What Language Do 3D Printers Use?

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This may get technical

How to Get Started with a 3D Printer

Computer language may use Arabic or English letters and numerals but the outcome is hardly in English or most other languages. Computer language is a communication tool all on its own and computer programming students need to learn how it is written if they want to get a computer or 3D printer to work like it should.

Like human languages, there are several different computer or 3D printing languages that need to be learned if one wants to use a computer to operate their 3D printer. #D printing is not all fun and games and the technical side can get tedious at times. But the end result is where the fun comes in.

To learn about the different languages used in 3D printing just continue to read our article. It has that information and more but be forewarned, it may get a bit tedious as language learning is not always like watching a movie.

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What Language Do 3D Printers Use?

Here is a chart that helps you see what languages are used in different aspects of 3D printing. It can be read at a glance in case you do not have a lot of time right now. You can always read the rest of the article later when you do have more time.

#3D print taskLanguage
1.3D modelingc/c++ or javascript
2.CAD programsc/c++ or javascript
3.SlicingG code then c/c++
4.Embedded softwarec/c++ or any other language that fits the hardware
5.Other optionsDelphi, Julia and others

3D file formats

Besides the different languages that can be used to create 3D prints and have the printers do a great job, there are different file formats that are used to communicate those languages.

  1. STL- which is stereolithography and operates in a single color only style.
  2. VRML- or Virtual Reality Modeling Language and this does work in more than one color being a newer 3D format. It needs more than one extruder to do that though.
  3. AMF- also known as Additive Manufacturing File Format and it also works in color and can be compressed to about half the file size that STL is created at.
  4. GCode- this is the very detailed instruction format that provides the 3D printer with exact and specific commands and instructions.
  5. OBJ- the second most popular file format behind STL and works along the same line as lesser used FBX & COLLADA formats.
  6. 3MF- this file format is looking to be the one that overtakes STL in use and popularity. It was developed by Microsoft.

The reason we mention these codes is because 3D printers do not really use a programming language according to some experts. They only operate through these codes which provides them the printing information they need to produce the print you want.

Those codes are called assembly languages and they need to be understood if you are going to correct any bad files or make changes to the print design.

How the different languages work in 3D printing

GCode is where the main information and communication between computer and printer take place. This code is a simple syntax and semantic so it may not be that difficult to learn but all languages used to create the different files are transformed into a form of GCode before the printer can operate.

A micro controller is needed to interpret that code and then directs the printer on what operation it needs to carry out. There are a series of input and output operations that need to be done in order to get the file data into a real print.

The different languages used to create the files are C, C++, Perl, Java, python ecc e.g. Cura, Slic3r, Simplify3D and many others. These languages are then translated into a subset of GCode before the printer actually works.

It is possible that some 3D printers use Arduino code which is a subset of C.

Why do the 3 letter extensions matter?

As you see the different file formats listed above, there are a couple of good reasons why they are used. Here are those reasons:

  1. The file format decides what information the printer receives- file formats are limited and are not designed to carry a lot of different information. STL, for example, only has information for one kind of material and one color. Other file formats are needed for other designs.
  2. Compatibility is the main issue- not all 3D printers can accept all different formats. The file formats just are not compatible with all 3D software and hardware.

The STL format

This one style will be highlighted here as it was the original file format style invented by the man credited with inventing the 3D printer. This format got its start back in about 1987 and has been used by more professionals than any other format.

  1. It is the simplest format for anyone to use.
  2. STL supports both binary and ASCII encodings, the former being smaller files and the latter for larger ones.
  3. It worked with original 3D printers as their first designs were only capable of printing in a single material.
  4. People use this file format because it is old and simple to use.

STL may be popular and the standard but it does have its faults as well:

  1. It is an outdated file format system.
  2. STL stores redundant information.
  3. The format is slow and filled with errors.
  4. There is no checking system for watertight geometry.
  5. Unusable with advanced printers because it doesn’t store more information than geometry.

Some final words

As you can see, there are many different languages you can use to create 3D printing files. But they are all turned into a subset of GCode so you should pick the language that meets your print requirements and are easiest for you to use.

The language is not as important as the file format when it comes to printing and if you use STL, your prints will be restricted to one style and color. Look for printers that use better file formats to aid your creativity and production.

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