Why Are 3D Print Service Costs So Different?

By on October 2nd, 2015 in Ideas

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You need to use a 3D print service. You get quotes from several firms. All the quotes are wildly different! Why is this? 

This is a phenomenon we’ve noticed for some time. While it can be difficult to notice if you’re using only one service, it becomes quite visible when they are compared side by side. If you hit 3D Printing Price Check, for example, you can upload a 3D model and they will check the pricing for producing that model at nine different 3D print services. 

The results can be quite startling. We uploaded a simple vase-like object and found plastic prices ranging from USD$5 to USD$811! 

Most of the differences are due to the costs of materials and post-processing efforts. In the case above the USD$5 entry was for plain nylon material, but the expensive quote was for medical-grade wax-like material (with color, too). 

Another test using “Mr. Octopus” shows pricing ranging from a low of USD$1.23 to over USD$8 for very similar plastics. What’s going on here? 

Behind the scenes at a 3D print service there is always a fundamental challenge: how to make the expensive 3D printers work as efficiently and effectively as possible. This means more than just running them continuously, 24 hours a day. It means that when the printer functions, it must fill the print volume with as many prints as possible. Now think about the geometry of Mr. Octopus above. 

Thus, the geometry of prints is important in pricing. Consider the scenario where prints are priced by amount of material used. If someone were to print a very spindly, wide object that didn’t weigh very much, the service would not receive very much revenue for the huge print volume it would occupy during a print run. That space could have been used with more “dense” prints to get a lot more revenue from that print run. 

Thus the 3D print services must account for geometry in some fashion, but also account for costs of materials, post processing and of course the labor to run it all. 

Each 3D print service has their own methods for devising a pricing scheme. Some are hidden, and thus mysterious. 

When you get strange quotes that differ widely, it’s likely because your particular 3D model has found a “loophole” or “pit” in one of the pricing algorithms. 

The moral of the story here is obvious: shop around, as there will be deals to be had.

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!