A 3D printer is a machine that creates 3D objects by building or forming the object from a material. There are multiple types of 3D printers, such as FDM 3D printers, SLA 3D printers, and SLS 3D printers. Each of these three types uses their own method to produce a part, but FDM 3D printers have proven to be one of the best types of 3D printers for DIY and hobby use.

What Does FDM Stand For?

What exactly is an FDM 3D printer? FDM stands for “fused deposition modeling”. This process uses a filament, which is usually rolled up in spools (rolls), that are fed into the extruder. Common filament sizes for an FDM 3D printer are 1.75 mm and 2.85 mm in diameter. FDM 3D printers have become widespread due to their many uses, affordable price points, and a wide range of colors, materials, and textures of filaments, which are compatible with FDM 3D printers.

Uses of a 3D Printer

A 3D printer can be used for a wide range of applications. From hobby use to quick prototyping, 3D printing allows for it all to happen at an affordable price. Additionally, 3D printers can be used to make specialty parts that may not be available elsewhere. Whether it’s for a custom project, or a part breaks around the house, a 3D printer has the ability to make a replacement! 3D printers can do a lot more than just replacement parts. 3D printers can create new things that would serve a purpose. Beautiful vases, never seen before concepts, and scaled models just represent a few of the many things that a 3D printer can do. 

One of the most rapidly growing uses for a 3D printer is item prototyping. This means either printing a test part on a 3D printer before outsourcing it to a more expensive option, making and using the part which was created on the 3D printer, or using the 3D printer to help build functional projects at a speed that would not be possible if outsourced. 3D printers allow for parts to be printed with precision at an affordable cost. 

How an FDM Printer Works

3D printers, at first, could seem extremely complicated and hard to use due to the many different styles and parts. However, once a user understands the basic concepts of how an FDM printer works, then the possibilities are endless. An FDM 3D printer creates an object from the ground up. It creates the object layer by layer, with each of the new layers melted and adhered to the layer below it. The material that creates this object can range from hard plastics, to flexible and fun. The filament spool is inserted into the extruder which heats up the filament, pushes it towards the nozzle through a series of gears, and pushes the melted filament through a small hole at the tip of the nozzle, which is on the bottom of the extruder. 

As mentioned before, an FDM 3D printer creates the object from bottom to top. The print surface that the first layer is printed on is the one that is meant or used for 3D printing. Further, with the wide range of materials that can be printed, the extruder and print bed can usually be set to the temperature which best suits the material’s prime printing temperature. 

Designing an Object to 3D Print

The 3D printer can print the object, but it is up to the user to create and design it. There are many different programs, called CAD (computer-aided drafting), which allow a user to create an object. From basic and easy to use, to industrial and professional levels, there are many different CAD programs available. Some are even free to use and available online. 

Slicing the Object

Once an object is ready to be 3D printed, then it needs to be imported into a slicer program. This program will “slice” the object into many layers so that the 3D printer can print it layer by layer. The file that the slicer will export is known as Gcode. Depending on the slicing program, the Gcode can be sent to the 3D printer via SD card, USB, or even Wi-Fi. There are some slicer programs that are specifically developed for a certain line of printers by the manufacturer, but other slicer software is compatible with a large amount of 3D printers because the settings can be tailored for the specific 3D printer. 

Inside of the slicer program, there will be a wide range of settings that can be adjusted for the specific filament, temperature, and size of the object. It may seem a little confusing at first, but most slicer software has a “beginner” and an “expert” mode.

It is highly recommended to use the beginner mode, with some auto-generated settings, when first starting out. Whenever the beginner would like to perfect prints to an even higher level of quality, there is a simple switch between beginner and expert mode that is usually available. 

Some of the basic settings are: 

Extruder Temperature

The temperature at which the filament will be heated up. Usually, the manufacturer of the filament will provide a range for the printing temperature. 

Print Bed Temperature

The print bed is the surface on which the object will be printed. The manufacturer of the filament should also provide a range for the print bed temperature.

Print Speed

The print speed is how fast the object will be printed. While some printers can go as high as 200 mm/s, a safe speed to start with for most filaments is around 40 mm/s. Some filaments need to be printed slower (flexible filaments) and others can be printed at a much higher speed (PLA). 

Travel Speed

Travel speed is how fast the extruder moves around when it is not printing. When the object is printing layer by layer, it does not always have a continuous flow of filament needed. This is where the nozzle “jumps” to a different area of the object to print, and the travel speed is how fast the nozzle moves in the jump. 


FDM 3D printers are changing the capabilities of home projects completely. With industrial-grade parts printable in hours, there is no limit on the possibilities which could be made with 3D printing capabilities.