Like any new and innovative technology, 3D printing has the public enthused and full of questions. How do these printers work? What kind of things can you print with them? What are the differences between various makes and models? Check out this handy primer for a brief overview of one of the most exciting tech advancements of our era.

How it Works

3D printers use a technique called rapid prototyping along with model-making software to create a virtual version of the item to be printed. The printer then breaks down the model into layers and begins to physically build the object layer by layer using filament, plastic, metal, or resin depending on the type of printer. Using these materials, the printer is able to match the shape, functionality and colors of the model to create a perfect replica.

Software and Apps

Print Speed

As you might imagine, printing 3-dimensional objects can take some time. Generally speaking, the more detailed the object, the longer it will take to print. Speed can also vary with different printing materials and different makes of printer. If you're planning on printing items requiring a lot of precision, you'll want to look for a faster print speed.

Print Resolution

Unlike 2D printers, where resolution is defined by the clarity of images, 3D printer resolution is all about the thickness of layers in microns. A lower micron count means the printer can produce thinner layers and thus capture greater detail. Most 3D printers offer adjustable resolution, so you can alter your print speed and quality based on the level of detail required for each specific job. 3D printer resolutions vary, with higher-end models generally capable of producing lower micron counts.

Filament Types

Although 3D printers can use a number of materials to reproduce items, filament is the most common material for consumer printers. There are many varieties of filament, each with its own special properties. Polylactic acid, or PLA, filament is the most common. PLA is a versatile, biodegradable, corn starch-based material that is well-suited for most consumer-level printing jobs. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, filament is a more durable and heat-resistant option, ideal for printing items that need to withstand some wear and tear. Polycarbonate, or PC, filament is even sturdier and is used primarily for items that will be used in high-impact situations. Basically, whatever your printing job, there's probably a filament that's just right for it.

Software and Apps

Software and Apps

The app and software marketplaces abound with options to make your 3D printing experience smoother. 3D design apps make it easier to design beautiful and functional items even if you're neither an artist nor an engineer. Some apps even enable users to make 3D prints directly from a phone or tablet. CAD (computer-aided design) software is also an important consideration. These are the programs that help users visualize three-dimensional designs and bring them to life on a computer — and ultimately on a 3D printer.

Shop Online or In Store

Find a wide variety of 3D Printers at BestBuy.com. Your local Best Buy store may also have a selection of 3D Printers. Click on the product you want to find availability near you. In store, our friendly Blue Shirts are there to answer questions and help you choose the entertainment options that fit your lifestyle.