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20 Thrifty Tips to Help Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing

Picture of Max von Übel
by Max von Übel
September 1, 2017

Here are 20 great ways to reduce the cost of 3D printing. Avoid unnecessary costs and become a frugally-minded maker with the following tips.

There are a number of benefits that 3D printing technology offers over traditional manufacturing techniques. But the perks that truly gets frugally minded makers and manufacturers salivating is the ability to reduce time and the cost of 3D printing.

Still, the overall cost of 3D printing can sometimes exceed what were able to invest. From material costs to the actual print itself, some aspects will run up your bill if not dealt with correctly. Whether you’re using a desktop printer or professional 3D printing service, there are many ways to cut the cost of 3D printing.

Every step of the process, from design to post-processing, has some form of price tag attached to it. But there are also many ways to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck when using 3D printing technology. To help you save money while you let your imagination extrude away, we’ve gathered some helpful tips on how to save on the cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Buy Your Own 3D Printer

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So, let’s say you don’t have a 3D printer yet. Our first suggestion would be to buy your own. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I thought this list was supposed to help me save money,” but sometimes you need to spend before you can save. Buying a desktop 3D printer can be a pricey investment, but if you plan on 3D printing a lot, it’s a worthwhile purchase and will help reduce the cost of 3D printing over time.

First, you won’t have to pay service or shipping fees on your 3D prints. More importantly, you’ll have a fun machine to play and experiment with, which will help you become more familiar with this emerging technology. You can even reduce the cost of 3D printing by building your own 3D printer if you have the skills and ambition.

Find an Affordable 3D Printer Now: 20 Best Cheap 3D Printers under $500 / $1000

In the long run, Owning your own machine will bring the cost of 3D printing down significantly. Additionally, you can also join the 3D printing network 3D Hubs and print for other people to get some money back on your investment. However, if you don’t plan on making 3D printing a regular hobby, you might want to stick to a professional 3D printing service.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Select the Right Materials

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First of foremost, you need to decide is which material, and consequently what technology, you want to use. There’s a wide range of printing materials on the market, including plastics, ceramics, metals, and many others. The price difference between different materials is huge. Within the range of commonly used ABS and PLA plastics, the price can range anywhere from $19 and $175 per kilogram (obviously, picking a cheaper filament will help reduce the cost of 3D printing). This is the result of varying attributes like color, translucency, and special properties like glow in the dark.

For desktop 3D printing, it’s also important to select a material that is affordable but also matches your needs. PLA should work well for normal prototypes, but something like PETG will offer more durability for prints that will encounter stress. The sooner you pick the right material, the faster you will achieve your goals, thus saving you time, material, and on the overall cost of 3D printing.

Find Your Perfect Filament: 25 Best 3D Printer Filament Types & Comparison Charts

When it comes to materials like metals or ceramics, which you can’t 3D print at home, there will be a higher cost. But when using professional 3D printing services, the material selection still plays a major role on the cost of 3D printing. Those that have advanced mechanical properties, like CLIP resin or HP’s powder-based material will increase the cost of 3D printing. However, materials like white polyamide are more affordable and yet still suitable for many applications. By simply investing a little time in selecting the right material, you could save quite a bit on the cost of 3D printing. If you already have a model for 3D printing, you can use All3DP’s price comparison service to get the best price for a professional 3D printed item.

Want to reduce the cost of 3D printing service charges? Try out our price comparison service by clicking on the button below!

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Use or Modify a Free Design

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Finding or creating the right 3D model is another important factor to consider when calculating the cost of 3D printing. There’s a ton of great designs out there, so you don’t have to necessarily reinvent the wheel yourself. 3D printing marketplaces like Thingiverse (pictured above) has over 1 million free designs for you to choose and 3D print for personal use. Alternatively, there are many websites that host file sharing platforms. All you need to do is download the file you like, and you’re ready to start printing.

Find Your Ideal 3D Model Marketplace: 33 Best Sites for Free 3D Printer Models & STL Files to 3D Print

Note: Please make sure that the design you’re altering allows modification and that your use of the model follows copyright protections. 

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Use Free 3D Modeling Software

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If you want to create original 3D designs, there is no need to spend a dime on 3D modeling software, as there are many great free 3D modeling tools available. Freely available programs like TinkerCAD or SculptGL will turn you into a 3D modeling artist in no time. While more advanced options like FreeCAD and Autodesk Fusion 360 will even match the needs of industry professionals. Because choosing the right 3D modeling software is difficult, we have compiled a list of tools for you to sort through. Find the right 3D modeling software for your creative endeavors here and save on the cost of 3D printing software.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Take Advantage of Complex Shapes

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You might have heard about major airlines using 3D printing to reduce the weight of planes and save billions in fuel costs every year. This is accomplished through organic and algorithmic design techniques such as topology optimization. Basically, this is the application of biological phenomena to design and engineering. When used with 3D printing, this method can help you save on the cost of 3D printing too.

In general, one of the biggest advantages of additive manufacturing over traditional methods of fabrication is the ability to replicate complex shapes and structures that are found in nature, such as honeycombs. With 3D printing, it’s easy to design lean 3D shapes that have been trimmed down to the minimum amount of required material, yet can still be stronger and more lightweight than traditionally manufactured parts.  Using biological concepts, you can cut your cost of 3D printing for material. If you want to experiment with this concept, check out the free 3D modeling tools like Meshmixer.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Hollow Your 3D Model

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Unless you’re 3D printing a solid bowling ball, this next tip makes a lot of sense for many projects. You can save material (and thereby cut your cost of 3D printing) if you hollow out the inside of your design. But be careful how slim you make the model, because the printing material you use will require a minimum wall thickness to maintain structural integrity. This value can range from 3mm to 1mm for plastics and ceramics, and all the way down to 0.2mm for titanium.

In the case of Selective Laser Sintering and other similar technologies, you need to add holes to ensure that the sintered powder can be removed. This is done with compressed air pistols after the printing is complete. The diameter of the holes depends on the granular size of the material used; refer to specs of your selected 3D printing service for the details. You can either hollow your 3D file in your favorite STL editor, or, in case you use a major online 3D printing service, the web STL editor provided before you place your order.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Reduce the Size of Your Print

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The saying that “bigger is better” might ring true in some situations, but not when it comes to reducing the cost of 3D printing. If you are simply printing a model of something in real life, the size might not be of functional importance. In this case, it would make sense to reduce the size of your design. However, at the end of the day, this is a question of personal preference and general needs. Still, if you’re able to make your model smaller, the printing process will require less material, thus resulting in much lower costs of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Use an Online 3D Printing Service

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If you are new to 3D printing and haven’t decided which technology best suits your needs, you should take a hard look at online 3D printing services for a proper introduction. That way you can experiment with a wide range of different technologies, 3D printers, and materials without the fear of blowing large sums of money on something that may not be right for you. Certain materials, especially metal, can only be printed on extremely expensive industrial 3D printers. When you properly research your options, you’ll likely come across a service that will help ease the cost of 3D printing.

In cases like this, there is simply no way around an online 3D printing service without driving up the cost of 3D printing to insane levels. Online 3D printing services are a convenient alternative for those looking for advanced materials or unwilling to invest in their own 3D printer. Plus, you don’t have to worry about failing prints when your 3D files are handled and printed to perfection by trained professionals.

Find the Perfect Online 3D Printing Service: Best 3D Printing Service 2017 – Top 33 Online Services

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Use a Price Comparison Service (Like Ours!)

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If you are looking to find which online 3D printing service offers the best price, using a price comparison service can save you tons on the cost of 3D printing. Such platforms enhance competition between the service providers, usually resulting in fairer prices. It also gives you the chance to weigh the price you pay against customer service, time of delivery, and the quality of your print.

You can use All3DP’s price comparison service here, where we compare the leading professional 3D printing services Sculpteo, iMaterialise and Shapeways. Additionally, you can also head over to 3D Hubs to get prices for hobby 3D printers. Either way you choose, researching different prices will help you reduce the overall cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Select the Appropriate Finish

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3D Printing Services are happy to give your part the treatment it deserves. Above, you can see how the acetone finish really makes that FDM print shine! But beware! Professional finishes are usually done manually and thus increase the overall cost of 3D printing. Some post-processing techniques are cheaper than others, simply because they take less time. While dyeing, for instance, is quicker and cheaper than painting, it is also less durable and of lower quality. If you want to save your cost of 3D printing and still have your print stand out from the rest, make sure you research different post-processing technique and what they will cost you.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Choose a Greater Layer Height and Resolution

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All 3D files are sliced into layers can be printed one by one to form the physical object. The height of these layers determines the resolution of the printed item (think of it as the pixels on your computer screen). A low layer height will result in a smooth surface, but it will also drastically increase the time it takes to print your 3D file. Since 3D printing services make their money by printing as high a volume of material in as short a time as possible, the time your part spends in the 3D printer is directly reflected in your overall cost of 3D printing. While increasing the layer height will result in a lower cost of 3D printing, you should consider the impact on the appearance and functionality of the printed object. Especially if your part requires sharp edges to function or has to fit exactly with other parts, a smaller layer height is preferable.

Similarly, with desktop 3D printing, you can slightly reduce the cost of 3D printing by increasing the layer height. This will reduce the time and material used to print your creation. However, there are certainly times when print quality is the most important aspect, and thus layer height should be set on a case-by-case basis.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Use the Economy Mode

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If you prefer a cheap price over speed of delivery, this tip is for you. Some online 3D printing services offer “economy mode” discounts on certain materials and printing technologies (usually white polyamide plastic). You can try this mode to save your cost of 3D printing. Also, it may take a few more days until your item ships, as it is added to fill up the build volume in other orders. So, if you’re not pressed for time and can live with a part in white polyamide or another cheaper material, this is another way to shave some dollars off the cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Reduce Labor Costs with Looping and Sintershelling

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Are you planning on ordering more than one object with a professional 3D printing service? To avoid paying a base service fee for every item you order, you can bridge each print with a shaft of material and save on the cost of 3D printing. Alternatively, you can print parts with holes, like nuts, on a ring that connects them like a keychain. Or, you place your parts inside a thin, porous shell that encloses them. This allows for your order to be dealt with as one single print rather than multiple individual ones, helping you reduce the cost of 3D printing services. When you receive your 3D print, all you have to do is cut away the bridging material, and you’re left with your separate prints. In the end, you will only have to pay a single service fee.

The thickness of the looping wire should not be less than 2mm. Also, be mindful that while sintershelling cuts down the cost labor, this technique can be quite material consuming. So, you should calculate the benefits carefully, lest you undeliberately drive up the cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Take Advantage of Bulk Discounts / Use Batch Control

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Online 3D printing services are eager to fill the build space of their industrial printers with as many parts as possible. In case you want to produce your parts in medium to large volumes, these major services usually offer bulk discounts that can help reduce the cost of 3D printing. For them it is more economic than piecing their print-runs together one part at a time, and for you, it is also a steal! What is more, some printing services provide tools that allow you to effectively take control of their 3D printers build space via the web: you can position and align your parts to your liking and optimize your cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Join Loyalty / Student Programs

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Some online 3D printing services offer programs that reward customers who buy a certain number of 3D printed parts in a given timeframe. For example, say you place three orders within 100 days, the next one might be on the house. It is up to you to do the math and find out if that pays off for you. Students can also save loads of cash. If you are enrolled in engineering, design, or art, you can profit from educational discounts of up to 20%. All you have to do to cut your cost of 3D printing is verify your status by submitting a copy of your student ID.

Additionally, some 3D printing manufacturers will also offer discounts and special printer deals for students or loyal customers. If you’re looking to keep the cost of 3D printing down while using your own printer, it might be wise to look for a company that will reward you for your money well spent.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Keep Filament Properly Stored

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For desktop 3D printing users, properly storing your filament can make the difference between preserving every inch of material and ruining an entire spool. That’s why filament storage is a critical part of saving on the cost of 3D printing. While certain systems that will keep your spools safe are already on the market, they can be bulky and oftentimes expensive. Instead, you can use vacuum bags that you are able to compress the air out of. By sealing your filament in such an environment, you can prevent the material from bubbling or becoming to brittle, which in turn means less money spent on filament. A great way to save on the cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Reduce Infill Percentage

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Another way to save the cost of 3D printing is to reduce the percentage of infill used when able. Not only will you preserve more material this way, your prints will also finish much faster. Of course, there may be instances where higher percentages of infill are needed to meet certain structural or mechanical needs. But when you don’t need to create a solid object, reducing the infill percentage is a great way to reduce the cost of 3D printing while also speeding up the overall process.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Avoid Support Structures and Rafts (When Possible)

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The cost of 3D printing through materials could be saved by eliminating or reducing support structures and rafts. Similarly to the infill percentage tip, there will always be projects that require support structures. But a lot of the time, just reorienting your object on slicing software can help rid your print of unnecessary plastic waste. Not only can the removal of support structures reduce the cost of 3D printing and overall time spent, but it will also help produce cleaner prints. Anyone with desktop 3D printing experience knows how painful it can be to remove support structures at times, and could leave you with lackluster print quality and rough surfaces.

And so, we recommend you leave the support structures behind when able. This is surely good to reduce the cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Optimal Print Settings

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If you’re looking to save a few bucks while also achieving higher print quality, you might want to make sure you’re always using the optimal print settings. When preparing your print on slicing software, it’s important to enter the best possible settings for your printer and selected filament. This is a process that will require trial-and-error on your own, but there are also various resources out there (like Filaments.directory) that will share print settings with you. Not only do the correct settings ensure higher quality prints, it also reduces the chance of print failures, clogged nozzles, and other frustrating errors that will have you restarting prints and reaching into your wallet. By making sure you have the right print setting, you can preserve material, thus cutting down on the cost of 3D printing.

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Tips to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing Mix 3D Printed Parts With Non-Printed Parts

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Sometimes, 3D printing only needs to be one part of the overall puzzle. Instead of using your 3D printer to create an entire mechanism or prototype, you can instead use the technology more sparingly when nothing else will do. This will help cut down your cost of 3D printing. Sometimes you only need a few 3D printed components to repair or create an innovative object or product. By mixing 3D printing technology with parts that are already accessible, you can still utilize the full potential of 3D printing while also saving the cost of 3D printing along the way.

All in all, whether you’re making at home or using a professional 3D printing service, there are many ways to reduce the cost of 3D printing. Most of the time, one of these tips will be applicable to your situation, and saving a few bucks can always go a long way.

Do you know any other tips that can help save on the cost of 3D printing? Comment them below and let’s stop our love for 3D printing from breaking the bank!

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