Glossary of 3D Printing Terms

Glossary of 3D Printing Terms

Here is the glossary from the back of our user manual. We use this vocabulary in our videoconference trainings and tech support.




3D Printing

The process of creating a three-dimensional object from a digital file. Usually, it is achieved by stacking two-dimensional layers of material to form a physical 3D object. There are many different 3D printing processes that use many different materials, but the most common process is material extrusion—also known as Fused Deposition Modeling and Fused Filament Fabrication—which uses thermoplastic filament. Also known as additive manufacturing.


3D Printer

A machine tool that creates a three-dimensional object from a digital file by stacking thin, two-dimensional layers of material. This machine usually reads g-code files that give it specific instructions on how to print an object. The most common type of 3D printer uses the process of material extrusion, or fused deposition modeling (FDM), to form parts.  

3D Design Program

A type of software used to visualize, design, and manipulate 3D products while providing a test environment for strength and dynamic analysis. Also known as a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program or 3D Modeling Software. Free examples for educators include Autodesk Inventor, Fusion360, SketchUp, Onshape, and Tinkercad.


3D Modeler

A type of multimedia artist or animator who creates three-dimensional models or visuals of items using a variety of different computer software programs and tools. Also, a program used to manipulate 3D shapes to create objects for animation or production.



The A5 is an open source material extrusion 3D printer design that prints 125 x 150 x 100mm. NWA3D heavily modifies this original design to meet the rigorous classroom environment and calls the version an NWA3D A5. We build, modify, and test every printer. We are the sole-source provider of the NWA3D A5. Changes include hardware upgrades, custom operating system, and our unmatched warranty, lifetime training, and support for educators.



The A31 is an open source material extrusion 3D printer design that prints 300 x 300 x 400mm. NWA3D modifies the original design to meet the rigorous classroom environment and calls the version an NWA3D A31. We build, modify, and test every printer. We are the sole-source provider of the NWA3D A31. Changes include hardware upgrades, custom operating system, and our unmatched warranty, lifetime training, and support for educators.



Stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which is a thermoplastic used for 3D printing. ABS is a common form of plastic found in most household items that were injection molded.


Additive Manufacturing

The process of creating an object from a digital file by stacking 2D layers to form a 3D object. Also called 3D printing. see also 3D Printing


Axis Binding

A problem associated with the X-, Y-, or Z-axis on a printer, in which the axis is unable to move freely or perform a given movement.



Toothed gear belt that is used to transfer movement.



Bridging occurs in a 3D print when filament is extended across an open area without supports. The distance a print can bridge is determined by the hardware capabilities of the printer and the slicer settings.



A platform adhesion option whose function is to reduce shrinkage of bottom print layers or better adhere a low surface area object by providing a larger base platform.


Build Plate

The surface where the printer deposits the materials used for printing. Also known as the Print Bed. see also Print Bed  


Bowden Extruder

An extruder assembly used pushing filament that uses a tube to feed the filament from the motor to heated areas. This type of extruder assembly reduces heat transfer to filament pressure point, thereby reducing plastic buildup and clogs.



Computer Aided Design or CAD is the process of digitally designing 3D models. see also CAM



The act or process of adjusting a device or instrument to perform correctly or more efficiently.



Computer Aided Manufacturing or CAM is the process using digital programs and/or CAD to physically manufacture objects through additive or subtractive manufacturing.



The moving assembly that holds the nozzle and hot end of the of the extruder.



A Computer Numerical Control machine, or CNC, a a machine that uses subtractive manufacturing to create 3D objects. see also Subtractive Manufacturing


Control Screen

LCD screen that displays information and provides an interface to select settings and manipulate the printer.



The process of cooling down the hot end. Cooldown occurs automatically after a print is finished, or can be done manually after changing filament to to prevent filament baking and clogs. Can be controlled using the Control Screen or turning off the 3D printer.



A 3D printer slicing software. Utilized to transform 3D models into a X, Y, and Z coordinate language called g-code in “.gcode” format.



Mechanical switches that indicate where the “home” or “zero” position is on each print axis. see also Limit Switch



The act of dispensing build material onto the build platform through a small nozzle commonly referred to as a "hot end.”



The assembly that handles feeding and extruding filament during a print. The extruder has two parts: the stepper motor and feeding system that pushes the material into the printer, and a hot end that heats and extrudes the material through a nozzle onto the build surface.


Extruder Fan

Fan that cools the heat sink of the extruder.


Extruder Motor

Stepper motor of the extruder assembly.


Extruder Nozzle

A brass or steel funnel-shaped die through which melted plastic is extruded.


Extruder Release Lever

The trigger lever that applies pressure to the extruder gear, which forces filament to flow into the Bowden tube of the extruder to the hot end.


Extrusion Multiplier

A percentage value associated with the flow rate of plastic extrusion. The flow rate can be manipulated by adjusting this multiplier.



Typically a thermoplastic formed into a continuous wire and wound onto a spool so it is compatible with a 3D printer’s extrusion system. see also ABS, PLA, TPU


Filament Diameter

The size designation of a roll of filament. Usually 1.75mm or 3mm/2.85mm (3mm and 2.85mm are in the same size filament category are used interchangeably in 3mm and 2.85mm material extrusion 3D printers).



The area within a 3D-printed object that connects the top, bottom, and side layers. See also Infill


Fill Density

A percentage value that determines how much of the interior volume of a 3D-printed object is filled with material. This value can range from 0–100%, recommended is 5–25%.



The action of filament moving in a steady continuous stream. see also Extrusion Multiplier


Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

FDM is another name for material extrusion and FFF. It is a trade name created by Stratasys, the company that invented and first commercialized the material extrusion process. see also FFF, Material Extrusion


Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

FFF is another name for material extrusion and FDM.  see also FDM, Material Extrusion



The part of the extruder assembly and X-axis motor that moves up and down on the Z-axis of a 3D printer. see also Z-Axis Carriage



Coding language that the 3D printer understands. It is used to transmit instructions to a 3D printer’s control system to tell the printer how to print the 3D model. see also Cura, Slicer


Heated Build Plate / Heated Print Bed

The heated surface where the printer deposits the material used for printing. A heated bed can help reduce warping on large prints and help adhere parts better.



High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) is a thermoplastic used as a 3D printing material that can be dissolved using limonene and therefore used for dissolvable supports on delicate prints.


Hot End

The heated portion of the extruder assembly that includes the nozzle and heating block.



The area within a 3D-printed object that connects top, bottom, and side layers. This creates a rigid structure and determines print durability.


Kapton Tape

Heat-resistant polyimide adhesive tape typically used to secure wiring and insulate the hot end of the extruder.



Extruded plastic of a closed loop, represented as a two-dimensional drawing on the X-Y plane. When replicated over again in the Z direction, it produces a 3D object or multi-layered X-Y drawing. see also Layer Height


Layer Height

Utmost determinant of quality for 3D printing, it defines the distance between lines of extruded plastic in the Z-direction. Material extrusion 3D printers typically print layers between 0.1mm and 0.3mm high. A lower layer height translates to a smoother, higher quality print. A higher layer height translates into a faster, low quality print.


Limit Switch

Mechanical switch that indicates where the “home” or “zero” position is on each print axis. see also Endstop


Material Extrusion

A 3D printing process that dispenses material through a nozzle or orifice. Also known as FFF or FDM. see also FDM, FFF


Minimal Layer Time

The least amount of time required of the printer to maintain action on any layer of a printed object for the filament to sufficiently cool before fusing a layer on top if it.



A collection of polygons attached by edges and vertices that makes up a net-like surface area in CAD.



In 3D printing, the stepper motor that produces precise movement of the extruder, X-, Y-, or Z-axis. see also Stepper



A brass or steel funnel-shaped die through which melted plastic is extruded. see also Extruder Nozzle, Hot End



OBJ stands for Object File, an alternative to the STL file format. OBJ (.obj) files store object exterior pattern and color.



Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a biodegradable thermoplastic polymer derived from the starch in plants (normally corn) that is used for 3D printing.



A continuous line forming the boundary of a closed geometric figure. In 3D printing, the perimeter is created by the edges of every layer. see also Shell



Heating prior to using the device or tool. In 3D printing, the nozzle needs to be preheated before printing or for loading and unloading filament.


Print Bed

The surface where the printer deposits the materials used for printing. Also known as the build plate. see also Build Plate


Print Speed

The rate at which a 3D printer is capable of moving while extruding plastic. A print speed of 50mm/s will be successful on most FDM printers. A print speed of 20–30mm/s will produce higher quality prints.


Print Quality

Refers to the quality of the print and is determined by many factors including mechanical capabilities of the printer, slicer used, layer height, print speed, support, and print orientation.


Printing Temperature

The temperature of the hot end at which the filament is melted and extruded.



Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)  is a water soluble plastic that is a common ingredient in standard wood glue. It can be used in 3D printing to print dissolvable supports.



A platform adhesion option in which several layers of printed material are deposited on the build surface to smooth out any irregularities in the build surface and help prevent warping in the model being printed on top of the raft. A raft also helps with bed adhesion of delicate models.



An open source 3D printing project, started in 2005, to create the best desktop printers and to make them capable of duplicating themselves.


Repetier Host

An open source slicer program, used for the preparation of STL files prior to 3D printing. Allows manipulation of files prior to printing; rotating, scaling, and duplication.



The smallest movement a printer’s extruder can make within a single X-Y layer. Often indicates the produced quality of a printed model.



Backwards movement of an extruder motor to reduce the amount of material stringing or oozing.


SD Card

A non-volatile memory card for use in portable devices to transfer information, such as .gcode to 3D printers.



The point at which two layers of 3D-printed material connect.



The sidewalls of a 3D printed model, created by the exterior edges of every layer. see also Perimeter


Shell Thickness

The total width of an outside wall of a 3D-printed part. Shell thickness should be a multiple of nozzle size. Two shells is typically best. An increased number of shells will lead to a stronger model. see also Shell



A platform adhesion option that extrudes an offset outline of the model on the first layer of the print. The skirt helps to remove unwanted colors and build pressure for material extrusion. It also checks the accuracy of bed leveling.



The action of changing a model file (STL, OBJ, etc.) into a a G-code file. The coordinate type can vary depending upon setting selection. The most common type uses cartesian coordinates on an XYZ plane. see also Slicer



A type of program, such as Cura or Repetier Host, that allows manipulation of a 3D model and converts the file type into a coordinate system (usually .gcode) the printer follows to create a model. see also Cura, Repetier Host


Soft Pull/Soft Removal

The process of heating filament to the phase transition temperature (solid to liquid) and removing it from the extruder assembly. The process helps to remove unwanted material and can assist in the removal of nozzle blockage. NWA3D recommends to always remove filament using the soft pull method as preventive maintenance for your 3D printer.


Stepper/Stepper Motor

An electric motor that moves in discrete movements, or steps, to allow more precise regulation of its movement. see also Motor



The STL  file format (STL stands for stereolithography) is the recommended file format for 3D models for 3D printing. The filetype contains the best mesh for solid 3D-printed objects. see also Mesh



Additional removable structures that are printed to support overhangs or other parts of a model that do not make contact with the build plate during printing.


Subtractive Manufacturing

Manufacturing techniques that remove material to create an object. Common types are CNC routing and laser cutting.


Tension Arm

Arm that presses the filament into the gear of the extruder motor. see also Extruder Lever



Thermoplastic urethane (TPU) is a semi-flexible plastic that is used in 3D printing.


Travel Speed

The rate at which the nozzle assembly will move to a new position when not extruding.


USB Connection

USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is a connection type to send files from a slicer on a computer to a 3D printer via a USB cable.



A measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow. The higher the viscosity, the more resistant the fluid is to flowing.



A part for a 3D printer or 3D printing project that isn’t 3D printable.



The principal or horizontal axis of a system of coordinates.



The secondary or vertical axis of a system of coordinates.



The axis in three-dimensional Cartesian coordinates which is usually oriented vertically.



The process that a printer uses to lift the hot end upward prior to retraction and moving.


Z-Axis Carriage

The part of the extruder assembly and X-Axis motor that moves up and down on the Z-Axis of a 3D printer. see also Gantry