Glossary of 3D Design and 3D Printing Terms

GlossaryAs an educator, the world of 3D design can open you up to entirely new ways of interacting with your students and implementing new curriculum. Introducing 3D printing into the classroom has the potential to change the way students learn and the way teachers are able to design courses and structure their curriculum. But before you get started, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the basic terminology involved in 3D printing, whether you are implementing it in K-12 education, STEM programs, hands-on learning or after-school programs.

3D Printer

A 3D printer produces three-dimensional items. They way they work is that you program in the model or prototype design that you want to print, and then the printer layers materials in order to produce the final 3D effect. You can use them to create household objects like vases and coffee mugs or small-scale replicas of fossils and antiques.

3D Design

3D design refers to the design process that creates files that can be fed into a 3D printer in order to produce 3D models.

3D Model

A 3D model is a mathematical representation of a 3D object, like a toy, fossil, coffee mug or anything else you can think of. They are created with 3D printers through a process that renders a 3D image of the object on a computer and then uses various materials to produce it.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is a process in which digital 3D design data helps to build 3D models by adding layer after layer of material. The material could be metal, plastic, concrete or something else, but the result is a 3D object that is a visual replica of the data model.


In 3D printing, filament is the printer’s ink in a regular printer. It’s what you insert into the printer in order to create the objects you want. There are many types of filament available that you can choose between depending on the type of 3D printer you are using.


Prototypes are the basic information that you feed into a 3D printer in order to make the object you’re trying to print. It’s usually a file that has been coded and developed in a way that the printer can interpret it and use the information to build the object you’re looking for.

Polygon Geometry

In 3D printing, polygons are the basic type of geometry used. They can be applied to all different types of objects, but if you are interested in creating very smooth surfaces, such as a circular object, you’ll need to add a lot more polygons than you would if you were creating rough, angular objects.


A face is the most basic part of a 3D piece. When more than three edges are connected together in a prototype, the face is what fills in the empty space between the edges and makes up the visible part of the object. They are the parts of your model that will have shading material applied to them.

3D Scanner

A 3D scanner refers to a number of different photographic processes where 3D models are captured from a solid object.

Rapid Prototyping

You can start a manufacturing process to create multiple 3D prints with rapid prototyping. Instead of making just one 3D item, manufacturers and schools are using 3D printers to create multiple items at once in order to reduce the time and expense of purchasing the items.

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