What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing is a powerful industrial technology that builds structures layer by layer, whether for making rapid prototypes during product development in automotive applications or high-performance parts for aerospace. Shapeways additive manufacturing services are set apart from traditional techniques because they provide engineers and designers with the ability to push the boundaries in innovation, the freedom to iterate and test as needed, and ultimately, with the tools for producing unique products never possible before.

Why 3D Printing?

Learn more about Additive Manufacturing at Shapeways

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) commands unprecedented respect in industrial applications due to its power and efficiency in building unique parts. The AM process begins when the first layer of material is dispersed onto the print bed. Numerous techniques are available, whether layers are adhered together through bonding agents or heat, but the AM process always has one thing in common: successive layers are built and then fused together to produce a solid part. Additive manufacturing services work in direct contrast to traditional manufacturing where subtractive measures are taken to remove material in making a part. 

Additive manufacturing services are faster, with little need for lead times or tooling, exponentially less waste in material during production, and the option to experiment with a wide range of materials, methods, colors, and finishes.

90+ Materials and Finishes

With 11 technologies and over 90 3D printing materials, Shapeways offers a wide range of additive manufacturing services, with resources designed to suit any project–whether engineers and designers are in the business of creating sleek new 3D printed drones, luxurious components for automotive interiors, 3D printed robotic arms, or photorealistic medical models.

Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] is one of the most popular additive manufacturing materials, spanning nearly every application. For metal AM applications, Shapeways customers often select materials like Steel, innovating like never before with the ability to make extremely strong parts that are also lightweight, on any scale. Other more specialized materials like Multi Jet Fusion Plastic PA12 Glass Beads (MJF Plastic PA12GB) are commonly used for 3D printing arm braces and more, as well as 3D printing large parts with improved stiffness and structural integrity.  A variety of finishes are available from Shapeways too; for example, with Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic], finishing options include Natural, Processed, Premium, and Smooth. Parts can also be dyed in eight different colors–while other full-color 3D printing materials like High Definition Full Color extend capabilities to over ten million hues!

Additive manufacturing innovations for applications for today and tomorrow


3D printed medical models have made real impacts in medicine. Serving as multi-faceted tools, medical models relate to nearly every phase of treating a patient. Assisting in the diagnostics stage, additive manufacturing services help surgeons decide on a course of treatment and plan their surgeries, along with using the 3D printed visual aids to educate patients and their families. Further, 3D printed medical models are used by surgeons and medical students to practice for new procedures.


Many different technologies  and applications are related or are complementary to each other, like additive manufacturing services and robotics. While some designers are busy 3D printing components for industrial robots engaged in applications like automotive and construction, others rely on 3D printing for robotic training tools used to prepare physicians around the world for new and delicate surgical procedures.


Soaring in popularity as well as the skies above, unmanned aerial vehicles represent one of the most exciting and innovative areas of additive manufacturing services Drone designers are focused on sleek, lightweight devices capable of flying at ever-higher altitudes to survey real estate and agriculture, monitor difficult-to-access places on Earth, and carry increased payloads.

Advanced 3D Printing Technology

Powder-Based Methods

Powder-based technology includes Binder Jetting, Multi Jet Fusion, Selective Laser Sintering, and Selective Laser Melting. Most of these technologies have the basics in common, as a thin layer of powder is dispersed across the print bed with a heat source melting each subsequent layer together. Greater design freedom is available since supports are not required, and excess powder can be easily recycled too, supporting sustainability in resources. Complex structures are possible, promising precision and repeatability every single time.

Resin-based Techniques

Technology like Stereolithography—the first 3D printing process to arrive on the scene in the 1980s—is a popular choice for designers seeking great accuracy and detail in parts. SLA is just one resin-based technology though, contrasting with Material Jetting which is extremely accurate but distinctly different. Known as one of the fastest methods of 3D printing, MJ technology relies on photopolymer resins built layer upon layer until the desired structure is complete.

Metal Additive Manufacturing

A wide range of technology is available for 3D printing metals as popularity in their use continues to trend upward, including highly industrial technologies like Binder Jetting and Selective Laser Melting, as well as Lost Wax Casting, an ancient technique greatly modernized for production of luxury items like fine jewelry with complex shapes, interlocking parts, and even engravings.

Additive Manufacturing Materials Spotlight


Derived from polymers which melt easily in both the layering and adhesive process in 3D printing, thermoplastics like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] are extremely adaptable for a range of projects with the ability to offer flexibility for thinner structures and toughness for thicker designs. Other high-performing materials like Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU) are derived from Polyurethane powders meant to create 3D printed elastomeric parts with performance similar to Injection Molded products.

Metal Powders and Casting

Manufacturers today may choose to 3D print metal in popular materials like  Steel or Aluminum, or choose from a wide range of precious metals that include Gold, Silver, and Platinum. Metal materials continue to increase in use because it is possible to make extremely strong and durable products on any scale that are also incredibly lightweight.

And Many Other Choices

With over 90 materials and finishes, Shapeways offers a versatile lineup of resources that includes specialized materials like High Definition Full Color, allowing customers to choose from over ten million different colors. For resin-based technology like SLA we also offer an array of materials like Accura 60, Accura Xtreme, and Accura Xtreme 200.

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