Demystifying the 3D Printing Pricing: Key Factors to Consider and How To Manage Them

You may have been quoted a price that was difficult to predict or even wildly different than what you expected. This is because several factors determine the price. Some have a more negligible impact, while others have a larger one. Here are the five most important factors that affect cost and how to reduce them.

File design and modification take time.

A 3D printable digital model is required to print an object. A native CAD is usually exported as a .STL file or .OBJ. This file is often the most expensive aspect of 3D printing. Especially if you are iterating on a prototype. If you’re not a digital designer, you’ll need to hire a designer to create your file. The price of most designers will vary depending on their experience and tenure.

A 3D printing manager will check the file for printability and may suggest additional edits. Your file may need to be thickened, split into pieces that fit the printbed, or removed parts that are not printable. The higher the price, the more iterations are needed.

Cost-saving measures:

  • Be familiar with your printer type and the material you will use. This way, you can design files to fit its specifications. You’ll need to spend time and money if your design is incompatible with the printer method. This article will cover some tips on how to model a part for printing on an FDM printer.
  • Provide a detailed sketch and dimensions. The more details you provide your designer, the less time it will take to design and iterate.
  • Hire a freelancer. On sites like Fiverr and Upwork, you can find great freelancers who charge a lower hourly rate than engineering or product design firms. It’s best to use this method only for simple parts that require little expertise.
  • Working with a designer familiar with 3D printers is a good idea. Suppose you are unfamiliar with 3D printers. In that case, your digital file may not be printable and require excessive repairs/changes.

The print material used

Each year, the number of materials that you can print increases. Thousands of materials are available today, from metals to plastics to biomaterials. Printing costs are highly dependent on the type of material. The rarity, complexity, and type of printer are all factors that influence the cost of printing.

It is essential to know what material you will need for the part(s) that you are making. The wrong material can lead to expensive reprints and/or excessive initial printing costs. It is not always best to choose a material simply because it is expensive!

Cost-saving measures:

  • Be aware of the conditions that your part must withstand. Does it have to be resistant to water, high temperatures or withstand modifications by tools? The type of material you choose will depend on these factors and many more. You can find datasheets online or by asking your 3D printer partner.
  • If possible, choose common materials like PETG or PLA. These materials are readily available and affordable, so they can be used for many models. This printing method may sometimes require you to simplify your model.
  • It would be best to design for the material you will print. You save time and money by knowing the design guidelines of your material.

The volume and area of the part

After you’ve selected the printing material, the dimensions and specifications of your part will be entered into its calculator. The calculator will price and assess your item according to size. Surface area and volume are the best ways to determine size and scope.

Surface area and volume are used because you may have a piece with a high volume but a small surface area, such as a simple cubical shape, or one with a large volume but a small surface area, like a detailed action figurine. Both metrics are essential to ensure that your printer can accurately assess how much material is used, how long the print will take, and the time required for the post-process.

Cost-saving measures:

  • Hollow your part if the material and piece allow it. Pieces printed in solid materials will have a much higher volume than hollowed or partially hollowed parts. Your 3D printer partner can advise how to hollow and adjust the file.
  • The area can be large if a part contains small details or designs such as text and patterns. Consider reducing the level of detail if you’re looking to save money.
  • For large parts, split your model to fit a standard desktop 3D printer. If you don’t have an industrial printer, this can be a great way to reduce your costs.

The number of parts.

Bulk pricing is also applicable to 3D printing, just as it is for any other type of manufacturing. Although 3D printing might not be able to beat certain forms of traditional manufacturing in terms of price per part, it can offer dramatically lower startup costs. The mold-making can make the initial startup costs for injection molding expensive (and slow).

Material jetting and binder jetting are two 3D printing methods that can be beneficial for anyone looking to print in large quantities. These processes have relatively high startup costs, but they are still lower than injection molding. While it is expensive to print small numbers of parts, the price per unit can be significantly lower when you do volume production. This is because the costs are spread across more parts.

Cost-saving measures:

  • Consider printing several at once if you are confident in your design. This isn’t always possible, but if you can, it could save you a lot of money over the long term.
  • Ask your 3D printer partner if they can add the part or parts you need to an existing model. It may reduce your startup costs. This will only work if the parts you print have similar specifications to an existing order.

Lead times for production.

The majority of 3D printing companies have different lead times ranging from a standard timeline up to same-day manufacturing. The lead time is determined by several factors, including the size of the part, quantity, material, and the level of activity at the facility. You’ll pay more for faster production if you need the part(s).

Cost-saving measures:

  • If possible, wait a few extra days to get your parts. Some companies offer discounts if you are willing to wait for the printing of your order.
  • Be sure to send your file in print-ready condition. You can save money and get your files printed faster if the production team doesn’t have to spend as much time on it.

If you would like to know more about optimizing your parts or printing process in order to save money, please contact us.

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