Whenever I walk through the printer ink cartridge aisle at Costco, I always hear complaints and grumbling about the ridiculously high cost of ink. “It costs $80 for black ink!” The reaction to the $50 roll of 3D Print filament costs are the same. However, thinking that 3D printer filament is similar to these consumables for your paper printer is the most common misconception about 3D printing.
3D Print Filament Costs
The real analysis of the cost of 3D Printing is not in the filament but in the run time of your machine. If buying low cost 3D Print materials causes extruder failure and misprints, there is nothing to be gained by going cheap. When we first started 3D Printing, we weren’t necessarily being cheap about the PLA filament we were buying, we just weren’t brand loyal. We thought that the 3D Printer manufacturers who were claiming that their filament was better were just over-pricing the same materials that could be bought cheaper on Amazon. In some respects it was and is a significant profit center for the manufacturers. Now however, the scale and buying power of a company like a Makerbot can insure that the quality level is maintained to provide tighter tolerances and more consistent results. That does not mean you are not paying more – you are, but the question remains – is it worth it to buy 3D print materials elsewhere?
Filament Color & Material Type First
For us filament color trumps all material brand loyalties. We still want the color we want for our designs and will try all brands until we get the color and quality results. Unfortunately that means that we have had to discontinue some of the colors in order to keep the quality problems to a minimum. But, once we find a brand that has the best results, we try really hard to work with those filament colors for all we design. But, a limited color offering means that we are constantly on the lookout for something new.
For our purposes, we only test PLA 3D Print filament, no ABS filament because we don’t want the fumes in our home office. But this is also a consideration from some prosumers and businesses. If you need to be able to offer both materials or other specialty 3D Printer filament choices to your clients, you may be out of luck standardizing on just one brand. Many manufacturers do not offer the same colors in both materials. Many also have a significant difference in filament prices between the two materials as well. This means that you need to have two different color charts and pricing structures essentially making it two separate products in your system. This complexity has a cost to consider as well and can push towards a particular brand.
3D Printer Filament Brand Loyalty
We try at least two new 3D Print filament brands each month. Many we find are just resale and repackaging of manufacturers we have already tried, so they are quickly tossed. We also don’t just jump ship to a new filament manufacturer when we find something that works. We test out all our frequently used colors because we have found run quality differences between colors.
While at the moment, we have standardized on one manufacturer for all our 3D Printing filament right now, this is only temporary. Twice before we switched because we found the filament to be inconsistent over time. Lesser used colors would age badly and cause problems after a couple of months on the shelf. Others had issues as we got halfway into the roll. Plus, software and extruder improvements can also have an effect changing the way a filament runs as well. Watch out for changes whenever a firmware or software update happens.
Our basic rule of thumb is to first use the 3D Printer manufacturer’s recommended material until you are comfortable with the quality output of your machine. That way you reduce the variables when results aren’t as expected. Then branch out for color or material type as needed. Then try to find the filament source providing product to printer manufacturer. This should always bring your 3D Print filament costs down. Don’t forget that once you achieve some type of scale – volume purchasing can bring the cost of 3D Printing way down and raise the profitability of 3D Printing your “what.”