Is 3D Printing Expensive?

One of the most common concerns with 3D printing is that it’s extremely expensive and that it’s only something the wealthy can enjoy. Whilst in the past 3D printing has been particularly expensive, now there’s been a lot of cheap 3d printers released which surely makes them more affordable for younger people, right?

Well, we’re going to take a quick look at 3D printer and see whether they’re actually affordable to use nowadays, or whether they can still be quite expensive to use. If you’ve never used a 3D printer before, then this can be worth knowing because it can save you money in the long run.

Is 3D Printing Expensive?

Now, the main expensive of a 3D printer is obviously the initial outlay that you’re going to have to pay for the printer itself. Fortunately, you can easily find 3D printers for $200-300 nowadays, so this is going to be your main cost. Although this might still seem like a lot, it’s considerably less than it has been in the past, where 3D printers have cost a whole lot more than this.

Now generally, when we’re talking about the 3D printing materials themselves, we’ll divide them into different categories based on the technologies that they use.

Types of 3D Printing

FDM, of Fused Deposition Modelling, is the most common form of 3D printing and is usually what most people are referring to when they question how expensive 3D printing is. It’s the most common form of 3D printing, but it’s also the cheapest too.  Generally for FDM printing, filaments are going to cost you around $25 per kilo (I know that means nothing on it’s own, but I’ll get to it in a minute!

As well as FDM printing, we also have two other printing technologies; SLS and SLA printing. SLS is the next most commonly used type of printing, and if you want to learn the full differences between FD and SLS, check out this post on Sculpteo (it goes into quite a bit of detail!). However in short, FDM printers are generally what you’ll find available to the public, whereas SLS printers are more commonly going to be used professionally, and they’re more expensive to use in comparison to FDM.

SLA printing, which stands for stereolithography, will allow professionals to create an even more defined object. It will also make things much easier to create a smooth object, which can be an issue with cheaper FDM printers.

Filament vs Powder

Another thing that will effect the cost of printing is the materials that you’re going to use. Generally when we’re using cheap FDM printers, you’re going to be using cheap filaments, like PDA filament which is the cheapest. However, in some cases with other printers you might want to create other materials in a 3D printer, like metal. For this, a powder is used instead of a filament.

The price difference between using PDA filament and any sort of metal powder is going to be quite drastic. So if you pay $30 a kilogram for filament, you might pay 10x this if you’re going to use metal. So, this is going to make a massive difference.

How expensive is 3D printing for the everyday person?

So, assuming that you’re using a cheap 3D printer and a cheap filament, then we can start to work out the cost of how much each item will be to make. Again, this depends on a number of other factors, like;

  • The size of the Object – Most importantly, the size of the object is going to determine the cost.
  • Infill – Depending on how solid you’re looking to make your object, this is another consideration too. Something with a 20% infill is going to be a lot cheaper than something with a 80% infill.
  • Brand of filament – Although you can find cheap filament at a super cheap price, sometimes it’s worth looking at other higher quality brands, as they can provide a better finish.

We can easily work out the cost of an item by working out it’s potential weight and determining that as a cost of the filament. So, if we have an object with the dimension 80 x 62 x 96mm, and we use that with a 20% infill, then our object is going to weigh around 32 grams. If we buy our filament at $25 a kilogram, then our object is going to cost roughly $0.80c, which is pretty affordable for most people.

Conclusion

Overall, this is just a rough example of how cheap 3D printing can be. Once you have the printer itself, the only real expensive comes from the materials you’re going to use, as a lot of the software needed can be found online for free. So, hopefully this has helped you understand that not all 3d printer have to cost a ton!

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