When you’re planning for any big purchase, you must look at all the factors that could influence the price. Until you know exactly how much it will cost you, you won’t know if the item is really worth it. 3D printers are taking off in popularity, but many people wonder if the benefits are really worth the price.
Entry-level 3D printers can be as cheap as $200-$500, but the better quality 3D printers for home use can be between $1,500-$10,000. Some materials can be found at $15-$20 per kg, whereas others can be $100-$200 per kg. Additionally, 3D printers are prone to needing repairs, which can be costly.
Considering all of the different expenses, benefits, and drawbacks, you can decide if buying a 3D printer is worth it for you. We’ll break down the cost of the machine and materials below to help you understand the price range you can expect.
The 3D Printer Itself
The least expensive 3D printers on the market are $200. Even though that might seem like a steal, it’s important to know that these printers need a lot of set-up work, have very few features, can typically only use one material, are limited in the size they can print (3-4″ in each dimension), print lower quality work, and break very frequently.
In most situations, if you want a 3D printer, you don’t actually want one that’s too cheap. You get what you pay for!
The next range of 3D printers is considered for “hobbyists.” These are anywhere between $300-$1,500. These printers still require quite a bit of set-up work, print lower quality work, and break easily. They improve upon the cheapest 3D printers in that they can print slightly larger sizes (5-6″ in each dimension) and can use a few different materials.
The following range of 3D printers is considered for “enthusiasts.” These printers can be found from $1,500-$3,500. With the price increase for this range, you get better-sized prints (8-12″ in each dimension), reasonable speed, good quality prints, and access to more materials (unless the printer only works with the manufacturer’s standard materials). Unfortunately, these printers still break easily. In general, if you plan to use it for more than 40 hours a month, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time repairing and maintaining the machine.
The most expensive home-use 3D printers are around $3,500-$10,000. For many people, this is simply out of their budget. However, these options do create much better quality work. These 3D printers are considered “professional” or “performance” printers. They have large and enclosed build areas which can print 12″ in each dimension.
Due to the area being enclosed, you have access to almost any material. That being said, the manufacturer for each printer should provide the list of materials that will print best from that printer. Since there is still a large margin in this range, note which printers can create the best quality for the speed and the printer’s durability. No matter what range you buy, 3D printers need repairs but some need much less than others.
There are two different kinds of materials used in most 3D printers: fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA). FDM uses thermoplastic filament whereas SLA uses photosensitive resin. Filament materials are the most common and least expensive of the two.
When considering the cost of each material, you will want to check the prices for specific colors, the quantity, and that specific product’s tolerance. Colored materials and tighter tolerances tend to be more expensive but buying large quantities can lower the price.
|Type of Material||Average Cost||Pros||Cons|
|PLA (filament)||$15-$20 per kilogram||Very common|
Easy to print
|Not the best quality material|
|ABS (filament)||$15-$20 per kilogram||Fairly common|
Does well with strength and temperature resistance
|Requires a heated build plate|
|PETG (filament)||$16-$19 per kilogram||Easy to print|
Does well with strength and temperature resistance
|Nylon (filament)||$50-$73 per kilogram||Relatively flexible|
Highly chemically resistant
Builds decent functional parts
|TPU/TPE/Soft PLA (filament)||$87-$110 per kilogram||Flexible|
Builds decent rubber-like models
|Polycarbonate (non-standard filament)||$30–$93 per kilogram||Very strong|
High strength and durability
Good electrical insulation properties
Most options are at the high end of the price range
|ASA (filament)||$30–$93 per kilogram||UV resistant|
Good for outdoor applications
|Can get expensive fairly quick|
|SLA (resin)||$40–$300 per liter||Very high resolution prints||Very expensive|
The price difference is determined by the resin quality and the printing resolution the resin is compatible with
|Specialty Materials (filament)||$20-$600 per kilogram||Can contain additives such as wood, glitter, glow-in-the-dark features, carbon fiber, stainless steel, magnetic iron powder, and kilnable metal.||Depending on the additive, can be extremely expensive and hard to use|
Benefits of 3D Printers
Can Potentially Save Time and Money
Depending on the printer’s capabilities, you could very well print items for less than what you would spend buying them. For example, certain printers excel at printing functional parts. If you needed to repair something around the house, you could make the part yourself instead of waiting for the item to be shipped and avoid unnecessary costs.
One reason many people enjoy 3D printers is the ability to make gifts. You can print figurines, signs, jewelry, parts for games, etc. Essentially, you can make whatever you want! This falls into the age-old practice of giving homemade gifts to save money, and by having a 3D printer you are upping your ability to make high-quality homemade gifts.
Additionally, if you are making items, you can sell them. Using an online platform to sell your prints is a great way to mitigate the expenses of a 3D printer. You can have specific items that you sell or you can open yourself up to receiving custom orders (people are willing to pay more for their own designs and ideas).
3D Printing Can Be More Environmentally Sustainable
Going back to the example of printing something you could have bought online, by doing this you will be reducing your personal environmental impact. Namely, you won’t be contributing to the fuel used in delivery and the single-use packaging used for your item. Plus, considering how many manufacturing and delivery steps can be taken on just one item before it gets to you, you could reduce even more emissions by simply making the item at home.
If being environmentally sustainable is important to you, you can also use specific 3D printing filaments that are made of waste plastics and/or environmentally friendly materials (hemp, seaweed, soy, wood fiber, etc.). You’ll be creating your own recycled and/or non-toxic products. Additionally, you can recycle your own filament that you use! These don’t work with every 3D printer, but it’s nice to know that the option exists.
3D printing is growing bigger and better each year. It is being used in hospitals, schools (high school and universities), manufacturing companies, and by engineers. As 3D printing spreads into new fields and the technology continues to advance, 3D printing can become a “new normal.” Regardless of how it grows, it is clear the 3D printing will expand in use and popularity.
In order to not fall behind, it could be a good idea for you to invest in a 3D printer now. This could mean getting one for the purpose of simply learning how it works and becoming skilled in those programs, which may become standard knowledge in the future. And who knows, maybe in the next decade it will become normal for each home to have a 3D printer. By purchasing one now, you will be ahead of the curve either way.
Drawbacks of 3D Printers
They Are Expensive!
As stated before, to get a good quality printer that genuinely benefits you, you will have to spend some serious cash. The 3D printers needed to create functional parts and marketable products are not cheap. The materials cost money as well, and you will need to keep buying more as you go.
Even though some of the materials seem pretty affordable, it is important to consider how much of each material you need to create an item. The materials (with the exception of resin) are measured in weight, so the density of a material affects the price of how much you need. Then, considering the different qualities of materials, you may need a more expensive material just because of what you are making. So essentially, it adds up.
You Need To Be Handy or Have The Money For Repairs
Going along with the high cost of using a 3D printer, you may need to factor in the cost of repairs. 3D printers break a lot (even the more expensive models). This means that you either need to be really good at repairing machines or be able to afford to fix the printer.
That being said, the severity of this issue does depend on the printer and how the printer breaks. Perhaps the repairs are easy and simple to do yourself. In that case, no worries. But if you need to replace parts or something is wrong with the system, repairs could be a burdensome thing.
You Need To Know The Programs
Unfortunately, 3D printing objects is not as easy as printing a piece of paper. Just like you need to know programs for designing pages to be printed, you need to know the programs for printing 3D models. Some of these programs are free, but like everything, the best options require payment.
That being said, there are pre-made 3D model plans that you can find/buy online but only using pre-made designs isn’t worth the cost of having your own 3D printer.
3D printers require ventilation. First, because certain materials emit very foul plastic odors. Some materials stink worse than others, but they all give off an odor. Second, 3D printers emit nondetectable nanoparticles. These particles could be breathed in and so far, there aren’t studies on how that can affect long-term health. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Most of the affordable 3D printer options do not have enclosed build areas. Meaning, the finicky moving parts and hot end are completely exposed. This first increases the risk of the 3D printer being damaged. Second, this becomes a danger if you have small children or pets. If a child or pet should stick their finger or nose into the build area, they could be burned or otherwise injured. Along with the harm this could cause, it could also break the printer.
Although this is only a small annoyance for most, 3D printing is also fairly loud. Depending on where you plan to keep your 3D printer, the noise could be problematic.
When Is It Worth It?
In summary, a 3D printer could very much be worth it for you if you have the money to spend, are handy with maintenance and repairs, have a lot of projects to use it for, want to be a little more environmentally sustainable, are planning for the future of technology, and/or want to sell your creations.
Additionally, it should not be overlooked that your desire is a factor. Are you really, really interested in design and building models? Do you love creating useful things? Are you passionate about some aspect of 3D printing? Do you want to be an inventor? If getting a 3D printer is important to you for any of these reasons, then buying one is probably going to be worth it to you.
When Is It Not Worth It?
If you aren’t sure you can afford a 3D printer, don’t rush into this decision. Like we said before, they will be around for a while and you can always get one later when it’s within your budget.
If you don’t know what you’re actually going to use it for or can only think of a couple of projects, then it’s probably not worth the money or hassle. If you don’t want to learn new programs, you shouldn’t get one. There is a learning curve for getting a 3D printer and you need to be fully invested in that learning to make the printer useful.
If you aren’t good with repairs and/or don’t want to worry about your machine breaking all the time, 3D printers probably aren’t for you in general. They do require a lot of work and that may make this purchase a burden rather than a benefit.