No matter if you’re an industry professional, a maker, or just a 3D printing enthusiast, you will surely be interested in diminishing the per-unit costs of 3D printing without losses in quality.
Of course, there’s a lot of ways to save money while still getting great 3D prints. I’ll try to show you some of them, based on my own experience.
Optimize your model
One of the most important things to do in order to obtain great 3D prints is, in my opinion, drawing and preparing the model in the right way. The same object can give very different results in printing depending on many factors. Changing the orientation of the object can dramatically improve its solidity and also reduce or even avoid supports.
Typically, supports are generated when the overhang is more than 45° to avoid the collapse of the structure. If your model cannot be manufactured without the supports, some software, like Autodesk’s Meshmixer or Simplify 3D, can be used to manually draw them to optimize the printing process. Using little or no support means less material used for printing and an inferior post processing time.
Smaller prints also require less filament, so you can always consider scaling down the 3D model in the software, even if only for the first, test printing.
Another way to lower costs of 3D printing is to use appropriate G-code parameters for your model. Decreasing the percentage of infill in the print (you don’t always need very high infill, especially with “decorative” prints and things like vases, penholders and so on) will reduce the plastic you need up to a quarter, but will also reduce the solidity of your objects.
You can also use higher layers, but in this case, you will lose some quality, so you have to find the right compromise between quality and costs. If you’re interested in learning more about how changing the infill can affect the strength of a 3D printed part, then you should check 3D Matter’s case study on this topic.
Have in mind, that manufacturing objects without support or with optimized one and with less infill will also significantly reduce printing time as well as lower energy costs per print.
Use the right filaments
I know that exotic filaments are cool and can give you amazing effects, but they’re also more expensive than the standard ones. So, in order to reduce costs of 3D printing, you should use those filaments only when you really need particular effects and consider buying them in samples (usually they are about 250 g) instead of big spools. Almost every filament producer offer samples which are very useful for small and two-material prints. You could also look for cheaper filaments and sales online, but these can contain some impurities, which can have a bad effect on your prints.
If you print a lot of objects, you could consider buying bigger spools or placing big developer orders with a lower price per kilo. There’s also a possibility to make your own ABS or PLA filaments from pellets but this would require a bigger investment in an additional machine like Filabot or Filastruder.
Take care of your printer
Another way to reduce costs of 3D printing is to maintain your printer in a good condition. Simple, right? This will reduce the number of misprints and waste from printing (when you calculate the price of your products you must also consider the waste). One of two basic maintenance rules is to remember to regularly check your extruder to prevent clogs and to check and make sure that printer’s axis move in straight lines.
One of the worst nightmares of industry professional and makers is a bad bed adhesion. It can be improved by using blue tape, Kapton tape or stick glue. Simply put it on your bed and remember to put the tape perfectly straight and change it regularly.
Keeping the printer in a suitable environment also can help. Make sure that your printer stands in a room free of rapid temperature fluctuations and protected against air drafts to avoid any possible problems. If you’re more into DIY and your printer don’t have a closed case, consider building an enclosure, also to avoid bad smells.
Optimize machine costs
Basically, there are two types of 3D printers: FFF (fused filament fabrication, also described as FDM) and SLA (stereolithography, a process by which light causes chains of molecules to link together, forming polymers). FFF printers are usually cheaper to buy and to use since the materials are also relatively cheap. SLA printers can reach higher resolutions and level of details but they’re more expensive with more expensive materials available in fewer colors than plastic filaments.
Another big distinction is between industrial and desktop machines. First ones are used mostly for industrial services, like outsourcing operations, high volume production or for (at least relatively) big prints. Desktop printers are smaller, cheaper to buy and run, and also more suitable for home and small business or offices. Moreover, modern desktop printers can offer awesome results in quality, too.
When deciding whether to buy an industrial or desktop 3D printer a businessman or designer should consider his actual demand for printing objects. Sometimes it’s less expensive to outsource 3D printing services once or twice a year than buy a machine and train a person to operate it, although outsourcing gives less control over the manufacturing process.
Consider using a multitool machine
Whatever your role in the 3D printing world is, you may already use are be interested in using other methods of fabrication than 3D printing alone. Like laser engraving or CNC milling, for example. A great way to start with these, and to reduce costs of 3D printing in the process, would be a multitool 3D printer that can replace three other machines.
ZMorph 2.0 SX is a good example of such machine. It’s a digital fabrication machine with easily interchangeable toolheads for 3D printing with one and two materials, CNC milling and cutting, laser cutting and engraving as well as chocolate and ceramics printing. The previous version of ZMorph was recognized by all3dp.com as being the best all-in-one 3D printer and the new SX model looks to be even better.
Reducing the costs of 3D printing
I tried to share with you some proven ways to save money on your next 3D printing project, no matter if it’s a prototype for a client, a project for your local Maker Faire, your engineering class or simply a print for your own use.
This list of tips, of course, is not fully exhaustive, but I hope it’ll help you to think about the topic in a more business-oriented and cost-wise way. The list of software and devices in this article is also not exhaustive, some other products could have the same or similar features like the machines listed above. Quora and r/3Dprinting are perfect places to look further for any kind of 3D printing advice from professional users.