Digitization refers to taking a physical object and turning it into data that can be processed by a computer.

I have been trying to find a word that refers to the opposite process of taking data (a 3D model or a design) and converting it to a physical model or representation. But just the process of converting the data to instruction for a printer and not the actual manufacturing of the object.

Specifically, I am trying to talk about the process that takes the digital design and creates instructions a printer would use to produce the physical model. Not the actual printing of the model.

3D printing has the word "slicing" that referees to this process, but is specific to processes where the model is manufactured layer by layer.

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    To compare to printing a document from a computer, this is the PostScript (or other PDL) output generated, and not a full rip (rasterization)? Also please edit the question to include an example sentence where this word or phrase would be used; this helps get a better answer.
    – tmgr
    Jan 23, 2019 at 8:34
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    Slicing is actually a decomposition process (reducing 3D data to 2D layers). Converting data to suit a specific device type is called formatting.
    – AmI
    Jan 23, 2019 at 8:40
  • I would call it parameterization -- converting discrete data into actionable parameters (to be directed to the printer in the example). It's still digital in nature and so it's not reverse of digitization. The real reversing takes place inside the printer. HTH.
    – Kris
    Jan 23, 2019 at 9:48
  • Most documents seem to use general terms like file translation, file export, processing for manufacture, etc. If a specific file format is used for a 3D printer (such as STL), you may talk of export, conversion, or processing to STL format. Individual software packages seem to use this kind of generic terms, suggesting there's not a single widely-used term. Is there a specific context, design flow, software package, or hardware you are using, that might provide more of a clue?
    – Stuart F
    Jan 23, 2019 at 10:56
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    The process is called computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). CAD or CAE files are transferred to CAM. CAM translates them into a process stream. Each machine normally post-processes these CAM files to produce machine-specific commands. See also the section on neutral file formats here.
    – Phil Sweet
    Feb 22, 2019 at 17:28

5 Answers 5




1: the action of materializing or becoming materialized

The verb to materialize meaning "to make something physical", or , "to come into or take a physical form". (Merriam-Webster again)

Something to note is that this is often used in supernatural instances, i.e. an evil spirit taking physical form, or materializing.

  • You really need to include the dictionary definition M-W gives showing that 'materialize' can be a transitive verb with the required meaning. Jun 22, 2019 at 13:36
  • I have now done so @EdwinAshworth, thank you for letting me know. I was unsure if it was necessary since the link to the verb's definition is featured on the page for the noun's definition, but now I know.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jun 22, 2019 at 16:16
  • In 'Digitization refers to taking a physical object and turning it into data', something is doing the digitizing. It needs to be shown that 'materialize' can similarly be used for 'to make something physical' rather than just 'to appear in physical form', so that the required sense of 'materialization' is shown to exist. Jun 22, 2019 at 16:57
  • @EdwinAshworth I did mention that, it is actually mentioned before "to come into or take a physical form". EDIT: I just noticed, it is mentioned before that in the Merriam-Webster definition.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jun 23, 2019 at 13:55
  • I was explaining why I gave the first comment, not making a further suggestion. 'To make something physical' almost certainly licenses the 'materialization + DO = the making physical of something'; the usual usage is the intransitive ('become material') one. Jun 23, 2019 at 14:29


In the signal processing world, telecommunications, and music industry there are analog-to-digital-converters (ADC) and digital-to-analog-converters (DAC) —- think modems, audio & video recordings, for example.

Have you considered a derivation of the term "replicator?" (Reference: Star Trek: The Next Generation)

"Replication" may serve as an analog to the "digitization" for which you seek.

Live long and prosper.

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    Hello, Manpun, and welcome to EL&U. Please feel free to take the Tour and see what the site requirements look like. Jan 23, 2019 at 14:38

How about realization Lexico/Oxford:

2.1 An actual form given to a concept or work. ‘a perfect realization of Bartók's Second Violin Concerto on disc’


I asked my husband the same question, and he said, “Printing!” So obvious that we all overlooked it. However, I do like the answers “materialization” and “realization.”

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    – Community Bot
    Feb 16 at 17:11
  • Don't think this works. The question says: "But just the process of converting the data to instruction for a printer and not the actual manufacturing of the object." Printing (at least to me) is manufacturing, where the ink is being put to paper (or 3D material to printer bed).
    – Laurel
    Feb 16 at 17:33

The process of formatting data into a structure that can be stored or transmitted easily is called serialization. "Slicing" in 3D printing can be viewed as a specific type of serialization, converting a 3D model to a linear set of instructions to be followed by the printer in sequence.

Rather than taking a physical object and expressing it in a form that can be processed by a computer, serialization takes a digital object and expresses it in a form that can be processed by a different computer or program. I wouldn't really call it an "opposite" of digitization, though, it's just a shuffling of bits which are already digital in nature - the end product is still digital.

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