How much does 3d printing cost?

March 16, 2020
5 min read

As a 3d printing company, we always get asked: "how much does it cost to 3d print?".

Our answer has always been "it depends" as there are factors that contribute to the cost of 3d printing. You're looking at anywhere between $3 to $1000(or even more) for the cost to 3d print based on these factors.

So today, we're breaking down each factor for you. If you're looking for a 3d printing service or looking into 3d printing as a business, this guide should help you understand how pricing works when it comes to 3d printing.

3D Model

"Send us the 3d model" is the second thing we tell our clients after telling them "it depends". Without the 3D model, it's tough to come up with an accurate quote for a 3d print even for seasoned veterans.

The 3d model gives us essential information that can help us quote a 3d print.

Model volume

With the 3d model on hand, we can calculate the total volume of the model, including the generated supports. The total volume lets us know how much material is needed to 3d print your file.

In short, the larger the volume, the higher the cost. There are ways to reduce this cost, and one of them is to hollow your model.

A 3ft model can have less volume than a 1ft model if the 1ft model is solid on the inside, while the 3ft model is hollow. 

That is why coming up with an estimate price of 3d printing without the 3d model is not easy.

Complexity

Not all 3d models are created equal. Some are 3d print-ready, while some are just plain crazy. 3d printing takes preparation and planning. For some 3d printing services, everything is automated, which can make transactions faster. For simple products, this can be the right solution.

But what about complex parts and architectural models? We found that even with the most sophisticated algorithm, you still need some human guidance when it comes to 3d printing these type of projects.

A quick story, a client sent us a 3d model of an actual stadium. They wanted a 3d printed version of this. As we inspected the file, we saw that the model had multiple problems. There were loose joints, the walls were too thin, and there were 3d models inside the stadium itself.

If we just 3d printed it right away, it would have cost us thousands of dollars on wasted material!

Take this into consideration. Are you willing to risk having your 3d model printed as is? Or do you want to make sure that the final print exceeds your expectations?

Type of material

The materials that you choose matters when it comes to the cost of 3d printing. There are tons to choose from so we are going to focus on the popular ones, thermoplastics and resin.

Thermoplastics: Filaments and Powder

Cost: $

Even if you are new to 3d printing, you have probably heard of "ABS" or "PLA". That's because these two are the most widely used 3d printing material out there. Hobbyists love these thermoplastics as they are cheap. These filaments can cost between $20 to $70 per kg.[1]

Although they are cheap, getting a high-quality 3d print out of them is not easy. It will take hours of post-processing time to get smooth finishing from these prints. (More on that later.) In addition to that, 3d printing complex 3d models are nearly impossible using this type of material. 

Thermosets: Resin

Cost: $$$

Resin is, in our opinion, the best 3d printing material out there. It's versatile for almost any complex project, and it would give you the best quality 3d print. But at the same time, resin material can get quite costly. Standard resin, on average, cost $50 per litre, and some resin materials can go up to $300 per litre. Luckily, 3d printing companies usually have access to discounted prices for this type of material.

Post-processing

Most don't realize that 3d printing is not an instant process. Drop your file, print, and it's ready. (We hope it was).

After 3d printing, the resulting print needs to be cured, cleaned and polished before you can consider them useable. That is if the 3d printing service company cares about the quality of their product.

Polishing

For filaments, don't even waste your time. As someone who spent hours removing supports, we don't want to you put you through that hell. If you value your time, the amount of time you will spend sanding these prints would cost a lot. And even then, the quality wouldn't be on par compared to resin.

For resin, it's simpler. Once the pieces are UV cured, we can polish it by hand or using a sandblaster. 

Again, the 3d model matters as it could affect post-processing. Some models are so complex that the generated supports are very hard to clean. It would take some expertise and a lot of patience for someone to clean these prints.

Finishing

At PrintAWorld, the projects that we work on usually require more than just 3d printing. Our clients would ask for their 3d print to have a gold finishing, chrome or even an exact Pantone color. With current 3d printing technology, this is impossible to accomplish. So we offer metal plating and painting on top of our 3d printing services.

In Summary

Multiple factors affect the price of a 3d printing service. If you add in all these variables, you're looking at anywhere between $30 to $15,000 for the cost of 3d printing. The price can even be lower or higher, depending on the scale of your project.

If you're interested in 3d printing in NYC or anywhere in the US, check us out at https://prtwd.com/.