All Posts
Industry Insights

Seven Ways 3D Printing is Used for Education

Technology has made great strides in the classroom. From overhead projectors in the 1930s to handheld calculators in the 1970s to the normalization of computers in the 2000s, technology has helped educators make classrooms more engaging and prepare students for post-graduate plans. 

Now, 3D printing has the power to revolutionize the classroom. Advancements in 3D printing have made the technology more accessible and affordable, leading to their rising popularity in educational settings.  

Educators from virtually every academic discipline can use 3D printing in the classroom, for both in-person and online classes. When educators thoughtfully integrate this technology into the classroom, they can improve learning outcomes like improving analytical and critical thinking skills.

Read on to learn the seven ways that 3D printing is used to create hands-on learning environments, to empower creativity, to prepare students for the workforce, and more.  They are:

  1. Create a Hands-On Learning Environment

  2. Empower Creativity and Innovation

  3. Facilitate Real-World Understanding

  4. Prepare for Post-Graduate Plans

  5. Bolster Digital Engagement

  6. Improve Problem Solving Skills

  7. Leverage Design Thinking

Create a Hands-On Learning Environment

Students have more fun in class when the learning environment involves their participation. Spending time in class looking at slides can only do so much to pique their interest and hold their attention. 3D printing makes learning active, empowering students to use critical thinking skills in creating their models. Engaging classes mean students can better learn advanced topics while improving skills like problem solving. Furthermore, 3D printing supports students with different learning styles: both tactile and visual learners benefit greatly from 3D printing.

For example, at Morrison Tech, nearly all their engineering courses incorporate 3D printing. Students learn 3D printing for product development and prototyping, creating functional parts like gears. Engineers go through the same process: by 3D printing, students can get a taste of how engineers do their jobs, gaining practical experience.

Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing is ideal for detailed custom models, such as anatomical models for biology or medical disciplines.

3D printing is not just for engineering coursework. There is an array of uses for 3D printing across academic disciplines: biology students can print organs, chemistry students can study 3D printed molecules, graphic design students can create 3D versions of their art, history students can print historical artifacts, and architecture students can print 3D models of their building designs.

The hands-on learning environment is not lost with remote classes. As Michael Silver, an architecture professor at the University of Kentucky College of Design and Architecture, demonstrated, students were able to design building models that Silver printed and mailed to the students. Having a physical model helps students understand concepts. Despite being a remote class, 3D printing made the class an immersive experience.

Empower Creativity and Innovation

Creative skills are not only underestimated, but critical to the development of a success student. Creativity is how new ideas and novel solutions arise. 3D printing is inherently creative, enabling students to think through how to solve problems with 3D printing, design models using CAD software, and figure out how to optimize the 3D printing process. Furthermore, especially for art applications, students can paint their models, taking their creativity to new heights.

Parts printed with SLA 3D printing boast a smooth surface finish, incredible detail, and are also easy to paint.

At UMass Lowell, Professor Yuko Oda incorporated 3D printing to enhance her 3D Design, Sculpture, and 3D Modeling and Animation courses. One significant development in sculpture is combining Virtual Reality (VR) and 3D printing. VR reduces barriers for 3D design, enabling artists and students to create with their hands in programs such as Oculus Medium. At the 8th grade level, Yuko has taught students how to create a 3D object in 30 minutes in VR, then print the artwork on a 3D printer. 3D printing opens up new avenues for innovation.

Facilitate Real-World Understanding

If preparation for life outside of school is one of the purposes higher education serves, then it is important for educators to create opportunities for students to better understand how skills obtained in the classroom can be applied to professional work. Telling students is not as effective as showing students—and what better way to show than with 3D printing?

Dental students in Turkey performed root canal treatment on the samples of 3D printed models.

For example, 3D printed models can help students improve understanding of anatomy. At the Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University in Turkey, 3D printing teeth models enabled remote dentistry education.

“The Formlabs Form 3B is a perfect 3D printer with a large build platform that empowers us to print 80 molar teeth in 9 hours. Details of the printed teeth are really sharp and the accuracy is really high, so we managed to print the demo teeth for the students," said Mr. Yosunçığır.

Using resins optimized for health care industry applications like Elastic Resin or BioMed Clear Resin, students can print 3D models of bones, organs, cells, and other biological components. In medical education, 3D printing can prepare students for operations by creating models. This type of visualization is extremely valuable, helping surgical teams plan their operations.

Prepare for Post-Graduate Plans

3D printing is a skill valued in the workplace. It’s not just jobs in the engineering and manufacturing industries using 3D printing: 3D printing touches every corner, from entertainment to jewelry. A report by Grand View Research found the global 3D printing market size was valued at USD 11.58 billion in 2019 and is expected to expand at a CAGR exceeding 14% from 2020 to 2027. Globally, approximately 1.4 million units of 3D printers were shipped in 2018 and this number is expected to reach 8 million units by 2027.

This growth in adoption of 3D printers is driving demand for 3D design skill sets among graphic design students. 3D printing is made possible by designers constructing models. As the demand for customized products rises, designing custom models becomes more important than ever. Research and development (R&D) jobs also involve 3D printing knowledge. Producing consumer products requires intensive analysis, and R&D professionals can figure out how to reduce costs and improve efficiency with technologies like 3D printing. Modeling is also needed for jobs that involve biology, from prosthetics to organs. Architecture and construction modeling also demonstrate a great need for 3D printing, as they rely heavily on prototyping.

When students learn about 3D printing in school, their job preparedness improves. By learning 3D printing in school, students can better prepare for creative roles after graduation.

Bolster Digital Engagement

In an increasingly digital world, students need to learn how to utilize digital technology to their advantage. Digital technology sometimes gets a bad reputation for distracting from learning, but when used correctly, digital technology helps students learn how to engage with the world in a way that is enriching. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in: workplaces ranging from studio art to manufacturing have modernized. By incorporating 3D printing into the curriculum, educators can encourage students to understand digital workflows better. 3D printing involves more than a 3D printer: students immersing themselves in 3D printing have to understand the entire process, from CAD design to post processing. 

For example, students can learn the photogrammetry workflow, the act of deriving precise measurements from photographs. Photogrammetry involves taking a set of overlapping photos of an object, building, person, or environment, and converting them into a 3D model using a number of computer algorithms. 

Improve Problem Solving Skills

3D printing solves problems in the real world. For example, it was a solution to addressing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same logic translates to the classroom. Without a doubt, 3D printing requires students to use their problem solving skills. When a student embarks on a 3D printing project, they face several key questions, including:

  1. What will my 3D printed part be used for?

  2. What should I consider in designing the model, choosing materials, and finishing the part?

  3. How can I tailor my 3D printing process so that it’s efficient?

These are just a few questions. But they require critical thinking about the project in front of them. Students have to be able to move from abstract ideas to a 3D printed object, understanding how those concepts relate to one another. When prototyping, they have to be able to test and evaluate a design’s success in achieving their end goal, thinking beyond just functionality. 3D printing encourages students to approach problems in a logical, systemic way, while also encouraging creative thinking.

Leverage Design Thinking

Design thinking is more than a buzzword. It is defined as “an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.” More than a fleeting trend, design thinking is here to stay, with major brands like Apple and Google adopting this approach. How does 3D printing help with design thinking?

Collaboration is a key component of design thinking, and 3D printing can foster collaboration among peers when educators set group projects. In group 3D printing projects, students learn from each other’s perspectives and working styles. Iterating is another key aspect of design thinking. 3D printing encourages students to improve their design based on previous results and feedback. 


3D printing is multifaceted technology that can bring out the best in students. Educators across all academic disciplines and levels can provide a better, more engaging learning experience for students and achieve learning outcomes by incorporating 3D printing. From firing students’ imaginations to teaching them how concepts apply to the real world, 3D printing is invaluable.

For more about 3D printing for education, visit our education resources page.