3D Printing is awesome–on that much, we can all agree. But once you buy the printer, you’re not out of the doghouse yet. You still need to pay for the plastic, 3D model files, and any possible repair costs. So how much does really cost–and is it worth it?
3D printers can cost anywhere from $200 to $1000, but the total cost over the years will change depending on how much you use them. The cost of filament/resin is around $20-$35 per color purchase. Each color spool/container can make around 200 small 3D prints—around 10-18 cents per small print.
The actual price can vary from one person to another. Lots of factors influence the price including:
- How much do you use your printer?
- What materials are you using?
- What online 3D modeling site are you getting your designs from?
All of these factors can decrease or inflate the money you’re spending on your 3D printer.
Printers can vary wildly in price depending on what level of 3D printing you’re going for. If you want it for a hobby, you probably wouldn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a high-end, professional-grade printer.
Printers for hobbyists have a price range of $200 to 1500 dollars. The Artillery Sidewinder is one such model that is around $400 and has received extensive praise on Amazon. Its main flaw is how complicated it is, and the learning curve it takes before you can use it to its full potential, but after you get past that, the sky’s the limit. This 3D printer also exclusively uses filament.
Another high-quality, low price 3D printer is the Creality Official Ender 3 V2. This printer also has many positive reviews, and its price is just under $300, which is on the really low end of the 3D printing spectrum. Only a few models are cheaper than this, such as the Official Creality Ender 3, which is only $169.
This version has even more reviews than the Ender 3 V2 and even higher praise. Even though these printers are at the cheapest end of the spectrum, they still print fairly well, and customers even remark on how they have a “professional finish.”
Professional 3D printers cost around $1,500 to 6,000. Popular professional printers include the Glowforge Pro (costs $5,995), the Sindoh 3D2XQ 3DWOX 2X (costs $2,999), and the Creatbot F430 (can cost from $4,000 to $6,000), which is so nice that all of the reviews at 3dprintersdepot.com give it five-stars.
Professional printers are fantastic and have a million added features, but because of that, they might not be a good fit for beginners to the process. These printers also have prints that are cleaner and much more professional-looking. While cheap printers might turn out prints that look like plastic toys with loose threads hanging off, these prints come out smoother and look more like something you might buy at a gift shop.
And then there are the industrial-grade 3D printers. These babies cost over $6,000. The Formlabs company has cornered the market on high-end 3D printers, and they sell models that can cost more than $10,000. The CreatBot Peek-300 is also extremely expensive—it costs $12,999.
These 3D printers are called “industrial” for a reason. They’re not for the average DIY consumer. They’re most commonly used by companies to make the first models of products they’re planning to design; and since they’re trying to pitch and fashion new product prototypes, they need the 3D printer to make absolutely perfect creations.
Materials: Resin V. Filament
Before you purchase a 3D printer, it’s important to know what kind of material it will use. There are two main types of 3D printing materials: resin and filaments. Each material corresponds to a different 3D printing technology. The resin is used in SLA (Stereolithography) printing, and the filament is used for FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling).
Filament is sold in colored spools of plastic strands. This is because the FDM process filters in the strands of plastic, melting it through the tip so the printer can fuse layers of melted plastic for the specific design. This design builds from the ground up.
This style of printing makes the designs come out finished with tiny serrated lines. It doesn’t look bad, but it’s obvious to anyone that looks at your freshly printed keychain that it just popped out of a 3D printer. The FDM process also makes it difficult to print clear details on smaller models. Depending on the printer, it can glitch out and make a pile of plastic squiggly lines. But FDM printing is a lot faster than SLA printing.
Resin containers look like they might hold paint…or contact solution. That’s probably because resin, unlike filament, is a liquid. The SLA printing process doesn’t fuse plastic with a needle-like the FDM process—instead, the printer hits the liquid resin with a UV laser that changes the resin to a solid.
The laser works to solidify resin in the shape of the design. This process comes out looking a lot smoother and cleaner than FDM prints, and it can get high levels of detail for smaller prints.
Which one is better? Well, it depends on what you want to use it for, and how much you care about cost. Resin printers generally fall on the higher end of the spectrum. Most resin printers reside in the professional/industry-grade zone (around $1,500 to $13,000), while FDM printers can be cheap or expensive (but they’re usually around $200 to $600).
When it comes to buying the actual colors (spools or containers), filament costs less than resin. Both filament spools and resin containers are sold at 2.2 lbs (which is around 1,000 grams) apiece. The filament spools cost from $18 to $25 at 2.2 lbs per spool. The resin is sold in containers of 500 or 1,000 grams.
The cheapest brand of 1,000 g resin costs around $35. Buying the 1,000 g size is a better deal, since the 500 g range from $18 to $20 apiece. That being said, if you pick a color that you know you won’t use very much, it might be a better deal to get the 500 g.
|Printers||500 g containers||1000 g containers or2.2 lb spools|
|Filament||$200 to $11,000||n/a||$18 to $25|
|Resin||$200 to $13,000||$18 to $20||$35|
It’s clear that resin is the more expensive option. A small print from a filament printer will cost around $0.10, but small prints for resin printers cost around $0.18. That might not seem like a lot, but after years and years of printing, the cost difference adds up.
That being said, what you want to use your 3D printer for might change your mind. If you want it as a hobby to make fun knick-knacks now and then, filament is the best route for you. Filament is also great for big projects that you need to finish in a short amount of time since it prints really quickly. If you’re planning on making larger prints, like helmets or armor, filament’s fusing process is sturdy enough to support them.
However, if you want it to print tiny figurines with a lot of details, fun facial expressions, intricate hair designs, or awesome weapons, resin is your best friend. Resin can also do color gradients (which is not possible for filament) and it naturally looks sleek and beautiful.
Resin prints never have serrated, horizontal lines running along the design, and they never come out with the plastic strings that sometimes hang off of filament designs.
When you print an object, you’re likely only thinking of the way the object looks on the outside. I’m sure your 3D-printed Mickey Mouse looks incredible, but something that can help you save more money is by focusing on the inside of your designs.
Infill percentage focuses on the amount of plastic being used to fill the inside of the 3D object. If you’re printing with a filament printer, it will be easier for you to manage the infill of each particular design.
Most 3D printers come with software that will allow you to control the infill of each design, but if that isn’t the case, you can download free software, such as TinkerCAD or 3D Slash. You can even splurge and buy professional 3D printing software, such as Simplify3D, for $150.
The higher the infill percentage, the more plastic there will be printed and layered inside of the design. If you want your design to be a solid block of plastic, you can set the infill percentage at 100%.
Most people think that the higher the infill percentage is, the more strong and sturdy the object will be, which is pretty important. You paid for that plastic; you don’t want your designs to break or snap easily.
But here’s the thing; the higher the infill percentage is, the more it costs for you to 3D print overall. Think about it: you’re not just printing a shell of Mickey Mouse—you’re filling every inch of the design, from his ears to his feet, with plastic. That’s all plastic you paid for, as well as plastic you have to replace when you run out.
But if I print a hollow design, it will be brittle and break! Doesn’t that ruin the point?
Great question. Here’s the thing—you can still set the infill percentage to zero and print a perfectly sturdy, solid, strong design. As long as there are enough outer layers, the rest of your print can be hollow with no problems whatsoever. Mickey can still stand tall and strong, even if his shoes and gloves are full of air.
Even larger objects don’t need infill to be sturdy. As long as the outer layer is nice and thick, it won’t break easily. Then, you’ll have enough plastic to print more designs and you won’t be burning money on more spools of plastic.
The infill percentage is much easier to control with a filament printer. It’s still possible to control infill with resin, but it requires some extra steps.
Resin is a liquid that filters down and is solidified by a UV laser, and unless the design specifically dictates where the liquid needs to go, it will just solidify the entire design, giving you 100% infill at all times, and using up all of your expensive resin.
Don’t worry—people on the Internet have made helpful guides to show you exactly how to hollow out your resin 3D model before you go to print, and how to make sure it prints like that.
3D Printing Files and Subscriptions
After all of that, it might be easy to forget one small detail: the print designs. When it comes right down to it, you still have to either design the prints yourself or find designs for the prints online.
Finding designs online is super easy. Some sites require a subscription or payment for each design, which can drive up the costs, but there are plenty of free 3D print design websites. We recommend using the free websites; the designs are just as good and you don’t have to burn even more money on your printer.
The most common and most versatile 3D design sharing website is “Thingiverse,” and it’s awesome. You can find designs on there for almost anything—from Lego Minifigure cookie cutters to moon lamps to the Noisy Cricket gun from Men in Black.
Some of these designs are more complicated than others, so it is up to you to put it all together and choose the right color for each part. The people have helpfully loaded up the files for each part, so it won’t take long to print.
If there’s something you want to print that no one else has designed yet, you might have to design it yourself. But don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it seems. Blender is free open-source software that you can use to build and model 3D designs. The world’s your oyster—just don’t forget to design something that can be feasibly printed by a printer.
If it’s got different parts, you can save those as separate designs and then print them one by one. Once they’re done, you can assemble them and watch your imagination come to life.
If your 3D printer breaks, don’t despair. Chances are, someone has uploaded the design to the broken part and uploaded it online. And if they haven’t, you can design it yourself.
You can use your 3D printer to fix your 3D printer, and the 10 cent print will cost much less than trying to purchase a new part or new printer. Fix the printer with the printer.