3D printing is a great hobby, but it can get expensive. Some of these costs are obvious such as the cost of a printer and material costs, others less so. 3D printing services offer a great alternative to owning hardware for specialty/one-off prints. if you’re planning on regularly printing things though, it may be cheaper in the long run to get your own printer.
Optimise your print settings
While it may take trial-and-error to dial in the settings, once you’ve done so, you’re much more likely to see success. With fewer print quality and print failure issues, you will have to restart prints less often. In the long term, this saves on material costs and will result in higher quality prints.
Hollow your model and reduce infill density
Unless the model you’re printing specifically needs to be solid, you can save a huge amount of material by hollowing it out. In many spaces, you may not be able to completely hollow your model and need to include internal support known as infill. Minimising the infill density again allows you to save on material costs. In many models, a 5% infill density is fine, though ones that need more support may need to go up towards 15%. Hollowing out your model as much as possible reduces the amount of filament you use, which reduces the amount you have to pay. Conveniently it will also significantly speed up your prints as all that material doesn’t have to be printed.
Reduce the size
One simple way to reduce the material cost of a print is to make it smaller. This won’t work for functional prints that need to fit with other pieces unfortunately. If you’re just printing a one-off piece though, you can save some cost by making it a little smaller. Model by model the savings will mount up.
Reduce the resolution
This mostly affects 3D printing services, because reducing the resolution doesn’t particularly affect the amount of material used. It does, however, affect the time it takes to print. For a 3D printing service, the sooner a model can be removed from a printer, the sooner the next model can be printed. Time for the print to complete is a factor in how much a 3D printing service will charge you for a model. Reducing the time it will take to print will somewhat reduce the price of the quote.
Get the right materials
There are a huge variety of 3D printing materials. By considering what properties you need from your print you can make sure to use a filament that will give you the right attributes. For example, if your print will be facing lots of stress in its intended environment, then a hard-wearing material such as PETG is a good choice. Choosing the material with the right properties can save you from having to reprint it after the first one fails for example.
Cost is also a factor here. There is a broad price range in 3D printing filaments, resins, and other more exotic materials. While it may be tempting to save money by just getting the cheapest options, this may not actually work in your favour. Cheap materials are not made to the same standard and may result in a range of difficult-to-diagnose print issues. These issues can even result in you needing to throw entire prints away and start again. While you don’t need to get the most expensive variants, you should remember that you get what you pay for. Mid-price materials tend to offer good quality at a decent price. Reviews can also be helpful to decide which materials are a good value purchase.
Minimise support and adhesion structures
Support structures are a common part of 3D printing, however, they consume material that is then discarded. You can save material costs by minimising the amount of support structures you need. This also saves on the amount of post-processing that you need to do. Other disposable materials such as rafts should also be minimised. Brims should almost always be preferred over rafts as they use a lot less material and offer the same advantages.
Use a 3D printing service or buy your own printer
If you’re regularly printing models with similar characteristics, you may be able to save money by buying a printer that can handle your requirements. Yes, it will be an investment, but it will eventually pay for itself in savings from not having to pay a 3D printing service.
If you have a model that you don’t have the capacity to print, using a 3D printing service can make economical sense. If you don’t have a printer, don’t have a printer with the right capabilities, or just need multiple models faster than you can produce them, a 3D printing service is perfect. You can design and get a model printed without needing the upfront investment of purchasing the printer or printers. This is generally only ideal in the short to medium term, as you can save on costs in the long run by buying a printer yourself.
Use or modify free models
While you can pay for 3D models, there are plenty of free options too. Even if you can’t find something quite right, you can probably find something close. If you can find a model that’s similar to what you want, it can save you a huge amount of time. Modifying a 3D model is much easier than creating an entirely new one from scratch. While this may not save on money so much, it does save on time, and your time is worth something.
Use free software
There are plenty of paid 3D modelling and slicing software options. There are also free versions that can do most of the same things. If you don’t need all of the functionality of the paid software suites, you may be able to make do with a free software package and save on a subscription or one-time cost.
Store your filaments properly
3D printing filaments are generally hygroscopic. This means that they readily absorb moisture from the air. Unfortunately doing so reduces their print quality. Improper storage can lead to one or more spools being ruined so much that you need to just throw them away. Proper storage with dry-boxes or vacuum bags and desiccants can help keep your filaments dry. While you may be able to save some money with larger bulk dry-boxes, make sure to consider the risk if it fails as you could then end up with a whole set of ruined filaments.
3D printing resins also have specific storage requirements. As they are activated by ultraviolet light it is imperative to keep them out of direct sunlight. It’s also important to keep them in sealed containers whenever you’re not actively using or pouring them. This keeps contaminants from getting in and reduces the chance that you spill a toxic liquid that can be very difficult to clean up.
Being aware of health and safety
Most 3D printing materials give off ultra-fine particles and volatile organic compounds when printed, known as UFPs and VOCs respectively. These can be bad for your health when inhaled over long timescales. Proper ventilation can keep you healthy and save on medical costs down the line.
3D printing resins are also toxic. Avoid skin contact wherever possible as they are a nasty irritant to which your body can get sensitised and eventually develop an allergy. Again, knowing the risks and practicing proper safety will keep you healthy and save on potential future medical costs.
There are many ways to be able to save money when 3D printing. It will never be a super cheap hobby, but you can do things to stop it from breaking the bank. Have you got any other tips to reduce 3D printing costs? Let us know down below.