3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing

3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, is the process by which a three-dimensional object is built from a computer model by laying down successive layers of material.  At MSU, students and researchers are finding a growing number of 3D Printing applications including electronics prototyping, anatomical modeling, and an innovative Makerspace learning space

Production processes and materials vary greatly between 3D printing applications, each having its own unique set of health and safety hazards. This web page provides a broad overview of health and safety considerations for 3D printing.

If you have an FDM or SLA printer, please review the appropriate fact sheet. If you have a different type, please review the Full 3D printing Safety Document, where most printer types are found. All 3D printers are required to be registered with EHS. Please contact Tyler McCord, Industrial Hygienist, at mccordty@msu.edu to schedule an in-person appointment to receive an ID# and determine proper safety controls.

SLA Fact Sheet (PDF)

FDM Fact Sheet (PDF)

Full 3D Printing Safety Document (PDF)


  • 3D Printing Methods

    3D printing methods are typically organized into seven categories based on the way the material is joined:

    Material Extrusion – The most common form of Material Extrusion is Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), in which a thermoplastic filament such as PLA or ABS is melted and deposited in layers by a moving nozzle.  Most low-cost, consumer-grade desktop printers use FDM.

    Vat Polymerization – The most common form is known as stereolithography (SLA). Works by focusing a UV laser on a photopolymer resin, which hardens the resin in successive layers.

    Material Jetting – Selectively deposits droplets of feed material, such as inks, onto a build platform. When the droplets cool and solidify, the next layer is deposited on top.

    Binder Jetting – A liquid binder is sprayed onto a bed of ceramic or metal powder, causing it to solidify. The process is repeated in successive layers to build the 3D object. 

    Powder Bed Fusion – Most common form is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Plastics, metals, ceramics, or glass powders are fused together using lasers or an adhesive to form a solid structure. 

    Directed Energy Deposition (DED) – A metal powder or wire is melted at the same time it is being deposited by a moving print head.

    Sheet Lamination – Creates 3D objects by using a laser or other sharp blade to cut and bond thin-layered materials (e.g., paper, aluminum foil) together layer-by-layer.
  • 3D Printing Hazards

    The hazards of 3D printing are as varied as its applications:

    Chemical Vapors – ABS and PLA filaments have been shown to produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) when heated in 3D printing processes.  Exposure to VOCs can headache, nausea, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.  Organic solvents used in post-processing vapor baths such as alcohol and acetone vaporize readily and pose an inhalation hazard.

    Nanoparticle Emissions – ABS, PLA, and other filaments produce inhalable nanoparticles (NPs) when heated during 3D printing.  Additionally, the use of NP-containing media can emit inhalable NPs into the surrounding atmosphere. The health effects of NPs are not well understood, but preliminary research suggests that inhalation is associated with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases.

    Corrosive Baths – Support material can be removed by placing prints in a heated corrosive bath containing sodium hydroxide or other caustic chemicals.  Exposure to these chemicals can cause serious chemical burns, scarring, and blindness.

    Vapor Baths – ABS objects can be smoothed or “polished” by placing them in a closed vessel filled with a small quantity of acetone or other organic solvent, which vaporizes and reacts with the ABS plastic.  These solvents are usually flammable and can cause symptoms when inhaled such as headache, nausea, and respiratory tract irritation.

    Biological Material – Printers using biological material can produce aerosols which may be inhaled or deposited onto nearby surfaces.

    Heat – Components such as UV lamps, motors, heat beds, and print heads become hot during operation and can cause burns when touched.

    Flammability – Fine metal powders such as aluminum, steel, and titanium can spontaneously combust under normal atmospheric conditions.  Organic solvents like acetone used in vapor polishing can combust when exposed to a heat source.  Chemicals used in bed preparation such as hairspray are flammable.

    Inert Gas – 3D printers sometimes use inert gases such as nitrogen or argon to create a non-combustible atmosphere in the printing chamber.  Some aerosol jet printers use an inert gas as part of the aerosolization and deposition process.  If inert gas is introduced into the surrounding atmosphere, it can displace oxygen and present an asphyxiation hazard.

    Electric Shock – Unguarded electrical components and damaged power cords can result in electric shock.

    Metal Powders – Fine powders made of aluminum, titanium, steel, and other metals pose a significant health and safety hazard. Personal exposure can cause chronic health effects, and improper handling can cause difficult-to-extinguish fires, or even explosions.

    Mechanical Hazards – Hands and fingers can get pinched by moving printer components while in operation.  CNC post-processing of metal parts presents mechanical and noise hazards. 

    Ultraviolet Light/Lasers – Eye exposure to the UV lights used in SLA printers can cause temporary or permanent vision loss.  Directed Energy Deposition and Powder Bed Fusion printers often use powerful Class 4 lasers which can cause permanent eye injury from direct or reflected light.

  • General Safety Provisions
    • Before operating a 3D printer, ensure you are familiar with the correct, safe operation of the printer.
    • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on printer setup and usage.
    • Safety Data Sheets (SDS/MSDS) for materials used with 3D printers should be reviewed prior to use. Printed copies should be kept onsite and made available to employees.
    • Never bypass safety controls or defeat interlocks once the printing process has started.
    • Do not place flammable liquids near 3D printers. The heated components of 3D printers can cause the flammable liquid to catch fire.
    • If the manufacturer offers enclosures or exhaust ventilation kits, they should be purchased if possible. This will reduce air contamination and decrease the risk of hand/finger pinches from moving parts.
    • Never work alone when using hazardous chemicals. It is permissible to work alone when using consumer-grade printers that use solid media.
    • Know the locations of emergency equipment relevant to the hazards of your printer, such as fire extinguishers and eyewash stations.