Powder bed of a 3D printer. Source: Shapeways, www.Flikr.com
Powder bed of a 3D printer. Source: Shapeways, www.Flikr.com

Powder bed 3D printing is closely related to Inkjet head printing. Both parts make up the ZPrinter, the only powder bed printer available on the market. Like other 3D printers that use laser sintering technology, a welding head moves across a thin cross section of the material, heating and bonding its layers together.  

Powder bed printing was invented at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Z Corporation obtained exclusive rights to the technology in 1995. As of July 2013, two open source powder printers are currently available online, one through RepRap’s site. Neither of the current open source powder printers have the ZPrinter’s ability to print in full color.

Powder bed technology has some advantages and disadvantages over other materials used in 3D printing. The print size of the ZPrinter can be as large as 20 x 15 x 9 inches (508 x 381 x 229 mm). The finished material is somewhat like plaster. It tends to be brittle and very fragile. The materials and machines are quite expensive. Products can look a bit fuzzy or grainy due to the material quality.

Since inkjet head printing is so closely allied with powder bed printing, it is worth mentioning here as a positive that the ZPrinter’s ability to print in full color is currently only available in one other 3D printer— The Mcor “Iris”. No open source powder printer to date can claim that.