What is 3D Printing?

There are all different kinds of 3D printers and 3D printing techniques.

Depending upon the size of the object being printed and the chosen material, the process can vary greatly.  You can Google image search “3d printer” to get an idea of the wide variety of choices and objects that are out there being made.
However, the concept behind 3D printing is fairly simple. 

Start with a computer-generated model of an object using 3D modeling software
such as AutoCAD, Form-Z, Google SketchUp, Maya, 3DS Max, or a variety of others.

The model file is sent to the printer.

It is checked to make sure it’s “structurally stable” and doesn’t have parts that are too thin or small to support. This varies slightly by material, but for the most part, details can be preserved as small as 1mm in size.

In the case of stainless steel, the model is printed by a machine deposting tiny drops of glue on top of very thin layers of stainless steel powder. After one layer is printed, another very thin layer of powder is spread on top and the process repeats.

Once the full object has “built up”, it is super fragile, almost like a pile of wet sand. To make it sturdier, the object is infused with bronze. Then, the object is polished with a tumbler. After polishing, a sealant is sprayed on the object.

It’s kind of like creating a cube out of a stack of papers —
laying each sheet one at a time on top of each other.
 
For silver, there is a slighty different 3-step process.
The object is first created out of wax using a high-resolution 3D wax printer. The 3D printed wax model is then put in a container and plaster is poured around it, creating a plaster mold. Then, the wax is melted out and molten silver is poured inside the plaster mold, essentially taking the place of the wax.
Finally, the plaster is pulled away, revealing the silver object, which can be polished to varying degrees of finish.

pretty cool, right?!