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3D Printing Service Cost: How to Best Use a Service

Benjamin Goldschmidt
Nov 28, 2019

3D printing services are great, but getting exactly what you want can cost a pretty penny. Learn how to cut 3D printing service costs with this list of simple tips and tricks.

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3D Printing Service Cost: Keeping It Low

Price Considerations

Following the tips in this article will definitely result in cheaper parts
Following the tips in this article will definitely result in cheaper parts (Source: blog.zmorph3d.com)

When it comes to using a 3D printing service, a variety of variables can affect the overall price. In this article, we’ll look at a number of techniques you can use to adjust the cost, breaking them down into three main categories:

  • Basic methods: Try these first.
  • Compromising methods: These techniques may result in a loss of quality.
  • Bulk methods: This options will help when you need many objects.
  • Workaround methods: These aren’t real solutions, but they might help you save some money.

Naturally, regardless of design, options, and settings, one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the best price is to compare the costs of different 3D printing services. With Craftcloud, the 3D printing and price comparison service from All3DP, you’ll receive real-time prices from a variety of globally-operating services, and there are no extra fees!

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3D Printing Service Cost: Keeping It Low

Basic Methods

One of the easiest ways to reduce cost on a 3D print is to reduce the size
One of the easiest ways to reduce cost on a 3D print is to reduce the size (Source: junction3d.com)

A main factor in 3D print price determination is the cost per unit volume of material. Thus, one of the first things to try is to reduce the amount of material used. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Scale it down. The simplest way to reduce material volume is to scale the print down so that it’s smaller in all dimensions. Of course, this is only an option if your object doesn’t need to be a particular size. For example, it may work well for figurines or decorations, but not so well for custom-made functional parts, especially if they should interface with other prints or objects.
  • Reduce the infill percentage. Cutting down on the infill will result in less material on the inside of your print. Again, there is a limit to how far one can take this. If a part is to be made of plastic and won’t be subjected to heavy stress, one can approach infill densities of 10-20%. On the other hand, certain parts or printing technologies, like SLA, SLS, or DMLS, may require solid or near-solid interiors.
  • Create voids. During the design phase, place voids in a print to use the least amount of material possible. In order to create a useable part, you may be restricted in how much material you can remove. Keep in mind that stronger materials, such as metals or tougher plastics, may allow you more design freedom than standard plastics, like PLA or ABS. Also remember that voiding requires holes to prevent uncured or unsintered material to become trapped inside the print.
  • Discard unnecessary parts. While this seems somewhat intuitive, there are some parts that generally don’t need to be printed. For example, small screw threads, extremely long rigid rod objects, and cylindrical parts can often be purchased at a hardware store for less than what it would cost to print. Additionally, they’re often made of stronger materials and have more precise geometries.
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3D Printing Service Cost: Keeping It Low

Compromising Methods

Printing at a lower will likely result in a lower cost
Printing at a lower will likely result in a lower cost (Source: pinterest.com)

If you’re willing to take things to the next level, the following methods will result in a lower cost but probably at the cost of overall print quality. Consider using them especially for larger parts or parts that will anyway undergo significant post-processing.

  • Increase layer height. This speeds up the printing process, which reduces the overall cost of the print. Also, increasing the layer height may not significantly change the overall look of the print. In FDM, for example, the X and Y resolutions are affected only by the nozzle diameter and not by the Z resolution. For an SLA, SLS, or DMLS print, the loss of resolution may still fall within an acceptable level, depending on the object’s intended use.
  • Choose a different material. In general, plastics cost less than metal parts. To give you an idea, using Craftcloud, the 3D printing and price comparison service from All3DP, a 1″ x 1″ x 1″ cube of PLA costs around $12, whereas the cheapest metal options cost around $55. This just goes to show that, if you can sacrifice material properties, there are a lot of savings to be made. (This might also influence which service you go with.)
  • Choose a different surface finish. Surface finishes can drastically affect price. As an example, a natural glossy surface on 316L steel may cost you over $150, whereas a sandblasted finish will have no extra cost. If you don’t need specific finishes, or if you’re willing to do the finishing yourself, hundreds of dollars stand to remain in your pocket.
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3D Printing Service Cost: Keeping It Low

Bulk Methods

Printing many parts at once may lower the cost per object
Printing many parts at once may lower the cost per object (Source: blog.grabcad.com)

If you plan on printing multiple objects using a 3D printing service, you should follow the general rule: buy in bulk. In most cases, the more you print, the less expensive each individual object will be.

  • Link parts together. Naturally, printing multiple objects together is advisable, eliminating the repetition of overhead costs that come with each print process. When using a 3D printing service, the best way to ensure you aren’t paying for multiple prints is to link your objects together using small connecting pieces that can be removed later in post-processing.
  • Use a single service. Printing many parts through a single service can save you money compared to printing the same number of parts with various services. Many 3D printing services have discount programs for multiple parts as well as loyalty programs and educational discounts when you qualify for them.
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3D Printing Service Cost: Keeping It Low

Workaround Methods

Free samples are a great way to test a service before you buy
Free samples are a great way to test a service before you buy (Source: imakr3d.de)

The following methods can save you money, however, they’re generally used in special cases where other methods have already been tried and printing is still too expensive.

  • Request free samples. Though not a guaranteed or long-term solution, many companies will send you test prints and some of them will even let you send them a custom STL to test print. Of course, you probably won’t be able to request hundreds of free parts, and size and complexity are sure to be limited, but if you simply want to see the capability before you buy, this could be a great option.
  • Print at a local library. If accessibility is the reason you’re working with a service, consider printing at your local library. Libraries are increasingly equipping themselves with 3D printers, typically offering very low rates for use and material costs.
  • 3D print an injection mold. If you need many parts, you can have a service 3D print an injection mold that you can reuse to make a large number of your own parts using injection molding. As you might expect, the difficulty with this method lies in the injection molding itself.
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3D Printing Service Cost: Keeping It Low

Easily Compare Services

Craftcloud features materials and finishes from a number of major 3D printing services
Craftcloud features materials and finishes from a number of major 3D printing services (Source: All3DP)

As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting the price and provider you need is to compare 3D printing services. Unfortunately, keeping tabs open for even five different services and going through their various ordering processes can be quite the hassle, especially if they offer different materials and finishes.

Using Craftcloud, the 3D printing and price comparison service from All3DP, you can see all the options for over 10 globally-operating services. The price estimates are real-time, there are no additional service fees, and if you aren’t sure about exactly what you need, we offer round-the-clock support.

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License: The text of "3D Printing Service Cost: How to Best Use a Service" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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