3D Printing Workflow – The 5 Steps Explained

3D printing is billed as an easy way to manufacture models and parts, but is the workflow really as simple as it’s made out to be?

The short answer: yes!

This article will explore the 3D printing workflow in simple terms so you can wrap your head around it and get started.

3D printing workflow stages

There are five stages to 3D printing:

  • Modelling in CAD
  • Generating an STL or 3MF file
  • Slicing
  • Printing
  • Post-processing

Modelling in CAD software


Modelling refers to drawing or obtaining a 3D model in software. You can do this from scratch in software, scan a physical object with a 3D scanner, or obtain a 3D model someone else has drawn (Thingiverse is a good place to start).

The model you design, scan, create or obtain is what your 3D printer will produce, providing it supports the required specifications of the model.

Generating an STL or 3MF file


An STL file is a raw, unstructured file containing only the surface geometry of your three-dimensional object. It is generated by CAD software at the end of modelling to describe the surface and shape of the 3D model.

A 3MF file does the same thing but contains more data. 3MF is an XML-based data format that includes data on textures, materials, colours and mesh. 3MF is superior to STL, but an STL may be all you need for basic models.

We need to generate an STL or 3MF file because an STL file is needed to produce a type of code your 3D printer needs: G-code (more on this below).

Slicing in slicing software

3DGence Slicer

Slicing is the process of transforming an STL file into G-code. G-code contains printer commands, so what slicing does is it takes the STL file’s geometry data and creates a list of instructions the printer must follow to print the model.

Slicing gives your printer instructions based on nozzle size, filament and print profile, taking into account temperature range, speed and extrusion type.

Many 3D printer manufacturers have their own slicing software like Formlabs PreForm and Ultimaker Cura. You can also use third-party software like Slic3r.

3D printing

3D printing custom parts supply chain

Printing is the simplest step – just load your material, send your file to print and press go! Most 3D printers today have cloud-based software so you can print remotely, or you can do it the old fashioned way and press the button on your 3D printer.

The only things to consider are filament type, filament supply, using the correct nozzle for the filament and temperature range and accurate calibration.



In the case of FFF prints, it isn’t necessary to post-process them, unless you want to paint them or smooth them. If you want to smooth FFF and plastic parts to make them look like injection moulded parts, vapour smoothing is the most reliable method.

Models printed with an SLA (stereolithography) 3D printer often require curing with UV light to ensure optimal mechanical and visual characteristics.

To find out more about the 3D printing workflow, call our award-winning team on 01765 694 007 or email sales@additive-x.com