3D printing is a rapidly growing technology, with the market size projected to grow from $22.40 billion in 2023 to $105.99 billion by 2030. For organizations looking to take advantage of this exciting additive manufacturing technique, one question is becoming increasingly important: what are its costs?
This article will review the various factors that impact 3D printing costs and provides a free 3D printing cost estimator to accurately assess the expenses associated with your next project.
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How Much Does 3D Printing Cost?
The cost of 3D printing can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of 3D printing technology, the size and complexity of the object being printed, the material used, and the quantity of prints needed. Total costs also depend on whether you’re outsourcing your 3D printing needs or if you’ve decided to 3D print in-house.
Outsourced vs. In-house 3D Printing
Outsourcing 3D printing refers to contracting or delegating 3D printing services to an external company or service provider. This can be a good option if you have a one-off project or don’t have the time or resources to do the printing yourself.
However, outsourcing can lead to longer product development cycles and increased lead times. Plus, if you have an extensive 3D printing project or multiple products to print, outsourcing can end up being costlier in the long run. You’re paying for more than just materials: you cover the labor and overhead expenses incurred by the service provider, transportation fees, and of course, a service charge.
In-house 3D printing can also have its disadvantages. It can require a significant upfront investment in capital equipment, so it only makes sense for higher-volume projects. You also need to consider how much manpower, electricity, and materials are needed, since this will all impact the total costs of in-house 3D printing.
However, investing in an in-house 3D printer offers significant advantages, including greater control over the production process, improved reliability, and easier implementation and adjustment of designs. Having your own printer can also improve turnaround times, expedite your product’s time-to-market–and of course, reduces reliance on outside service providers.
It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need a large industrial printer for these in-house benefits. High-quality, professional desktop 3D printers can provide comparable resolution, layer thickness, accuracy, and print speeds while remaining accessible and affordable.
So once you’ve decided to 3D print in-house, do you lease your 3D printer, or purchase one?
Leasing vs. Owning Your 3D Printer
Leasing a 3D printer comes with the advantage of service and maintenance provided by the leasing company. However, continuous leasing will end up being more expensive since you’re not building any equity in your printer.
Alternatively, owning a 3D printer is an investment. You depreciate the cost of the printer over time, treating it as a business asset. Once it is entirely depreciated (its investment cost has been recouped), the printer essentially becomes a “free” piece of equipment and no longer impacts the cost of your 3D printing project. The printer is still fully functional and capable of producing quality prints for years to come.
Let’s look at an analysis of 3D printing costs for leasing vs buying.
The Carbon M2, M3, and M3 Max 3D printers are exclusively available on a 3-year lease, costing a minimum of $150,000 (or $225,000 for the Max model). In contrast, Nexa3D’s XiP Pro industrial 3D printer costs $59,995 for a one-time purchase. This makes the XiP Pro 60% less expensive than the smaller M2/M3 printers–and 74% less expensive than the similarly sized M3 Max. The Carbon M2, M3, and M3 Max 3D printers are exclusively available on a 3-year lease, costing a minimum of $150,000 (or $225,000 for the Max model). In contrast, Nexa3D’s XiP Pro industrial 3D printer costs $59,995 for a one-time purchase. This makes the XiP Pro 60% less expensive than the smaller M2/M3 printers–and 74% less expensive than the similarly sized M3 Max.
By choosing to own the XiP Pro, you can make significant cost savings and retain ownership, ultimately reducing the cost per part in both short-term and long-term scenarios. There are also several other advantages of the XiP Pro (open material platform, LSPc technology, larger build volume..)
Curious? Read more here: Nexa3D vs Carbon
Factors That Impact 3D Printing Cost
So we’ve covered outsourcing vs leasing vs buying…but many other factors impact 3D printing costs. This section will explore the key elements that affect 3D printing costs so you can make an informed decision on a 3D printing investment.
1. 3D Printing Technology
All 3D printing technologies have varying costs. Resin 3D printers, used in SLA 3D printing for example, typically provide higher print quality and smoother finishes than filament printers. But, material costs for resin 3D printers might be higher if you’re mass-producing parts or need durable parts.
On the other hand, filament printers offer a rather wide range of material options. They can be cheaper, but they often have limitations in terms of print resolution and surface finish.
Powder-based systems, such as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), offer the ability to produce complex geometries and functional parts. However, they require a controlled environment where you can house the printers, which can add to the investment. They can also have higher implementation costs due to the need for additional safety measures and specialized equipment. These factors contribute to higher upfront costs and ongoing operational expenses, but the functionality of parts, speed, and high throughput of SLS 3D printers makes it worth it for ongoing projects.
The speed of the 3D printing technology chosen will also impact the overall cost. If you’re working with less expensive, but slower 3D printers, it can be challenging to make up time if there are any issues with the production run. For example, while resin 3D printers and SLS 3D printers can be more expensive than filament printers, they’re also faster, so can allow for quicker reprinting if any product modifications are required.
Read more: The Fastest 3D Printers on the Market Today
2. 3D Printer Investment
Once you know what 3D printing technology you’re using, you need to choose the printer. The cost of a 3D printer will vary greatly depending on the brand, use case, and function.
For example, hobbyist 3D printers typically cost between $200 and $1,000. These printers are a good option for people who want to try out 3D printing or who need a printer for basic projects. Professional desktop 3D printers are more expensive, but they offer better performance and features. They typically cost between $1,000 and $10,000 and are best for businesses that need industrial-quality construction and high-end printing capabilities while staying compact and office-friendly.
Industrial 3D printers cost at least $10,000 and can be upward of $1,000,000. These printers are the most expensive but offer the highest performance and features. They’re designed for large-scale production with high precision, accuracy, speed, and reliability. The cost of maintenance, repairs, and labor will often be higher for these industrial machines.
Since there’s such a huge range of 3D printing pricing, the initial investment is a significant consideration. But it’s not the only thing to consider. Some printers may have a lower upfront cost–but then limited throughput capabilities.
Let’s compare the costs of the Nexa3D XiP 3D printer with the Formlabs Form 3+ printer. While the initial investment for the XiP is higher, it has a 25% larger build volume and a print speed of 5–10x faster. You can produce more parts within a given timeframe with the XiP and at the highest quality, with pixels as low as 52 microns (compared to Formlabs 85).
The XiP also operates an open materials platform which means you can use unlimited third-party resins in the printer, while the Form 3+ requires the use of Formlabs branded resin.
Read the full comparison here: Nexa3D XiP vs Formlabs Form 3+
However, a more expensive printer doesn’t always guarantee a higher throughput or quality. Let’s take a look at Nexa3D’s industrial 3D printers vs Stratsys’ Origin One.
The Light Engines
- The Origin One’s light engine uses DLP technology with a 4K ultra-high definition resolution and 385nm light source wavelength.
- The Nexa3D XiP Pro and NXE 400Pro’s light engines use LED/LCD technology with a 7K resolution and 405nm wavelength.
The NXE 400Pro boasts an impressive build volume of 17 liters, more than double Origin One’s 7.5 liters. The NXE 400Pro also outperforms the Origin One in all axes: it is 43% wider on the x-axis, 43% deeper on the y-axis, and 8% taller on the z-axis. The XiP Pro? It’s even bigger, tacking on an additional 2.5 liters of build space.
Thanks to innovative part stacking and advanced LSPc technology, the NXE 400Pro can produce hundreds of additional parts per build without any increase in printing time.
Because the Nexa3D’s XiP Pro and NXE 400Pro printers excel in manufacturing parts with substantially higher throughput than the Stratasys Origin One, you get more parts in the same timeframe, leading to a lower cost per part for manufacturers.
And, after all this, the XiP Pro is priced at $59,995, which is 40% less than the upfront cost of the Origin One at approximately $99,000.
Read more here: Nexa 3D printers vs Origin One
3. Product Specifications
Understanding your product requirements will help guide you toward the most suitable 3D printer option, as well as impact the overall cost. For example, needing bigger prints with higher complexity or accuracy requirements might lead you to printers with advanced features.
To come to an informed decision, it’s helpful to ask the following questions:
How big is your product?
Some 3D printers have limitations on the maximum build volume or may require splitting larger designs into multiple parts for assembly. If your product is large, you’ll need to choose a 3D printer that can accommodate its size without compromising print quality.
Does it have complex geometries?
If your product has intricate or complex geometries, you’ll need a 3D printer with high precision and resolution capabilities. Fine details, sharp edges, or intricate internal structures might demand a printer capable of producing intricate designs accurately, which can require a more expensive printer.
How quickly do you need the products?
Some printers offer faster print speeds, which can be beneficial if time is a critical factor. However, it’s important to balance speed with print quality to ensure accurate and reliable results.
What is the product’s function?
Depending on what you need the product for, you’ll need to use a printer and 3D printing materials that have different functional characteristics. Consider factors like mechanical strength, flexibility, heat resistance, or chemical resistance before you make your decision.
What environment will your parts be placed in?
Environmental conditions can be a great barometer for both technology and material selection. If your product needs to withstand high pressures, the printer and material selection should be capable of producing strong and durable parts.
If they need to be transparent, then a resin printer like the XiP Pro coupled with xMODEL17-Clear resin is your best option. Need air-tight or water-tight production parts? SLS is a fantastic choice when using water-tight materials like PK5000.
How accurate does it need to be?
Some applications, particularly in industries like medical or aerospace, require extremely high levels of accuracy. In such cases, printers with advanced resolution capabilities and fine layer heights are essential to achieve the desired level of precision.
Whether you are creating prototypes or production parts, the XiP Pro and NXE 400Pro ensure that every intricate detail of your design is captured with unparalleled clarity and precision. Their high-resolution display guarantees that your finished product is not only stunning but also remarkably accurate, meeting the most demanding standards of quality.
4. Production Run Size
Production run sizes impact your costs pretty simply: the larger your production run, the more you’re going to spend on materials, manpower, electricity, etc. Of course, if you’re printing thousands of products, the price per part should go down.
This topic also takes us back to the in-house vs outsource debate. For low-volume runs in the hundreds, outsourcing may be a more cost-effective option. Professional 3D printing service providers typically have industrial-grade printers that can produce multiple parts simultaneously. As a result, they can reduce the per-unit printing costs compared to in-house production, particularly if you only have a few small projects. There’s also less responsibility on your end: you don’t need to manage large-scale 3D printing projects on your own, and all that comes with it.
However, if you’re considering full-scale production, it’s worth it to evaluate the feasibility of purchasing your 3D printer. Owning your own facility provides you with greater control over the quality of your products, production speed, and overall manufacturing process. Plus, once you’ve invested in your own 3D printer, you can get the benefits of high-quality prints for years to come.
5. 3D Printing Materials
The cost of 3D printing materials has become more diverse, offering economic options for materials from SLS powders to clear resins. Thanks to a more even playing field, the real value of materials now lies in their usability, sustainability, and efficiency, which all impact the bottom line.
Let’s take a look at JawsTec, a manufacturing service provider specializing in 3D printing. JawsTec faced a substantial powder waste issue, totaling over 2 tons annually. JawsTec had to forgo usage of 30% of their thermoplastic powder, while also bearing the cost of its storage and proper disposal. This waste of end-of-life powder not only raised the company’s operating overhead and impacted profit but also represented a significant environmental issue for a company committed to sustainable manufacturing.
These material issues led them to adopt Nexa3D’s QLS 230 and QLS 820 SLS 3D printers. This solution effectively eliminated their powder waste by allowing them to use a mixture of recycled, unsintered powder and new powder. Thanks to the right materials and the right 3D printers, JawsTec can now utilize 100% of their powders due to the high packing density rate of the printers, which further optimizes the recycled powder usage rates.
When it comes to materials, it’s important to note that your 3D printer may only be compatible with specific materials. Sometimes printers can only use their brand’s materials. To avoid this limitation, work with printers that offer an open material platform. For example, Nexa3D printers’ open material platform means your material options are virtually limitless–and can fit your budget.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing Materials
6. Running Your 3D Printer
Energy consumption costs are sometimes overlooked, but they can significantly impact your overall 3D printing expenses. The amount of electricity required depends on the printer’s technology, size, and duration of usage.
For example, resin-based printers typically consume less energy than SLS printers. This is mainly because resin 3D printing uses a photopolymerization process, where liquid resin is solidified through the activation of UV light sources. This is generally more energy-efficient than thermal-based technologies like SLS, which uses lasers to fuse powdered materials together. These lasers require high levels of energy to melt powdered materials to their melting point. SLS printers also require preheating the build plate to ensure even heat distribution during printing, which adds to energy consumption.
Metal 3D printing is the most energy-intensive because it involves directly melting and solidifying metal powders using lasers, electron beams, or secondary sintering processes.
7. Manpower Costs
Each printer technology requires a certain level of manpower and some technologies are more labor-intensive than others. FDM printing, which utilizes filament materials, tends to require the least amount of labor. Filament printers are known for their “plug and play” operation and relatively simple setup. However, FDM printing can be slower compared to other technologies, impacting production throughput and time-to-market.
Powder-based printing, such as SLS, can be a bit more labor-intensive. The handling of powders can be messy and it often requires highly skilled labor due to the complexities involved in preparing the powder bed and post-processing the prints. Powder-based printers may also require more auxiliary equipment, such as powder recovery and recycling systems, which can add to the overall manpower requirements.
Resin 3D printing historically requires far less labor in the initial setup than SLS, but it does require more post-processing steps.
In resin 3D printing, the preparation and setup can be relatively simple, since most of them come with pre-configured settings so starting your 3D print can take just a few minutes. However, post-processing requires more work because it involves washing and curing properly to achieve their final mechanical properties and surface finish.
The initial setup in SLS 3D printing is more complex because it requires spreading the powdered material evenly in the build chamber and setting up the laser parameters accurately. However, post-processing can be as simple as removing excess powder and cleaning the printed parts.
No matter the 3D printer technology, opting for a user-friendly and automation-friendly printer can help minimize manpower costs and enhance operational efficiency. Nexa3D’s smart resin delivery system contains a suite of on-board sensors that automatically optimize each print, creating a stress-free process.
8. Post Processing Requirements
Post-processing involves labor costs for tasks like support removal and surface finishing, which can require skilled operators, additional staff, and more time. Some equipment or materials, like solvents or abrasives, may also be required, resulting in extra expenses. The overall costs are also impacted by individual project requirements, the scale of production, and the desired level of finishing.
The post-processing requirements for 3D printers and technologies will differ. As we previously mentioned, the post-processing for resin 3D printing takes some effort. The support structures providing stability during printing must be carefully removed. The printed parts are then washed to remove any uncured resin residue.
Finally, post-curing is performed to fully solidify the parts using UV light and/or heat. Depending on the part’s geometry and desired aesthetics, sanding and smoothing may be required to improve the surface finish and achieve a polished appearance.
For FDM, the process is generally less intensive compared to other technologies. Once the print is completed, the support structures (if used) can be manually removed by breaking or cutting them away.
Some processes even offer dissolvable support. For aesthetic purposes, additional steps such as sanding or painting can be performed to improve the appearance (though the final product is still less impressive than resin and SLS 3D prints).
SLS printing tends to have simple post-processing requirements. Once the printing process is complete, the primary step involves clearing the excess powder from the printed parts. This can be achieved by brushing or air blowing.
When the powder is removed, the printed parts are generally considered ready for use. If you desire any aesthetic post-processing to enhance the look of SLS parts, automated solutions exist to remove material, improve surface finish, and even dye your parts.
To sum up, FDM printers typically offer the most cost-effective post-processing since they often require minimal additional steps and SLS printers can also be relatively cost-effective due to straightforward powder removal.
Resin printers may have a slightly more involved initial post-processing– mainly due to the additional steps involved–but the products have unparalleled resolutions and surface finishes that most closely model traditional injection molding aesthetics.
Make it Easy to Determine Your 3D Printing Costs
There are several factors to consider when determining your 3D printing costs, from the outsourcing vs in-house debate to 3D printing technology, to material recyclability.
The good news is, you don’t have to measure and calculate every variable on your own.
If you’re interested in resin 3D printing, Nexa3D offers a handy cost simulator tool that can assist you in making an informed decision. Choose your printer of interest, upload your file(s), and select your preferred material to see how resin printers can boost your productivity–and lower your 3D printing costs.