Purpose – This paper provides an overview of the different binding mechanisms in selective laser sintering (SLS) and selective laser melting (SLM), thus improving the understanding of these processes. Design/methodology/approach – A classification of SLS/SLM processes was developed, based on the binding mechanism occurring in the process, in contrast with traditional classifications based on the processed material or the application. A broad range of commercial and experimental SLS/SLM processes – found from recent articles as well as from own experiments – was used to explain the different binding mechanism categories. Findings – SLS/SLM processes can be classified into four main binding mechanism categories, namely “solid state sintering”, “chemically induced binding”, “liquid phase sintering – partial melting” and “full melting”. Most commercial processes can be classified into the latter two categories, which are therefore subdivided. The binding mechanism largely influences the process speed and the resulting part properties. Research limitations/implications – The classification presented is not claimed to be definitive. Moreover some SLM/SLM processes could be classified into more than one category, based on personal interpretation. Originality/value – This paper can be a useful aid in understanding existing SLS/SLM processes. It can also serve as an aid in developing new SLS/SLM processes.