. This extruder has many advantages compared with other extruders and is DIY
Wait stateA delay while a computer processor accesses a slower external memory or another device and waits for that memory or device to respond.
WarpingAs plastic cools, it contracts. When different parts of a print cool at different rates, the contracting part will pull on the warmer part. This will sometimes cause the part to bend, altering its shape.
Water transfer printingAnother word for hydrographics. See "Hydrographics"
WavesA type of Z-artifact
Wood fillFilaments that have some amount of wood mixed into the polymer are called wood-fill.
Z BandingIrregular and uneven ridges or striations running horizontally across a printed object's surface. Can be accompanied by discoloration.
Z driveZ axis drives are drive systems operating along the z axis.
Z rod (threaded rod)A metal rod used in the frame of reprap style 3d printers
Z WobbleZ-axis artifact caused by motor steps being out of sync with the pitch of Z rod threads
Z-axisThe vertical 'up-down' axis of a three dimentional space
Z-CouplerA cylindrical part that joins the stepper motor and threaded rod on the z-drive

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