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This answer may not be as “exact” as you might like, but the concept is based on stereolithography, originally developed in the 1980s. Essentially, a 3D printer uses a virtual blueprint, like one devised by a CAD program, to build/print a model.
The printer itself will use raw material which must be loaded into the machine and appropriately configured in order to produce the item created by the imaging program. Certain printers will have limitations (e.g. some may only be able to manipulate plastics while more advanced printers can utilize soft metals) but ultimately use some material to build an object, layer by layer. This is antipodal to how most items are manufactured by today’s lathes which cut away material until the model of an object is complete. In 3D printing, the raw material is broken down then “sprayed” on each subsequent layer until the object is printed.
As material is not systematically removed from a mold of some sort, this process greatly reduces waste compared to traditional manufacturing processes. Objects made from 3D prints can have a variety of application including the production of specific machine parts, models, prosthetics... you name it. A gun was recently printed with this technology which has stirred up some controversy. Check out the 3D printed gun that was successfully printed with plastic materials.