3D Printer Basics – A General Overview

3D Printer Basics

This is a summary of 3D Printer basics giving an overview of some of the different types available.

3D Printer Basics

As it turns out there a bunch of different methods you can use to pursue the idea of 3D printing, including:

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)
  • Fused deposition modeling (FDM)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)
  • Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)
  • Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)

I’m looking at FDM Printers here because I don’t have a few tens of thousands of pounds spare for anything else, plus the best way to learn is with shock-proof pants and uninsulated screwdrivers…

Of the FDM Printers, there are 2 main types: Delta and Cartesian.


Delta 3D Printers use a round print bed, and 3 parallel guide rails to manoeuvre the hot end around, building up the print in layers.


3D Printer BasicsRectangular 3D Printers use a rectangular print bed, and 3 perpendicular axes with which to maneuver the hot end around, building up the print in layers.

Prusa i3

A very well-regarded open source 3D printer. Comparable to other £1000 printer’s quality when it’s properly set up, and there are loads of tweaks and upgrades available to improve specific bits like reducing weight, improve finish, etc.

Anet A8

A kit version of the Prusa i3 supplied with basic tools and instructions to get you going in 3D printing.  Apparently easy to put together, but if you’re all fingers and thumbs it could be an idea to get a friend to build it for you.


The basic components of a rectangular 3D printer are:

Component Purpose
Frame  To provide stability to the system and support the other components.
Motors To provide torque to the screws and threaded rods.
Guide rails  To guide the platform and print head on their axes.
Bearings  To allow things to move along the guide rails no little friction and excellent stability.
Screws & Threaded rod These turn to move the platform and X axis, etc with excellent precision.
Hot end Literally the hot end of the printer – this is where the plastic leaves the extruder.
Extruder  The extruder is heated to melt the plastic filament at a specific, controlled temperature.
Controller The electronics of the machine that control the extruder, hot end, motors, hot bed and display.
Print bed A heated plate which moves along the y-axis on to which the item is printed.
Display A display to show machine statistics and software options.
Filament The plastic used to print with – it is fed into the extruder and through the hot end on to the print bed in layers.

All these components work together to make a 3D printer and the ANet A8 kit is a complete collection of these components in a kit to learn 3D printer basics and how it all works together while tuning the printer and experimenting.