Choosing 3D printing for your hobby or business is not an inexpensive investment, but it does reap great rewards. But can we say that those rewards are worth the cost? In order to find that out, we must first figure out how much it costs to 3D print?
On average, the cost of 3D printing an object including electricity consumption using PLA filament is 0.034 USD for every gram. The total cost of the 3d print depends on the type of material used, electricity consumption, the level of post-processing, and the 3D printer model used.
For the sake of being precise and to the point, I will take into account small-scale 3D printing like at homes or schools, and not at the industrial level.
If you are concerned about it from a business perspective then you should check out our post on How Much To Charge For 3D Printing? Factors & Potential Business Ideas Listed
Also check out our article : Can You Print Multiple 3D Objects At Once? Pros and Cons
What is the Cost of a 3D Printer?
FDM Printers Price Range
Cheaper options available for FDM printers can have the cost fall anywhere around only a few hundred dollars, starting from $200 up to $500.
The inexpensive quality of these printers makes them great first 3D printers, or for those who want to experiment at home and figure out which technology works for them, or in schools where children can use them easily for educational purposes.
To learn more about child-friendly 3D printers, their cost, and when kids can start 3D printing, read our article: Minimum child age to use 3D Printer.
Despite their affordability and inexpensive nature, there is a catch. Low-cost FDM printers are often unreliable, cannot print accurately or at high speed, and require great maintenance to keep them functioning in the long run.
Professional desktop FDM printers offer better reliability, greater durability and print quality, larger build volumes, and in some cases higher print speed. Though, they are comparatively costly, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000.
I put together this table of the different prices of some popular FDM printer models, with some of their build volumes, and types of materials they can handle to make it easier to compare the data:
|FDM Printer Model||Build Volume||Suitable Filaments||Printer Cost|
|Creality3D Ender-3 V2||220x220x250mm||PLA, TPU, PETG||$259.99|
|Monoprice Voxel||150 x 150 x 150 mm||ABS, PLA, Wood Fill, Copper Fill, Steel Fill, Bronze Fill||$399.99|
|Artillery Sidewinder X1||300x300x400mm||PLA, ABS, TPU, Flexible Materials||$409.90|
|Prusa i3 MK3S+||25×21×21 cm||PLA, PETG, ASA, ABS, PC, CPE, PVA, HIPS, Nylon, Carbon fill, Wood fill and other fills||$999.00|
|Dremel DigiLab 3D45||255x155x170mm||Nylon, PETG, Eco-ABS, & PLA||$1,899.00|
|Ultimaker S3||230 × 190 × 200 mm||Open filament system with 2.85mm filament size||$4,080.00|
Types Of 3D Printing Materials and their Costs
Whatever 3D printing technology you decide on is going to determine the material used for the process. That said, an expensive 3D printer will likely require expensive materials as well.
FDM materials are usually thermoplastic filaments such ABS, PLA, and PETG, which relatively cost lower than other materials. An All3DP article puts forth the prices for these as around $15 to $50/kg which are mainly used for personal applications.
However, other more durable materials such as Nylon, Polycarbonate (PC), and ASA (mostly used with SLS technology) are said to range anywhere from $30 to $95/kg.
For engineering applications, the cost of specialized FDM materials goes from $100 to $150/kg. For dual extrusion, FDM 3D printers support materials are usually priced from $100 to $200/kg.
On a side note, also check out our post titled Can You Sell 3D Printed Items? Is It Legal?!
The Costs of Post-Processing
Post-processing is often not considered by many when they first take up 3D printing. This is when your printer is done printing your desired item, you give the object some sort of final finishing, in order to enhance and refine its appearance.
The time and equipment needed for these small post-processing tasks are costly enough to put themselves on the price board for 3D printing.
Though not every model requires these, here are some steps as part of the post-processing treatment for FDM prints, as mentioned in a 3DHubs articles:
- Welding or Filling
- Sanding and Polishing
For cleaning, removing support structures from your 3D print greatly impacts the use and look of it. A simple needle-nose plier can a cost-effective way to do this task, but it could leave behind rough surfaces and might even destroy the print.
Using dissolvable support material, on the other hand, is a great way to ensure a smooth finish, a rapid removal process and could be used for complex geometries. However, it adds to the cost as you have to buy separate soluble materials for print and solvents for cleaning.
Limonene and isopropyl alcohol are two of the most used solvents that help in the removal of support materials such as HIPS, PVA and HydroFill.
2. Welding or Filling
Sometimes, you might need to do small repairs to fill small holes or cracks or even to join parts together that were printed separately. That is when welding and filling come in.
Small unwanted holes, gaps, or cracks can easily be filled with epoxy. Whereas, you can use an autobody filler to fill large gaps or depressions.
Welding is when separately printed parts need to be attached together. You can glue together ABS prints using acetone, while PLA and other materials, can be joined using Bond-O.
Sanding can be used to get rid of uneven surfaces, support marks, and smooth out the overall layer of the model.
The equipment required for this task is not necessarily expensive but, when done manually, it is labor-intensive. If not done correctly, it can ruin your print, where it will cause deeper troughs and alter the shape.
You need proper sanding technique (small circular motions), the appropriate sandpaper and to make sure you are not applying too much or too little pressure on the printed part. After that, the plastic polish can be used on thermoplastics, to give off a shiny surface finish.
To give your printed part an ideal look, in the right colors, painting it manually can be done using either a brush or a spray. But before coloring, a primer is used to make the paint sticks to the model.
Painting your 3D printed part gives it better detail and makes the result seem more professional. However, high-quality aerosol paint or an airbrush can increase the overall cost.
Recently, there has been a rise in automated post-processing for 3D printing. With special post-processing machines being developed, the task is not entirely manual anymore, and 3D creators have more choices for their post-processing solutions.
Calculating 3D Printing Costs
There are a couple of 3D printing cost calculators that may come in handy. Like this 3D Printing Price Calculator, all you need to do is input the required data and it will deliver you the labor cost and the machine upkeep cost too.
There is another 3D Printing ROI Calculator by Formlabs which is specific for the Form 2 SLA 3D printer. This one is much simpler and does not require you to add long information, but it also has very limited options.
A Calculated Example
Let’s illustrate an estimate of the overall 3D printing cost with an example. Suppose you printed this Ender 3 Dog (free for download on Thingiverse). Now we need to input the required information in the 3D Printing Price Calculator:
You can upload the gcode file you got from the Thingiverse file download. Your printer of choice is a Creality3D Ender3 Pro (which costs around $279.98 to $349.99 on Amazon).
When estimating the printing time and filament weight for this example, I used the Ultimaker Cura software. If you would like to know how that works and how long your print might take, read our article: How Long Does it Take to 3D Print an Object at Home?
For a quick and in-depth review on this topic, check our post How Much Does 3D Printing Increase Your Electric Bill? 3D Print Pricing Factors
Next you input PLA as your filament of which a 1000g spool costs you $25. The markup is for any printing mishaps or or nozzle clogs that had to be corrected that cost you some time but for this example, let’s assume it to be 0%. So, the 13g PLA would cost $0.38.
As for the electricity, you pay $0.12kWh while the Creality Ender 3 Pro uses up 120W for this print, so your total energy cost turns out to be $0.06.
The total cost for a 13g PLA print with no post-processing and electricity charges considered amounts to $0.44, that is 0.033 USD for every gram of 3d printed object:
But what if you want to do some post-processing and you go out to buy some new equipment for it?
You buy isopropyl to remove excess material, bond-o filler to fill in any gaps and an airbrush and paint to color your finished model – the final price of the print then comes out to be $44.01:
However, this is just the case when you buy new equipment first. You will not need to buy this equipment for each print.
To sum up from the example, since 13g PLA print costs $0.44, on average, a 15g print would cost $0.50 without considering post-processing and the cost of a new 3D printer. A more heavier print of 40g of the same filament with a 3 hour print time would then cost around $1.04.
It also depends on the kind of printing material you buy, which could be anywhere between $15/kg up to $200/kg. Moreover, the post-processing labor expenditure is often overlooked but it does impact the overall cost of your 3D printing experience as well.