A 3D printer expresses a material in successive layers, which fuse together to create a three-dimensional object.

3D printers can work in plastic, nylon, resin, stainless steel, gold, silver, titanium, ceramic and gypsum. You can see exactly how a 3D printer works using plastic below.


A 3D model is drawn using a computer-aided design (CAD) program. The CAD file is then converted into the STL format, which is readable by 3D printers.

Finally, the size and orientation of the print is set using a computer.

step 1

The tip of a spaghetti-like length of plastic is fed into the printer head where it’s heated to melting point.

step 2

Some 3D printers feature a printer head that moves along the X and Y planes and a printer plate that lowers with every completed layer. For others, like this one, the printer head moves along the X, Y and Z axis.

step 3

The outline of the object is created as the printer head moves along the X and Y planes and expresses a thin line of melted plastic, which cools instantly on the printer plate.

step 4

The printer head then fills in the outline in a cross-hatch pattern, completing the first layer of the job.

step 5

Each completed layer is roughly 0.1mm thick, with nozzle moving vertically up by this amount to allow for subsequent levels to be printed on top.

The different layers bond together and a 3D object takes shape.

step 6

The finished piece requires some post processing, which generally involves either brushing away loose material or bathing to remove water-soluble parts.

applying 3d printing

The speed and ease of 3D printing makes it a great way to create all sorts of objects and prototypes.

At Hillarys, we can print, test and refine ideas for new devices and controls until we’re happy with the results, instead of going through time consuming modelling processes. And that helps us improve our products much quicker than before.