3D Printing in Design: Pros, Cons & Practical Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. What is 3D printing?
  2. How does 3D printing work in design?
  3. Pros of using 3D printing in design
  4. Cons of using 3D printing in design
  5. Practical guide to 3D printing in design

Embracing the future, we're diving into the intriguing world of 3D printing in design. In this blog, we'll take a close look at the pros and cons of 3D printing in design, and offer a practical guide to get you started. Whether you're a professional designer, a hobbyist, or just someone who loves exploring new tech trends, this guide will help you understand the potential of this innovative technology.

What is 3D Printing?

Believe it or not, 3D printing is not a product of the 21st century. It's been around since the 1980s, but recent advancements have made it more accessible and versatile. Let's strip back the complex jargon and explain it in a way anyone can understand!

The Bare Basics

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process that creates three-dimensional objects from a digital file. It's like building a Lego structure, but instead of manually stacking bricks, you instruct a machine to do it for you, layer by layer. Here's how it works:

  • You start with a 3D model of the object you want to create. This could be anything, from a tiny figurine to a piece of furniture.
  • Next, you load this model into a 3D printer. The printer then breaks down the model into thin horizontal sections, which it will print one at a time.
  • The printer uses a special material—usually plastic, but it could also be metal, ceramic, or even chocolate—to build each layer.
  • Finally, the layers are fused together to create the final object. And voila! You've got your 3D printed creation.

Types of 3D Printing

Now that you've got the basics down, let's talk about the different types of 3D printing. Yes, there's more than one! Here are the three most common types:

  1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): This is the most common type of 3D printing. It involves heating a thermoplastic filament to a semi-liquid state and extruding it layer by layer to build the object.
  2. Stereolithography (SLA): This type of 3D printing uses a laser to harden a liquid resin, layer by layer. SLA printers are known for their high resolution and excellent detail.
  3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): Instead of liquid resin, SLS printers use a powder material. A laser is used to heat the powder until it fuses together to form a solid structure. This method is often used for complex, high-strength parts.

Each type has its own pros and cons when used in design, which we'll explore in the following sections. But no matter which type you choose, 3D printing opens up a world of possibilities and creative freedom.

How does 3D Printing Work in Design?

Designing with 3D printing is like having a magic wand that brings your wildest imaginations to life. You're not restricted by traditional manufacturing limitations—you can create complex, intricate shapes with ease. But how exactly does 3D printing fit into the design process? Let's find out!

From Concept to 3D Model

The first step in using 3D printing in design is creating a 3D model. This is the digital blueprint that your 3D printer will follow. Designers use specialized software, like Blender or AutoCAD, to create these models. These programs allow you to sculpt your design in a virtual space, much like how a potter shapes clay. You can add details, adjust proportions, and even simulate how your design will behave in the real world.

Preparing the 3D Model for Printing

Once you're happy with your 3D model, it's time to prepare it for printing. This is where the slicing comes in. Slicing is the process of dividing your 3D model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. The software you use for this can also add supports to your design if needed, ensuring it doesn't collapse during printing. Once sliced, your design is ready to be fed to the 3D printer.

Material Selection: Form and Function

Choosing the right material for your 3D print is crucial. Different materials have different properties, and the right choice depends on what you want from your design. Do you need it to be flexible or rigid? Should it be transparent or opaque? Maybe you need a material that can withstand high temperatures? Your material choice can greatly influence both the appearance and functionality of your design.

So whether you're designing a sleek, modern lamp for your living room, a custom phone case, or a piece of statement jewelry, 3D printing gives you the tools to bring your vision to life. But as with any technology, there are pros and cons of 3D printing in design, which we'll delve into next.

Pros of using 3D printing in design

3D printing in design is like having a superpower—it opens up a world of creative possibilities that were once only imaginable. But what exactly makes it so special? Let's take a look at some of the major pros of 3D printing in design.

Unlimited Creativity

3D printing lets you break free from the constraints of traditional manufacturing techniques. Since the printer builds your design layer by layer, it can handle complex geometries and intricate details that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. Want to design a chair that looks like a giant seashell? Or a vase that mimics the swirling patterns of a galaxy? With 3D printing, you can.

Speedy Prototyping

With 3D printing, you can turn your digital model into a physical object in just a few hours. This is a game changer for designers, allowing them to test and refine their designs quickly and efficiently. Instead of waiting weeks for a prototype, you can have one in your hands the same day. Talk about instant gratification!


3D printing is also a champion when it comes to personalization. Whether it's a bracelet with your name on it, a lampshade in the exact shape of your favorite mountain range, or a phone case in your dream color—3D printing makes it possible. This level of customization is one of the great pros of 3D printing in design.


Lastly, 3D printing is often more environmentally friendly than traditional manufacturing methods. It uses less material and produces less waste, as it only uses the material needed to build your design. Plus, many 3D printers can use recycled or biodegradable materials, making it a greener choice for design.

Now that we've seen the pros, let's balance the scales and look at some of the cons of 3D printing in design.

Cons of using 3D printing in design

As with any tool or technology, 3D printing isn't perfect. It's important to consider the cons of 3D printing in design so you can make an informed decision on whether it's the right fit for your project. Let's dive into some of the potential downsides.

Limited Materials

While 3D printing opens up a lot of creative options, it does have its limits when it comes to materials. Sure, you can print with plastics, ceramics, and even some metals—but if you're dreaming of a design in glass, wood, or certain types of metal, you may be out of luck. It's important to consider this when planning your project.

Quality and Consistency

3D printing can sometimes struggle with consistency and quality. The same printer may produce slightly different results on different days or even different runs. Not to mention, the finish isn't always as smooth or polished as what you can achieve with traditional manufacturing methods.

Size Constraints

Size can be another hurdle with 3D printing. While there are some large-scale 3D printers out there, most desktop models have a relatively small build volume. This means if you're looking to design a large piece, you may have to print it in sections and assemble it later—which isn't always ideal.

Cost and Time

Lastly, while 3D printing can be quicker for prototyping, it's not always the most cost or time-efficient method for large-scale production. Traditional manufacturing methods can often produce large quantities of an item more quickly and cheaply.

So, there you have it—the pros and cons of 3D printing in design. Now, let's move onto some practical tips for getting started with 3D printing in your own design work.

Practical guide to 3D printing in design

Now that we've explored the pros and cons of 3D printing in design, let's look at some practical steps for incorporating this technology into your design process.

Understand Your Design Goals

Before you even consider 3D printing, it's essential to understand your design goals. What are you hoping to achieve with your design? Is it a prototype, a functional part, or an artistic piece? Having clear goals will guide your choice of materials, printing methods, and post-processing techniques.

Choose the Right 3D Printer

The next step is choosing the right 3D printer. This will largely depend on your budget, the materials you want to use, and the size of your design. Do some research on different 3D printer models to find one that suits your needs.

Learn 3D Modeling

3D printing requires a digital 3D model of your design. If you're new to 3D modeling, there are plenty of online tutorials and courses to help you get started. Software like SketchUp, Blender, and AutoCAD are popular choices for creating 3D models.

Test and Iterate

Once you've printed your design, it's time to evaluate the results. Does it meet your design goals? If not, don't be discouraged. One of the great things about 3D printing is the ability to quickly iterate and make changes. Use this to your advantage to perfect your design.

There you have it: a practical guide to getting started with 3D printing in design. With the right preparation and mindset, you can use this technology to bring your design ideas to life. Just remember to weigh the pros and cons of 3D printing in design before jumping in.

If you're fascinated by the possibilities of 3D printing in design and want to explore its applications in the world of fashion, don't miss the workshop 'Combining Fashion and 3D' by Julia Salnikova. This workshop will provide you with a practical guide to incorporating 3D printing into your fashion designs and help you understand the pros and cons of using this innovative technology in your creative process.