In-house 3D printing is one of the versatile solutions for high-resolution models, rapid prototyping, rapid tooling for traditional production methods, manufacturing aids, and even end-use parts in manufacturing.
But, when you think about investing in a 3D printer, viability generally comes down to one simple question: does it really make financial sense for your company? How much does a 3D printer cost, and how much time can you save with it for your business?
Usually, 3D printer prices range from $200 to $500,000+ based on the material, printing process, and sophistication level of the 3D printing solution.
Here’s an ultimate guide for 3D printer costs; what prices you should expect to pay, and what kind of features will accompany each.
Also, look at considerations beyond cost when comparing various 3D printing solutions and other production methods.
Different Types of 3D Printer
The 3D printer you’re looking for may not be the one you get. This could be since it’s not available or it’s out of your budget. To simply your choices, you need to search for the category that’s right for you.
Here are some 3D printer categories include:
- DIY and Budget 3D Printers
- Entry-level 3D Printers
- Hobbyist 3D Printers
- Enthusiast 3D Printers
- Professional 3D Printers
- Industrial 3D Printers
The size, capability, features, and price of a machine change for each category. A high-end industrial machine can cost above $100,000, and an entry-level 3D printer can be sold as low as $200.
3D printers are constantly changing. That’s fantastic news for consumers. It just means we get better machines for less money.
Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from each of these categories:
DIY and Budget 3D Printers: Range between $100 – $300
Small, cheap printers are increasing on the market to aim at DIYers who want a cheap, easy source of custom parts and prints. Some DIY printers have been sold for less than $100, although this is relatively rare, and the quality and functionality of such printers are incredible.
These price range DIY printers are often sold as kits that the buyer must then assemble. These 3D printers can usually be modified to enhance and extend their functions, making them optimal for makers ready to put time and patience into upgrading a printer to a workable model.
The functionality of printers in this range is often limited in several ways. Since they’re more affordable, fewer materials can be successfully printed without any modifications. Further, print volumes are usually small unless you are ready to settle for an older printer model.
Entry Level Category 3D Printers
These printers are one of the greatest ways to learn about the technology before upgrading to a more expensive model. They typically have a gentle learning curve. Though, your experiments will have limitations.
Most entry-level machines will not allow you to print much over 3-4″ in any dimension. Another limitation is with material choice. Most printers will only permit you to use one filament.
Entry-level 3D printer price range: $200 – $400
Limitations: Build volume is a major constraint. You can usually print only smaller items. Entry-level printers are often slower and less precise than higher-end machines. You can get 100-micron resolution, and you are often limited in which materials you can utilize. Finally, you will have to assemble the machine yourself, which can be challenging depending on the model.
Hobbyist 3D Printers ($400-$1500)
These printers are often surprisingly capable; however, they often have 1-2 fatal flaws that determine their value. So many 3D printers in this category will require you to spend more time assembling, calibrating, and testing.
These prints can frequently print a bit larger than entry-level printers, probably 5-6″ in each dimension. They are faster and might be able to print a couple of different materials. You will often see that their speeds and print quality are lacking. Many printers in this class do not tend to run for significant lengths of time, and you’ll need to do a lot of repairs/maintenance to keep them running.
Enthusiast Category 3D Printers
If you’re ready to take your hobby to a more serious level, you’re now a 3D printing enthusiast. This simply means you’ll have to find an enthusiast category 3D printer to meet your unique requirements.
Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect from a 3D printer in this category:
- A solid, robust printer with various user-friendly features
- Prints up to 8-12″ in any dimension
- Faster and simpler than entry and hobbyist level 3D printers
- Broad choice of materials, though some will use brand-only filaments
Professional and Performance 3D Printers
The professional and performance 3D printers are the tough, print-that-stuff kinds of printers that excel in precision manufacturing with all materials on an hourly and daily basis. Enclosures on these printers are the norm, print sizes become even bigger than before, precision is honed, and the list of available materials becomes even larger.
Manufacturers in this price range focus on interface and ease of use, equipping these printers with more helpful software and often includes WiFi and touch-screens capabilities.
The print quality on these machines is remarkable, and defects are less and far between. Customer service is reliable in case of a malfunction or breakage, but such problems are uncommon.
Only one limitation to SLA printers and larger performance printers is the price of the material. It’s not surprising that the printer will only take materials from the original manufacturer, which can be pretty costly.
Industrial Category 3D Printers
No one goes in blind when selecting a 3D printer from the industrial category. These are serious machines for some serious business. They can print premium quality parts faster than any other category.
These machines are highly durable and made with lots of metal in their construction. They additionally include efficient, user-friendly interfaces for custom printing modes. There may also be restrictions on materials and material availability. The filament can cost more compared to printers in the professional and enthusiast categories too. Still, anyone who purchases one of these beasts should know all their options beforehand.
Manufacturers will usually require you to have regular maintenance checks from a company representative. You will almost always be required to use a specific set of materials made by the manufacturer, which will often come with a premium price tag attached. Today, big businesses have more to choose from. It now makes sense to include a few high-end professional 3D printers in with their shortlist of options. The price range below tells us why!
- Industrial 3D printer price range: $20,000 – $100,000
- Limitations: Price and size.
Considerations Beyond Direct Costs
Materials, investment, and labor costs are pretty easy to calculate. However, what about indirect expenses and factors that are hard to quantify but still impact your business? Let’s understand some of the key considerations when looking at desktop 3D printing and outsourcing or other production tactics.
- Time savings: What if you can accelerate time to market for your products? Or decrease the lead time for your products by a couple of days or weeks? 3D printing analyzes traditional prototyping and production workflows, assists you save time and staying ahead in the competition.
- Better results: 3D printing enables you to create more iterations, fail faster, and achieve high-end products. Discovering and fixing design flaws early also helps avoid expensive design revisions and tooling changes in production.
- Communication: Having superior-quality prototypes and parts permit you to better communicate with clients, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders. Avoid confusion and costly mistakes.
- IP protection: Do you work with sensitive data? Creating parts in-house simply means you won’t have to give away IP (intellectual property) to third parties, decreasing the risks of leaks or IP theft.
It’s vital to remember that the cost of the 3D printer is but one part of the overall cost to 3D print. You can expect to pay around $20 per kg of filament. You will also need to pay for electricity, maintenance, software (in some cases), and filaments.
3D printers are becoming more powerful every day. There’s a lot you can do with these powerhouses that make it worth the price tag.