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An Introduction to 3D Printing

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process used to create 3D objects. Materials are joined and solidified together to construct a shape of virtually any geometry and is commonly used in education lesson plans, hobbyists, prototyping and proof of concept and end use functional parts. A wide range of 3D printing technologies and materials are available on the market depending on the application and budget however by far the most common of these technologies is FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication). FFF 3D printers most commonly print in PLA or ABS plastic however with use of other technologies, it is also possible to 3D print resin, carbon fibre and metal, though these 3D printers are far less cost effective.

Additive manufacturing is a process where material is “added” together to create a 3D object as opposed to other traditional methods of manufacturing which incorporate a subtractive process where material is removed to create a 3D object, such as CNC machining. Additive manufacturing saves waste material, time and cost.

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3D Printing Resources - 3D Printing Technology - 3D Scanning Technology - 3D Printing Materials

Key Benefits of 3D Printing


Time to Market

The ability to produce designs quickly and easily in-house can dramatically speed up the research and design phase of any project.


Prototyping Costs

3D Printing materials are a cost effective way to produce multiple incarnations of your designs whilst retaining total control.


Bespoke Parts

Create one off designs that would be impossible to source from a traditional manufacturer and avoid costly mass production.



3D printing is a fun and versatile way to produce an infinite number of designs and is ideal for proffesionals and makers alike.

3D Printing Resources

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3D Printing Technology

FFF / FDM (Fused Filament Fabrication / Fused Deposition Modelling): Uses continuous thermoplastic filament which is fed into a heater extruder head. This material is then melted at approximately 180 – 200°C (depending on the material) and forced through the nozzle of the print head. The material is printed in small layers (layer resolution can be pre-set) with each layer solidifying once printed on top of the layer beneath. The head and print bed is then moved automatically to form the desired 3D shape. FFF 3D printers can be dual material, allowing a user to either print with 2 materials at any one time, print part of the object with a soluble support material (to create complex geometries) or in some cases print 2 separate objects at once. Common materials include PLA, PLA composites, ABS, PETG, TPU, Nylon, PP and Polycarbonate.

B32 Resin 3D printers: 3D prints resins using photopolymerisation, where the resins is exposed to light which causes molecules to link and forms a polymer to make up a 3D object. The method in which light is exposed to the resin can differ depending on the printer and can use SLA, DLP or DPP technologies. Resins come in a variety of colours and can be flexible, firm or high tensile.

  • SLA: This technology uses a laser beam across the print area to solidify resin as it goes along. This process breaks down the design, layer by layer, into a series of points and lines that are given to the galvos as a set of coordinates. This technology is ideal for printing multiple small parts simultaneously and detailed large prints.

  • DLP: Uses a digital projector to flash an image of each layer across the entire platform at once. Since the projector is digital, the image of each layer is composed of square pixels which results in a layer formed from small rectangular bricks. This technology is good for small, high resolution and intricate parts and for quickly printing larger object with less detail.

  • DPP: Uses daylight sensitive resins and an LCD panel placed beneath the resin tank to shine light pixels (not UV light) into the resin to solidify it.

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3D Scanning Technology

3D scanning is a process where a real life object is analysed to collect its geometric data and depending on the equipment used, its appearance. The scanned data can then be sent to 3D CAD software, edited or resized and sent to a 3D printer. 3D scanning is particularly useful for creating one off replicas of existing 3 dimensional objects, particularly if this object is a bespoke end use part and the user requires an exact copy without the need of mass production. 3D scanners may be desktop or handheld. Desktop scanners typically have a turntable which turns the scanned object 360 degrees to conduct the full scan. Handheld scanners require the user to scan the object by hand until sufficient data is collected from the scanning process to create a 3D object.

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3D Printing Materials

PLA (Polylactic Acid): Biodegradable thermoplastic made from renewable sources (such as corn starch) and is the most common 3D printing material, especially amongst hobbyists. This firm thermoplastic is considered an easy material to print and can print reliably with a standard FFF 3D printer extruder. Whilst biodegradable and therefore environmentally friendly, this material is not considered an engineering grade material due to its brittle nature and will shatter if the user tries to screw or drill into it. PLA does not require a heated print surface.
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PLA Composites: consists of PLA and a composite (such as wood or brass) to give the look and feel of the composite material, since most common desktop 3D printers cannot print in metal and 3D printers cannot print in wood. The PLA content in PLA composite is roughly 70%, with the other 30% being the composite material. Such materials can be abrasive in nature and don’t hold the same biodegradable properties as PLA. Likewise, this composite PLA doesn’t have the same mechanical or conductive properties as the composite (i.e. steel PLA filament will not conduct electricity or heat like steel does).
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ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): Strong and durable material ideal for printing parts which will be exposed to high temperatures. This material is less brittle than PLA and can be finished in an Acetone bath to provide a shiny appearance. ABS is subject to warping whilst printing and a heated print bed is required to print. ABS is a petroleum based product and unlike PLA, is not biodegradable. ABS also produces toxic fumes whilst printing which can be unpleasant to the user and an enclosure and extraction is also highly recommended. This material is not food safe
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PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol): Tough, high strength material designed for printing strong and high impact prints. Unlike ABS, PETG has minimal warping and is an ideal material for larger prints. PETG also doesn’t produce the same fumes that you get from ABS and therefore an enclosure is not required. This material is also food safe and recyclable. The downsides to PETG are that it can be weakened by UV light and overheating may cause PETG to become brittle.
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TPU / TPE (Thermoplastic Polyurethane): A flexible thermoplastic, ideal for printing many common items such as mobile phone cases. This material has a rubber texture and its strength can vary depending on the brand and the composition of raw materials used. TPU / TPE is resistant to both chemicals, oils and many solvents and is also resilient against abrasion, making it an ideal material for end use parts
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Other 3D printing materials include: HIPS, Nylon, Polycarbonate and PVA
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