3D Printing Essential Hardware

If you want to take full advantage of this innovative new technology, you must have a complete understanding of the hardware of a 3D printer. Your software and hardware deployments function together. Therefore, if you don’t understand the hardware, you’re missing half the puzzle!

Although it can be challenging to fully appreciate the hardware of 3D printers, it is not as tough to understand the fundamental functions of the components as it may initially appear. This chapter will quickly explain how a 3D printer works and then describe the most important parts of a typical 3D printer.

How a 3D Printer Works

You should be aware by now that a 3D printer constructs items by layering material until the product is finished. Three axes are present in a printer’s frame.

X-axis (left to right movement).
Y-axis (front to back movement)
Z-axis (up and down movement)

The material needed to make an object is fed into an extruder, a component that is mounted on the X-axis. The filament is melted and ‘extruded’ from a tiny hole with a diameter of no more than a millimeter in the extruder head, which is the lowest part of the machine.

The material needed to make an object is fed into an extruder, a component that is mounted on the X-axis. The filament is melted and “extruded” from a tiny hole with a diameter of no more than a millimeter in the extruder head, which is the lowest part of the machine.

What Makes Up a 3D Printer?

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To utilize a 3D printer, you don’t necessarily need to become an expert on every component. However, if you ever need to troubleshoot a problem with one, knowing its fundamental hardware and structure will be helpful (and trust us, you will need to fix your 3D printer sooner or later!). Additionally, having this knowledge will be very beneficial when you go out and get a printer.

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We have previously covered many of the types and techniques that 3D printers use in the earlier chapters of this book to make items. The Fused Deposition Modeling technique, which is the most popular among desktop 3D printers used at home, will be highlighted in this chapter. This technique is comparable to the “glue-gun” technique. The glue-gun method involves heating a filament until it melts, putting the melted filament in thin layers, and building the item layer by layer.

Bed for Printing

The print bed is the surface on which the printer builds objects layer by layer. The print bed itself might be heated depending on the kind of filament you’re using. Painter’s tape can be used to cover a bed that is not heated.

Regarding heated print beds, it’s crucial to maintain warmth during the entire layering process to avoid warping. Throughout the whole printing process, temperatures are kept between 40 and 110 degrees Celsius.

There are some printers that can get very hot, so additional caution should be used if there are kids nearby. You’ll soon discover that a warmed-up print bed is best left alone!


The component from which the plastic filament extrudes is frequently thought to be the extruder. This isn’t fully accurate, though, as the extruder is a component that feeds and pulls the filament to the hot end.

A picture of a hot end’s component elements

Extruders are frequently built into hot ends. In other instances, they might be placed far from the hot end, pushing the filament there through a Bowden Cable-style tube. A printer with two extruders may print simultaneously in two different colors and materials. Due to the need for an additional extruder and hot end, this does come at an additional expense.

Hot End

A heater, a temperature sensor, and an extrusion tip through which filament is fed make up a 3D printer’s hot end. They can become incredibly hot, as their name suggests, and should never be handled directly (we mean, don’t mess with the hot end if you value your fingers!) The nozzle has holes that range in size from 0.2 mm to 0.8 mm.

The print will be finer with a smaller nozzle on the hot end, but it will take more time to create the thing.

Polymer Filament

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Despite not being a part of the printer itself, the plastic filament is an essential consumable for its operation. You won’t be able to print on an inkjet without cartridges, just as you couldn’t do it with a 3D printer. There are many different kinds of filaments that can be used with 3D printers. When it comes to home 3D printers, the options are typically restricted to ABS and PLA. Later in the chapter, we will go into greater detail regarding the two types.

Various Types of Printers for Novices

This section will talk about the pros and cons of each type of 3D printer, as well as some other important information that will help you decide.

If you’ll recall, there are three different kinds of printers:

  • Stereolithography (SLA) printers
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers
  • Laser Sintering (SLS) printers.

Printers That Employ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Combined Deposition Most desktop 3D printers that you are likely to come across use modeling, which is perhaps the most commonly used sort of additive manufacturing technique. In FDM printers, filament is fed into the extruder, which melts it by heating it to a high enough temperature. Extruding this molten filament from the nozzles allows an object to be built layer by layer.

Advantages of FDM Printers:

  • These 3D printers are the most affordable when compared and range in price from $1,000 to $5,000.
  • These printers also use inexpensive filament.
  • They have access to a wide range of materials.
  • They are convenient to maintain and have convenient spare parts replacement.
  • They are pretty quick at printing things.

FDM Printer Disadvantages:

  • Nozzles can commonly become clogged.
  • Cleaning the supports can be challenging.
  • The final product will reveal the distinct layers (striping).

Using an FDM printer, the following materials can be used to make objects:

  • ABS Plastic
  • Wood Filament
  • PLA Plastic

Printers for Stereolithography

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Probably the oldest additive manufacturing method is stereolithography. A pool of liquid resin is used in these 3D printers, and it is solidified by an ultraviolet (UV) light beam. Once one layer has been constructed, the base is moved to make room for another layer to form, and so on until the entire item has been built.

For individuals who want their finished products to have fine details, this 3D printing technique is perfect. These printers can cost anywhere from $3000 to $7000.

SLA Printers’ Benefits Include:

  • The finished goods might have fine detail down to 25 microns (this is thinner than a sheet of paper).
  • The things made using this procedure have a smooth surface.
  • This method works well for both casting and molding models as well.

SLA Printer Disadvantages

  • Nozzles can commonly become clogged.
  • Utilizing liquid resin can be very messy.
  • There are only a few materials that can be used.
  • The used materials are more fragile.
  • In general, these printers cost more than FDM printers.
  • Only liquid resin can be used in SLA printers.

Printers for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

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The Selective Laser Sintering method is very similar to SLA in operation; however, powder is used instead of a liquid resin.The powder is heated using a laser. The remaining powder can be removed after the thing has been made, leaving only the solid piece.

These printers currently cost over $50,000, which is very pricey. Unless you’ve recently won the lottery, this is obviously not going to be an option that makes sense! However, there are several online printing businesses you can use if you want to have a model printed this way.

The Benefits of Using SLS Printers:

  • They can offer details of as little as 16 microns.
  • The printed object doesn’t need any supporting structures.
  • It is possible to build functional mechanical parts without the need for assembly.

SLS Printer Disadvantages

  • After an object has been printed, the powder must be removed with some effort.
  • There aren’t any desktop SLS printer models available right now.

Using an SLS printer, the following materials can be utilized to make objects:

  • Aluminum, Nylon
  • Plastic
  • Sandstone
  • Steel

Types of Filament: PLA vs. ABS

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A variety of materials, including many metals, wood, plastic, and chocolate, are available for use in 3D printers. But when it comes to plastic filaments, PLA and ABS are the two most popular varieties.

A biodegradable plastic known as PLA, or polylactic acid, has a number of advantages that make it a suitable material for 3D printing. For instance, it does not emit any fumes and does not distort nearly as much as ABS. It is also fairly shiny, and objects constructed with PLA have a sleek appearance in terms of appearance. It is more brittle yet also tougher than ABS. It is important to note that this does not indicate that PLA will break easily; on the contrary, PLA is incredibly strong and will most likely snap rather than bend in the event of any deformation.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, or ABS, is a plastic created from petroleum-based materials. Its melting point is significantly higher than PLA’s. Given its strength, it is frequently used to make toys like Lego. When compared to PLA, this filament’s products are more likely to bend than break.

The key distinctions between these two filament types, as well as their similarities, will be covered in detail in this section. Next, we’ll discuss the variations in filament thickness. Also, the pros and cons of each filament will be talked about to help you choose the best material for your projects.

The Middle Ground

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The thermoplastics category includes both ABS and PLA. When heated, they soften and can be sculpted; when cooled, they solidify again. These qualities are precisely what have made them so well-liked, and this procedure can be repeated.

Although there are many thermoplastics available, only a relatively small number are used for 3D printing. A material must pass three tests before it can be used for 3D printing:

  • Extrusion into Plastic Filament at the Start
  • Extrusion at the Second
  • Trace-binding at the End of 3D Printing

A material must first be able to be easily converted into the raw 3D printer feedstock, known as the plastic filament, in order to pass the three tests. There is a reel of these filaments.

Second, the material must be able to make precise parts of the things that 3D printers make.

Last but not least, the plastic must have good qualities in terms of its strength, shine, durability, and many other things.

Numerous other thermoplastics, including ABS and PLA, can easily pass the first test. The only things that can change are how much it costs and how long it takes to turn the basic plastic resin into a high-quality plastic filament.


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Thermoplastics like ABS and PLA work best when they are sealed to keep moisture from the air from getting in before they are used or when they are kept for a long time.

However, this does not always mean that the filament will be ruined if you wait a week or so to use it after receiving it. Nevertheless, prolonged contact with the environment can have a negative impact on both the final product’s and the material’s quality.

To prevent moisture absorption, the filament is packaged in plastic.

Here is a comparison of how ABS and PLA fare while stored:

ABS: When used to print an object, ABS has a tendency to bubble and flow out of the nozzle tip if it is exposed to the air and absorbs an excessive quantity of moisture. This will result in decreased visual clarity, precision, and strength, as well as a higher likelihood of nozzle clogging. You may rapidly dry ABS before use by utilizing a heat source like a food dehydrator.

PLA: When exposed to moisture, PLA responds in a variety of ways. During the printing process, in addition to producing bubbles and flowing from the nozzle, the material will also exhibit several additional changes in its properties, as well as a small discoloration.
PLA is known to react with water at high temperatures, which can cause depolymerization. A substance is broken down into simpler compounds during the depolymerization process.

Additionally, PLA can be dried using a food dehydrator, but be aware that doing so may disrupt the material’s crystallinity ratio and likely affect its extrusion properties. However, for the majority of 3D printers on the market, this isn’t a significant issue.


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ABS: ABS emits a distinct smell of hot plastic when heated. While some people don’t even notice it, others view it as nothing more than a nuisance. Whether or not you detect the scent, you must make sure that the space where ABS is being used has adequate ventilation. Additionally, be sure that the ABS you use is uncontaminated. The smell can be cut down by a lot if the material is heated to the right temperature. This can be done with the help of a reliable extruder.

PLA: Because PLA is manufactured from sugar, when heated, it emits a semi-sweet aroma comparable to that of cooking oil. It certainly won’t make you long for those delectable home-cooked dinners, but some people think it smells better than ABS.

Accuracy of Parts

Both ABS and PLA possess properties that make it possible to produce components and products that are dimensionally correct. However, the following details should be brought up when talking about part accuracy:

ABS: The upward curling of the surface that is in direct contact with your printer’s print bed is one of the main difficulties with using ABS. You can significantly aid in the elimination of this problem by heating the print bed and making certain that the bed is clean, flat, and smooth. Some people find it preferable to spray the print surface with various solutions before printing, such as an ABS/acetone mixture or plain hairspray. Hair spray is quite flammable, but at 3D Insider we have experimented with it on the print bed with some results.

Sharp edges and other features frequently become rounded. To improve such corners, a tiny fan can be employed to cool the vicinity of the nozzle. Too much cooling, on the other hand, could weaken the bond between the layers and cause the finished product to crack.

PLA: Compared to ABS, PLA warps less. It can be used to print products without a heated bed precisely because of this. Active cooling allows for the creation of crisper details, such as sharp corners, without the material cracking or warping. The increased air flow can also help to strengthen the object by making the connections between the layers stronger.

Basic Material Characteristics

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No matter how precisely a given item is built, it must be able to carry out the tasks for which it was designed.

ABS: ABS is a versatile material that can be manufactured to have a wide range of characteristics. In essence, it is a sturdy plastic that is only slightly flexible. ABS is milky-beige before colors are added to it. The material is simple to sand and machine thanks to its slight elasticity. Additionally, compared to PLA, it is significantly simpler to recycle.

Because of ABS’s excellent strength, flexibility, and machinability, engineers typically choose it.

PLA’s primary sources are sugar beets, corn, and potatoes. The perception that PLA is more environmentally friendly than ABS stems from this. Food packaging and the creation of food containers both frequently employ it. It is translucent in its natural state but can be colored to take on different levels of opacity and translucency.

It is stiff and far stronger than ABS. PLA-printed items have a shiny appearance and a smooth texture. But it is a little harder to work with because of how its parts fit together and how they are connected with pins.
Size of the Filament, Thickness

There are two distinct diameters for ABS and PLA filaments: 3.0 mm and 1.75 mm.

Each printer (or, more precisely, each extruder) is made to operate with a specific filament thickness. Check the specifications of your 3D printer to find out what kind of filament you can use with it.

Some printers are made to work with proprietary diameters, which may deviate somewhat from the accepted thickness. Choose a printer that supports the standard diameters if you haven’t already purchased one to give yourself additional options when selecting a plastic filament supplier (more options in terms of color, material, etc.).

The filament sizes may somewhat differ across manufacturers. But if a filament is marked as 3 mm, it must not go over that measurement; it may, however, be a tiny bit smaller than 3 mm (say, 2.88 mm).

Additionally, some filaments may contain bumps and neck downs that extend a few centimeters. Lumps are areas where the diameter is greater than the rating. On the other hand, neck-downs are areas where the diameter is less than what it should be. This can lead to jamming and stripping, but these occurrences are uncommon, especially if the filament being used was produced by a reputable company. For this reason, it is often preferable to stay away from “dirt cheap” filament.


Before choosing one, you need to carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of each material. Consider the things you need to print and the purposes they are intended to serve.

You might want to give PLA a try to see whether it truly is the best material for novices to start with. However, ABS was where we started, and it wasn’t too difficult! You may always change materials further down the path.

3D Printing is such a complex beast to try to understand. Luckily, we have an awesome beginner guide here for you to check out: Introduction to 3D Printing – A Complete Guide!

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