3D Printer vs 3D Printing Service

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to buy a 3D printer or use a 3D printing service.
Here, we take a look at cost.

Here are the costs of printing figurines of volume 5.75 cm^3, using a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer and PLA filments for MakerBot, a Formlabs Form1 printer and clear resin for Form1, and Sculpteo, an online 3D printing service.

For 3D printers, cost is modelled as the printer and material cost (including shipping and tax) plus any additional material and shipping cost if the total volume of the figurines exceed the volume of the material. Material cost is modelled this way instead cost per volume, because material is sold in discreet units. Printing 30 figurines will have the same upfront cost as printing 40 figurines on a 3D printer. The volume of material used per figurine is greater than the volume of the figurine itself because both the MakerBot and Form1 printers need support structures. The figurine is estimated to have a total volume of 7.12 cm^3, with supports simulated with Meshmixer 2.0, and is factored into the calculations.

For Sculpteo, white plastic is selected as the print material. Sculpteo (individual shipping) assumes for a number of figurines, multiple orders are placed and each figurine is shipped individually. Sculpteo (aggregate shipping) assumes for a number of figurines, a bulk order is placed with only one shipping cost.

This comparison is a response to a study by Sculpteo that concluded 3D printing service as a cheaper alternative than investing in a 3D printer. That study omits shipping prices, which I believe artificially lowers the cost of using 3D printing services. Seen here, using Sculpteo is definitely less costly for a small number of prints. However, as the number of prints increase, investing in a 3D printer may be a better option.

All prices are taken from their respective stores. The estimate for the shipping is to New York City. For source code and raw data, see GitHub.

By Jenny - CaretDashCaret