Whether you run a 3D printing business or printer farm, or even plan to start one, knowing the running costs of the business is imperative. Obviously, the cost of producing each printed part is an important factor in any business that deals with 3D printing. Even for hobbyists, it can be useful to get a sense of the costs before undertaking a large printing project.
Pricing 3D prints seems to be the most difficult aspect people face. It’s crucial to approach each job in a systematic way so that you can charge your customer fairly while also making enough profit to justify all your efforts.
In this article, we will outline how to price your 3D print projects.
how much does it cost in electricity to run a 3d printer
A 3D printer that uses a 30A 12V draws a maximum of 360 watts of power (Power = Current x Voltage). A printer with a hotbed of 205 degrees Celsius and a heated bed of 60 degrees Celsius uses 70 watts per hour, which equates to 0.7KWh for a 10-hour print. Typical 3D printers run for eight or more hours a day. FDM filament printers run for 2-3 days, meaning the printer runs continuously for more than 24 hours. The average 3D printer consumes 50 watts per hour. As a result of the non-stop nature of FDM printing, a lot of power is consumed. This may result in a large power bill. To heat their print beds, other printers require 120 Volts of electricity. Therefore, it needs a power supply of 600 watts per hour to heat up and peak the bed.
To begin with, you must determine the value of your time. According to your skill level, this could range from $10 to $50 (or more!). Furthermore, you should consider supply and demand and see what others are charging in your industry. It may be difficult for you to charge more than $20/hour unless you can justify it.
Due to the slow nature of 3D printing, even small changes in your printer’s hourly rate will have a significant impact on your quote. Many people are surprised at how low this number usually is. For example, charging your printers $3 per hour is not uncommon. I recommend filling in this item at the end, and then watching how it affects the final piece price as you adjust it. Using this approach, you can ensure your pricing is in line with what a customer might be willing to pay.
Whenever you are doing design work for a project, you should figure out how long it will take you to complete all that 3D modeling. You might find this difficult in the beginning, but as you practice you will become more adept at making design estimates. As your portfolio grows, you can use actual information from past work you have completed to make educated guesses based on what you know now. Your pricing will become more competitive as you become more proficient at 3D modeling.
Slicing (Programming) Time
It is vital to factor in the amount of time required to import your model into your slicer and tweak settings, no matter whether you designed the model or received it from a client. Give yourself enough programming time to ensure you are able to produce a quality print that the customer will appreciate. If your printers have proven profiles, it may take less than 10 minutes. Models of greater complexity may require hours in which various settings are tinkered with.
For scheduling and informing your customer about lead times, it is imperative that you estimate print time accurately. There is nothing that makes a customer more unhappy than discovering their items will take a week longer than promised. If your customer provides you with a file beforehand, you can drop it into your slicer and get an estimate quickly. You can estimate based upon similar projects that you have worked on in the past if you do not have access to the file. For the most accurate estimate, you can also use file sharing sites and similar items others have made for you.
Post Processing Time
Often, even when your printer is finished, your project is still incomplete. It’s not always necessary to remove all supports, while other times you might have to paint and sand for hours. Each project will vary in this regard, but it is important to keep this step in mind. It’s a common mistake to leave this part off of your quote, as it devalues your time.
Part post-processing costs
After a printer has finished printing a part, post-processing costs are incurred. In most cases, you need to let the part cool and then remove it from the printing surface with a spatula. If any markings have been left on a part with a support or raft, we must carefully remove them.
The best finish can also be achieved by using a file, knife to remove remaining plastic pieces and imperfections. Additionally, it is possible to post-process the piece with more advanced techniques, like sanding, painting, covering it with epoxy, gluing, etc. The possibilities for post processing are endless, but all of them require a lot of time from the person responsible for it.
Any information that doesn’t fit into another category will be gathered here. Any number of fasteners or heat-set inserts could be used on the project. Although some projects may not need final touches, keeping this in mind will prevent you from forgetting important items.
Hourly printing costs
The hourly printing costs are one of the most important factors to consider when estimating the cost of 3D printing. In these costs we include all the costs that are proportional to the number of hours the machine prints our part. This includes:
Amortization cost of the machine. To calculate the cost of using any equipment, it is common to use amortization or depreciation, assuming that we wear down or consume the equipment as we use it. Another way to think about amortization is to divide the total cost of the equipment between the parts we are going to make with it, so that after some time we have “amortized” it. In order to calculate amortization, divide the printer’s price by the number of hours it will be used until it is amortized.
Electricity cost. 3D printer owners are often concerned with their printers’ energy consumption, however the truth is that electricity is one of the cheapest inputs when calculating the cost of printing in 3D. Based on our calculations (the kWh at 0.15€ and a printer that consumes 500W) the price is only 8 euro cents per hour.
Operator cost. This is the cost of having a person watch the print. It’s not relevant to a company that isn’t exclusively dedicated to 3D printing, since the printers are self-sufficient and can print without constant operator supervision. The most significant cost, however, is the labor, as we have a single employee constantly on hand to put in, take out, maintain, and monitor all the printers.
It is sometimes overlooked that maintenance is an important part of operating 3D printers. As a mechanical system, printers require periodic maintenance, just like cars and CNC machines.
Frequently, moving machine parts need to be cleaned and greased, components like the printing surface or extruder need to be renewed, or damaged components need to be replaced. The printer can be maintained by the person responsible for it or by the manufacturer, who offers maintenance and warranty plans.
No matter how good your 3D printer is, you have to throw out parts from time to time because of printing errors, jams, laminating errors, running out of filament….
Printers have come a long way and are becoming more reliable and easy to use, but there will always be a rate of errors when printing, especially when you don’t spend enough time servicing them. Lamination also contributes to many errors. We usually decide on the optimal print orientation when we see a part and then get it printed. Some details don’t print correctly with that orientation, or with the lamination parameters we selected, so we have to repeat the printing with a different configuration.
Training is another cost that is often overlooked, but it is very important if we want to maximize the benefits of 3D printing in our company.
In an ideal world, employees should be trained on how to exploit the technology, from the design phase for 3D printing to machine operation and maintenance. There are many companies and trainers that offer online and in-person courses, and more and more printer manufacturers are offering introductory courses when the machine is purchased.
Additional Profit Percentage
What’s usually the last stage of calculating the price of a 3D print is adding a certain percentage on top of the price of the material, print time, and manual labor combined. For example, if the cost of the material, print time, and manual labor is $20 and your markup percentage is 10%, the total price of a print would be $22.
How do you calculate material cost for 3D printing?
In 3D printing, this is a major recurring cost. To a large extent, the quality of the printing material determines how well the 3D model will turn out. Let’s look at some of the most popular printing materials.
Cost of FDM Printing Materials
FDM printers use thermoplastic filaments. In printing, filaments are selected based on their strength, flexibility, and conditions. The price of these filaments is determined by the quality of the filament.
The most popular filaments are PLA, ABS, and PETG. They are used by most FDM hobbyists due to their low price (around $20-$25 per spool). There are several color options available. LA is one of the easiest filaments to print with, but they can have the disadvantage of being too brittle or weak for some applications. Parts can be strengthened through settings like infill density, number of perimeter walls, or even printing temperature. We can move onto stronger materials if this doesn’t provide enough strength. Special purpose filaments such as wood, glow in the dark, Amphora, flexible filaments (TPU, TCU), etc. are also available. These filaments are used for special projects that require these types of materials, so their prices are above the average range. We also have high-quality filaments like metal-infused, fiber, and PEEK filaments. These are expensive filaments that are used in situations where the quality and strength of the material is critical. Prices range from $30 to $400 per kilogram.
Cost of SLA Printing Materials
SLA printers use photopolymer resin as the printing material.Resin is a liquid polymer that Hardens when exposed to UV light. There are many types of resins, ranging from the standard entry-level resins to high-performance resins and even dentistry resins used by professionals. Some of the most popular resins on the market are Anycubic Eco Resin and Elegoo Water Washable Resin. The resins allow the material to cure quickly, allowing for faster printing. The buyer can also choose from a variety of colors. Prices range from $30 to $50 per liter. There are also resins for special applications such as dental 3D printing and ceramics. The resins can be used to print anything from dental crowns to metal-infused 3D parts. The cost of these resins can range from $100 to $400 per liter.
Cost of SLS Printing Materials
Powdered media is used by SLS printers. Standard printing powder for an SLS printer is PA12 nylon, which costs between $100 and $200 per kg.Powder costs can be as high as $700 per kg for metal SLS printers, depending on the type of metal.
How Much Do 3D Printing Consumables Cost?
Electricity, maintenance costs, etc., also contribute to the price of the 3D model. Costs are determined by the printer’s size, frequency of printing, and average time of operation.Here are some consumables for these printers.
Cost of FDM Consumable Parts
FDM printers contain a lot of moving parts so, a lot of parts need to be changed and serviced regularly for the proper running of the machines. One of these parts is the print bed.
The print bed is where the model is assembled. To ensure the model sticks well to the print bed during printing, the bed is covered with an adhesive. This adhesive can be printer’s tape or a special type of tape known as Kapton tape.
The average cost for the printer’s tape is $10. Many people use glue sticks for good bed adhesion.
Instead, you can choose a Flexible Magnetic Surface which has great adhesion without requiring any extra substances. When I first got mine, I was surprised how effective it was compared to the stock bed.
Another part that needs periodic maintenance is the nozzle. Due to the extreme heat it undergoes, the nozzle has to be changed every 3 to 6 months to avoid bad print quality and misprints.
Another part is the timing belt. This is an important part that drives the print head, so it is necessary to upgrade and change it to avoid loss of accuracy. The average price of a new belt is $10, though it doesn’t require change often.
Cost of SLA Consumable Parts
For SLA printers, maintenance often involves cleaning the light sources with an alcohol solution to avoid dirt buildups that can reduce the light quality. But still, some of the parts need to be checked or changed periodically.
FEP film is one of them. The FEP film is a non-stick film that provides a way for the UV light to cure the liquid resin without it sticking to the tank. The FEP film needs to be replaced when it is bent or deformed. The price for a pack of FEP films is $20.
The LCD screen of the printer also needs to be replaced because the intense level of heat and UV rays it faces damages it after some time. The advisable time for changing the screen is every 200 working hours.
With new releases and developments of 3D printers, there is the new monochrome LCD which can actually last for around 2,000 hours without needing replacement. That’s why it’s a good idea to go above budget 3D printers in some cases.
Cost of SLS Consumable Parts
SLS printers are complex, expensive machines with high-power parts, such as lasers. Maintenance of these machines is best handled by qualified professionals, which can be very expensive.
In order to keep printers in top condition, periodic preventive maintenance such as cleaning, lubrication, and calibration should be performed regularly. This can add to labor costs.
My own experience shows that even troubleshooting can take a long time if something goes wrong or if you upgrade something without closely following a tutorial.
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
The cost of 3D printing is largely determined by this. This is the cost of purchasing the 3D printer.
Let’s look at the costs of some of the most popular printing technologies at various price points.
FDM 3D Printers
FDM printers are some of the most popular on the market due to their low cost. Budget offerings like the Ender 3 V2 start at $270. This relatively low price point makes it popular with amateurs, students, and even professionals to 3D printing.
Budget FDM printers produce good print quality for the price, but for more professional prints, you’ll be looking to upgrade to a more expensive desktop printer. The Prusa MK3S is one of these.
Priced at $1,000, it straddles the range between cost and performance offering a higher print volume and great, professional print quality at a decent price.
Large volume industrial grade FDM printers like the BigRep ONE V3 from Studio G2 are available, but the $63,000 price tag is sure to put it out of the range of most consumers.
It has a build volume of 1005 x 1005 x 1005mm, weighing about 460kg. This isn’t the usual 3D printer of course, compared to the standard build volume of 220 x 220 x 250mm.
SLA & DLP 3D Printers
Resin-based printers like the SLA and DLPare used by people who want slightly better print quality and speed than what the FDM printers offer.
Cheap SLA printers like the Anycubic Photon Zero or the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K are available in the $150-$200 range. These printers are simple machines geared at beginners.
For professionals, benchtop units like the Peopoly Phenom are available for the whopping price of $2,000.
Another respectable SLA 3D printer is the Anycubic Photon Mono X, with a build volume of 192 x 112 x 245mm, at a price tag well under $1,000.
Printers like this are used for creating fine detailed large-sized prints that budget models cannot handle.
SLS 3D Printers
SLS printers are the most expensive on this list. They cost more than your average 3D printer with entry-level units like the Formlabs fuse going for $5,000. These expensive units might not even be able to keep up with the rigors of industrial printing.Large scale models like the Sintratec S2 are ideal for this with a price range of about $30,000.
Is 3D printing cheap or expensive?
Is 3D printing inexpensive?
The hobby of 3D printing is no longer expensive or niche. Over the last decade, advances in additive manufacturing have lowered the cost of 3D printing significantly. For around 200 dollars, you can get a cheap budget 3D printer.
The price of 3D printing is affected by the size, complexity, and purpose of the model once you have a 3D printer. In many cases, these factors determine the type of printer, printing technology, and materials to be used.
Even though large 3D printers are ideal for large prints, you can actually separate models, arrange them on the build plate, then glue them together afterwards.
Among 3D printer hobbyists, especially for character models and figurines, this is pretty common practice.
On the budget end of the spectrum are technologies like FDM and resin SLA printers. Due to their relative affordability and simplicity, these printers are popular with beginners. These are usually used for aesthetic purposes rather than for functional purposes.
These budget models can produce pretty good print quality. NASA has even used these printers to create functional models aboard spaceships for astronauts. However, the quality can only be so high.
If you want better quality, you will most likely need to upgrade your printer.
For industrial and functional applications, better materials and higher precision are needed. At this level, high-level printers like the SLS are used. You get high-quality prints with great accuracy and precision from these printers.
Their prices are usually out of reach for the average consumer.
In the right industrial applications, FDM printing is definitely useful, even laying down concrete for the construction of houses.
Consumables also add to the cost of 3D models. Recurrent costs include printing materials, upgrades, replacements, electricity, and finishing costs such as spray coatings or sandpaper.
Consumables for high-level printing technologies cost more than those for their budget equivalents.
For hobbyists printing models at home, a budget desktop 3D printer will probably be adequate.
Their printing materials are cheap, they only require a minimum amount of consumables like electricity, and they are very easy to use.
Keeping prices low requires getting a high quality 3D printer, which can cost a little more than those very budget options.
Is 3D Printing Cost-Effective for Making Things?
Making objects with 3D printing is cost-effective. Common models or objects can be easily manufactured and customized with a 3D printer. Consequently, this helps reduce the cost of these objects and streamline the supply chain. They are especially cost-effective if you combine them with CAD skills.
However, 3D printing does not scale well. Currently, 3D printing is only cost-effective over traditional methods when it comes to manufacturing small objects in small batches due to current technology limitations.
The cost-effectiveness of 3D printing decreases as models grow in size and quantity.
In terms of 3D printing and its effect on industries, a very interesting fact is how it has taken over the hearing aid market.
For specialized objects that can be customized for each individual, 3D printing is perfect. Over 90% of hearing aids manufactured today are made using 3D printers since 3D printing was adopted into the hearing aid industry.
The prosthetics industry has also made huge strides, especially for children and animals.
Depending on the industry, 3D printing can be a very cost-effective and rapid way to manufacture many objects. As technology advances in 3D scanning and software, the process of creating designs is becoming much easier.