ProtoCAM: Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping.

Additive Manufacturing Post-Processing

April 7, 2016

Post Processing

Additive Manufacturing Post-Processing

What is post-processing?

Post-processing is an essential stage of additive manufacturing. It’s the last step in the manufacturing process, where parts receive finishing touches such as smoothing and painting.

Why is post-processing important?

Post-processing improves the quality of parts and ensures that they meet their design specifications. The finishing process can enhance a part’s surface characteristics, geometric accuracy, aesthetics, mechanical properties, and more. For samples and prototypes, this can mean the difference between a sale or a loss. For production parts, finishing creates a part that is ready to use.

Post-processing capacity

It’s important to consider an additive manufacturer’s finishing capacity when placing your order. Some companies dedicate only a small area of their facility to finishing. This can lead to expensive post-processing, outsourcing, or bottlenecks at the finishing stage of production. It can also be an incentive to rush through finishing.

At ProtoCAM, we know how important post-processing is, which is why 80% of our facility is dedicated to post-processing. We offer you all types of finishing processes and levels, and make sure every finishing job is done right. Our large finishing capacity ensures that your parts are made quickly and with attention to detail.

Common Finishing Processes

Many different post-processing techniques exist. Additive manufacturing companies often specialize in certain types of finishing, and may even have their own proprietary finishing process. Below are common finishing techniques, as well as proprietary techniques found only at ProtoCAM. These techniques may be slightly modified for specialty materials.


The natural finish is the most basic finish. It cleans and sands the places where support structures held the part in the AM machine. The finish does not affect the part’s geometry, and is ideal for parts with small features.


This is the most common finish. It begins with the natural finish, described above. Next, the part is bead blasted to create a uniform matte surface.

  • Results: Uniform smoothness for good aesthetics. A professional look and feel.
  • Available for: SLA
  • Best used for: Uniform matte prototypes. Production parts with average aesthetic requirements.

Standard + Exterior

This finish begins with the bead-blasted standard finish, described above. Next, the part’s exterior surface is sanded to remove build lines or stair stepping, creating an extremely smooth, low-friction surface. This finish is ideal for parts that slide against another surface. It’s also recommended for high-quality prototypes.

  • Results: Extremely smooth outer surface and superior aesthetics.
  • Available for: SLA, PolyJet
  • Best used for: Production parts needing a low-friction surface. High-quality prototypes.

Standard  + All

This finish begins with the bead-blasted standard finish, and adds sanding over both the interior and exterior of the part. It is ideal for making master patterns for casting or other types of foundry molds. The completely smooth surface makes it easy to remove a master pattern from the mold without the pattern catching on build lines or stair stepping.

  • Results: Completely smooth surface, inside and out.
  • Available for: SLA, PolyJet
  • Best used for: Foundry patterns.


For this finish, a part is coated with primer after the Standard + External finishing process. Two coats are applied, with a round of light sanding in between, if necessary. Primed parts are smooth and fully prepped for your in-house paint department, saving hours of labor.

  • Results: Exceptional smoothness, paint-ready parts.
  • Available for: SLA, SLS, PolyJet
  • Best used for: Paint-ready pieces for your in-house paint department or specialty painting contractor.


This finish delivers a completed, ready-to-show part. It can be brought to a trade show, presented to a customer, or used in marketing photos and video right away. The ProtoCAM team paints the part for a final production look. We mix automotive-grade paints to create finely tuned colors for an exact match.

  • Results: A fully-painted, ready-to-show display part with the highest aesthetics.
  • Available for: SLA, SLS, PolyJet
  • Best used for: Painted, show-ready pieces.


For clear SLA parts, the part is sanded where supports were used during production. A coat of clear urethane is applied to the sanded areas to restore a finished shine. The clarity of the part may vary in sections, and build lines and stair stepping may remain.

  • Results: A clear part with a basic look-through finish and some opacity.
  • Available for: SLA
  • Best used for: Clear proof-of-concept prototypes or functional finished parts.

Improved Clear

For improved clarity, build lines and stair stepping are removed from the part’s surface. Then the entire part is sanded and a clear coat of urethane is applied.

  • Results: A clear part with a high level of surface consistency and clarity.
  • Available for: SLA
  • Best used for: Clear, show-ready pieces.

Clear Bottle: A Proprietary Finishing Process

Bottles and similar parts with small entries traditionally present a finishing challenge: their large internal surfaces usually remain matte and cloudy. But with ProtoCAM’s proprietary Clear Bottle finish, customers can achieve exceptional clarity on even the most complex pieces.

Our Clear Bottle finish almost perfectly replicates the look of a mass production plastic bottle. It has a truly clear, see-through surface on both the interior and the exterior.

  • Results: Exceptional transparency for complex parts, bottles, and other items with small entries and large internal surfaces.
  • Available for: SLA
  • Best used for: Crystal-clear prototypes and samples. Ideal for bottles, containers, complex clear tubes and vessels.

USP Class VI

This finish ensures that medical-grade parts and prototypes conform to USP Class VI certification. These parts are safe for in vivo use.

  • Results: A USP Class VI-certified part that is safe for in vivo use.
  • Available for: SLA
  • Best used for: Medical-device prototypes and production parts.


This finish includes the dyeing of a part black for a matte finish. More color options coming soon.

Results: Black-dyed part resulting in a clean, matte look.
Available for: MJF, SLS


Smoothing may be accomplished by hand, or chemically, to achieve a smooth and clean product feel.

Results: Chemically or hand-smoothed part with smooth surface feel.
Available for: MJF, FDM, SLS


ProtoCAM also offers plating options; plating helps to enhance the strength, visualization, and overall value of your project. The design and build phases are critical when plating is desired to allow room for the additional plating and to create a structure that will be strong enough in the end product.

Various materials will be affected by our plating processes differently, so it is very important to choose an appropriate material type and technology to build the plated parts. Our engineers are always available to assist you in choosing the correct technology and materials for your desired end product. Our available plating materials, which can be utilized for both SLA and MJF parts include:

  • Nickel – ideal for strength and aesthetics
  • Vacuum Metalized Aluminum – ideal for aesthetics (replicates a chrome finish)

Thickness of the metal plating is also a factor to consider and will depend on the desired end product. Our engineers work with each customer to determine the appropriate thickness that will achieved their ideal final piece.

Please contact us to learn more about what options are available for your additive manufacturing project.

Metal Inserts

We utilize professional thermal inserter equipment to offer the option of including metal inserts in thermoplastic parts to our customers. Our inserter equipment has accurate control of temperature to prevent damage to plastic parts and provides a strong, permanent installation of inserts with high resistance to rotation and pull-out. Our equipment also allows for inserts of many different sizes and is available for use with any of our technologies.

Please contact us to learn more about what options are available for your additive manufacturing project.

Advanced Finishing

Does your project require special, advanced finishing not covered by our standard levels? Check out some past examples of our advanced finishing work in our Advanced Finishing Gallery to see if our services might fit your unique project, then contact us today to get started.

Get the highest quality finished parts from ProtoCAM

Trust ProtoCAM for your next additive manufacturing project. We specialize in advanced post-processing techniques that create new orders, repeat customers, and dependable performance parts. Request a quote from ProtoCAM for your next project—because the quality of your parts depends on the quality of your post-processing.