Is 3D Printing Expensive?

3D Printing has created some incredible masterpieces such as wearable high heels, functional guns (scary), and even a cement bridge compiled of 800 cement pieces in Shanghai, China!

The possibilities appear endless for the 3D printing industry, and with prices lowering after years of it being unobtainable by the mass market, 3D printing is finally becoming mainstream. 

Is 3D printing expensive? It’s nowhere near as expensive as it once was. A hobbyist can pick up an entry-level 3d printer for a few hundred dollars. In addition to that, you’ll need material to feed your printer (filament or resin), some basic safety gear, and a place for your printer to live.

Use this quick read to understand the basic influences surrounding 3D printing costs, how you can save money as a 3D printer, and all the tips and tricks we’ve cultivated just for you! 

Is 3D Printing Expensive?

Considering that the first 3D printers used to cost over $100,000, and now you can purchase them from Amazon for under $200, we would say no, it’s not expensive.

But since ‘expensive’ is a subjective term, only you can define for yourself what you find expensive and affordable. To many people, $200 would be far too much to pay.

But considering the incredible drop in price over the last 50 years, the 3D printing industry is only becoming more and more affordable with time.

These won’t be examples for professional printing services (which will charge considerably more), but many colleges and public libraries are renting out their 3D printers to students and library patrons to do their own printing!

Yes, this will be lower quality than a big professional printing service (unless you are an expert 3D printer), but to offer you an affordable spectrum for what you might pay to rent the library’s public 3D printer, some examples of college’s with 3D printers and their pricing-methods are:

  • BYU Library: As BYU has its own 3D Printer, its price-scale is “$0.20 per gram for standard (0.2mm) resolution; $0.30 per gram for high (0.1mm) resolution.”
  • The Port Washington Public Library offers users a price-scale of, “Printing cost is $1 per hour, to be charged in 15 minute increments for filament printing. The cost for basic resin is $1.50 per 10 ml, and the cost for tough resin is $1.75 per 10 ml.”
  • The NC Library’s 3D Printing Service charges, “$0.35 per gram of material, $5 minimum on Lulzbot Taz 6; and $0.60 per mL of material, $5 minimum on Formlabs Form 2.”

Using these metrics, 3D printing could cost you as little at $5! 

Potential Costs Involved in 3D Printing

The main influences on your printing cost (as broken down for those purchasing their own 3D printer and materials, as well as those hiring a professional printing service) are as follows:

Printer

If you plan to do a plethora of printing projects (alliterations are fun), you will lower costs by simply purchasing your own 3D printer. If you only plan to print a 3D project here and there, you can save money by paying a professional printing service to print it for you. However, if you plan to dive into this hobby for the long-term, the professional services will add on a lot of fees you can avoid. 

3D printers aren’t as expensive as you may imagine. Many cost as little as $170 (rounded upwards).

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If you want a more professional model that can offer you larger-scale printing capabilities, you can easily pay $750-$1,000.

For commercial-grade projects of industrial size, you can easily spend $10,000+.

This is why the sentiment is difficult to answer in regard to ‘is it expensive,’ because it depends on what you’re looking for, the size you’re looking to print, and what you consider expensive. To put it broadly, you can spend between $200-$10,000 on the printer alone. 

Materials (Filament or Resin to print)

Material is a secret financial-eater in your budget. It may seem harmless at first glance, but that filament can get expensive when you’re creating multiple projects. 

The average cost of a 1kg of PLA Filament is $30 (around $3 per 100g), but this will range greatly depending on material type, quantity, and printing service. 

Printing Time

This isn’t regarding the time you’re losing to print things (however, you could count that if it’s eating into your profits elsewhere or you’re using your own 3D printer). However, in this case, the printing time refers to the time you would pay a professional printing company to print your 3D objects.

When you print through a professional 3D printing company, this is the metric by which they will often charge you (as well as materials and labor). Since their 3D printer has a lifespan of a specified number of hours, those hours mean a lot to them.

They are essentially selling you a chunk of the life-span of their printer, which will not come at a cheap cost.

It regards the time that the printer has to commit, and the longer the print-time, the more expensive the project. It will often be about $1 per hour, but that is separate from fees like labor, materials, maintenance, shipping, and any additional fees.

If you are printing this yourself with your own 3D printer, you won’t have to pay the ‘printing-time’ fee and are only situationally ‘paying’ for lost time. Essentially, if you can invest in your own 3D printer, it will save you money in regard to fees such as this.  

Post Processing

This is another fee that you will not pay for if you own your own 3D printer, but you will probably be charged something called ‘Post-Process Fee,’ if working with a professional 3D printing company. 

Post-processing signifies anything that happens after the printing, including things like:

  • Sanding
  • Buffing
  • Acetone smoothing
  • Soaking to detach aspects
  • Priming
  • Painting 
  • Polishing
  • Welding 

–To Summarize–

If purchasing your own materials, you will pay for:

  • 3D printer (between $200-$1,000 for a hobbyist or small-scale printer)
  • Materials and Filament (Between $20-$500 depending on the scale of the job)

If hiring a professional 3D printing service, you will pay for:

  • Time/Hours per printing
  • Materials cost
  • Labor
  • Maintenance
  • Post Processing
  • Any additional fees that they see fit, such as clean-up, profit-percentage, advanced parameters on your project, studio-space, etc.

3D Printing Calculators You Can Utilize

If you are printing your own projects at home, there are even 3D printing calculators you can use to calculate how much your project will roughly cost you! 

Innovation at it’s finest here, use the tools that are given to you. 

Some of the best 3D printing calculators we recommend for you at-home printers are:

These will ask you for things such as:

  • Filament cost per roll
  • How many grams per roll?
  • Printing hours
  • Electricity cost
  • Printer wear cost, etc. 

Ways to Make 3D Printing More Cost-Effective

Some of the best hacks we’ve developed to make printing more affordable and beneficial for you include the following:

Scale Smaller

Not in the brilliance you are using to create these 3D printing projects, but literally scaling them down to a smaller size. If the volume of your model is smaller, it will require fewer materials and, therefore, less money to create.

It will also print faster, which is minimizing the number of hours you’re eating through on the life-span of your 3D printer. If you’ve purchased your own and it has a lifespan of 2,000 hours, will you create 20 projects that each take 100 hours or 100 projects that each take 20 hours? Up to you. 

Hollow It Out

If you don’t want to make it smaller, consider saving oodles on time and materials cost by preserving the inside of your project as a hollowed-out space.

Purchase Your Own 3D Printer

If you’re waffling on the fence between paying a professional to print or purchasing your own, it will all depend on the frequency at which you plan to 3D print. If it’s more than 10-15 projects, you should consider purchasing your own.

Not only is it nice to just have your own 3D printer for independence to create whenever the mood strikes, but you are also not getting targeted by all of the fees that 3D printing services tack on. They can add up fast, and you might be surprised.

Take a look at the fees you’ve been paying to a 3D printing service such as ‘maintenance, labor, clean-up, printing time, etc.) Add those fees together, and it’d be surprising if you couldn’t purchase your own 3D printer for that price. 

Choose Cheaper Filament

Decide this on a case-by-case basis. If your project requires a nicer material, use it. But for the experimental trials in-between, try cutting down expenses by using a cheaper filament or resin in these more-casual attempts.

If Only Printing a Few Projects

Make Use Of the 3D printing services and don’t purchase your own printer. By the time you purchase materials and only print one or two things, it probably won’t be worth it to you, and now you’ll just be stuck with a 3D printer you won’t use. If printing less than 5 3D products in this lifetime, stick the paying the professionals. 

Final Tips on 3D Printing Expenses

We hope this guide has been useful to offer you 3D printing basic knowledge, cost-reducing methods, and how to make better-informed decisions as you shop. To offer you some parting words of wisdom on your journey of affordable 3D printing, some final tips are:

  • Service Fees are not your friend – They can add up rapidly and really hurt your profits if you are a business or individual seeking long-term 3D projects. Our advice if you’re printing more than 10 projects of a large scale – Use that money to purchase your own 3D printer instead of flushing it all down the toilet in fees. 
  • If you are a hobbyist – And don’t need professional printing products, purchase a 3D printer that functions best for your small operation. The recommended technology will be FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), which utilizes ultraviolet light. Another technology that we recommend for hobbyists is SLS
  • Utilize the FREE Online Model Databases – With so many incredible online communities for 3D printing, you should absolutely be taking advantage of the tools at your disposal. Especially while learning the ropes of 3D printing, download the various designs and 3D models that can act as templates for your work. Some of the best that we would recommend include:

The best advice we can give you is to tinker with your materials and have fun! 3D printing wasn’t even available to the masses years ago and used to be cooped up in the lab or only given to engineers. 

Now the world is your playground, and you can get started in this hobby by purchasing your own 3D printer for around $200! 

Dive in and create whatever your innovative little heart desires. As they say about 3D printing – If you can draw it, you can make it 3D!

Last update on 2020-10-28 at 09:28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API