How much does 3D printing cost?

By Margarita Chichyan

We were used to thinking about 3D printing as something out of science fiction, but it’s been on our doorsteps for a while now, and it has become more and more affordable over time. 

But how much does it cost to own and successfully operate a 3D printer? 

We have to consider not only the 3D printer cost itself but also the 3D printer filament, the 3D printing software, electricity costs, and the possible upgrades for better printing results. 

Let’s discuss the realistic prices and see how much 3D printing actually costs. 

3D printer cost 

How much does a 3D printer cost? The range of 3D printers is extensive. It starts with a 3D printing pen at about £30,  but 3D printer price depends on a few specifications:

3D printer body material

You can find a low cost 3D printer model for under £200 on the UK market. Those are typically small-sized, have a plastic body, and lack in printing precision. 

With that said, if you are looking for a 3D printer to be used in an educational environment for demonstration, a cheap 3D printer will do the trick. 

If you need a 3D printer that will feature high precision and good filament flow, consider a metal construction.  Metal 3D printer cost will be higher than plastic, starting from  £350- £400 and up. 

Printing size

Desktop printers

3D printer cost will also range depending on printing size. The non-industrial devices are usually referred to as ‘desktop printers’ and have a printing size of 300x300x400mm on average. 

Desktop 3D printer price ranges, as we said, from £200 to about £1000 and more. The expensive 3D printer usually means more precision and less hassle when it comes to part replacements and upgrades. 

Industrial printers 

An industrial-grade 3D printer price UK has to offer can vary from around £1000 up to a few thousand and more. Those are professional devices used in mass manufacturing and are not usually suited for individual use because of their size and price as well. 

Printing Material

3D printers vary in the 3D printing materials they use and the general principle behind printing. The 2 biggest categories are FDM and SLA printers. They are different not only in 3D printer filament but also in technology of the whole process, as well as the price. 

FDM printers

This is the most popular kind of desktop 3D printers on the market and the most affordable one as well. These printers use a filament ‘feeding’ mechanism, which basically melts the filament and uses a precise nozzle to distribute this 3D printer filament and make it into a specific shape. 

The price range we discussed before mostly included FDM printers, so we have to repeat ourselves here. They range from £200 to approximately £1000-£2000, meaning the devices that can be used at home.  

SLA printers

They use a totally different principle to print. The filament is actually a pool of resin, and the device uses UV light to ‘transform’ the resin and make it into shape. These printers are generally higher in precision and are more costly. Starting from around £600 and ranging up to a few thousand as well. 

Also, consider possible update purchases, and replacements that can add up to around  £70-£80. 

Don’t forget, there’s always the option to buy a used 3D printer if you are looking to cut the cost, but check both the seller and the product carefully before making a decision. If you are not particularly tech-savvy, ask someone for help. 

3D printer filament cost 

As we mentioned before, 3D printer filament can range in price and material, so let’s discuss the FDM and SLA printers separately and compare the prices. 

The filament is a large section of expenses, when it comes to 3D printing, as you need a lot of it if you are hoping to print something worthwhile. 

And regardless of the type, it’s always more cost-effective to buy in bulk, if you are planning on using your printer regularly. 

FDM printer filament cost 

FDM printers use a range of materials, from different sorts of plastic to 3D printer wood filament, and 3D printer metal filament. The most popular 3D printer filament types for an FDM printer are PLA and ABS (types of plastic), which cost about £15- £20 for 1KG of filament. 

So how long can you use it for? It basically depends on how much you print. If you are doing a small 100g print, it will cost you about £2 maximum. If you are doing a large 400g-500g print, you will spend about £10. But remember, that you can sometimes cut the cost by doing a hollow shape instead of a solid one. 3D printer filament UK market offers today are multicoloured, have different thicknesses, and are suited for different printers, so you have a wide range to choose from. 

SLA printer filament cost 

As we said before, the SLA 3D printer uses UV sensitive resin to print, and a 500g bottle of this resin costs around £20, so it’s a bit more expensive, but still worth the price considering the detailing and the incredible precision SLA printers provide. 

3D printing software cost

3D printing is a CAD-based (computer-aided design) process, so you need 3D printing design software to create and design the shapes you are hoping to print. If you are not that into the design part, that’s ok too. Today there are online libraries, where you can choose ready designs to print. 

Free CAD software for 3D printing is not that hard to find, but if you are serious about your printing, it’s a good idea to invest money and time into quality design software.  It usually costs cheaper, when paid annually, but monthly payments are around £100 for professional 3D printing software.  

You will also need so-called slicing software, which transforms your designed shape into a multitude of layers for the device to print. That software usually comes with the printer, but again, you can purchase it separately, spending around 50 additional pounds. 

Time and Electricity

This is not that big of a segment of spending, even when it comes to continuous use of a 3D printer. Some models are more energy-efficient than others, but on average the energy consumption is relatively small, the cost comes around to about £60-£100 per year, which is insignificant, compared to device and filament prices, but should be considered nonetheless. 

The process is time-consuming, though. It often takes a few hours to print a relatively small 300x300x300 shape. If you are printing something big, be prepared to spend time on it. 

On the other hand, you can always leave the printer to do its job and get on with your usual schedule. Most of them have power-loss protection built-in, and things like break-resume technology, which will stop the process if the printer is out of filament and you’re not there to feed a new roll in. 

Total Cost 

We’ve discussed all the major items of expenditure in the 3D printing world, so let’s take stock and shortlist all the expenses one more time:

  • 3D Printer –  £200-£1000
  • Filament –  £20 per 1KG
  • Software –  £50-£100 monthly with an option to cut this cost and get free software
  • Electricity –  £60-£100 annually. 

As you can see,  3D printing can be quite affordable and can make an enjoyable and educational pastime not only for yourself but for the whole family. 

3D printing is quite flexible. There’s always a way to cut some costs here and there, and vice versa, invest more if you are planning on doing this professionally. 

Be aware and prepared, when it comes to finances, and 3D printing will not disappoint! 

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