The newest developments in printing are moving into another dimension. Through a marriage of computer programs and special printers, three dimensional objects can be printed.
The concept is pretty simple, but the methods used to print are not. Using a computer program, some of which are available for free online, a model of the desired object is created. The program then “slices” the image into very thin sections. The printer is then instructed to print each slice, sequentially, on top of each other. The smaller the slices, the more detailed the piece can be. This is called “additive manufacturing” because it differs from traditional methods which remove material to create a model, called “subtractive manufacturing.”
The printing media are varied and include thermoplastics, metals, foil, paper, and plaster, and are determined by the type of printing. There are three main types of printing: molten polymer deposition, granular materials binding, and photo-polymerization.
Fused deposition modeling is a type of molten polymer deposition. Objects are printed by melting plastic or metal, and depositing successive layers of material.
Granular materials binding works in a similar way, but the model is built in a granular bed, which provides support as it is built. The most unique use of this technology is the CandyFab printer which uses melted sugar as its medium.
Photo-polymerization uses light to harden the materials. An example, digital light processing prints in an entirely different way than other methods. Each layer of the object is created by exposing a vat of liquid polymer to selective UV light. The polymer exposed hardens and creates a layer of the object. The polymer is exposed again for the next layer, which repeats until the model is complete.