Although it is very difficult to provide an estimate for the average 3D printing product, it can be said that the average cost of a simpler 3D print, using PLA filament in a quantity of 50 pieces or more, will be approximately 3.5 euro per labor hour (with all costs included – materials, printer, print preparation). For all requests outside of these parameters, you can expect a different price, and that is precisely why we invite you to use free consultations and we offer you a proposal that is tailored exactly to your requirements.

The 3D printing technology has opened many doors since its development to the point of widespread use, becoming a popular solution for various industrial and private demands. As in any field of activity – where there is a need, there is also a way – the same rule applies to 3D printing technology, which has gained popularity in recent years to the extent that more and more companies, industrial facilities, and private users are beginning to recognize the advantages offered by 3D printing services. They are increasingly relying on additive technologies as the primary method of production.

With the growing popularity of 3D printing technology, the most common inquiry we receive is precisely the title of this article – how much does 3D printing cost?

In this article, we will strive to answer all your questions and explain why the cost of 3D printing varies so much from project to project. We want to note in advance that in this article, we will focus on FDM technology. While we take pride in working with FDM, SLS, and SLA technologies, in this article, we will only discuss FDM technology. FDM is a technology with which we have a lot of experience in industrial and serial production, but at the same time, it is also the most popular technology among enthusiasts and hobbyists.

It is extremely rare for two different prints to cost the same – for that reason, there is no specific price list for 3D printing services. Let’s take a look at the elements that influence the cost of 3D printing.

 

Difference in materials.

As you can imagine, there are clear differences between the materials used for printing. These differences often involve variations in the types of stresses and conditions that materials can withstand. Therefore, some materials are more expensive, while others are cheaper. There are also differences in printing speeds: some materials take longer to print, which means that the cost will be higher. Another crucial factor is the cost of the 3D printer used to create the object. Some printers are affordable, costing around 1000 €, but there are also industrial 3D printers that cost several hundred thousand euros.

To better illustrate the differences that materials make, we will provide examples of materials located at two ends of the price spectrum, mechanical characteristics, and difficulty during fabrication.

For the first example, let’s take PLA (polylactic acid) material – PLA melts at a relatively low temperature (around 200°C), which means that the cost will be lower as it doesn’t require expensive 3D printers. PLA is a biodegradable filament that prints faster than some other filaments but is known for its lack of durability at temperatures higher than average room temperature. This makes it a poor choice if it will be placed within a working machine or in a facility that generates temperatures higher than 50°C. Additionally, it is not resistant to UV or sunlight radiation.

As an example at the opposite end of the spectrum, PEEK (Poly-Ether-Ether-Ketone) and PEKK (Poly-Ether-Ketone-Ketone) materials cost around 500 – 700 € per kilogram and must be processed on 3D printers in a price range starting at around 30,000 € and going up to several hundred thousand euros. They are manufactured in highly controlled conditions of temperature and humidity. However, as a material, they have excellent characteristics that place them in a category very close to metals. They are extensively used in the aerospace industry where lightweight and highly durable objects are required.

An interesting example is the elastic or ‘rubbery’ TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) materials – an excellent choice if you are interested in printing flexible objects such as phone cases, orthopedic models, or similar applications! TPU is elastic and soft, even stretchable, and it won’t contract or change shape after printing. The drawback of this filament is that TPU prints very slowly. It needs to be printed at a low temperature because the material itself is very flexible, and more flexible materials require slower printing speeds. This extends the printer’s working hours, ultimately raising the cost that you, as a customer, have to pay.

Through this practical comparison, you can see that materials significantly impact the price of your final product. Naturally, industrial-grade materials are more resistant and hence more expensive, while less resilient materials are cheaper. The choice of material for your print is made based on your specific requirements and needs.

 

A bit more about 3D printers.

Just like with cars, computers, phones, etc.” – not all 3D printers are of the same quality, and they don’t all meet the same conditions. Not all 3D printers can work with the same materials. Just as you can’t drive a racing car through the forest, simpler printers can’t handle more complex filaments.

For example, let’s take ABS filament. It is specific in its requirements – a high ambient temperature is needed to reduce the internal stresses of the material when it melts and solidifies again. Therefore, only FDM printers with enclosed heated chambers can work with this filament. Working temperatures between 80 and 110°C are necessary to successfully print ABS without deformation due to internal stresses. Another reason why enclosed chambers are important is worker safety – the fumes produced during the printing of ABS material are not safe to inhale.

3D printers with enclosed chambers are more expensive, meaning that their operating hours are more costly. Therefore, the price of their prints is higher.

Now, let’s take printers with enclosed chambers and compare them to FDM printers with open chambers. Such printers are cheaper and easier to use – this makes the use of such a printer more affordable. Therefore, the cost of prints from such a printer is lower.

Another type of printer technology (there are indeed many) is the SLA printer. Such printers work with a specific resin – they are known for generally achieving a finer and more tactile print compared to FDM printers. The resins used are extremely toxic and release highly toxic fumes into the working environment. SLA printers must be located in specially ventilated rooms, and workers must wear special protective equipment during operation. Therefore, printing with SLA is more expensive than with FDM printers because all the mentioned factors increase the cost per working hour!

For a simple comparison – if you are seeking a more aesthetically pleasing and finer print, SLA printers are something to aim for. FDM technology is practical when functionality is more important than aesthetics for your print.

The method, technology, and material for printing are always chosen according to your needs, which ultimately affects the cost of the print itself.

 

Model infill.

Design and printing requests often involve seemingly simple objects, but the infill of the print itself has a significant impact on the cost due to material consumption.

To illustrate, imagine you want to print a cube. One option is to print an empty cube – only solid edges. Such a print will be relatively straightforward, lightweight, and won’t consume too much material.

Now, compare that to another option – completely filling the cube. This option not only consumes significantly more material but also requires much more time to complete the print. The amount of material used in such a print, combined with the number of printer hours, greatly increases the cost.

Modern 3D printers, of course, continue to evolve – becoming faster. In a few years, a print that currently takes four working hours will likely be shorter, reducing the print cost accordingly.

 

Print preparation and print quantity.

The process in preparing each print is as follows – consultations follow every inquiry. What will the print be used for? How quickly does the print need to be completed? How many copies are needed?

It’s important to have a complete picture of your print before we even embark on collaboration; only then can we properly assess how to make the print, what materials to use, whether the print will withstand your use, etc.

We offer you half an hour of free consultation during our initial collaboration.

 

CAD modeling and industrial design.

Next comes the creation of a 3D model draft – designing for 3D printing is highly demanding, and the cost depends on the complexity of your request! The price for CAD modeling services can range from a few hundred kunas for a simple object to tens of thousands of kunas for a complex project with many parts.

If you don’t have a ready-made 3D model, you can either search for one on some of the existing websites that offer models at affordable prices, and some are even free. There are many online platforms where you can find pre-existing designs for printing. Always review and try to find a suitable design there. This way, you can save money and speed up the print preparation process.

If you are working on a specific object that doesn’t exist anywhere, you can hire us to create a 3D model. After designing the 3D model, a test print follows. During the test print, we try to get in our hands what we envisioned together and test the prototype for your use. Is the prototype printed as it should be? Does anything need to be changed in the design or print to make the product better?

We send this prototype to you for evaluation. If you have any changes you’d like to make, we’ll do that. When we finally achieve the print we want – we start printing the ordered quantity of items. The worst thing that can happen is to print a whole series of items that you’re not satisfied with, after which we have to start everything from scratch. It’s a pointless waste of both your and our time and money.

All these steps are necessary, and no step should be skipped, whether we’re printing one or a hundred pieces. The process of consultation, design, testing, and creating the final prototype is called prototyping. You can learn more about prototyping at this link.

 

Printing in larger quantities.

Only when we have gone through all these steps can we start with serial printing. During serial printing, we inspect each individual print for quality control. Here, you can see that a larger number of printed pieces are actually more cost-effective than printing a smaller series or just one piece. With each printed piece you use, you are actually covering the cost of the entire consultation, design, printing, coloring, and sanding process (if needed for your product), as well as the cost of materials and printer hours.

The math behind it is very straightforward – let’s take an example where one working hour of a 3D designer is 200 kunas, and the designer needed only one hour to perfect the design and prepare it for printing. If you want only one product, then you paid 200 kunas for that one piece of design, but if you take 50 pieces, then you paid only 4 kunas for the design of each individual piece – it’s significantly more cost-effective, especially if your product will be used in further production or sales!

In this article, you have learned the most important aspects regarding the cost of 3D printing; what influences it, how the price changes with different technologies, how the quantity of prints affects the price, etc. In the next article, you’ll be able to learn more about specific technologies.


Sources: https://all3dp.com/2/pla-vs-abs-filament-3d-printing/
https://formlabs.com/eu/blog/fdm-vs-sla-compare-types-of-3d-printers/