3D Printing On A Budget – Free / Low-Cost Ways To Print

Man Making A 3D Print on Printer

3D printing is a creative way to make art, products to sell, small to medium parts for a different project, and more. However, not many people have total access to a 3D printer, and will often cost a pretty penny at some stores that offer it.

The best places to go for low-cost 3D printing are a library or college. Usually, you will only have to provide the materials and models. Call ahead before going to print to know what needs to be brought, the operating hours, and/or if there are any additional costs.

While the library and college are the most likely places to get free access to a 3D printer, there are plenty of other inexpensive options.

What is 3D Printing?

The definition of 3D Printing is pretty straightforward: It is a printer that creates a 3-Dimensional model from a computer-generated design. It is called using an additive process, known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), which means it is created one layer at a time, building the object from the ground up.

This allows the creation of many previously unthinkable or difficult to create objects being formed and become more available to those who need them. 3D printing has been known to use many different materials to create items, like plastic and metal filament. Recent research has also been experimenting with 3D printing new human tissue.

Of course, it is still in the research phase; however, they get closer every day to utilizing 3D printing for medical purposes.

The only downside to 3D printing right now is that the object created must have a flat side to begin building. The object will fall apart or move and be ruined if it does not have a strong, flat base. The flat base gives a foundation and a structural start to create the desired object.

Types of 3D Printers

  1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  2. Stereolithography (SLA)
  3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  4. Digital Light Process (DLP)
  5. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
  6. PolyJet
  7. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  8. Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

For more information go to the Future Learn website.

Inexpensive Places to 3D Print

Places to 3D print inexpensively can be harder to find than the options in front of you. 3D printers are relatively expensive to own and maintain or to use in other places. Finding low-cost places can help save you money on something that you might not use regularly.

Some websites will print a model for you if you provide them with a 3D model or design. This option obviously will cost a good amount of money because you are paying a company to do it, so it is not very ideal.

Library

Libraries are a great place of service between reading books, using computers, printers, and more. Libraries have regular printers and some have 3D printers as well. The difference between a printer and a 3D printer’s prices is that printers have the exact price before the finished product, but a 3D printer has the exact price after the printing. Costs for printing on 3D printers is $1.00 to start and $0.05 per gram of filament used.

College

A college is very similar to a library when it comes to 3D printing. The library in a college or a lab might have a 3D printer depending on the school. The prices are similar to the amount for a library, but there are always differences in price depending on the place.

Friend: Depending on how cool your friend is, this option could be totally free!

Having a friend with a 3D printer can be a great asset to saving money. There might be a payment on when you use it and how much filament you used, but they would probably give you a discount.

Websites With Free Files

On top of the cost of printing a product is the storage and usage of files to 3D print. Sometimes a model or stencil can be quite costly. Also, when dealing with models that others have created you may have to deal with copyright issues.

Having access to free files makes sure that there are no issues with copyright and that you have free reign to share and create.

On many websites, there are limitations on what you have access to and what you can print for free. Stencils or files that people can use for free give them a chance to save more money and time, but there are situations where you will have to pay for a file.

A file can be paid for the size and the different types of files that are stored.

Here’s a list of some good websites to get access to 3D printing models and stencils (most of these are free!):

Websites

  1. Thangs – The community shares and collaborates on 3D models
  2. Free3D – Share your 3D assets and download instantly.
  3. GrabCAD – An online community for engineers, students, and designers.
  4. STLFinder – A search engine to quickly find 3D models for 3D printing, gaming, or graphical apps.

How Expensive are 3D Printing Materials?

A 3D printer has the ability to make a certain image 3D instead of 2D. For it to create the desired piece, there is a small nozzle that flows the melted plastic on the structure. The nozzle of the machine is controlled and moved precisely through a computer program.

The nozzle has to be controlled precisely because if it is not on point, then there will be areas that are messed up. You also can not just print the whole thing in one go because each layer has to dry and harden before the next layer is put on.

Each 3D printer has different types of requirements for materials and costs. It depends on what you are using. What you use has different levels of costs in color and type of material.

The cost also depends on what you are using to create. If the object needs to be used for engineering, then you look for materials that fit the requirements that you need.

Materials

There are two types of materials that are used for 3D printing filament and resin. The filament is a conducting wire or thread with a high melting point. Resin is a light-reactive thermoset material that molecules chain together to create solidified rigid or flexible geometries.

There are differences in prices between the two materials. A spool of filament has a typical cost of $25 or less. This is the cheapest one with infrequent nozzle replacements, for it is easier to clean and maintain if done regularly.

Resin is more expensive because of the material and the tanks being replaced frequently. The resin tank costs up to $40 and a liter of resin is around $80.

Color

Color also has an important part in the cost of filament or resin. It tends to be more expensive based on the color. That does not mean all other non-white filament is more expensive. Some have the same price as white filament

Filament Types

The filament is a type of material that is used in 3D printing. There are different types of filaments based on strength and usage. Some of them are used for engineering while others are used for prototyping. The difference in usage and strength have different ranges of cost per kilogram. They sell filament in that unit because each type of filament has a different length with the same weight.

PLA Filament

PLA is short for Polylactic Acid, which is derived from renewable resources. When this is used in 3D printing it is used as an aesthetic material for prototyping. This is the least expensive and most commonly used filament in 3D printing. The average price range for PLA is $15 – $ 20 per kg.

ABS Filament

ABS is another standard filament that is molded and engineered. This filament is a stronger plastic that has some flexibility compared to the PLA filament but is harder. It is an inexpensive filament for models where strength and heat resistance are needed. The average price range for ABS is $15 – $20 per kg.

PETG Filament

PETG filament is a tough 3D print material. This extremely strong filament can achieve sturdy and strong prints. PETG is a great alternative to ABS because it has similar characteristics of temperature resistance, strength, and ease of use. There are improved characteristics that have made it more expensive in the past, but recently that is no longer the case. The average price range for PETG is $16 – $19 per kg.

Nylon Filament

Nylon filament or fused deposition modeling (FDM) is great for 3D printing. Nylon is a somewhat flexible material that is chemically resistant, strong, and durable. This filament is usually used for creating tents and parachutes in strength and durability, but that is extreme cases. The average price range for Nylon is $50 – $75 per kg.

ASA Filament

ASA (Acrylonitrile styrene acrylate) is a thermoplastic that has properties for engineering and outdoor purposes. The material is UV resistance, electrically insulating, and moisture resistant. These prints are usually strong and rigid. The average price range for ASA is $30 – $50 per kg.

Polycarbonate Filament

Polycarbonate filament, also known as PC filament, is a strong and transparent thermoplastic material. This is used in parts that require high strength and durability. The material has good electrical insulation properties for specialty projects. While it is strong it the ability to contain and maintain temperature resistance.

Take into consideration that most 3D printers use 1.75-mm filament that is about $30 for this filament. The average price range for Polycarbonate is $30 – $93 per kg.

How to Make Your Own 3D Prints

Making your own 3D prints can be stressful, but it can be more simple than others let on to believe. There are multiple programs and sites that can help you create what you need. There are different things to take into consideration when creating your own print.

Photo to Model

Every picture starts in a 2D setting in hope that it can be created back into a 3D object. Different programs can help transfer into different dimensions and different designs.

In creating these different models there are requirements that they follow in height, width, length, and depth. They all can be different, but they have practical dimensions when putting them together. If not, the object will not print properly or look right.

3D modeling programs have different types of practices that can be used for animation, modeling, simulation, and render 3D projects. This is similar to websites with files, there is only a certain amount that is free or limited to free use.

Using a free site for modeling can have limitations, but depending on the frequent use, upgrading is a good idea. Not every system is the same, but they all have the basic needs for 3D modeling and uses.

3D Modeling Programs

  • Autodesk Fusion 360
  • SketchUp Pro
  • Autodesk 3DS Max
  • Blender
  • Adobe Photoshop

Final Thoughts

Once the print and model you have made is to the standard of something that can stand on its own, it can be shared with others in different communities. When sharing it through sites can promote different types of works like that and other sites will have it printed for you too.

If there is not a 3D printer near you, you can design something and send it in for it to be done. This may cost more, but it can save you money on the design and stencil instead.