It’s nearly impossible to think about 3D printing an object without considering the cost associated with it. Historically speaking, the cost of 3D printing has always been high, although, without a 3D model it’s hard to pin down the exact cost of a 3D print.
3D printing is no longer as expensive as it once used to be. The cost of 3D printing begins at around $3 but can go up to thousands of dollars. This variation in price depends on different factors including the material used, the post-processing costs, and the complexity of the 3D model you’re making.
With this modern printing technique blowing up among millennials, it’s only fair we completely assess the costs and find out where we can cut ourselves some slack.
Why Is 3D Printing Expensive?
From tiny mugs to life-sized objects, the cost of 3D printing can vary drastically. However, to understand these variations in costs, we need some insight into what factors make 3D printing a menace for your wallet.
Complexity Of Your Model
The size and complexity of the model you’ve envisioned plays a critical role in the cost of your print. A 3D model is required before estimating any cost for a print as it allows you to judge the volume and intricacy of the design. Large and complex designs require powerful printing technologies and huge amounts of material while simple and small designs can be made quite cheap.
The type of material used in 3D printers plays a profound role in determining the overall cost of printing your 3D creations. It’s a lot like refueling your car’s gas tank and as time progresses, it becomes the biggest running cost for you to bear.
Common Materials Used In 3D Printers
3D printers can use different materials to make your objects. All the materials vary by quality, price, and ease of use. Let’s check some of them out:
|PLA (Polylactic Acid)||PLA has decent strength and can be easily colored. It’s less resistant to heat and biodegradable.||is $15 and $20 per kg|
|ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)||ABS is Tough and durable but produces foul odors and toxic gases. Requires proper ventilation and preferably an enclosure||$20-35 per kg|
|PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)||PETG can work under low temperatures and produces more flexible objects than ABS. Is highly transparent and food safe.||$20-$25 per kg|
|Standard Resin||Finest 3D printing material available, giving a smooth and matte finish.Resin-made objects require extra post-processing steps before curing.||$50-$70 per liter|
|Metals (titanium, cobalt, alloy steel)||Arguably one of the best materials for 3D printing, the cost of metals is extremely high. These materials need specific technologies and aren’t easily accessible||$150-$600 per kg|
Post-Processing The 3D Prints
Most 3D printed objects require post-processing procedures to enhance the quality of the product you’ve made. These procedures drastically increase the cost of 3D printing and may take a fair hit on your wallet.
Electroplating involves covering the 3D print with certain metals such as gold or silver using electrolysis. This protective metal layer not only improves the durability of your creation but also makes it look more appealing.
However, depending on which metal you choose and the coating mechanism involved, the cost of electroplating can play a huge factor in the total expense of your 3D print.
Once an object is printed, it’s essential to polish it completely in order to achieve a smooth and glossy finish. This procedure involves sanding, rinsing, and then applying a polisher to the 3D print. Not only are good polishes highly expensive, but they also require a high level of skill and expertise to completely smooth out the print.
How to Reduce 3D Printing Cost
Enough dwelling on the unreasonably high cost of a 3D print. It’s time we learn how to reduce these costs and achieve a similar print quality without breaking the bank!
Scaling down the 3D Model
IF you feel that you can go with a smaller model, go ahead and start by reducing the overall size of your model. Even minute reductions in size can greatly reduce the volume and overall cost of printing.
As a reference, compare the volume of a 10x10x10 cube versus an 8x8x8 cube. Reducing each side of the cube by 2 cm can reduce the original volume by 49%!
Using Cheaper Materials
Using cheaper alternative materials can save a huge dent in your wallet. Materials like PLA and ABS are quite cheap to find and are readily available for as low as $20 per kilogram. However, bear in mind that cheaper materials require more time and effort in the post-processing procedures for your 3D print.
Selecting an Inexpensive Post-Processing Method
Post-processing methods can rack up a ton of bucks. However, cheaper alternatives are always available if you’re willing to look for them. If you’re finding electroplating to be quite heavy on the budget, you can always opt to paint your 3D print instead. Nevertheless, always research cheaper, alternative methods as they can often cause a dent in the quality of your print.
Sometimes, most 3D printed parts don’t need to be completely filled from the inside. Keeping your product hollow can significantly reduce the amount of material required, and thus, drive down the costs.
However, make sure your printer is compatible to produce hollow designs as most machines can only create such a print when specified in the design.
Choosing inexpensive printing services
Some libraries and colleges offer 3D printing services to their students and members. Most of these printing services charge up to a maximum of $5 per print, which is quite economical considering they offer you the finished product.
While the quality of their print will be significantly lower than that of a professional printing service, you can save yourself a ton of time, effort, and money!
Q) Is buying a 3D printer cost-effective?
A)This mainly depends on your frequency of use. If you’ll use the 3D printer rarely, it’s better to get your prints from commercial printing services. However, if you’re a regular printer, then you can buy budget 3D printers for as low as $200 from Amazon.
Q) Why are 3D printing services so costly?
A) Most 3D printing services have to account for multiple factors such as the cost of an industrial 3D printer, along with labor and store costs. Above all that, they also need to keep a decent profit margin to stay in business.
Q) Is there any way to determine the exact 3D printing cost of a project?
A) Yes, you can create a 3D model to estimate the cost for your print. Simply use an online 3D printing service to get an instant quote on your model. There are also many 3D printing cost calculators available on the internet that you can use free of cost, such as omnicalculator.
The cost of your 3D print is affected by a plethora of factors, however, most of these costs can be quite easily reduced with the use of cheaper alternatives. This modern take on printing isn’t something out of reach, and with just a tad bit of research, you can get your desired results without emptying your wallet.