Cost of 3D Printing

Follow along as we break down the cost of 3D printing, read now to learn more.

3D printers were once exclusively the tools of scientists, engineers, and various industries.

Not anymore.

Now, with improved technology and lower cost, 3D printers and 3D printing technology is more readily accessible for schools, libraries, and small businesses with more applications than ever. Here is a look at ways of optimizing the various costs of 3d printing.

Invest in Your Own 3D Printer

For small businesses, schools, universities, and libraries, where the 3D printer will experience high usage, it makes sense to invest in a 3D printer.

Investing in a 3D printer is the first way of optimizing the cost of 3D printing. Owning a machine offers significant savings over using 3D printing services and paying service and shipping fees.

Before investing in a 3D printer, it is wise to learn what to look for. This means acquiring some knowledge on different machines, their precision, overall capabilities, and limitations. Think about what will be printed with the machine. For use in schools and small business, the most practical machines use the technology known as FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), such as MakerBot’s Replicator+, Method, or Replicator Z18.

Choose the Right 3D Printing Materials

An FDM machine uses 3D material or filaments, called PLA (Polylactic Acid) or ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) which are thermoplastics. These thermoplastics work by becoming soft and flexible as the printer heats them, then return to solid form when they cool down.

An advantage of PLA when compared to ABS is that it demonstrates much less warping and curling and because of this, can be successfully printed without a heated build plate, therefore offering savings on power usage and reducing the need for reprinting, preserving the 3D printing material.

Store Filament Properly

Filament storage is a critical aspect of optimizing the costs of 3D printing. Properly storing your filament can be the difference between preserving every inch of material or ruining a whole spool.

There are systems available to keep filament spools safe or vacuum bags can be used by compressing the air out them. By sealing the filament in this way, it prevents it from bubbling or becoming brittle, resulting in less money spent on filament.

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The 2022 Guide to 3D Printing Materials

Reduce the Size and Volume of the 3D Model

Assess whether the printed 3D model needs to be the size it has been designed to be. If it can serve the same purpose at a smaller scale then less material is used to print it, saving on materials.

Another way of saving on the amount of materials used for 3D printing is hollowing out the inside of the design. Care must be taken in how thin the walls of the model are made because there must be a minimum wall thickness to maintain structural integrity.

Similar to printing a hollow model when a solid 3D printed object is not needed, another way of saving on 3D printing costs is reducing the percentage of infill used when possible. Not only does this preserve more material, 3D prints will also finish much faster.

Because 3D files are sliced into layers and printed one-by-one to form the object, the height of these layers determines the resolution of the printed item, like pixels on a computer screen. If the 3D print quality or the resolution of your object is not the primary consideration, increasing the layer height will slightly reduce the time and material used in printing.

Another way of reducing the amount of material used in the 3D printing process is by reducing or eliminating support structures and rafts when possible. There will always be projects that require support structures, but sometimes just reorienting the object on the slicing software can eliminate or reduce the number of supports needed, thereby preserving material and reducing waste.

Use or Modify Free Designs

Finding and creating the right 3D model is another important factor in figuring 3D printing cost. MakerBot’s Thingiverse marketplace has over 1 million free designs plus over one hundred free lesson plans and educational projects to choose from. Simply find and download the needed file and start printing.

Integrate 3D Printed Parts and Non-Printed Parts

Instead of using a 3D printer to create an entire prototype or mechanism, use the technology more sparingly. Sometimes only a few 3D printed components are needed for a repair or when creating an object. In that case, integrating 3D printed components with parts already accessible, the full potential of 3D printing is realized while also using less 3D printing material, saving on costs.

Use the Optimal Print Settings

Using the best possible print settings for the 3D printer and filament ensures higher quality prints and reduces the chance of print failures, clogged nozzles, and other errors that can cause reprinting and wasting material.

Power Usage

The amount of power a 3D printer uses depends on many factors. Most 3D printers are similar in their powered components. These include cooling fans, stepper motors, a heated end (called an extruder) for melting materials, and a heated build platform.

The size of the 3D printer, the age of the machine, its speed, technology, and materials used are also factors.

For a 3D printer that will be used in a school or business setting, it is a good idea to discuss operating costs with the manufacturer.

Every aspect of the 3D printing process has associated costs but using some of the methods outlined here can help ensure you get the most bang for your buck when using 3D printing technology.