Are 3D prints expensive or even expensive enough? That is really the most appropriate question. Tom and Tracy Hazzard debate whether or not the current rates for 3D print services are even profitable and sustainable. They also share what tools to use to see if your design is off base or is too expensive. Tune in to discover if you are undervaluing your time and skills that go into 3D printing.
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Why Are 3D Prints Expensive?
3D print services might be you print for someone, you’re offering them design services, file fix services or all of those things. It might also be that you’re going to print it for them like in a hub situation or it might be that you go down to the UPS Store, where we went on a site visit to the UPS Store down in San Diego, the first flagship 3D printing store in the US.
It’s the first one in the entire country to offer 3D printing.
It was a cool visit. You might go in there and use their services to 3D print. There’s also another way which is to go and use Shapeways or one of those companies where you put your file in. We like i.materialise, but they’re in Belgium. You’ve got to wait a little longer to get your file. I like their services. You go in there. You put your file in and you have it printed out.
That’s where this question is trying to get at. Why are prints from those kinds of places expensive?
The reality is that they’re not that expensive. It may be what you’re printing. It’s a choice of materials, which is the reason we use it. We have our own printers here, but sometimes we want to print it in a different material like ceramic or metal and see what it’s like. Those materials can be expensive. That’s something else. Also, a lot of those printer service bureaus are not using FFF. The UPS Store is, but they’re still using a much more expensive system than your average $3,000 MakerBot. They’re using Stratasys systems.
They’ve got a couple of machines at the UPS Store, between the two of them, it’s a six-figure number to buy those machines especially at Shapeways or i.materialise. The real difference in cost is less than material than it is. They’re amortizing the cost of their machine over time, which some of these machines are $500,000.
The quality is different. You have to realize that because you’re getting much more a cleaner quality. You don’t have all the support cleanup and all the other stuff that you probably do in your own home printer. You’re getting some benefit to that. You have to remember that’s added into the cost as well. I don’t think they’re so expensive. It’s an interesting follow-up to a question, which was about what should you charge to 3D print something? Sometimes we go into there and drop in our file and see what it would cost to 3D print it because sometimes our files are nineteen hours or whatever. You go like, “It cost me $200 to print that. I can’t ever sell this item on the open market at that price. I may need to redesign.” That’s a helpful tool to use as well.
It’s a great gauge for at least one market value for something you’re printing. It doesn’t cost you anything to do it. You can upload as many as you want. You log into Shapeways or i.materialise, upload the file and they will analyze it and give you a price within minutes for all those different materials.
It’s a great gauge to see if your design is way off base or too expensive. There might be something wrong with it. It will also tell you that sometimes. That’s a great tool. It’s good to be able to see that, but I don’t think they’re expensive. If the perception is that it’s expensive, it may be that you’re looking at the quality level of some of the low cost cheaper FFF 3D printers and not comparing it to the quality level that you’re getting from one of those places.
It’s all perception. It’s all relative. $200 for a certain item to be printed may not seem that expensive to us, but to a certain consumer or hobbyist, it may seem like, “I spent only $800 on my printer and now I’m going to spend $200 to get one print made somewhere.” You can understand why people might think that is expensive, but there are different reasons that people would use that service.
The costs are coming down in some cases as machines are faster. There’s also that processing time, which is the biggest cost factor. It’s not the materials. You can go on YouTube and you can see those machines at Shapeways running various things. One of my favorite ones is to look at the Nervous System dress that they made. You can see in that video, which is on our YouTube channel by the way, which is Hazz Design. There’s so much cleanup. They have to break apart and they have to brush off all the powder. It’s a lot of labor too. When you see that and you start to realize the amount of work that goes into that, you can have a better appreciation for the cost of those things.
Another good thing to do is you get a price on one of these sites for one of your models. When you make your own count, the amount of time it took you to create that model if you didn’t download it and count the amount of time that it took you to print it on your printer and look at all of that. How many hours did it take you and divide that by the price that they would charge you and how many dollars per hour is that?
I’d be worried that you mentioned that, but if you’re downloading a file and going to print that at one of those places, I worry about that a lot more because you don’t know the quality of the print. I.materialise, this is one of the things I like about it. If you’re going to offer a design for sale on their site, they require you to have printed it with them so that there is a physical print. They know it prints. They know it’s not junk. The file is not bad. If you’re downloading a file off a thing from somewhere and upload it to Shapeways to print, I’d be worried about that because you don’t know if that file prints yet. You don’t know if it’s good quality. That’s one thing to be cautious about because then you’d spend the money and what you get out is not a good result. Make sure you’ve printed it somewhere, someplace or somebody has printed it and it looks successful.
Sometimes if you’re downloading it off one of those sites, if you see a photo that somebody else has printed it, at least you can have some confidence that it can be done. I hope that helps shed a little light on why the costs are what they are at some of these places.
If you’ve had interesting bad, good experiences, we’d love to hear from that. If you have additional questions, we’d love to hear about that as well. Ask us anything.
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