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3D Printing Acronyms


When you first start 3D printing, you’ll notice there are a lot of acronyms that you need to learn. If this is an area you are new to, don’t run away just yet, let’s have a look at some of the most important ones.

Note we are not working in alphabetical order here as that can make for a very boring read. Sometimes a little info serves as a memory aid, and links are provided should you want to dig a little deeper.

Many acronyms in additive manufacturing are identical to others we may hear in day to day life, which means not only learning something new but pushing the older stuff to the back of the mind.

You don’t want to be sitting there wondering what on earth your cars braking system has to do with 3D printing, ABS for 3D printer users means something much harder to pronounce than Anti-Lock Brakes!

So, let’s get started. As I’ve mentioned ABS, we can look at that first.

ABS – Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene     

A favorite thermoplastic used when accuracy and durability are paramount.

In simple terms, this is a ‘filament,’ it is relatively strong and also quite smelly when heated.

It is used in fused deposition 3D printers. This kind of printing, of course, has its own acronym,  which is…

FDM – Fused Deposition Modelling

FDM, at the consumer level, is the most widely used type of 3D printing. These extrude thermoplastic filaments, as mentioned above, FDM printers, are popular for their low cost with proof of concept models and RP – rapid prototyping.

If you’d like to learn more about this, an excellent place to start would be at the link below, and if it is your thing, you will be sent off in all kinds of fascinating directions from this page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fused_filament_fabrication

In the same area of RP – Rapid Prototyping  you will probably hear the acronyms RM – Rapid Manufacturing and RT – Rapid Tooling    

SLA – Stereolithographic Apparatus

Stereolithography is basically a technology for resin printing, layer by layer, it was the world’s first 3D printing technology, another good thing to come out of the ’80s. 

The exceptional optical, mechanical, and thermal properties of SLA make it an excellent choice for detailed prototypes requiring smooth finish and high tolerance.

No surprise there that it’s most common uses are in areas of dentistry, engineering, and product design, model making and education. SLA printing is generally sleek and with minimal visible layer lines. Some of those gears (cogs or wheels with teeth depending on how you view things) found in your hoover, or indeed the little wheels on some, may have come from this kind of printer.

SLA is also the only 3D printing technology to produce translucent parts on the desktop. Something like swimming goggles or safety mask frames would be a good example; many are both elastic and translucent.

If you would like to see a schematic and get a further explanation, there is one in reasonably plain English from Wikipedia at the link below:


PLA – Polylactic Acid

It sounds like some kind of digestive issue, but in fact, it is a filament, similar to ABS but not quite so smelly. This material is structurally brittle, but it is much easier to use.

CAD – Computer-Aided Design

Probably one of the easier acronyms in the bunch, and maybe an old friend of some readers. Software that initially popped up in engineering or architecture to create 2D or 3D visuals, you may have heard of AutoCAD, which was so expensive in its time that colleges were very limited with the licensing to teach people.

CAD is now more easily affordable software and is used for rapid prototyping to quickly create a scale model of the product you want to produce. Check out the link below if you’d like to see one of the popular software packages available, there are quite a few.


SLS – Selective Laser Sintering

Some 3D printing services offer metallic products, they use a technique called powder bed fusion. Here a laser fuses together granules of successive layers of powder. Sintering means to compact and form a solid mass of material with heat.

Hopefully, you’re still with me, although I suspect you have been on your own journey already from the links. Lots of big words out there, but if you can visualize a process, it can make them easier to remember, and if you can’t remember, well, just keep this article handy.

DMLS – Direct Metal Laser Sintering

One of the most common 3D printing technologies. DMLS uses metals, whereas SLS would be plastics.

STL – Stereolithography

STL is an abbreviation of stereolithography native to CAD software created by 3D Systems

STL is the most common file format for 3D printing, along with OBJ is simply a file extension OBJ. There are other file extensions that are less common than STL, but you might come across them when using 3D printers by specific manufacturers:

AMF (Additive Manufacturing File Format) and 3MF (3D Manufacturing Format)

The one thing all 3D printers require is the material with which to print, the filament. So, with this in mind, the following acronyms are particularly useful.

PA – Polymide

Synthetic Polyamides are used in the making of sportswear as they provide high durability and strength. The textile and automotive industry is also a considerable area of use. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyimide   

PC – Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is commonly used in eye protection. Polycarbonate lenses protect the eyes from UV light. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarbonate

PP – Polypropylene

Very widely used in food containers, storage bins, furniture, and textiles. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polypropylene 

GF – Glass Filled

This refers to the glass-filled nylon material.   https://www.sculpteo.com/en/materials/sls-material/glass-filled-nylon-material/

AMM – Additive Metal Manufacturing

Same process for 3D printing, but the filament is now powdered metals fused together.

DDM – Direct Digital Manufacturing

The production of items using 3D print technology, here the parts are usually made directly from a CAD – computer-aided design file.

PIM – Plastic Injection Molding

A different type of plastic manufacture. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Injection_moulding

BJ – Binder Jetting

A metal 3D printing technology process using two materials.  A powder, which is the build material, and binder, which is usually liquid.  The binder acts as the adhesive between the powder layers.

CLIP – Continuous Light Interface Production

Utilizes carbon 3D to create parts faster than other technologies. This process uses ultraviolet light to harden a resin.

CNC – Computer Numerical Control

A subtractive manufacturing method as the machine starts with a block of material and removes parts to create the finished product.

DLP – Digital Light Processing

This method uses a video projector rather than a laser, it is very similar to SLA – stereolithography


As we progress with 3D printing technology, I am sure this list will grow, but for the time being, at least, I hope I have aided the navigation in this evolving and exciting field of manufacturing.

Keep printing, have fun with it, and stay creative.

Thanks for reading!


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