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How to Reduce 3D Printing Costs

How to Reduce 3D Printing Costs

There's no question that 3D printing offers a lot of benefits compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Design freedom and flexibility are a few examples. But the biggest advantage that has companies and people pushing for the adoption of this technology in various industries is this technology's ability to reduce time and costs.

That being said, it cannot be discounted that the investment required to utilize this technology doesn't come cheap. While it definitely isn't as expensive as it used to be, the entire process can involve a hefty price tag depending on a number of factors.

If the total cost of custom 3D printing seems to be more than what you can afford, don't despair. There are a lot of things you can do to reduce the amount of money you need to shell out to use this technology. This guide should provide you with everything you need to know about getting the best bang out of your buck with 3D printing.

Costs of 3D Printing

As we've already mentioned, there are several factors that help determine how much a 3D printing job will cost. 

1. Material

There are a variety of 3D printing materials available and their prices differ from one another, depending on their process, their quality, and their properties. For example, FDM filaments cost around $25 per kilogram. SLA resin, on the other hand, has a price tag of around $50-60 per kilogram.

Even the cost of similar materials can vary depending on their attributes. For example, the prices of ABS and PLA plastics can range from $19 per kilogram to $175 per kilogram. The differences in price tags depend on their properties such as color, translucency, and some special properties like glow in the dark.

2. Size of the Model

The larger your 3D-printed model is, the more material you'll need. In addition, the more time it will take to print it completely which increases the cost.

3. Layer Thickness and Resolution

3D printing involves building an object layer by layer. The thickness of the layer will determine how many layers are needed in order to completely print the object. It will also determine how fast the printing will be and how long it will take. All of these will, in turn, have an impact on how much the project will cost. In short, the thinner the layers are, the higher the costs will be.

4. Post-Processing

Sometimes, a 3D-printed model requires manual post-processing in order to achieve the desired results. Some models need their support structure removed. Others may require cleaning or sanding to produce a smoother finish. Additional treatments on the model can include dyeing, painting, plating, varnishing, color touch, and color resist. Manual post-processing increases the cost of your 3D printing project.

Tips on Reducing 3D Printing Costs

Based on the factors above, there are already a few obvious things you can do to reduce the costs of 3D printing. Choosing more inexpensive material, going with a smaller sized model, and, if you must, choosing a finish that requires less time. But these are not the only options open to you if you want to be frugal with your 3D printing projects. Below are several more ideas of how you can stick to a lower budget and still enjoy the perks of using this technology.

1. Make a Hollow Model

If your design doesn't require you to print a solid object, you can lower the cost of your project by printing a hollow model instead. This will not only use up less material but also reduce printing time.

Take note that not all 3D printers will be able to print hollow parts automatically unless the design is already hollow. You can hollow out the inside of your design using an STL editor like Meshmixer. Just make sure that the "walls" are thick enough that the structural integrity of the model is not compromised. The minimum thickness will depend on the material you choose. For plastics and ceramics, the range is from 1mm to 3mm. For titanium, the minimum thickness is 0.2mm.

2. Optimize Print Settings

You need to make sure that you are using the best possible settings for your print, printer, and material. The correct settings will ensure that you get high-quality prints and lower the possibility of getting clogged nozzles, print failures, and other errors that can use up costly materials. Optimizing your print settings may require trial and error on your part, though you can also check forums online for advice from more experienced users.

3. Eliminating Support Structures

Support structures can increase both time and money spent on 3D printing a model. They cause you to use up more material and time to complete the print. In addition, the object will need to undergo post-processing in order to remove the support structures and smoothen the finish. One way to remove support structures entirely from your design is to split your model into two or more parts that will not require these structures. Then, assemble them together (i.e. with glue) to create a complete 3D-printed model.

4. Reducing the Infill Percentage

Reducing the amount of infill used can increase the amount of material preserved which means less waste, more money saved. Not only that, you also reduce the amount of time it will take to finish printing. Take note that the percentage of infill left should still meet the structural or mechanical needs of the object. 

5. Opt for a Greater Layer Height & Resolution

As we've already mentioned, the height of your layers will directly impact the speed of printing which, in turn, affects the cost. A lower layer height will take longer to complete and cost more money. But it will produce a smoother finish and a better print quality. This is ideal if your model's appearance and functionality will become compromised with lower print quality. For example, if you're printing a part that needs to fit exactly with other parts. However, if the print quality is not high on your priorities for a specific project, you can increase layer height to shave off a little from the total cost of your project.

6. Choose the Economy Mode

If you're availing of an online 3D printing service, one of the easiest ways to slash that price tag down by a huge amount is to opt for the economy mode. This is an offer made by some companies to lower the cost of 3D printing for their customers. Of course, to avail of the discount, you will need to limit yourself to certain materials such as white plastic and wouldn't mind getting your model a little later than usual.

Pro Tip: some companies offer loyalty programs that offer lower prices and free shipping. One company even offers 20% student discounts.

7.  Use or Modify a Free Design

There's no written rule that you need to create your own design or hire someone to do it for you. There are plenty of downloadable designs online that you can get at no cost. Thingiverse is one such resource, having over a million designs that you can choose from. Just keep in mind that the design you downloaded can be modified and that your use of the design won't be violating copyright laws.

8. Use Free 3D Modeling and Slicer Software

There's no need to shell out money for software if you want to create your own designs. There is plenty of 3D modeling and 3D slicer software that you can download for free. TinkerCAD is a good option for beginners. For those with a more advanced skillset, Autodesk Fusion 360 is also free. 

9. Get a 3D printer

That sounds expensive, right? But sometimes, you have to spend money to save money. First off, there are a lot of affordable 3D printers for you to choose from. Second, if you plan on 3D printing a lot of models, having your own printer will save you a lot of money in the long run. You won't have to pay the service fees as well as shipping fees. 

10. Use a Comparison Service

If you'd rather stick to paying for an online 3D printing service, that's ok. You can still reduce the cost of your project by comparing the fees of the various providers and choosing the one that suits your budget best. Using a comparison service will help you see how much each company charges for their service, materials, print quality, and shipping. 

About the author: Louisa is a content marketing professional and editor creating her successful career past 2 years at D3D Printing. She is a goal-oriented, creative individual with a unique voice in writing, editing, and optimizing content for various projects. She's a devoted mom and an excellent piano player.

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