3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) refers to any of the various processes for printing a three-dimensional object. Primarily additive processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
Several different 3D printing processes have been invented since the late 1970s. The printers were originally large, expensive, and highly limited in what they could produce.
A large number of additive processes are now available. The main differences between processes are in the way layers are deposited to create parts and in the materials that are used. Some methods melt or soften material to produce the layers, e.g. selective laser melting (SLM) or direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser sintering (SLS), fused deposition modeling (FDM), while others cure liquid materials using different sophisticated technologies, e.g. stereolithography (SLA). With laminated object manufacturing (LOM), thin layers are cut to shape and joined together (e.g. paper, polymer, metal). Each method has its own advantages and drawbacks, which is why some companies consequently offer a choice between powder and polymer for the material used to build the object. Other companies sometimes use standard, off-the-shelf business paper as the build material to produce a durable prototype. The main considerations in choosing a machine are generally speed, cost of the 3D printer, cost of the printed prototype, cost and choice of materials, and color capabilities.
Printers that work directly with metals are expensive. In some cases, however, less expensive printers can be used to make a mould, which is then used to make metal parts
3D printing has spread into the world of clothing with fashion designers experimenting with 3D-printed bikinis, shoes, and dresses. In commercial production Nike is using 3D printing to prototype and manufacture the 2012 Vapor Laser Talon football shoe for players of American football, and New Balance is 3D manufacturing custom-fit shoes for athletes.
3D printing has come to the point where companies are printing consumer grade eyewear with on demand custom fit and styling (although they cannot print the lenses). On demand customization of glasses is possible with rapid prototyping.
In early 2014, the Swedish supercar manufacturer, Koenigsegg, announced the One:1, a supercar that utilises many components that were 3D printed. In the limited run of vehicles Koenigsegg produces, the One:1 has side-mirror internals, air ducts, titanium exhaust components, and even complete turbocharger assembles that have been 3D printed as part of the manufacturing process.
In 2005, academic journals had begun to report on the possible artistic applications of 3D printing technology. By 2007 the mass media followed with an article in the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, listing a 3D printed design among their 100 most influential designs of the year. During the 2011 London Design Festival, an installation, curated by Murray Moss and focused on 3D Printing, was held in the Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A). The installation was called Industrial Revolution 2.0: How the Material World will Newly Materialize.