Information for Beginners

15 Great Ways to Reduce Your 3D Printing Costs

3d printing cost

Have you ever wanted to 3D print something …and then realize that it’s expensive? Here are 15 great ways to reduce your cost of 3D printing. Avoid unnecessary 3D printing costs using the following tips.

Depending on whether you print your parts at home, or you use an online 3D printing service there are very different ways of cutting the 3D printing costs. Our table tells you at what stages you can potentially save money then you can read more about it in the respective paragraph. Alternatively, you can skip the table and jump directly to our list of 3D printing cost tips.

15 Tips to Cut 3D Printing Costs

  3D Printing at Home Online 3D Printing Service
Buy Your Own 3D Printer
Select the Appropriate Material
Use or Modify a Free Design
Use Free 3D Modeling Software
Take Advantage of Non-Traditional Shapes
Hollow your 3D Model
Reduce the Size of your Print
Use an Online 3D Printing Service
Use a Price Comparison Service
Select the Appropriate Finish
Choose a Greater Layer Thickness & Resolution
Use Economy Mode
Reduce Labor Costs with Looping and Sintershelling
Take Advantage of Bulk Discounts / Use Batch Control
Join Loyalty / Student Programs

3D Printing Cost Tip #1: Buy Your Own 3D Printer

cartesian

Buying a 3D Printer? But that would be expensive, right? Initially yes. But if you plan on doing lots of 3D printing, the investment will pay off. First, you won’t have to pay service or shipping fees on your 3D prints and above all, you’ll have a fun machine to play and experiment with. However, this tip is not for you if you don’t plan on making 3D printing a regular hobby. If you are looking for a list of affordable 3D printers, please continue here. You can even build your own 3D printer if you have the skills. This will bring the 3D printing cost significantly down. Second, you can also join the 3D printing network 3D Hubs and print for other people to get some money back.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #2: Select the Appropriate Material

iMaterialise offers consumer services using its mother company array of 100+ 3D printers (image: iMaterialise)
The first thing you should decide is which material, and consequently what technology, you want to use. There is a wide range of printing materials from plastics, ceramics, metals and many others. The price difference between different materials is huge. Within the range of ABS and PLA plastics alone, the price ranges roughly between $19 and $175 per kilogram. This is the result of varying attributes like color, translucency, glow in the dark, etc.. Get more information on 3D printing filament for home use here. Metals or ceramics, which you can’t 3D print at home, are much more expensive. Or take resins, CLIP resin has advanced mechanical properties, and polyjet resin results in a smooth finish – both will increase the 3D printing cost. The humble white polyamide, on the other hand, is cheap and yet lightweight and suitable for many applications. By simply investing a little time in selecting the right material, you could save quite a bit of money. 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.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #3: Use or Modify a Free Design

Bildschirmfoto 2016-04-15 um 13.06.05

The 3D file is another factor to consider when calculating 3D printing cost. There’s a ton of good design out there, so you don’t have to invent the wheel for yourself. Thingiverse (pictured above) has 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. For some services, a registration may be required. Here are some websites with free downloads.

Please make sure that the design you’re modifying allows modification and altering of the existing design.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #4: Use Free 3D Modeling Software

tinkercad_astropi

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. Easy as pie-programs like 123D Design or SculptGL will make a 3D modeling artist of you in no time. While FreeCAD, Autodesk Fusion 360 and the like even match the needs of industry professionals. Because choosing the right 3D modeling software is difficult, we have compiled a list of tools. To get you started in 3D modeling, read our tutorials on these free STL editors.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #5: Take Advantage of Non-Traditional Shapes

You probably have heard about major airlines saving billions of Dollars in fuel costs every year, simply because their airplanes aren’t as heavy anymore. The secret behind these savings is called bionics. Basically, this is the application of biological phenomena to design and engineering. Thanks to 3D printing you can save money too. One of the biggest advantages of additive manufacturing over traditional methods of fabrication is the ability to replicate shapes and structures that are found in nature, such as honeycombs. With 3D printing, it is almost child’s play to design lean 3D shapes that have been trimmed down to the minimum of material, yet are stronger and more lightweight than traditionally manufactured parts.  Using bionic concepts, you can cut your 3D printing cost for material. Check out free 3D modeling tools like Meshmixer, that allow you to get your 3D file into shape with ease.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #6: Hollow your 3D Model

Examples
Unless you’re 3D printing a bowling ball, this next tip makes a lot of sense. You can save material (and thereby cut your 3D printing cost) if you hollow out the inside of your design. But be careful, because the printing material you use will have a minimum wall thickness that is required for structural integrity. This value will range from roughly 3mm to 1mm for plastics and ceramics and all the way down to 0.2mm for titanium. In the case of SLS and similar technologies, you need to add holes through which the not 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 online 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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3D Printing Cost Tip #7: Reduce the Size of your Print

3D-printed-elephant-Joris-van-Tubergen

Bigger is better? Not when it comes to 3D printing and saving money. 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 make the design smaller rather than bigger. However, this is a question of personal preference. By making your design smaller, the printing process requires less material thus results in much lower 3D printing costs.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #8: Use an Online 3D Printing Service

3D printing services

If you are new to 3D printing and haven’t decided which technology suits your needs best you should give online 3D printing services a try. That way you can experiment with a wide range of different technologies, 3D printers, and materials without the fear of blowing large sums for something may not need. Certain materials, especially metal, can only be printed on industrial 3D printers, costing up to $200.000. In cases like this, there is simply no way around an online 3D printing service without driving up 3D printing cost to insane amounts. Also, online 3D printing services are simply a convenient alternative to buying a 3D printer: you don’t have to worry about failing prints as your 3D files are checked and printed to perfection by trained professionals. If you want to learn more about online 3D printing services, read our concise article on the subject.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #9: Use a Price Comparison Service

All3DP Screen Price Comparison

If you are willing to compromise time, service and perhaps quality, then using a price comparison service can save you 3D printing costs. Such platforms enhance competition between the service providers, usually resulting in fair prices. It also gives you the chance to weigh the price you pay for customer service, time of delivery and the quality of your print. You can use
All3DP’s price comparisons service here (from professional 3D printing services Sculpteo, iMaterialise and Shapeways), or head over to 3D Hubs to get prices from hobby 3D printers.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #10: Select the Appropriate Finish

ABS Acetone Finish

3D Printing Services are happy to give your part the treatment it deserves. Above, you can see how the acetone finish really makes that FFM print pop! But beware! Finishes are done manually and thus increase the 3D printing cost. 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.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #11: Choose a Greater Layer Height and Resolution

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 online 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 the 3D printing costs. While increasing the layer height will result in a lower bill, 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.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #12: Use the Economy Mode

If you prefer a cheap price over speed of delivery, this tip is for you. Some online 3D printing services offer discounts on certain materials and printing technologies (usually white polyamide plastic). 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, this is another way to shave some dollars off your 3D printing cost.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #13: Reduce Labor Costs with Looping and Sintershelling

Are you planning on printing more than one object? To avoid paying a base service fee for every item you order, you can bridge each print with a shaft of material. 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. 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 one 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 your 3D printing costs.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #14: Take Advantage of Bulk Discounts / Use Batch Control

Online 3D printing services are eager to fill the build space of their printers with your parts. In case you want to produce your parts in medium to large volumes, the major services offer discounts. For them it is more economic than piecing their printruns together one part at a time, and for you, it is 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 3D printing cost.

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3D Printing Cost Tip #15: Join Loyalty / Student Programs

Finally, some online 3D printing services offer programs that reward customers who buy a certain number of 3D printed parts in a given timeframe, say 3 orders within 100 days and the next one is 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 3D printing cost is verify your status by submitting a copy of your student ID.

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