3D printer parts: Essential components and functions

3D printers

FDM printing is one of the most popular 3D printing methods available that challenges and inspires millions of creative minds in producing captivating 3D models creating a revolution in many industries such as healthcare and aerospace. In this article, we will discuss different 3D printer parts and how they function. We will also break down how you can increase the functionality of your printer and optimize your 3D prints.

Introduction to 3D printer parts

Beginners often struggle to produce quality 3D prints because they are yet to familiarise themselves with 3D printer parts. Better knowledge of these parts helps with the troubleshooting process which is important to print high-quality models.

Understanding how to properly level the print bed confirms better bed adhesion eliminating the chances of print failure. Likewise, knowledge about extruders, stepper motors, and the hotend helps you figure out the precise setting to get fine 3D prints. Your electronics and firmware expertise allows you to fine-tune, customise and upgrade the printer’s performance.

Here, we have separated 3D printer parts into four categories which we will discuss in length throughout the article.

  1. Mainboard
  2. Axes
  3. Heating Elements
  4. Additional Features


The central control: Mainboard explained

The central control is the core hub of a 3D printer. It is connected to all the electric components of a 3D printer. And some of the chief parts of the control board include:


It works to convert the codes of the software to a bunch of instructions that the printer can understand. These processors tend to be either 8 or 32 bits. Some motherboards are designed to consume less power and work effectively without making annoying noise such as Creality CR-200B Silent Motherboard.


This is where all the electronic 3D printer parts are connected either in the form of DuPont connectors, terminal blocks, or USB.

Stepper drivers

A regular 3D printer has four stepper drivers (one for the filament extruder and the rest three for the x, y, and z axes) that regulate power and disperse it to different coils in a stepper motor. This is how the motors rotate.


Your commands need to transform into G-codes and then be fed to the printer so it can follow them. You can send this program via an SD card or over WIFI.

mainboard 1

Firmware and instructions

Firmware is a part of the motherboard that oversees the operational part of a printer managing different components throughout the process. It is a software working as an intermediary between the slicer software and the hardware of the printer sending G-codes from the former to the latter.

Firmware manages the following critical functions

Movements of stepper motor

Firmware interprets the instructions provided through G-codes and manages the stepper motors movements of the X, Y, and Z-axis

Temperature regulation

To get quality prints, you have to print at the right temperature. Firmware controls the temperature of the hotend and the heated plate. This way the extruder melts the filament properly.

Bed levelling

For better filament adhesion you must make sure that the build plate is levelled correctly. Firmware also has a role in this respect as it enables both manual and auto-levelling features. But all 3D printers don’t come with the auto-levelling feature so many of us find it a bit troublesome. In that case, you can get an auto bed levelling kit to avoid certain issues.

bed levelling kit 1

Cooling fans

It regulates the cooling fans so the print layers get to cool down evenly lowering the risk of warping.

Safety features

Firmware also facilitates end-stop detection and thermal runaway protection.

Significance of a properly functioning mainboard

Mainboard is where all the important works are processed. A properly functioning mainboard ensures the right motor movements, and proper implementation of G-code, and lowers print failure while ensuring a safe environment for printing. It increases the quality of the print, incorporates safety features, and continues to update the firmware. Through this, the users can customise certain features, and optimise settings allowing them to explore the full potential of the printer.



Understanding the various axes in a 3D printer

X, Y, and Z are the axes a 3D printer mainly works in. The X-axis works on the horizontal movements of the printer whereas Y-axis represents the back-and-forth movements of the print head. The Z-axis enables the print head to move vertically extruding filament in layers.

It’s really important to understand the operating mechanism of the axis to fully comprehend how the printer works. This would help to readjust your design, calibrate the set parameters and learn proper maintenance to optimise the print quality.

Extruders: Moving, loading, and extruding filament

This is where the inserted filament melts and extrudes in layers to build an object. It has several components that load and moves the filament to melt it for extrusion. Following are the 3D printer parts of the extruder:

Nozzle: It is a tiny opening from which the melted filament extrudes. These nozzles come in different sizes and depending on the size the print resolution can vary as well as the print speed.

nozzle 1

Heater block: The heating element from the heater block properly melts the inserted filament.

Heat break: As the name suggests, this component is responsible for stopping the heat from breaking and going up. This 3D printer part resides between the cold end and the heater block. Because of this part, the filament doesn’t get clogged.

Cold end: You may also know it as a filament feeder as it carries the filament to the hot end all the while keeping a consistent pressure on the filament for a smoother extrusion.

Stepper motor: The 3D printer part operates to transfer the filament across the extruder assembly in a precise way.

Cooling fan: Your printer extruder may have cooling fans to cool down the newly extruded filament layers evenly and protect them from warping.

cooling fans 1

X, Y, and Z axes: Shaping the printed model

As mentioned, the X-axis moves from right to left and left to right. It controls the build plate or the print head along with the X-direction based on the printer type. If the print head moves to the right part of the model, it prints specifically that part and the same is done for the left side too.

The Y axis is responsible for the horizontal movement of the print head shifting from the back to the front and vice versa. Thus, when the print head shifts in the front it prints the front part of the model and the same happens for the back part.

The Z axis controls the height of the model as it regulates the up and downshifting of the print head or the build plate. Because of the vertical movement the nozzle deposits layer after layer of molten filament to give the print the desired height.

As the three axis moves in different directions it prints different sides of the model bringing forth the shape you were looking for. Depending on the digital design of the print and the coded instruction the printer moves its X, Y, and Z axis while the nozzle extrudes melted filaments in precise layers to form the print model.

Driver boards: Interpreting instructions and motor control

The role of driver boards is to interpret motor signals and commands so they can be relayed to regulate the movements of the 3D printer parts or components. The interface of the driver boards takes in the G-code commands and controls the motor movement accordingly.

They transform the g-code instructions into electrical signals and transfer them to the stepper motors which then regulate the supply of power to the motors managing their position and rotation. They have limit switches, endstops, tandem, and encoders to micromanage the precise movement evading collisions.

Heating elements

Key heating elements in a 3D printer

Typically, a 3D printer has five key heating elements some of which you might know from earlier discussion. Hotend is the first heating element in which the heating block and the nozzle reside to melt the filament. The second is the heated bed that keeps the print surface warm so the filament layers attach to the bed nicely preventing the risk of warping. Heatbed thermistor is the third key heating element, a temperature sensor, that checks the print surface temperature so you can adjust it if needed.

The fourth is a high-wattage heating 3D printer part called a heater cartridge. It is a hotend component that melts filaments. Heat break is the final heating element that keeps the hot area of the hotend separated from the cold end.

The bed: Preheating and maintaining temperature

Some of the best print bed materials tend to be PEI, borosilicate, carborundum glass, or magnetic flex plates for their better print removal and remarkable adhesion that lowers the risk of print coming off the bed or warping. Heating the print bed before printing and maintaining a certain temperature throughout the whole process is important. Filament sticks to a heated surface better creating a strong foundation for the print. Maintaining a steady temperature during printing ensures one layer sticks to another perfectly. While some filaments don’t need a heated bed most of them do. If the bed isn’t heated, the filament layers cool down faster leading to poor layer adhesion. It can end up deforming the print or layer separation lowering the mechanical strength of the model.

printing bed 1

The hotend: Melting filament for extrusion

Depending on the filament you need to set the extruder temperature. The hotend normally consists of a cartridge heater, a heating element, and a nozzle. The heating element increases the hotend temperature till the filament melting point. The extruder has two ends, one hot and one cold. You need to feed the filament through the coldend which will then be carried to the hotend for melting. The nozzle then extrudes this molten filament onto the print bed for building the print.

Tips for selecting the right hotend

Consider the following tips when choosing the right hotend

  • Check if it is compatible with the printer you have.
  • Check the temperature range of the hotend to ensure that it can melt the filament you work with.
  • Based on your print requirement choose the right size of the nozzle.
  • Check the heat-up time of the hotend since rapid heat-up supports efficiency.
  • Purchase from a renowned brand to get long-lasting and durable hotend.
  • Always read reviews about a product to ensure it performs as promised and is reliable

Additional features and upgrades

Enhancing 3D printer functionality

By making some upgrades and changes you can enhance the functionality of the 3D printer. For that, you must do the following:

  1. To accelerate the performance of the printer, install high-grade stepper motors, print beds, and hotends.
  2. Update the firmware of the printer when available to enjoy the new features.
  3. Add extra features such as a filament sensor, auto bed levelling sensor, and dual extrusion.
  4. Upgrade the printer’s cooling solution by adding more fans.
  5. Make frequent calibration of the printer for better printing accuracy.
  6. Attune the slicer settings to lower filament wastage and improve print quality and speed.

Unique features of certain printers

Some 3D printers come with auto bed levelling, dual extrusion, or an enclosed print chamber. With a large build volume, some of them can print a larger model at once. The filament is another unique feature that notifies you when you need to reload the filament. Wi-Fi connectivity and LCD Touchscreens have become a fairly common feature, allowing better control and an easier file-transferring experience.

Enclosures for temperature control

Even seasoned users find it difficult to print with high-temperature filaments such as nylon copolymer, PETG, and ABS since you have to maintain a certain temperature during printing for quality 3D prints. Else the print surface becomes uneven; extrusion problem arises along with other printing issues. Using an enclosure maintains a consistent printing temperature, prevents temperature fluctuations, and protects from dust and debris.

enclousure 1

HEPA filters for particle filtration

Working with filaments such as ABS can be dangerous as it produces harmful fumes. HEPA filtration is a way to filter the harmful particles and fumes produced during printing. It can entrap even microparticles and erratic organic compounds. HEPA filtration can upgrade the air circulation of a printer reducing health risks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the essential components of a 3D printer?

3D printer parts such as print bed, hotend, motherboard, stepper motors, frame, and nozzle are some of the essential components of a 3D printer.

How does the mainboard control the printer’s operations?

It regulates the printer’s operation by translating the G-codes sent from the slicer into understandable commands for the printer to follow. Mainboard controls the fans, stepper motors, temperature, and other 3D printer parts so they act in an organized and accurate way.

How do the heating elements, such as the bed and hotend, work?

They work through electrical resistance generating heat when electric current goes through the resistive material of the heating element. The heat in the hotend melts the filament and the bed when heated helps the filament layers attach better on the surface.

Can different nozzle sizes be used for different printing requirements?

Yes, depending on your printing need and design intricacy you can use several sizes of nozzles. A small nozzle ensures fine detailing and better print resolution taking more time whereas a bigger nozzle prints faster making the model exterior rougher.

What are the considerations when selecting a print bed and print surface?

The things you should consider when selecting a print bed and print surface are filament compatibility, durability, adhesiveness, build volume of the printer, and print removal ease.

The bottom line is that 3D printer parts have a crucial role to play regarding precision and functionality. Understanding how these parts work makes the printing process smoother, improves the print quality, and lowers the occurrence of printing issues.


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