Jun 28, 2015 | By Simon

Although there have never been as many options for 3D printers as there are today - both in technologies as well as price options - the same can be said for third-party 3D printing services, too.  

While older companies including Shapeways and Ponoko helped lay the foundation for connecting additive manufacturing technologies with multiple types of users who either didn’t have the space or weren’t ready to purchase their own 3D printers, the number of options today have exploded for every type of user and budget.  Whether a user wants to continue to use the high quality print services that Shapeways offers or source their 3D print from a neighborhood 3D printer using 3D Hubs’ localized manufacturing connection platform, it’s clear that 3D printing has never been easier.

But when comparing whether to purchase your own 3D printer or use an existing 3D printing service, it can be difficult to choose which might be better for your needs.

Last year, 3D printing service Sculpteo took a long, hard look at the two options and released a report on their findings.  Because the additive manufacturing industry moves so fast, they decided to conduct yet another report for 2015, which they have just now released.  

“It’s been over an year since the last study about 3D printing costs for personal and professional use so we have decided that a new, updated and improved version was necessary.”  Said the company in a recent blog post.  

To achieve a fair comparison with last year’s results, the company used the same 3D designs when approaching the time and cost analysis.  Additionally, they used the same 3D printers that were used last year albeit their updated versions.  

To determine the cost of their sample objects, the team behind the study added up the investment necessary + consumables + workforce divided by the number of objects printed over a 3 years period.  This included the current price of the 3D printer (including installation costs, if any), maintenance and replacement parts over 3 years, consumables and a person in charge of the printing process for professional uses (20€/h, same as last year).

Another important factor that was considered by the team included how much a printer would actually be used; while a 3D printer in a family home may only be used a few times a month, a 3D Printer in a commercial setting could likely be printing 24/7 depending on the project at-hand.

Once the team outlined all of the various factors of 3D printer ownership and printing through a service, they then grouped five of their previously used designs and calculated the cost to print each set of five for a number of different printers depending on how many copies of this set are printed.  

“As more and more items are printed, the investment dissolves on all of the prints, making each of them individually cheaper to produce,” said the Sculpteo team.   

“On the other hand, there is a (approximately) constant cost/print for the consumables required.”

Unsurprisingly, the resulting calculations vary depending on what’s ultimately needed by the user.  According to the team, they found that there is a stark contrast between the options of printing low quality items for low prices or printing higher quality prints with unrestricted budgets and the benefit of owning a 3D printer or using a service really comes down to how often a user will print and what kind of print quality they want depending on their budget.  

However, the company states that between the simplicity of not having to deal with the complicated 3D printers nor the process itself, their own services offer a great in-between option for those who are looking for a consistent balance of both price and quality.  

For those interested, you can read their report in-full by heading over to the Sculpteo blog.  



Posted in 3D Printing Services



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Danniel Gery wrote at 4/21/2016 9:27:23 AM:

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breck lewis wrote at 11/2/2015 5:08:23 PM:

I really like how you broke down the pros and cons about buying your own 3D printer. There definitely is a lot to consider, especially how much your planning on actually using it. I'm currently trying to push for this idea at my work and they loved it. Except now were trying to decide if we should outsource it or buy the machine. Thanks for posting this because I think it will be a big help to us in deciding.

Keith wrote at 8/27/2015 4:45:43 PM:

Ripoffbot - Did you not read the part where they used the same printers as last year? Maybe as you seem to know so much about the subject you should do your own cost analysis and show them how much more efficient home printing could be with the humble Printrbot. Perhaps you could even start your own 3D printshop and outlive all these "fly by night" outfits. It's very easy to pick out one point and claim that it points to manipulation of figures, quite another thing to spend your time "proving" them wrong rather than armchair warrioring it.

Joe Banks wrote at 7/2/2015 7:31:06 AM:

I think it's a great example of doing a cost benifit anaylisys, the number are not going to be the same for everybody, But the point is to do a study like this for your self. think about how many prints you are actually going to do and the quality and build volume you require and compare the cost per print of buying a printer vs using one of these services. there are also some x factors here, like the turnaround time for rapid prototyping etc, having your own printer means you can print a part (or small sections of a part) test it the modify you design. perhaps this ability is worth a lot of money to you? Time=Money

RipoffBot wrote at 6/28/2015 3:08:39 PM:

From a purely economic point-of-view, home computers would've never made it. But people bought them anyway. In three years' time, Shapeways, Ponoko an Sculpteo will all have gone belly-up. Don't drink their koolaid. It's interesting that they've chosen the ripoff Makerbot (which is probably the most expensive FDM to use ) and the Formlabs Form-1 (which uses an expensive resin) as their benchmarks. How about the cheap and cheerful Printrbot?

smartfriendz wrote at 6/28/2015 2:54:39 PM:

ho. how surprising ? a study made by sculpteo shows that it's better to use sculpteo than print yourself ? lol !

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