5 Ways to Reduce Polymer 3D Printing Costs

Put these tips and strategies into action to cut additive manufacturing cost.

You’ve probably heard all the reasons why companies are increasingly relying on additive manufacturing.

For starters, additive manufacturing allows the building of high-performance parts with complex geometries that were previously impossible. From a strategic standpoint, additive manufacturing offers safer, simpler supply chains with faster lead times. However, one of the main reasons why 3D printing continues growing is quite simple: cost.

The different additive manufacturing technologies for polymers, such as Multi Jet Fusion, Fused Deposition Modeling, and Selective Laser Sintering, offer enormous cost benefits for everything from end-use parts. That’s because there are no costs from tooling. Also, you can print complex parts at no additional cost compared to simple designs.

Even with additive manufacturing’s cost benefits, there are still ways to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. This article provides four tips, techniques, and strategies for cutting costs when 3D printing with polymers.

1. Reduce Volume By Choosing the Right Infills

The main cost driver in 3D printing is volume.

The more materials your design requires, the more you can expect to pay. While polymers are significantly cheaper than metal, costs can still add up quickly. That’s why designing to reduce volume is so important.

One way to do this is to design using the best-suited infill pattern. These patterns affect the strength and amount of material used for the part. For example, a honeycomb or diagonal pattern might use only about 10% of the material as a solid infill while offering the strength your part needs. However, the structural integrity of your part is always critical, so keep that in mind when considering infills.

Start Your Manufacturing Project with MakerVerse

MakerVerse is your platform for sourcing industrial parts, providing instant access to a vetted supply chain and a full range of manufacturing technologies. With AI-powered quoting, order management, and fulfillment, MakerVerse helps with everything from initial prototypes to full-scale production.

Get Quote

2. Select the Perfect Material 

A wide range of materials offer significantly different properties – and costs.

Some of these materials are known for their toughness, rigidity, or high resolution. Other fundamental properties include flexibility, biocompatibility, and much more. You can choose the most cost-efficient options once you know precisely what materials are best for your project.

Knowing which material to use can be challenging, as the number of polymer materials for additive manufacturing has exploded in the past years. The MakerVerse platform offers more than a dozen polymers across several 3D printing technologies.

With so many material options, it’s important to find the specific material with the best compromise between the required properties and costs. To help you choose, check out our tech material advisor. Here, you can filter between all the materials based on the required properties you need. You can find a detailed data sheet for each material in the results. Feel also free to ask our experts if you are not sure about the best material.

MakerVerse’s tech material advisor tool in action

3. Understand Quantity

Producing smaller batches of units is significantly cheaper with additive manufacturing than conventional manufacturing. That’s because additive manufacturing eliminates the need for tooling.

With the tool design and production cost out of the equation, manufacturing costs per unit remain almost constant—as seen in the graph below. With the lower upfront costs and fast lead times, additive manufacturing has become especially popular for prototyping, tooling, jigs, fixtures, and on-demand end-use parts.

This graph also shows that as expensive as conventional manufacturing can initially be, the cost per unit drops when more units are produced. Your lower production numbers ensure that additive manufacturing is always the ideal technology. However, this chart shows it’s essential to know when that cost curve might shift in the other direction. When that’s about to happen, it’s best to be prepared and rethink the ideal production method for your project.

4. Get Near-Real-Time Prices on Iterations

Costs shouldn’t be a black box in additive manufacturing. Transparency is key.

With MakerVerse, you can upload a design and get an instant quote. Prices are immediately updated when you change the different materials, finishes, and more options. If you change the design, it can easily be re-uploaded for a new instant quote.

All this makes it easy to optimize your project’s costs.

5. Fully Adapt Your Designs for 3D Printing

The best designs are often the most efficient.

If you can minimize printing time, only use supports when needed, and print the maximum number of parts per print job, you can reduce costs significantly. This is particularly useful for powder bed technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering and Multi-Jet Fusion.

When designing, try minimizing the bounding boxes of individual parts and maximizing the packing density in the build volume. This will allow you to print more parts per job and reduce costs.

If you have a hollow part with a lot of dead volume, it’s sometimes possible to nest other parts within the design. Or, you can split up some parts and join them afterward to make the space needed to nest components inside each other during the print.

Next Steps

Additive manufacturing is rapidly innovating, with new technologies, materials, and developments to consider. To control your costs completely, stay on top of all the trends and take advantage of relevant innovations.

In the meantime, we’d like to invite you to use the MakerVerse platform for instant cost insights.