What is Powder-Based 3D Printing?

More and more, 3D printers have started to enter the realm of mainstream consciousness. Aside from being incredibly versatile, the technology has become accessible enough even for recreational use. When people think of 3D printers, they often conjure the image of plastic filaments being melted and extruded.
However, filament-based printing is not the only 3D printing technology. Powder-based 3D printing predates plastic filaments by a few decades and continues to be a relevant technique for many professionals and industries. What is powder-based printing and how exactly does it work? What are the different types of powder-based 3D printing?
What is powder-based 3D printing?
Powder-based 3D printing is an additive manufacturing method that uses raw material in powder form. This is in contrast to the filament materials used in other, more common 3D printing techniques. The powder material, in this case, can be either metal or plastic.
The basic principle of powder-based 3D printing is to promote the “binding” of the individual powder particles via the controlled emission of energy. This energy source can be either a laser, a narrow beam of UV light, or an electron beam. The specific method used for 3D printing, hardware parameters and the size of the powder particles all play a role in determining the characteristics of the finished print.
In all other aspects, powder-based 3D printing is similar to other 3D printing techniques. The process also starts with a 3D model of the desired design which then has to be processed by slicer software. This software generates very thin slices of the model which will correspond to layers that the 3D printer will build one by one.
With each successive layer of the powder raw material that the 3D printer binds together, the printer introduces a fresh layer of unprocessed raw powder. This process repeats until the whole model has been generated. In some cases, post-printing treatment will be needed to achieve the material’s optimal physical and chemical properties.
To better understand the technology and working principle of powder-based 3D printing, we’ll take a look at its two major categories: metal-based and plastic-based powder printing. Even for each category, several methods are available.
Metal-based powder printing

In metal-based powder printing, metal powder is fused together through the introduction of a high-energy beam or an agent that promotes binding. Just about all industrially significant metals can be processed via powder-based 3D printing including stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, copper, cobalt, nickel alloy, and chrome.
However, energy requirements and appropriate techniques may vary from one metal to another. For this reason, it’s rare to see a metal-based 3D printer that works well with such an expansive suite of powder metal types.
There are four major technologies used for metal...

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