How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?

We’ve all sat at our desks or gotten up from our offices and looked across at the monstrosities that sit in the corner of every workplace. One of the things we rely on for almost everything in an office is the printer, the huge square block that is supposed to print out 100 pages a second from 4 different kinds of paper.

But, more accurately it prints nothing, makes some kind of horrific childlike scream, and when IT come to fix it, the technician shakes their head and says: ‘It should be working, don’t know why it’s not’. These types of printers are primarily 2D, in that they will print out a photo or words on a paper that is flat and not in 2 dimensions. However, in the modern day, there is a new printer on the rise, that of the 3D printer. This has gotten people excited for multiple different reasons and could revolutionize production of goods on a factory line.

Even I have seen videos online of what people have created using the power of 3D printing. But, with so much hype and public interest, we are left to wonder about the cost of it all. How much is a 3D printer? Could I own one? With that in mind, we’ve decided to delve into the world of 3D printing and answer exactly that question for you.

What is 3D Printing?

Before we answer the questions of costs around 3D printing, we need to take a step back and give you some background on 3D printing, so you have a point of reference to draw from when we talk about price. 3D printing is the process of adding a variety of materials – typically layer by layer, like a cake – that fuse together in order to construct a 3-dimensional object.

The whole process is initiated, processed, and produced by a computer that uses a CAD (Computer Aided Design) or a digital 3D model as the guide and follows it to the letter. The materials used in the construction of the object are mainly plastics, liquids, or powdered grains that are combined into the necessary chemical composition before being laid on that particular section of the object.

Believe it or not, the idea for this amazing technology was not first mentioned by a research fellow at a prestigious university or a scientist in a published journal. No, the first mention of 3D printing was done by a science fiction author. In 1945, Murray Leinster in his story ‘Things Pass By’ described an animatronic arm that follows drawings and produces plastic out of its appendage, describing with surprising accuracy the process of 3D printing today.

However, it wouldn’t be until the 80s that 3D printing would take its modern form, with Hideo Kodama inventing a way to create 3-dimensional models with thermoset plastic polymers. Throughout the 90s and early 00s, this process was refined and perfected, with additive refinement and the addition of FDMs (Fused Deposition Modeling), and finally in 2019, 3D printing was considered of a level and high-enough quality to be used industrial production and, further still, is now readily available to the wider public.

How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?

In the modern day, a 3D printer does not cost that much, but the price tag can go up depending on what you need from the printer.

A standard FDM printer, for example, for those who have never owned a 3D printer or want to use it for hobbies, will have a cost ranging from $200 and up to $500. If you want the printer for specific purposes, or you want to choose a more appropriate size, different features, quality, performance, or even just a different manufacturer, then this cost will vary greatly.

However, there is a steep price curve for 3D printers of the highest quality and most capability. These printers start at around $1500, up a further $1000 from standard 3D printers, and can go as high as $6000, which for a person on the street may be a bit too much and a bit too dear to warrant the cost.

The final group of 3D printers that have a separate price tag to these are the industrial printers, these are the printers that are used in factories or for mass production. These can be purchased for a whopping $20,000 at the lowest and $100,000 at the highest, and that is not including the printing materials themselves.

While all these printers sound expensive and my assertions that 3D printers are now available for the wider public sound like lunacy, then keep in mind that in 1980 they cost upwards of $300,000 (just over $1,000,000 in today’s money). Going from that ungodly amount to a couple of hundred seems a lot more accessible.

The other costs you might need to tack on to a 3D price tag are things like filament costs (about $10 per print), replacements for parts and upgrades (for example, a new nozzle costs around $80 to replace), and electricity, which is highly dependent on where you live, but with such big machines this expense can stack up.

Types of 3D Printers

Given their 50-year history as an actual product, 3D printers have become somewhat eclectic in the different types that are available to buy and can confuse first time buyers. With that in mind, we have looked at the most commonly available and assembled them for you.

FDM Printer

The Fused Deposition Modeling printer is the most common 3D printer and the one you are most likely to see. This type of printer creates objects by using a thermoplastic filament that is heated to its melting point, then extruded from the nozzle layer by layer, cooling as it is extruded, creating a solid end result.

This technology is also used in 3D pens and not just printers.

SLA Printer

One of the earliest forms of 3D printing, but due to its effectiveness and usefulness in design and engineering, Stereo lithography has remained a popular form of 3D printing today. SLA printers use a liquid plastic as the base component of their object, which is then targeted by a computer-controlled laser beam.

Upon contact with the laser light, the plastic hardens, as such the laser is used to craft the desired structure, layer by layer, until complete, creating a brilliantly smooth structure that is rinsed in solvent and processed in an Ultraviolet light oven.

Final Thoughts

3D printing is such an amazing advancement in technology that it’s no wonder people are fascinated by what it can do or what potential it holds. It is also no wonder that people are worried about the costs that it entails.

However, with the 3D market opening more easily to the public and people able to use it for more creative pursuits than strictly high-end commercial endeavors, the costs are becoming a little more manageable for the regular Joe in the park, inch by inch.

Should you find yourself struggling with the choice of whether to purchase a 3D printer or not, think of a couple of things besides the initial cost. One, whether what you are doing needs a 3D printer, two, will the cost be offset by the products produced by the printer, and, three, can you afford the overhead of keeping the printer.

If you can say yes to at least one of these questions, then I would say the printer is well worth the cost.

Michael Moore