Feb. 9, 2015 | By Kira

Everybody loves to cheer for the underdog, and this week the 3D printing world brought us the true story of a David vs. Goliath-style battle, in which a $600, consumer-level model went up against a $20,000 professional-grade machine in a one-time, no-holds-barred, 3D Printer Shootout.

Printrbot Simple Metal Printer, $599

Stratasys uPrint SE Pro, $20,000

The ‘David’ in our story is played by the Printrbot Simple Metal, purchased for US$599 by 3D printing novice Scott Hanselman. According to his blog, Hanselman has only been 3D printing for a few weeks (he details the emotional rollercoaster of anticipation, frustration, resentment, and triumph that comes with learning to print in this hilarious yet honest post), and has no affiliation with Printrbot whatsoever, however he selected the Printrbot Simple Metal because of the consistently positive reviews it garnered as well as its entry-level price.

In the other corner, we have our ‘Goliath,’ the $22,000 Stratasys uPrint SE Pro, wielded by Brandon Potter of X9 Technologies. Unlike the Printrbot, the uPrint SE Pro is a professional grade model that prints with ABS as opposed to PLA. Potter was the one to come up with the idea of a Pro vs. Consumer shootout to see “the good, the bad, and the ugly of each approach, and to find out of how we compare on each side of the spectrum.”

The challenge was simple: choose a file, print it on each machine, and then compare the results. The STL file they chose was this coffee cup model from Thingiverse designer Barspin. “It seemed like an interesting and common object,” said Hanselman. “As a 3D model is has some nice curves, the handle overhang is a small challenge and it’s something we can easily compare.” The only setting they changed from the original file was to add a support structure, which is a typical mod for this kind of design.

In terms of stacking up the actual printers and equipment used, Hanselman and Potter provide the following breakdowns of their set-ups and the associated costs:

For the Printrbot, Hanselman estimates he has invested roughly $720 for the following:

  • Printrbot Simple Metal from Amazon - $599
  • Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Camera to watch his prints and do time-lapse videos with Octoprint - $60
  • A spool of RioRand 1.75mm PLA filament in black - $28
  • Digital Calipers for measuring - $20
  • Additional printed parts to improve the printer’s performance – roughly $15

Potter, on the other hand, provides this information based on his company’s costs:

  • uPrint SE Pro Printer and Dissovling Bath - $22,000
  • One spool of Model Material (black) - $205
  • One spool of Support Material - $200
  • Box of Build plates - $125 for 24 (about $5.20 for each print)
  • Soluble Concentrate - $149
  • Warranty Support - $2,000/year

In his words: “add a little bit of shipping, and for a mere $25K you’re ready to print your very own coffee cup.”

Clearly, there is a huge difference in terms of the initial set-up and material costs, which makes the results all the more interesting...ready to see for yourself?

As you can see from the pictures, the results are almost identical. The Printrbot piece (printed at 0.2 mm layer height in PLA in 7 hours) is the one on the left and the uPrint product (0.1 mm layer height in ABS in 8 hours) is on the right, but if I hadn’t just written that, it would be nearly impossible to tell.

There are a few differences that Hanselman points out in his post. For example, the uPrint’s base is slightly distorted, and there is some visible residue from where the white support structure came off. In addition, the ‘Z scar” (an artifact from the printer moving up the Z-Axis) is more visible on the side of the cup, whereas on the Printrbot model it ended up on the handle. Still, these are extremely minor discrepancies and overall, both coffee cups are very comparable in terms of looks and quality.

Close-up of the uPrint cup

Close-up of the Printrbot cup

In terms of cost, however, we can see the biggest difference. “In real one-time costs my cup cost me 21.02 meters of filament, costing me perhaps $2 maybe a little more if you count the few pieces of tape,” said Hanselman. “For Brandon and his Pro printer, in direct costs, he used $23.62 in model material, $2.06 in support material, and $5.20 build plate, for a total of $30.88 for this cup.” Potter adds that if his company were to sell this cup, it would run for about $58—that’s a lot of money for a cup that might not even be safe to drink out of!

“What's the takeaway?” asks Hanselman. “If we assume that I have a totally dialed-in well calibrated super cheap consumer/hobbyist 3D Printer and that Brandon has a $20k professional 3D Printer that's maybe got some calibration issues, they seem very comparable.”           

The comparison is not perfect, of course. If the chosen object were more intricate or larger, the uPrint would probably have had the bigger advantage. Nevertheless, it’s a fun and telling exercise, particularly for hobbyists or small 3D printing companies that have been considering investing in a more professional-grade machine.

For a detailed outlines of the printing specs and process, check out Potter and Hanselman’s respective blog posts, which also feature great photos, animated gifs and a time-lapse video of the Pro vs. Consumer 3D Printer Shootout.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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AST-X wrote at 3/25/2016 9:41:39 AM:

The uPrint Plus is not a hobby 3d printer. It is a professional one. so if you buy it, you wont be printing cups or anything useless.

Buckeye wrote at 3/6/2015 6:22:54 PM:

I have performed the same comparison using my personal afinia h479 and the stratasys dimension printer. Not only will my afinia print a quality part as well as the dimension, but the removable support material takes time away from waiting on the sodium hydroxide bath to dissolve the stratasys support material. David wins in this comparison.

Dave wrote at 2/28/2015 1:14:03 AM:

As an owner and builder of printers, plus owning a Uprint, this article was a fun read. Age old debate, but I'd put my money, and continue to, on the Stratasys. It's ability to walk away after a couple of selections is outstanding versus the trial and error method I use on my M2. Each material, bed adhesion, etc all need to be well tuned, and the Uprint just makes parts, that fit with great tolerance, into complex assemblies. Sure the plastic is extortion priced at $150/lb or $5 per in^3. If you own one out of maintenance the cost of the toggle print head is $4000, and they don't offer parts within it. It's a singular unit. The print bed surface is reusable, and I've used them hundreds of times. Take an off the street person, with an out of the box printer (no perfectly tuned experts), and the Uprint would win every time.

The Man wrote at 2/15/2015 5:29:36 AM:

Game over Byron ;) Proof is in the pix...

Heath wrote at 2/11/2015 1:31:02 AM:

@Byron Badilla- I would disagree on that statement as new adv. in PLA make PLA just as strong if not stronger. I understand they have different printer characteristics, but its not totally apples/oranges. IMO ABS is outdated with the new PLA options. Plus no fumes, etc.. I would agree from a mass manufacturing/pro-typing stand point. Smaller items non-mass produce= Consumer grade. Larger items with/without mass produce= Pro (this gets the win for printed movable parts too)

Byron Badilla wrote at 2/10/2015 2:36:56 PM:

Full Disclosure: I sell Stratasys. Having said that, I think that your article is missing a couple of points; PLA is not equal to ABS+, you’re comparing orange and apples from an engineering standpoint, please go to MatWeb and check it out, if you need to print coffee mugs by all means buy a maker 3dprinter, a Stratasys printer will be quite expensive for that purpose, those machines are not intended to make simple nonfunctional parts, they are machines for engineers not for makers. One need to realize what is it the one is going to make prior to make the investment. For instance you’re not going to take your Hyundai Elantra to a Nascar race, are you? But, you can easily take your Nascar car to buy groceries. Let’s put things into context.

Trond wrote at 2/10/2015 10:30:16 AM:

I guess the biggest issue for the cheap printers is still reliability (at least in my experience) - I know people with everything from Ultimakers to the latest Makerbots, and they're always tinkering with the machine to make it run perfectly, and still they're chucking half their prints in the bin. We have 5 year old first generation uPrint in our lab that never requires anything in terms of tuning, when it does require repair a technician shows up promptly to fix it, and I've only binned about 5-10 models in these 5 years. Of course even if you're throwing away a lot of models you're still saving money with the cheaper machine, but it's difficult to run a business (or school lab in our case) where you'll have to tell the clients "maybe you'll have it tomorrow, maybe next week"... A proper David vs Goliath test should include endurance and reliability as well as higher complexity - anyone can print a coffee cup!

chris wrote at 2/10/2015 3:32:34 AM:

The uPrint spefication states a z resolution of 0.254mm. How did it print at 0.1mm?

chris wrote at 2/10/2015 3:30:27 AM:

The uPrint spefication states a z resolution of 0.254mm. How did it print at 0.1mm?

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