Choosing an option to get started with 3D printing isn’t an easy decision. Indeed, with the increase of materials and printing technologies available, understanding which solution will meet your budget is a tedious thing.
To remedy this, we have outlined all the costs you need to know about before 3D printing your own project. Whether you are wondering whether to buy your own printer, to use a 3D printing service or just what material to get, this guide will help you choose the most cost-effective solution.
The cost of a 3D printer
3D printers are based on very different types of technologies. From simple $200 FDM machines to the most sophisticated ones, the cost of a 3D printer can vary by tens of thousands of dollars. If you are thinking of buying your own, you need to figure out which technology will match your needs.
Among the elements you need to look out for when buying a machine are its size, speed, precision and very importantly, its printing technology. This will define which materials will be available to you and of course, how much your 3D printer is going to cost. Therefore, you should first try to answer this question: What exactly do I want to achieve with 3D printing?
3D printer costs: FDM printing technology
If you are only looking forward to discovering this technology and to marking your first experiments, you can get a basic FDM 3D printer that will meet your needs from $200. Although the products in this range aren’t fast and can’t print thin, accurate parts, low-range printers will help get you familiar with the process at low-costs.
If you are looking for a 3D printer for professional purposes, expect the cost of your 3D printer to start from about $4000. You might wonder what justifies such a price gap. The reason is that printers below that range aren’t meant to take over long production processes, and would lead to frequent breakdowns.
3D printer costs: Advanced printing technologies
The cost of a 3D printer would tend to rise as you get into more sophisticated printing technologies. The entry price of an SLS 3D printer is around $5000, and such a purchase might be important if you need to make complex objects and want to avoid the printing duration of an FDM 3D printer.
As such, consider the cost of your 3D printer to rise if you opt for other printing technologies (such as Multijet, Colorjet, DMLS…), yet, not everyone can afford it. Based on the quantities you’re forecasting to print, it might not make sense to get your own 3D printer. Printing Services such as Sculpteo then turn out to be a good solution to grant you access to advanced printing processes without bearing the costs of a 3D printer.
The cost of 3D printing materials
Previously, we mentioned that the printing technology you go for will define what materials you will be able to print with. No big surprise, the more advanced your 3D printer is, the more expensive the materials are going to be. As a consequence, we highly recommend you to choose your printer’s technology according to the price of the materials you can supply it with. The price discrepancies among all materials are quite high, so remember to take this into account in your 3D printing costs.
3D printing materials costs: Thermoplastics
The least expensive materials you can get are those for FDM technologies. Thermoplastic filaments are the most widespread materials in 3D printing. This category encompasses different materials (PETG, PLA, ABS…) but they don’t cost more than a few tens of dollars per kilo. Then come the Nylon powders used in SLS printers. Nylon PA12, Nylon PA11/12, Nylon 3200 Glass-filled, these polymers are available in different types but their price remains overall the same. If you are considering to use our 3D printing service, these plastic materials and especially the Multi Jet Fusion PA12 are the cheapest.
Thermoplastics can be a good fit for some prototyping applications, yet the quality won’t be as good as what professional scale machines can offer. Therefore, if you want to print out a model of a final product or the product itself, the options and technologies a 3D Printing Service can offer could be a better choice than using these materials with low-detail machines.
3D printing materials costs: High-end materials
The costs of 3D printing materials naturally tend to go higher depending on how technical or precious the material. The resins you can use with Polyjet technologies (VeroWhite, VeroClear) are more expensive than SLS polymers, one of the factors that justify this difference is the availability of the materials on the market.
Metals such as Aluminum AlSi7Mg0,6 and Stainless Steel 316L, used in SLM and DMLS technologies, start marking huge gaps with those previously seen, as they can cost hundreds of dollars per kilo.
Whatever the material (hence, printing technology) you are intending to use, take into account that extra finishing might be needed and have to be integrated into your total 3D printing costs.
In order for you to estimate the costs of your 3D printing project, you have to think ahead of other elements that will increase your costs. Your 3D printer and materials might represent the biggest share of your investments, but your costs don’t boil down to it. We have reviewed below other things to anticipate:
Elements adding up to your 3D printing costs
Based on how sophisticated you would like your object to be, you may need to complement the 3D printing process with finishing work. Perhaps the raw texture of your print may not have an aspect that suits you. In this case, you might have to add extra polishing works to get rid of the imperfection of your product. Such a process can be used on thermoplastics and some resins.
Also, you may want to customize your 3D prints with different colors, yet, most printing technologies aren’t able to add colors to the material when printing, which in turn means that dyeing or painting (the most expensive of the two) will need to be added. The list of all extra finishing works you may need to use goes on, with for instance varnishing or shot-peening works (used for metals).
Although you may not need any of these to get ready to use and functional parts, think ahead of the finishes you may need. Indeed, these processes need equipment and add more costs for your 3D printing project.
A certain number of options are available to you when it comes to getting your model. Whether you have a freelancer design it for you, you buy your own CAD software or even get it on a free 3D model Database, the costs of designing your print may differ. But aside from this, the way your model has been designed can lead to higher or lower costs.
Indeed, your design will first define the quantity of material your print needs. Apart from setting its size, your 3D design will also set the thickness of your walls and how dense your parts will be.
Optimize your design to reduce cost of 3D printing
Having thick walls is important to make your object strong enough, but in case you want to save money on materials, check if some parts can be made thinner. Density is also a key criterion. Making some design parts hollow can help you achieve major 3D printing costs savings. Even though hollowing out printed objects require skills, especially with complex parts, knowing your design file is key to know how you can optimize the volume of your print. If you would like to tweak your design in depth to make it more cost-efficient, check out our other printing cost reduction tips.
Having thick, high-resolution parts in your design will in turn translate to a greater number of layers during the 3D printing process. The more cycles your project needs to be printed, the more electricity the 3D printer is going to use. If you are using a low-end 3D printer, this element may not have a major impact on your 3D printing costs. Yet, using more advanced 3D printer can imply high electricity costs.