How to Calculate 3-D Printing Cost

Online tools to help you determine how much a 3-D print job will cost

Group of people watching 3D printer
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Among the many recent developments in the ever-evolving, fast-moving world of technology is 3-D printing—the process of creating a three-dimensional, physical object from a digital file. It's an interesting departure from traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods that create objects by taking away mass from a raw material. In contrast, 3-D printing is additive: It builds objects by adding material (commonly called "filament") according to instructions in the file that's sent to the 3-D printer.

Most new technology carries a steep price tag as it hits the general consumer market, and 3-D printing is no different. The material and equipment costs of 3-D printing are still a bit steep as of late for most consumer (as opposed to commercial) uses at home or in small offices. In response, a host of 3-D printing service bureaus has sprung up to fill the void, performing the printing for those who would rather not invest in 3-D printers, materials, and training. The trouble is that costs are notorious for varying wildly among these providers; to complicate matters, costs change even within the same service as the technology matures. Given this steepness and variability in cost, getting a handle on them for comparison is important. ​

Comparing 3-D Printing Costs Among Providers

Several price-comparison services are available to help you estimate 3-D printing costs, which comes in especially handy if your slicer program does not do that for you already.

  • 3YourMind: This free service lets you upload your file to compare the cost of printing it at different service bureaus. It returns production and delivery estimates in real time, so you always get the most current price from vendors. Especially convenient is the ability to add a plugin to Rhino, SolidWorks, Blender, Autodesk AutoCAD, Fusion360, and other 3-D design software. Accepted file formats include .3dm, .3ds, .3mf, .acs, .amf, .catpart, .ctm, .dae, .fbx, .iges, .igs, .ipt, .jt, .obj, .ply, .prt, .skp, .slc, .sldprt, .step, .stl, .stp, .vda, .wrl, and .x3d. 
  • 3DCompare: Simply upload your file, and specify materials and measurements. The service then searches a regularly updated database to construct estimates that include actual printing costs, turnaround times, materials, and shipping fees from industry leaders such as Shapeways, Sculpteo, and iMaterialise. The database is updated regularly to ensure accurate, current information. Accepted file formats include .stl, .obj, .3ds, .ac, .ac3d, .acc, .ase, .ask, .b3d, .blend, .bvh, .cob, .csm, .dae, .dxf, .enff, .hmp, .ifc, .irr, .irrmesh, .lwo,.lws, .lxo, .m3, .md2, .md3, .md5anim, .md5camera, .md5mesh, .mdc, .mdl, .mesh.xml, .mot, .ms3d, .ndo, .nff, .obj, .off, .pk3, .ply, .prj, .q3o, .q3s, .raw, .scn, .smd, .vta, .x, .xgl, .xml, and .zgl.​
  • 3DPrintHQ: Jason King's thorough, informative post, The True Cost of Running a Desktop 3D Printer, explores various aspects of 3-D printing costs such as materials, electricity, initial printer investment, depreciation, and failed prints. Finally, he offers a cost comparison calculator tool and will send you a spreadsheet so you can run your own numbers. ​
  • 3D Part Price: This 3-D pricing estimator is fast and simple. Just upload the file, change parameters as necessary, and choose a slicing engine. Calculations take less than a minute.

As 3-D printing technology, equipment, materials, and methods change, so do prices. Use these comparison tools to find your best solution.