Innovation for the art & entertainment worlds

3 Things That Determine 3d Printing Pricing


Boy what a day. I had to go to the ophthalmologist because one of my eye meds started burning and melting my eye. Ok, not melting but it started putting little welt marks all over the skin, causing tenderness, burning, redness, and irritation. It is quite disconcerting when something that is supposed to heal you starts to hurt you.

In retrospect, it made me learn firsthand the difference between the words “react” and “respond”. It actually gives a great life lesson because I would much rather respond when things go bad and not react. I didn’t realize the difference until the doctor said your eyes had a reaction (bad thing) to the medicine but your pressure is down to good levels so you responded (good thing) to the treatment.

Now to my post!

There are a large number of considerations in pricing 3d prints.There are a wide range of methods and materials with more being added seemingly everyday. There are primarily 3 factors I consider when pricing a print job; the model, the method, and it’s measure.

1. The Model

The 3D model which you plan on using for printing plays a huge role in deciding how much a print will cost.


How detailed is the model and how much detail do you want from the resulting 3d print?

If your file has many tiny elements, fine lines, and separate pieces booleaned together then the resulting print will have more surface area. Surface area is a determining factor in pricing prints. Sometimes support materials or structures can be incorporated in the core of a model to make it more light weight and to fill areas that no one would ever see. Support material is usually cheaper and supports take less volume. If your model has no way to incorporate core structure (for example a rope that hangs from a character) than it’s printed solid and sometimes its printed as its own separate element. More surface area means more money. More elements mean more money.

File integrity

If you’re new to modeling for 3D printing, you may want to do some research about how to prepare your file for printing. Printing bureaus can charge you up to 90 dollars an hour to repair a screwed up file. I realize now that there are some programs that take obj’s and slice them for printing but in my experience solid watertight stl files work the best. In fact that file type was made specifically for 3d printing. It is short for stereolithography which is the granddaddy of all 3d printing methods. Meshlab has the ability to perform a filter called Poisson Reconstruction on models. That technique takes your files and makes them watertight and solid. Sometimes though the settings will cause the results to be less detailed and blobby. Sometimes anomalies will appear from unreferenced vertices. Be aware that many low cost scanners perform similar reconstruction so in effect you are losing detail. I talked a bit about it in my blogpost 3d Scanners Blah!

If your file is an obscure format it will need converted too. Most places should do this for free other will charge you for that service. The general rule of thumb is to stick with .stl, .obj, .3ds in that order. The more someone touches your files before they 3d print them the more it cost you.

2. Method

There is a new material almost every week. 3d printers also offer different reproduction qualities base on the technology they use and quite frankly who is using it. I’ve subcontracted objet prints from about 5 different printing bureaus and by far the best one has been Moddler. John Vegher is a true Objet printer artist. I wish he was closer.


Like I just said not all bureaus are created equal.

Is there a local additive manufacturing facility in your area? Are you willing to wait a couple weeks for each print? Will the provider return your calls? Do they leave the support structure on for you to remove. Will they move as they are 3d printing your emergency print? (totally had this happen!) Some 3d printing shops cost more and some cost less. Take a look at their store front. Higher overhead cost you more.

Machines offer different surface qualities. I use Envisiontec machines and they are the finest surface quality prints I’ve yet to see. They however are most certainly different from a Makerbot, or Zprinter which respectively have appealing qualities that are altogether different. The rub is that each printer and each material has to factored into the price. Some machines cost more to print on. Some materials cost more to use.

There are also a multitude of finishing techniques that add additional cost to your 3d print. Some bureaus will sand, prime, blast, anodize, or sing to your model.

3. Measure


I can make an off-color comment here about how size matters but the larger the model, the more time a machine will spend working to build it.  For the most part bureaus price 3d prints fundamentally on volume. Generally speaking, the larger the model the more volume and the larger the model the more surface area. In other words, a larger piece will consume more material. It will also take a machine off of the floor making it unavailable for other print jobs. Also consider if your physical print has to be handled and glued together. There are costs that have to be factored into finish work

Do you see anything is this post you would like me to go more in-depth in for a future post? Leave a comment .

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