Skip to Main Content

Getting Started with 3D-Printing

Below is a running list of common terms associated with 3D-printing.

Over time as we develop term-specific Learn Guides we will link to those terms from this Glossary. If you're intrigued by a term or want to know more you can always search online.

Glossary of Terms

  • Bed - the surface the print first adheres to. The bed may be fixed or it may be a removale tray. This will determine how you remove the print once completed.


  • Blue Tape - also known as "Painter's Tape," we use this frequently for 3D-printers with non-heated beds


  • Build Volume - the total cubic volume a printer is capable of - generally a rectangle 'tank' of space.


  • CAD – Computer Aided Design


  • CAM – Computer Aided Manufacturing


  • G-code – the language that tells 3D-printers how to turn your design into an object


  • Infill – the amount (%) of material and the design (pattern) used to ‘fill in’ the hollow part of the 3D-print


  • Layer – 3D-prints are made with successive ‘layers’ of raw material (typically PLA)


  • Layer Height - as the name implies, this is the 'height' of each layer of the print. The standard for measurement is micron. One micron is equivalent to one millionth of a meter. This is equivalent to one thousandth of a millimeter - 0.001mm. Thus 100 microns is equivalent to 0.1mm - therefore it takes 10 layers at 100 micron layer height to produce a 1mm high print. Whew!
    • This is important because when we talk about a printer's layer height specification we measure this setting in microns.
    • Common PLA layer heights are 0.35mm, 0.20mm ("200 microns"), 0.10mm ("100 microns"), and 0.05mm ("50 microns") – a smaller number is not necessarily "better," and your machine has to be capable of printing at a finer layer height to begin with. These are all things to know and take into account when setting up your print. Generally speaking - especially when getting started - a 0.20mm layer height ("200 microns") is a good balance of speed and resolution.
    • By comparison the thinnest human hairs are around 20 microns, while the thickest are around 200.


  • PLA – polylactic acid is a bioplastic available in a wide range of colors and attributes


  • Shells – the outermost layers of a 3D-print


  • .STL – short for stereolithography, this is the file type generated by CAD software


  • Stringing - if you see stringing you may need to troubleshoot your settings. Stringing is caused by any of the following errors: temperature, retraction length and/or speed, and distance and/or speed between moves.


  • XYZ – Cartesian coordinate system for referencing objects in 3D space

We are, of course, not the first to imagine a 'glossary' associated with 3D-printing. Check out All About 3DPrinting's Frequently Used Terms for a much longer list - along with reading through the various books we have on hand in the makerspace.