Over the past decade, 3D printing technology has evolved from a niche industry to mainstream for both hobbyists and professionals. As a result, 3D printers are becoming more affordable, allowing more people to access this technology.
The upfront cost of a 3D printer is only the beginning of the financial investment. There are several factors to consider when budgeting for a 3D printer. In this article, we’ll explore how much a 3D printer costs, the estimated price of maintaining the device and the raw materials for at least a year of operation.
Factors affecting the cost of a 3D printer
Here are some factors that affect the cost of a 3D printer:
Type of a printer
As 3D printers cater to the need of a wide range of professional services, the type of printer that you choose is very important. Fused Filament Fabrication based 3D printers (FFF 3D printers) are generally more affordable than Stereolithography (SLA) based 3D printers. You can buy FFF printers at $200 and SLA printers at $500. As we go higher, the costs increase significantly, with EBM printers costing as much as $100,000 to a million.
The build volume is the size of the object that a 3D printer can create. Larger build volumes require more material and more powerful motors, increasing the cost of the printer. Entry-level 3D printers have a build volume of around 150mm x 150 mm x 150 mm. Larger printers with a build volume of 300 mm x 300 mm x 300m can cost several thousand dollars.
Resolution is the level of detail that a 3D printer can achieve. Higher-resolution printers require more precise components and detailing that can significantly raise the cost. Entry-level printers have a resolution of around 0.1 mm, while high-end printers can achieve a resolution of 0.0025 or less.
3D printers use different materials, such as ABS plastic, PLA, nylon, and metal. Some printers are designed to work with a specific type of material, while others can handle multiple materials. The cost of a printer depends on the material it can use and the cost of the material itself.
If you want more features in your 3D printer, you will have to shed more bucks. For example, if you want WiFi connectivity, touch screens, and automatic bed levelling, you will pay much more than a simple 3D printer.
In the end, it is the labour cost that will use most of your 3D printing budget, apart from the device and the raw material costs. Even if you do not hire people for the job, high-end printers usually tend to make your life easier by automating most of the tasks.
Cost range of 3D printers
Entry-level 3D printers can cost between $200 to $500. These printers have a small build volume and lower resolution. These printers are ideal for hobbyists and beginners.
Mid-range 3D printers can cost between $500 to $1000. You will get more build volume and resolution than the entry-level printers. These printers are suitable for professionals.
High-end 3D printers can cost several thousand dollars. You will get the best build volume and resolution with the ability to use multiple materials in the same printer. Usually, these devices are used by professionals in high-tech industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medical.
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Cost of filaments used in 3D printing
The cost of materials is one of the most important factors while calculating the 3D printer cost. As explained earlier, some 3D printers only work with a certain material while others can use multiple materials for printing.
Here is the cost range of the materials:
These are the most commonly used materials for 3D printing. Thermoplastics are easy to print and come in a wide range of colours. Here are some commonly used thermoplastics in 3D printing:
- Polylactic Acid (PLA): It is a biodegradable plastic derived from renewable resources such as cornstarch or sugarcane. These are relatively inexpensive and easy to print with. One kg PLA filament costs around $24.
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): It is a strong durable material and is used by most professionals. It is slightly more expensive than PLA and starts from around $47 depending on the company.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG): It is a strong, durable material that is resistant to chemicals and heat. It is most commonly used in prototyping food and beverage containers. You can buy one of these from Amazon for $20 to $40.
Nylon is used for 3D printing objects that are strong, durable, and lightweight. Moreover, using Nylon makes the object impact-resistant and smooth. Additionally, it is resistant to abrasion and chemicals. The cons include not being food-safe, producing fumes and cannot be used to get high-quality prints with fine details.
Nylon filament costs between $25 to $ 100 per kilogram. The cost of nylon filament also depends on the colour, with black nylon being more expensive than white one.
Polycarbonate is used in the manufacturing of medical and automotive parts. It has excellent impact resistance and can withstand high temperatures. However, polycarbonate requires a high-temperature extruder and a heated bed to print correctly. The price range of polycarbonate filament is between $50 to $150.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)
TPU is known for its elasticity, resistance, and wear and tear resistance. It is also resistant to a wide range of chemicals and solvents, making it a good choice for harsh environments. Usually, the price range of a TPU filament is between $50 to $100.
3D printing with metals requires specialised equipment which is more expensive than printing with other materials. Some of the commonly used metals for 3D printing are as follows:
- Stainless Steel: Stainless Steel is a strong and durable material used in the manufacture of aerospace and automotive parts. You can get stainless steel for $100 to $200 per kilogram.
- Titanium: It is a lightweight and strong metal commonly used in the aerospace and medical industry. The cost of titanium is north of $500.
- Aluminium: Aluminium is a lightweight and durable metal that increases its suitability in various fields. It will cost you more than $150 to buy aluminium filament for 3D printing.
Maintenance cost of 3D printers
The annual maintenance cost of 3D printers can vary depending on several factors such as the printer model, usage frequency, and the type of materials used in the operation.
Some of the most common maintenance tasks include:
- Cleaning the print bed and nozzle.
- Replacing the extruder gear.
- Lubricating the moving parts.
- Calibrating the printer.
- Troubleshooting and repairing any problems that may occur.
Replacing parts like the nozzle or the build plate can cost somewhere between $20 to $100 per piece. While the cost of consumables like filaments has already been discussed. The quantity of the filament also plays an important role in determining the price. Furthermore, the cost will also depend on the complexity of the task at hand, the size of the prints and the frequency of usage.
In addition to the above two costs, 3D printers require regular maintenance tasks such as cleaning and performing calibration checks. You may find a warranty that covers these tasks, but it may come with additional costs.
Thus, the maintenance cost of a 3D printer can range from a few hundred bucks to a few thousand dollars depending on the raw material, usage frequency and task complexity.
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|Cost of owning and maintaining a 3D printer||Price Range|
|Polylactic Acid (PLA)||Starts from around $24 per kilogram|
|Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)||Starts from around $47 per kilogram|
|Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG)||Vary between $20 to $40|
|Nylon||Between $25 and $100 per kilogram|
|Polycarbonate||Between $50 and $150|
|Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)||Between $50 and $100|
|Stainless Steel||Between $100 and $200 per kilogram|
|Titanium||Upwards of $500|
Frequently answered questions (FAQs)
Let us head to some FAQs on the topic:
Is it expensive to own a 3D printer?
Not at all. 3D printers come in all sizes depending on the needs of the people. You can easily get a 3D printer for as much as $200 although more complex tasks require expensive ones.
How much is a 3D printer for a home?
For normal usage at home, you can buy a 3D printer for around $200.
Is it hard to 3D print?
3D printing is as hard as any other hobby or profession. Before starting to venture into the world of 3D printing, first, understand the components of the printer, the future prospects of 3D printing, and several such nuances. After that, make yourself acquainted with the software and the materials.
Once you are familiar with these, you are ready to make your mark in the 3D printing world.
Is it legal to sell 3D prints?
Yes, you can sell 3D prints as long as it does not infringe upon the intellectual property rights of others.
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