3D printing is quite affordable if you print on your own machine at home but ordering a print from a 3D printing service can become quite expensive especially if the model is very detailed or has to be printed in a special filament. But how expensive is 3D printing?
A single 3D print can cost between 0.1$ and 100 000$ depending on the size of the model, how detailed the model is, the amount of filament used, the type of filament used, the size of the printer, the type of printer, the speed of the printer, if it is printed through a printing service and more.
A regular 3D Benchy (a model of a small ship for benchmark purposes), for example, will cost around 0,037$ if you print it at home on your own printer. This includes filament costs of around 0,02$ and power costs of about 0,017$.
But it will cost around 3$ when the same model is printed via a 3D printing service as they have to add manual labor costs among other costs to be profitable.
How Expensive is 3D Printing?
3D printing is relatively affordable when compared to other manufacturing methods.
This is because 3D printing uses additive manufacturing instead of removing the material from a solid block. Meaning only very little material gets wasted.
On top of that, 3D printers don´t need a lot of power. A regular-sized 3D printer needs on average 0.13 kW per hour. For comparison, a CNC machine draws around 1 kW per hour.
The plastic filament is also quite affordable with about 11$ to 39$ per kilogram of PLA plastic.
Other types of filament can be more expensive though. You can find a complete table with prices for each filament in this article.
3D printers have also become much more affordable overall. A cheap 3D printer that is pretty reliable and easy to set up will only cost around 300$ nowadays.
It will become slightly more expensive if you want to print highly detailed and complex models such as miniatures because they have to be printed in resin with a special resin printer to achieve great results. You can read more about that in my printing miniatures guide right here.
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
Cheap 3D printers can cost as low as 180$ and some, like the original Ender 3, can produce really good prints. A decent 3D printer with the latest tools and gadgets will cost between 300$ and 600$ while a good reliable 3D printer can cost 1000$ or more. Industry-grade 3D printers can cost 30 000$ and more.
I have a detailed article about how much 3D printers cost that you can read right here if you want to know more.
Let´s take a closer look at the different printers you can get at different price ranges.
I own an original Ender 3 which is sold for around 180$ nowadays. I have had my printer for multiple years and even though it is slow and needed some fixing here and there it is still working and still produces excellent prints.
So if you only plan on printing some items here and there and you don´t care about the newest gadgets and tools like auto leveling, touch screens, and fast printing speeds then a cheap 3D printer can be a viable option.
Medium Priced Printers
A good printer with all of the newest gadgets can be bought for around 300$ to 500$.
Both of these printers produce good results and are quite reliable. They are both Ender 3 clones meaning that both of them build heavily on the design of the Ender 3.
This isn´t a bad thing. In fact, most 3D printers in this price range are Ender 3 clones or new official Ender 3 releases like the Ender 3 Neo for example.
Most printers in this price range create prints of a similar quality to cheaper printers but medium-priced printers come with some quality of live improvements and they tend to be more reliable in the long run.
There are quite a few printers in this price range most notably the original Prusa i3 MK3S for around 1000$ and the Bamboo Lab for around 1200$.
The Prusa i3 MK3S is known to be extremely reliable and finely tuned right out of the box. It looks a little outdated with its old screen but it is one of the most beloved 3D printers in the maker world and for good reason.
The Bamboo Lab is quite the opposite. It is a very high-tech printer that can calibrate itself, level itself, and controls the first layers of each print with a camera that is integrated into the printhead.
Both of these printers are extremely reliable and produce amazing results. Best of all, these printers are very beginner friendly and don´t require any fine-tuning at all.
Industrial-grade printers are truly amazing feats of engineering. Some can even print metal.
Most are built to either print very big items or to print very precise items but all of them are very expensive and not meant for home use.
Industrial-grade printers can cost anywhere between 10 000$ and multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Is it Worth Getting a Cheap 3D Printer?
It is worth getting a cheap 3D printer but it is essential to do the research and get a cheap 3D printer that also prints in decent quality. A lot of cheap 3D printers can also be a fire hazard. Good cheap 3D printers are the Ender 3 or the Neptune 3, for example.
Cheap 3D printers aren´t as bad as they used to be 5 years ago. You can get a really good 3D printer for around 180$ nowadays that will yield great results.
But you often have to adjust, level, and set up the 3D printer yourself which can be quite a steep learning curve.
But you will also learn a lot about 3D printers so if anything doesn´t work anymore after a while then you will be able to find and fix the issue faster and easier than someone who never had to adjust and set up their printer.
How Much Does 3D Filament Cost?
3D filament costs between 11$ and 335$ for 1kg of filament depending on the type of filament and the quality. Low-quality PLA filament can be bought for as cheap as 11$ but it also tends to tangle up or clog the nozzle compared to higher-quality PLA. Nylon (PA) is one of the most expensive filaments.
Here is a price comparison of different filament types from different manufacturers:
|PLA||26.99$ – 29.99$||18.99 – 30.00$||20.87$ – 57.00$||11.00$ – 25.00$|
|ABS||26.99$||16.99$ – 30.00$||20.87$ – 52.00$||–|
|PETG||29.99$||16.99$ – 35.00$||21.98$ – 57.00$||–|
|Nylon (PA)||82.99$ – 85.99$||32,00$ – 59.99$||58.00$ – 335.00$||–|
|ASA||29.99$||29.42$ – 39.85$||39.99$ – 58.00$||–|
|TPU (Flexible)||34.99$ – 44.99$||24.99$ – 73.00$||28.99$ – 55.00$||–|
Here is a detailed article about how expensive 3D filament is and why different types of filament cost differently if you want to know more.
Type of Filament
There are several different types of filament that are also differently priced. PLA and ABS are the two most frequently used filaments for 3D printing and they are usually also the two cheapest.
PLA is very easy to print with and I generally always recommend beginners to start printing with PLA.
ABS is more challenging, needs higher temperatures, and often requires an enclosure to print successfully as it tends to warp when it cools down too quickly.
PETG prints about as easily as PLA but it is more robust and a little harder to come by. It also tends to be slightly more expensive than PLA and ABS.
Nylon (PA) is notoriously difficult to print with because of the high temperatures it requires to print properly and because it almost needs a drying box and an enclosure to print successfully. It is also the most expensive type of filament.
ASA is about as hard to print as ABS but it is very resistant to UV rays which makes it perfect for outside use. It is usually slightly more expensive than ABS and it is highly recommended to use an enclosure when printing with ASA. It is slightly more expensive than ABS.
TPU is flexible filament and depending on how flexible or stiff it should be the prices can vary greatly here. It can be as cheap as PLA or as expensive as Nylon filament. TPU can be printed with a Boden (indirect extruder) but it is highly recommended to use a direct extruder when printing with TPU.
How Much Filament Does a 3D Printer Use?
How much filament a 3D printer uses depends on the printer settings and the size of the model. A regular Benchy (a well-known 3D model of a small ship) with 15% infill and 0.16 mm layer height (fairly normal printing settings) will use about 12.45 g of filament.
Here you can see the calculated amount of filament used for a 3D Benchy with an infill of 15% and a layer height of 0.16 mm. According to Prusa slicer it will use 12.45 g of filament to print this Benchy.
I printed the Benchy in white PLA on my Neptune 3 and as you can see, the Prusa Slicer wasn´t far off.
Only the walls that are visible from the outside and the top and bottom of the 3D printed part are solid. The rest is filled in with a fill pattern (a square pattern by default). As you can see right here.
Depending on the size of the printed item, the type of infill pattern, the fill density, the layer height, the wall thickness, and if you are printing with supports or without will influence the amount of filament needed for the print job.
You can download the Prusa Slicer right here, and import the 3D file that you want to print. Then simply select any printer and click on the slice button on the lower right side of the screen.
After the program has sliced the file you will see how much filament the print will probably need. This is a good way of estimating how much filament you will need for any given print job.
The Size of the Model Does Affect the Price
The size of the model does affect the price of printing quite significantly because more filament is used to print a big model and because a bigger part needs much more time to print which means more power is consumed to print the item.
Additional costs may arise if you want to print the part at a 3D printing service because printing bigger parts is riskier and will cost the company more if anything goes wrong.
And bigger prints will occupy the 3D printer for longer than smaller parts making them more expensive to produce for a 3D printing service and thus more expensive for you.
The Complexity of the Model Can Affect the Price
Nowadays most 3D models can be printed on a regular FDM printer (a printer that has a print head and melts plastic to print 3D objects) but some 3D models with a lot of fine detail can´t be printed on an FDM printer and need to be printed on an SLA printer (a resin printer).
Complex models or models with very fine detail need to be printed on an SLA printer with resin. Resin is generally more expensive than plastic and the finished sculpture needs to be cleaned and cured after printing is done. This makes complex models generally much more expensive to print.
An SLA printer is usually faster than an FDM printer and it consumes less power but because the resin is so much more expensive (usually 3 times more expensive than the same amount of plastic) means it will generally cost you more.
Additionally, if you plan on hiring a 3D printing service to print a figure in resin then additional costs will arise because of the manual labor that needs to be done to clean and cure the finished print.
Usually, a finished resin print needs to be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol to get rid of any uncured resin. And finally, any resin that is still not fully cured or still on the figure needs to be cured with UV light.
This is quite a time-intensive process which will cost you extra when you hire a 3D printing service.
Is FDM Printing Cheaper than SLA (Resin) Printing?
FDM printing is generally cheaper than printing with an SLA printer because the resin is more expensive than plastic. FDM printers need more power and take longer for the same size print but the UV-resin so so much more expensive that FDM is still much cheaper.
A 1kg bottle of UV resin for an SLA printer will cost around 35$ on average while the same amount of PLA (most often used plastic for printing) will cost around 25$ on average.
The decision of using an SLA printer over an FDM printer really comes down to the question if you want to print a highly detailed model like a miniature or if you want to print a model with moderate detail or a functional part.
This is a miniature that was printed with the Mars 2 Pro, an SLA printer.
I would not have been able to print this with an FDM printer. But almost anything else with moderate detail should be printed with an FDM printer.
A good 3D printing service will tell you the best option for any given 3D model.
How Much Power Does a 3D Printer Use?
A regular-sized 3D printer with a print bed of 220 mm x 220 mm uses around 0.13 kW per hour. So one hour of 3D printing will cost 0,017 cents in the US on average. The power consumption of a 3D printer depends on the size of the bed, the print temperature, and how well the printer is insulated.
I calculated the above numbers by printing a regular Benchy (a model of a ship for benchmarking print quality) on my Elegoo Neptune 3 in PLA with a print temperature of 205°C on the nozzle and 60°C on the bed. The model has a layer height of 0.16 mm and 15% infill. These are fairly normal print settings for PLA plastic.
That print consumed exactly 0.3 kW of power, as you can see right here.
The print took exactly 2 hours and 27 minutes. This means the print consumed pretty much exactly 0.13 kW per hour.
There are many factors that influence the amount of power a 3D printer needs per hour like the size of the bed, for example.
A bigger size bed will usually consume more power as it needs more time and energy to heat to the required temperature.
Another factor is the print temperature. The higher the printing temperature, especially of the bed, the more power will be consumed. This is also why ABS, ASA, Nylon, and other filaments that need a high temperature to be printed will cost more when ordering from a 3D printing service.
The surrounding temperature will also affect the power consumption of a 3D printer as the heated bed and the nozzle need more power to stay at the correct temperature.
The insulation of the print bed is also an important factor. If the heated bed is insulated on the bottom then less power is needed to keep it at the right printing temperature. An easy upgrade to any 3D printer is gluing some heat insulation on the bottom of your heated bed to save power.
Contrary to popular belief, stepper motors don´t need much power to run. Meaning the motion of the 3D printer isn´t actually the most power-hungry component of the 3D printer.
Heating elements are by far the most power-hungry components of any 3D printer.
Should You Use a 3D Printing Service or Buy Your Own 3D Printer?
If only a small part is supposed to be printed then using a 3D printing service is the better option. But if a big part is supposed to be printed or multiple smaller parts then it might be cheaper to buy a cheap 3D printer and print the parts at home.
The choice is yours but I personally would recommend getting a cheap 3D printer, like an Ender 3, and printing the 3D model yourself if you plan on printing multiple items or if you plan on printing more parts in the future.
The Ender 3 can be bought at around 180$ and a 1kg spool of PLA will cost around 25$ on average. So you could get started with printing your own models for as little as 205$.
If you order a medium-sized 3D model from a 3D printing service then you could easily be at a similar price point.
If you require the part to be printed in a specific material like Nylon, TPU (flexible filament), or ASA then you would need a better more expensive printer. At this point ordering the parts at a printing service would be cheaper.
How Much Does a 3D Printing Service Cost?
A small 3D printed model in PLA will cost between 2$ and 6$. The same-sized model will cost around 4$ when printed in ABS and 6$ for Nylon. A highly detailed figure printed in resin will cost between 3$ and 20$. All prices include shipping costs.
Big detailed 3D models can cost multiple thousands of dollars when printed on a high-end machine.
If you want to print a giant 3D model in PLA then it might even be cheaper to simply buy an affordable and reliable 3D printer like a Neptune 3 or an Ender 3 and print it yourself.
PLA is relatively easy to print and the Neptune 3 as well as the Ender 3 are both relatively easy and fast to set up. They both have slicer settings in Cura (a 3D slicing software) where you don´t have to change anything and the Neptune 3 even has a nice auto-level feature that makes it even easier for beginners to get started.
Why are 3D Printing Services so Expensive?
3D printing services are expensive because they have to make a profit on top of paying for manual labor that is required to prepare the file for the print, remove it from the build plate, and package the print. And they always have the risk of a failed print.
So they have to be expensive to even be able to make a profit.
If you count the money they have to invest in reliable 3D printers then it will be even clearer why most 3D printing services have to charge quite a lot more than the material costs and power costs.
Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.