If you are considering a 3D printer, you might be interested in the cost to print. Here I want to talk just about the cost to print and not the cost for the initial purchase of the 3D printer.
The cost of 3D printing is $0.22 to $2.42 per model or $0.08 to $0.42 per print hour. This cost includes the price of filament and electricity. Filament costs between $0.20 and $1.70 depending on model size and electricity costs between $0.02 and $0.87 depending on the size of print and local electricity costs.
The cost of 3D printing is a combination of filament and electrical costs. Additionally, there is a time cost.
I will go over each of these costs in turn.
To determine costs, I printed 3 prints, 1 small, 1 medium and 1 large. Each print will be printed at 3 different layer heights, 0.1mm, 0.2mm, and 0.3mm.
Here are the list of prints:
- Yoda bust from Thingiverse is a popular example print you may have seen
- Benchy is a classic test print, also from Thingiverse
- Graveyard Elemental available from Rocket Pig Games
While the Benchy and Yoda prints have some curves and angles, the Elemental has significantly more complex features.
Here are the calculated costs for each print:
|Model||Time (Hours:Minutes)||Cost Low||Cost High||$/H Low||$/H High|
High and low estimates are provides because the price of filament and electricity vary.
This data shows that the cost of 3D printing is $0.22 to $2.42 per model or $0.08 to $0.42 per print hour.
1 kg rolls of filament cost between just under $20 for a roll of PLA or PETG up to $55 for a roll TPU. Prices vary between brands and types of filament.
The most common types of filament are PLA and ABS. PETG is also becoming more popular. These 3 filament types are all around $20 to $25 per 1 kg roll.
Different filaments will have slightly different densities. Filament is sold by weight but printing is done by volume. This means that the cost of an object depends on which filament type you use.
Since PLA and PETG are much easier to print with than ABS, I will focus on these 2 filament types. The density of these 2 types of filaments are roughly the same, 1.24 g/cm3 for PLA and 1.23 g/cm3 for PETG (note prices have fallen for PETG since the linked chart was created).
|Model||Weight (Grams)||20$/ roll||25$/ roll|
All 6 prints were done in PLA. Slight variations are expected even with the same model at different layer heights. This is because of how printers handle printing angles.
Every angle is printed as a series of steps. Thicker layers will print thicker steps. Slopes like the ears of the Yoda model will have layers that slightly extend beyond the model area at the bottom but stay within the model at the top of the layer.
The net effect depends on the model.
For the Yoda, thinner layers resulted in a heavy model while with the Elemental with its more complex geometry, thicker layers resulted in a heavier model.
Between these models, we get a per model cost of between $0.20 and $1.70.
One of the costs that may not be apparent when 3D printing is the cost of electricity. If you are curious about how much power 3D printers use, checkout the article I wrote where I gathered data on the amount of electricity used during 3D printing.
Electrical costs vary by country, state, and across time. I will used costs from Save on Energy, which reported electrical costs across all 50 states in the US. The latest update as of November 2021 is from August, 2021.
The lowest price for electricity was 10.27 ¢/kWh in Washington, the highest was 33.15 ¢/kWh in Hawaii, and the average US costs was 13.99 ¢/kWh. These 3 will be used to incorporate the cost of electricity into the overall cost of 3D printing.
For checking the total energy consumption of the 9 prints, I used an electrical power meter I purchased from Amazon. This is slightly different from the procedure I did when I measured the power consumption of a 3D printer.
Here, I just needed the total power consumed in kilowatt-hours and was not concerned with the power consumption over time.
|Model||Time (Hours:Minutes)||Power (kWh)||Low||Average||High|
Not too surprising, the longer it took to print, the higher the power consumption.
The electrical costs of a print vary between $0.02 and $0.87 depending on the size of print and local electricity costs.
While the print needs time to complete, the actual time cost for printing is negligible.
Most people would recommend not leaving the printer running unsupervised. However, this does not mean that you need to sit and watch the printer during the whole print.
As long as your printer has thermal runaway, which detects detects issues by checking if when the heating element is on, the measured temperature is increasing, and your print area is clear of any items that could start a fire, you can leave your printer unmonitored for extended periods of time.
Without thermal runaway detection, the heating element could come loose and start a fire. And you don’t want any papers or other objects that could ignite under the high heat of the hotend.
You will still want to monitor the print to check for print failure. Just keep your printer in a room with a smoke detector and don’t leave your home while printing, and you should not have any issues.
The biggest time cost will be the time it takes to slice a model. If the model needs supports, you may need to spend more time getting the object properly oriented.
You should not need to spend more than 5 to 10 minutes slicing the print and copying it over to you printer.
You have seen how affordable 3D printing is, but is it cost-effective?
3D printing is very cost-effective when you are printing in small batches. The main reason is that other production techniques such as injection molding require more time and more costly equipment that are better suited to larger batches.
3D printers are great for prototyping when you need just one print or a small batch. Traditional manufacturing use expensive equipment that have to be retooled or replaced to produce different objects.
The high cost of the equipment can easily be spread across thousands of copies to make the cost per item significantly smaller.
It is also more cost effective for prototyping using 3D printing. When you prototype, you’ll need a way to produce an item, make changes, and quickly produce a new copy.