Explaining the difference between additive manufacturing and 3D printing is at once very simple and somewhat complicated. On the simple side, the two terms can mean the same thing. 3D printers create objects using an additive manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing is only possible with a 3D printer.
But here is where the explanation of the differences gets more complex. While they mean the same thing, they are used in different circumstances.
When the Term Additive Manufacturing is Used
Additive manufacturing is the process of building an object by adding material to it. Traditional manufacturing processes use subtractive manufacturing techniques, including CNC machining, milling and injection molding. The basic principle of subtractive manufacturing is to remove material to get the finished product.
Considering that it is a relatively technical term referring to a manufacturing process, “additive manufacturing” is mainly used by those involved in the manufacturing sector, research and development, and in industries with a high level of manufacturing requirements like automotive and aerospace.
When the Term 3D Printing is Used
Digital printing, at least the 2D variety, has been common for decades, which makes the concept of 3D printing a little easier for most people to grasp, especially versus the term ‘additive manufacturing’.
So “3D printing” is more often used by the public and those in traditional and digital media who create content for public consumption.
What About Direct Digital Manufacturing, Layer-Based Manufacturing & 3D Manufacturing
If you were wondering about the difference between the two terms, then you may have also come across the terms direct digital manufacturing, layer-based manufacturing & 3D manufacturing. These are easy to explain. They all are used to refer to the additive manufacturing process, or 3D printing.
If you want to learn more about additive manufacturing, check out our article “How 3D Printing Is Transforming Manufacturing”.