3D printing is done by using specialized materials which are layered to create a three-dimensional product. These materials are fused to other materials as they are deposited, often by the use of heated nozzles or lasers. Printers use data created in 3D-modelling software, such as AutoCAD, and slice it into hundreds or thousands of horizontal pieces to determine where layers of material go.
The exact materials usable in 3D printing depend on the model of printer. Extrusion printers use rubber, porcelain, clay, certain types of metal, silicon and thermoplastics, a type of plastic that is easily malleable when combined with heat. Wire printers use spools of metal alloy, and can handle any type of metal. Granular printers can work with metal alloys as well as thermoplastic and ceramic powders, depending on what material they use to fuse the materials together. Powder-bed printers use plaster, and laminated printers use paper, metallic foils, and plastic film.
3D printers can manufacture prototype products, create parts on demand, make model castings, and show off architectural design. Some larger printers, using cement-like compounds, manufacture housing units by creating prefabricated wall panels that are assembled on-site by construction crews. The process of 3D printing is known as additive manufacturing.