A 3D printer can be an expensive investment for your business. However, over time it can pay for itself due to reduced costs on production. In this article, we will shed the light on what factors form the price of your 3D print and how to define 3D printing costs.
It is logical to expect that the amount of filament is the key factor. Although true, the amount per se is not the only contributor. Other characteristics like printing settings and object properties contribute to the amount of material you need. These factors are necessary to consider before implementing a 3D printer for your own business model.
WHAT DETERMINES 3D PRINT COSTS
- Printing technologies
3D printing costs depend on the type of printing technology used. There are 3 types: SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), SLA (Stereolithography) and FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling). FDM is the cheapest technology among the three listed, and SLS is the most expensive one. You can find an affordable FDM printer from €100, while an SLS machine will cost at least ten times more.
In FDM printing, a temperature-controlled head extrudes a thermoplastic material layer by layer onto a build platform. FDM 3D printers are a cost-effective solution because of low machine price, affordable filaments, and low maintenance costs. However, when you are exploring the world of 3D printing, it is not clear how exactly cut-rate these solutions are. What makes up for the price of a single print?
- Size of an object
It seems to be obvious, but worth a special highlight: the size of your printing object influences (but does not define) the amount of filament it will require. The math behind this is simple: the bigger the print, the more filament you need and the larger the price you will pay for an object.
In addition to the size, you should also determine the infill density of your print. Usually, 3D prints are not solid parts with 100% plastic infill. The most common infill rate is 20%. If you want to make your parts stronger and heavier, the price will boost accordingly to the increase of the infill. If you do not need the part to be too strong and/or heavy, it is better to decrease the infill and hence, reduce the price.
In addition, if you use break-away support, it will increase the price accordingly to the amount of support you are using.
- Brand & type of a filament
Different brands have different prices for their filaments – and sometimes it contributes to the quality of the final product. It is possible to find a spool of approximately €10 per kilogram, but the final piece might not have the smooth finish that the filament for €40 per spool could provide. It is not always the case, but when considering a 3D print, the final quality of the part in most cases should be more important than the price of a filament.
In addition, some materials are more expensive than others. ABS is one of the most common plastics, and therefore the price for spool is one of the lowest. However, if you are looking into more complicated or sturdy materials, the situation could dramatically change. Modern metal-infilled filaments could cost up to several hundreds of euros per spool of 1-2 kilograms.
It is important to consider time spent printing and electricity consumed. Normally, a 3D printer consumes the same amount of electricity as a working fridge.
It might take a couple of days or even weeks to print a big object. If a print is finished before you reach your printing farm, a printer will stay in the IDLE mode and consume electricity. Luckily, some modern 3D printers have an auto shut down function (e.g., the Bolt Pro). It helps preserve energy, cut costs and become more ecological – all in one go.
- Layer thickness
Though layer thickness does not dramatically affect the amount of filament per se, it influences time spent on printing, and consequently – electricity costs involved.
- Price of a 3D printer
If you are running a business, you always need to track your success and calculate the return on investment (ROI). For that, you will also include the price of a 3D printer and how efficient it is. Cheaper machines with parts of a lower quality might require a replacement more often, while expensive professional printers will last longer. Therefore, low upfront costs could result in bigger losses in the long run.
CALCULATION OF 3D PRINTING COSTS: EXAMPLE
Taking into account all the properties of 3D printing which contribute to the price, let’s calculate how much you will spend on a default print. Take a standard
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