Case Study: 3D Printing Dental Models

OpLab model

For over thirty years, physical models of dental arches and other dental models have traditionally been manufactured by hand using plaster (gypsum). While this manufacturing process produces high-quality results, it is a time and labour-intensive process and especially so if dental models need multiple iterations.

A potential solution to this is 3D printing, as dental labratory OpLab has discovered.

Using Ultimaker 3D printers, OpLab manufactures physical models of dental arches with outstanding accuracy.

The Challenge

Making dental models by hand takes times. It is also a highly-skilled job, and therefore only experienced dental professionals can do it. To create dental models, plaster is used to create a lifelike model of a patient’s arch. Thermoforming is then used on that model to create a model for the patient to wear. Each model requires hand-finishing. From start to finish, creating a single dental model takes hours – and a single model might require three or more iterations.


OpLab plaster

The 3D Printing Solution


OpLab looked at 3D printing as a potential solution for manufacturing the models they were making by hand. A trial found that it was possible to create intricate, accurate models with a 3D printer that were of the same quality or in cases of an even better quality than the models made by hand.

In addition to meeting the quality criteria set out by OpLabs, 3D printing improved efficiency by freeing up workflow; because they no longer had to make the moulds by hand, dental professionals could instead focus their efforts elsewhere. Furthermore, there was no need to create multiple iterations by hand anymore, since the Ultimaker did this for them.

Discussing the impact of 3D printing, Marco Lotito, Co-founder of OpLab, said: “The process before using Ultimaker printers was very long. Each iteration had to be handmade. Now, all iterations can be printed at the same time. With the Ultimaker 3D printer, we ensure consistent, reliable results. The level of detail is impeccable.”

OpLab 3D printing

In addition to making dental arches with their 3D printer, OpLab plans to use intraoral scanning in the future to completely replace the need for casting plaster. By doing this, patients will never be required to provide a cast and dental labs will be able to send a file to print within hours. This is a far quicker process than making casts and models by hand.

“In addition to being consistent and reliable, 3D printers allowed us to achieve greater design accuracy, giving them a strong competitive edge in the market.” added Marco Lotito, Co-founder of OpLab.

To find out more about how OpLabs uses 3D printing, check out the original case study on the Ultimaker website.