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Injection Molding VS. 3D Printing - The Differences & Similarities Discussed

December 17, 2020 (Last updated)

3 min read

If you've done any amount of work or even digging around in the prototyping and modeling space - you've likely heard both terms thrown around almost interchangeably.

However, injection molding and 3d printing, while definitely similar, have pretty significant differences between them.

So, to help you wrap your head around both ends of the creative world - we've written this quick article to help brief you on both methods, as well as the differences and similarities that you should be aware of.

Let's dive right in!

A Brief Gander At The Basics

First and foremost, let's talk about both of these manufacturing processes at a bird's eye view.

3D printing is, by all means, an additive manufacturing process. That means objects created via 3D printing are essentially "drawn" on layer after layer. The handy benefit here is that you can see exactly how each layer is manufactured, which can help you refine the structure, add details, and prototype on the fly.

On the other hand, injection molding takes closely after its name in the fact that it relies on molds to manufacture designs. You'd first carve out the object's inverse to make the mold, which would then be filled with a molten material of your choosing. In turn, once the molded material cools down - you've got your design in physical form all done.

A Major Difference In Required Equipment

Now that we understand the fundamental differences between injection molding vs. 3D printing - let's talk about the extended implications that you'll have to consider when choosing between the two.

One of these major differences is the equipment you'll need for either approach.

Here's the basic checklist for 3D Printing:

  1. A functional 3D Printer or Cloud Printing setup.

  2. The filament of your choosing.

Pretty straightforward, huh? 

On the flip-side, the picture for injection molding is a little more complicated:

  1. Injection molding machine that features the right type of hopper, injection arm, and heat unit for your material.

  2. Reinforced molds for your design.

  3. The material of your choosing.

The complexity with injection molding is actually centered around the molds themselves. Often, these molds are pretty darn expensive to manufacture, and seeings as errors, imperfections, and revisions are part of any design process - you'll need to set aside a small fortune to manufacture with injection molding at a small scale. 

It's also worthwhile to keep in mind the fact that most molds are made with a reinforced metallic alloy (typically steel or aluminum) to withstand the heat transferred to them throughout the injection process. And as you may have guessed - that only adds to the cost factor.

Closing Thoughts

If you're trying to choose between injection molding vs. 3D printing for your prototyping and modeling needs - having read this article, you should now have some key insights into which of the two processes may be the one for you.

Either approach is absolutely fantastic when it comes to breathing life into your designs and creations. However, they both have their ideal applications, and downsides, some of which we've covered above.

For bootstrapping and quick on-the-fly iterations, 3D printing is a very practical and cost-effective approach. On the other hand, for precise manufacturing at scale - injection molding is a tried and true methodology.

With that - we wish you luck in your creative endeavors!

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