What does the cost of 3d printing of an object depend on?

wikipedia article has pretty pictures of complex, “big blob” type of objects with no clear prices specified. Well, so if I go to a workshop and ask them to print an object based on my spec, what factors will they use for setting the price? E.g. would printing a big flat keyboard mockup be very cheap? Or would it be expensive or hard because printer is intended for objects with smaller maximum area of cross section?

And what sort of prices do they charge nowadays for whatever typical stuff that they print out of plastic?

For the home 3D printers, these make up the costs:

  1. Raw material cost
  2. Cost of the 3D printer
  3. Cost of electricity to run it
  4. Cost of your labor time if you choose to include that
    In a commercial environment, the same items should be factors.

ok, so let’s start with the materials. Can you use the same dirt cheap plastics that are used in plastic toys, e.g. PVC? Or are even the dirt cheap plastics not all that cheap when sold in the form necessary for the printer?

Almost ten years ago I modelled an aluminium jockey wheel for a mountain bike in AutoCAD 2002. About 5 years later I had the chance to have it “printed” as a freebie by someone I knew who had a Z-Corps rapid prototyping machine. When I received the finished part, it had been scaled up about 3 times. I was informed that this freebie would have cost me about UK£350. Factor in the advances in additive layer manufacturing in the last five years, and the fact that this was a “one off”, and hopefully that gives you a data point.
Nowadays you can efficiently build parts in volume out of either plastic or metal (many varieties of either), and given sufficient build quantities, your biggest outlays will be the raw material, the time spent creating the 3D model and the utilisation of the machine.

did you get the cost breakdown? How much were the raw materials and the use of the machine?

Do you suppose the machine time has gotten much cheaper nowadays than it was 10 years ago?

Unfortunately I didn’t get a breakdown of the cost, but it certainly was nowhere near £350-worth of raw materials. The technology has progressed to the point where they can now justifiably call it “Additive Layer Manufacturing” rather than “Rapid Prototyping”. But that still depends on economies of scale to an extent. I would bet that my jockey wheel would probably still cost around UK£350 for one, depending on how they could fit it in. And bear in mind that it was an unusable fragile plastic part, not a finished component. If I wanted 100,000 of the things sintered out of powdered titanium, the cost per unit would be similar to the same machined or cold-forged part. It’s the initial cost of the machines that is holding up this technology.

Certainly when I was looking at these things some years ago the machine time totally dominated. Consumables were in the noise. Indeed my hazy memory was that they simply charged by time, once a suitable digital model existed. They were expensive and slow. Whereas they have improved, I doubt that the cost situation has changed much.

The length of time it takes to make the part is not in RaftPeople’s list it is needed to translate the cost of the machine into the cost of a part. 3D printing is pretty slow. So the cost of the machine has to be amortized over a low number of parts. This also extends somewhat to the labor to run the machine.

3d = £0.0125

A local shop charges by the cubic centimeter. Part of the cost is in the consumables, but laser runtime is also proportional to volume of cured material, so that may well be the dominating factor.

I don’t recall any setup fees, but this is a DIY shop so you’re expected to handle most of the setup details yourself. I think the rate was ~$2/cc.

could you elaborate on the economies of scale bit? I understand that there are economies of scale in plastics manufacturing using molds. But I don’t understand how you can have economy of scale in a printer, 3d or otherwise, assuming that you have the design document for it ready. Or does the design document need a lot of processing from an expensive professional?

In terms of slowness, is there a major speed up trend going on or do people generally think that this technology always be basically slow?

ETA: oops, actually the issue of slowness was brought up by Dr. Strangelove.

cool, thanks. That sounds really cheap for flat objects, and probably not all that cheap for the blobs from wikipedia article.

They can provide different kinds of filler–hollow and solid of course, but also a kind of honeycomb-like structure that’s strong enough for many purposes but much cheaper than solid fill.

Here’s a link to the shop I go to:

They don’t have prices on the page, but they’ll provide a free quote if you send them your model.

I see no reason why the technology has to always be expensive and slow.

The units themselves are really quite simple; there’s nothing in them much more advanced than an inkjet printer. The lasers are probably fairly expensive, but diode lasers have come down tremendously in price in recent years, to the point where you can get a “laser projector” for <$800 that has 24 watts worth of blue lasers in it. Near-UV diode lasers are already here; I don’t know if they’re good enough for curing use but in any case the trend is obvious.

Speed is a matter of doing things in parallel. More lasers in parallel, all operating simultaneously, will speed things up by about that same factor.

Consumables should be cheap in the long run. It’s basically just plastic.

Here are two companies that do 3d printing, both printing parts you send them and purchasing printed copies of other customer’s designs:


I’ve never used either service, but last weekend at Maker Faire I handled stuff from both companies. They both price based on the type and volume of material used to make your object.

Yes, it arises from the cost of producing the 3D model in the first place. All that time spent producing a model for one widget may not be economical. However, during a large volume batch run, small changes can be incorporated to the product that would not normally be practical using traditional manufacturing methods.

Shapeways is quite interesting, I want to try printing my own things, but I don’t really know 3D design. Their prices depend on volume, and are about $2-$20 per cm3, depending on material.

I looked at this a while back and the pricing model (for the places I checked) for a one-off seemed to be based on a couple of factors - including the volume of material consumed, the amount of finishing (removal of bridges and supporting structures, surface finishing, etc - sometimes still necessary for 3D printed items) and the overall maximum dimensions of the thing - X and Y dimensions dictating the size of machine required to make it, and whether it could be made alongside other small items in a single process, and Z dimension determining how long it would take to build.

I expect pricing models have become a bit simpler now, but the above factors are still possible components of the cost.

3d printing is expensive because the manufacturers (eg Makerbot) force you to buy the plastic printing materials from them or you void the warranty. Since they have a monopoly they can charge what they want.