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Cultivating the Perfect Finish: A Comprehensive Guide to Surface Finishing in 3D Printing

Updated: Feb 19

Guide to Surface Finishing in 3D Printing

In recent years, additive manufacturing has surged in popularity, evolving from a niche technology to a versatile industrial method. Its capabilities span from rapid prototyping to the production of functional end-use parts. However, despite the remarkable advantages of 3D printing, including design flexibility and customization, achieving professional-quality finished parts often necessitates post-processing. This comprehensive guide explores the various post-processing methods essential for obtaining high-quality final 3D-printed models.

one popular method of surface finishing for 3D printing parts
one popular method of surface finishing for 3D printing parts, can be done manually, although automatic tools are also available.

The Art of Surface Sanding

In the world of 3D printing, extrusion-based techniques can leave behind visible imperfections like layer lines. Surface sanding emerges as a widely-used method to remedy these defects. This technique employs abrasives like sandpaper with varying grit sizes to smooth surfaces and eliminate imperfections, ensuring a flawless finish. Discover how sanding progresses from coarse to fine grits and the importance of maintaining model geometry during this process.

Guide to Surface Finishing in 3D Printing

Shot Peening and Bead Blasting for Strength

Two powerhouse methods, shot peening and bead blasting, play pivotal roles in enhancing the strength and durability of 3D-printed metal parts. Dive into the unique benefits of each technique. Learn how shot peening uses high-velocity compressed air to induce controlled plastic deformation, improving fatigue strength and corrosion resistance. Explore how bead blasting, in contrast, removes the top layer of material, refining aesthetics and preparing surfaces for coatings.

post-treatment technique used on both metal and plastic
This post-treatment technique can be used on both metal and plastic parts.

Vibratory Finishing and Tumbling

Discover the power of mass post-processing with vibratory finishing and tumbling. These techniques tackle multiple 3D-printed objects at once. Delve into the differences between them, as vibratory finishing excels at creating smoother and more homogeneous surfaces, while tumbling suits smaller, finely detailed parts. Learn about the speed disparities and considerations when mixing abrasive media.

Comparison between the raw part and the part after steam smoothing
Comparison between the raw part and the part after steam smoothing (photo credits: AMT)

The Glossy Finish of Vapor Smoothing

Unveil the secrets of vapor smoothing, a method that transforms 3D-printed surfaces into glossy, uniform wonders. Understand the science behind using gaseous solvents to melt and reshape surfaces, filling pores and sealing them for liquid or gas containment. Take note of compatible thermoplastics and the alternative method of solvent dipping for larger parts.

An example of manual coating of epoxy resin
An example of manual coating of epoxy resin

Epoxy Resin Magic: Coating and Infiltration

Epoxy resins step onto the stage, offering airtight surface finishes, improved heat resistance, and chemical resistance. Delve into the two application methods: manual coating and infiltration. Explore how manual coating suits smaller components and sections but may slightly alter part dimensions. Contrast it with epoxy infiltration, a faster and more practical solution for larger components, albeit at a higher cost.

On the right, the part after CNC machining (photo credits: Meltio)
On the right, the part after CNC machining

Harnessing CNC Machining for Flawless Surfaces

Learn how CNC machining complements 3D printing, particularly in technologies like direct energy deposition (DED). Dive into the necessity of CNC machining for smoothing and refining surfaces that result from the melting of metal during extrusion. Explore hybrid manufacturing solutions that seamlessly combine additive and subtractive technologies for efficient production.


As additive manufacturing continues to advance, mastering the art of surface finishing becomes increasingly critical. Each method discussed in this comprehensive guide plays a unique role in transforming 3D-printed models into professional-quality, high-performance parts. Whether you're an enthusiast or a professional in the field, understanding and implementing these techniques will unlock new possibilities in the world of 3D printing.

What do you think of the different methods for surface finishing in 3D printing? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages!

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