Perhaps you don’t have a 3D printer, or maybe you’re seeking professional services for a larger or more complex piece. Either way, you might be stumped by the cost of 3D printing services and wonder what makes 3D printing services so expensive.
3D printing services can be expensive because of the operating costs of high-performance 3D printers. In addition to acquisition costs, a printer’s operating costs also involve materials and labor. These can add up and result in high service fees.
A professional 3D printing service offers features you may not be able to achieve if you’re working with a smaller or cheaper printer at home. In this article, I’ll discuss in more depth why 3D printing services can be so expensive.
5 Reasons Why 3D Printing Services Can Be So Expensive
1. Buying and Operating a 3D Printer Can Be Expensive
The 3D printers used by professionals can cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you’ve tried your hand at 3D printing at home, you probably spent anywhere between $200 and $2,000 on a home 3D printer.
However, higher-end printers can have extremely high prices that easily exceed $20,000.
Prints differ in their capabilities, durability, and size. A printer’s specifications will impact its purchase price and operating costs.
Here’s a breakdown of the price ranges you can expect for each category of 3D printers:
- Entry-level printers: $100-$500
- Hobbyist printers: $400-$1,500
- Enthusiast printers: $1,000-$4,000
- Performance and professional printers: $4,000-$20,000
- Enterprise printers: $20,000-$100,000
Enterprise printers are the priciest because they can perform at high speeds while still producing top-quality 3D products.
Companies also need to pay equipment ownership costs regardless of whether they use their printer. The cost of owning the equipment includes:
- The cost of the 3D printer
- Printer service contracts
- Installation costs
- Maintenance costs
In addition to spending the money to purchase a 3D printer, professional services also need to factor in ownership costs.
2. 3D Printing Materials Are Costly
Just as there’s a range of printers, there’s also a wide variety of printing materials. The two most expensive aspects of professional 3D printing services are material (filament or resin) and staffing costs.
There are three primary forms of 3D printing. Here’s a breakdown of how the cost of materials varies amongst the three:
- Fused deposition modeling: The materials used in FDM (also known as Fused Filament Fabrication) are generally the least expensive. These can range from $50 to $150 per 2.2 lbs (1 kg). Stereolithography: SLA materials can vary from $40 to $200 per 33 ounces (1 liter).
- Selective laser sintering: Lastly, SLS material costs around $100 per 2.2 lbs (1 kg). Note that SLS materials, such as unfused powder, can be reused.
Check out the video below to learn more about the costs of 3D printing materials:
3. Complicated 3D Models Take Time and Trained Experts To Print
One great feature of opting for professional printing services is that their powerful and sophisticated printers can produce highly intricate prints.
However, using these advanced printers can take several hours of work by trained professionals. The additional labor hours spent on this stage can cost you more money.
The more intricate and detailed a project is, the higher its price can be because:
- More time is spent by staff preparing it for printing. While some 3D models are ready to go once the client has supplied them, others require a lot of work and human tinkering to get them to print successfully.
- Post-production touch-ups are more complicated. If a professional doesn’t ensure the print is prepared correctly, it could waste time and money.
- Bonding together pieces of a complex 3D object can take longer. Gluing, fusing, and joining parts of your print will also increase the labor hours required for your project.
4. You’ll Have To Pay for Labor
Labor costs also contribute significantly to the cost of your print. Professional printing usually requires more intensive work than at-home desktop 3D printing. Employees are responsible for print preparation—including slicing your model. This stage can take a long time, depending on the project’s complexity.
A simple model may not take much time, but professional printers often deal with intricate models that can take well over half an hour to prepare correctly. Additionally, the volume of your order can easily end up costing a lot in staffing costs alone.
Staff must also set up and maintain the printers and engage in post-production modifications for a print job.
If you’d like to cut out the cost of external labor, you could try 3D printing at home. Affordable printers, such as the Official Creality Ender 3 3D Printer on Amazon.com, feature high-quality, precision printing without breaking the bank. Still, that means that you’ll have to do all the work yourself!
5. Post-Processing 3D Printing Services
Many professional projects require much more than simply loading the model file and hitting the print button. Many models require post-processing services that can drive up the print cost.
For example, you may need one or both of the following post-production touch-ups:
- Polishing: If your object is complex and intricate, polishing can be a time-consuming process.
- Finishing: Printing services may offer special finishing touches for the 3D objects, such as metallic or special paints. These features may raise the total cost of a 3D-printed object.
Some 3D printing services may try to upsell you by offering a host of extra services. Keep an eye out for optional services that may raise your project’s price, such as:
- Express service. Prioritizing your print over others usually comes with a convenience fee.
- Bonding together the parts of your model. Some printing services will put together separate pieces of your model for you.
- Non-disclosure agreements. Some services will offer confidentiality agreements for sensitive products, which can potentially add to the final cost of the service.
If you’re not convinced that you require these services, then perhaps you’d be happier with a small, cheap printer you can use at home, such as the FlashForge Adventurer 3 3D Printer on Amazon.com. Not only will you save money, but the printer is super quiet and doesn’t take up much space.
Using a 3D printing service can be costly. Depending on the complexity of your project and the number of optional add-ons you select, you could end up getting charged more than you expected.
Factors that determine how expensive a 3D printing service could be for you include:
- The company’s equipment operation costs.
- The quality of the materials used.
- How complex your model is.
- How much labor is needed.
- Post-processing services, like any finishes or polishing.