We’ve developed a simple calculator to help Fabbaloo readers determine the actual cost of 3D prints.
Have you ever been asked to produce a 3D print for money? How much did you charge for them? Did you have any method for identifying the cost?
Calculating 3D Print Job Costs: More Than Just Material
Recently, I produced some experimental prints for an artist friend seeking a demonstration of what might be possible. I did the work for fun, but then they asked, “What do I owe you for all this?”
Initially, I thought it would be as easy as multiplying the weight of the prints by the cost of the material. However, calculating the cost of a print job is not necessarily easy, as there are multiple factors to consider. The true cost of a print includes not only the material cost but also the costs of other tools used in the process and your own time.
It turns out that your time is probably the single most important factor in the cost of 3D printing objects. In most cases, the material cost is almost negligible.
Developing Our Own 3D Print Cost Calculator
After searching for a print job calculator online and finding them disappointing, I decided to create my own. I prepared a spreadsheet to input several factors and produce a reasonable cost estimate. After generating a number for my friend (around US$200), I realized there was much to learn from the calculation process.
I converted the spreadsheet into an online form on our site, which you can freely use. The form includes around 15 different input factors, most of which are trivial to find.
The calculator accounts for the following costs of a 3D print job:
- Printer runtime wear
- Your time
This list should represent the majority of the costs incurred when 3D printing. Not included are costs of software, facilities, administration and a few other items, but we thought we’d start with this set of factors. Perhaps we will make the calculator more sophisticated in the future.
These costs vary considerably from job to job, as the details differ in each. However, some interesting observations emerged after running various print scenarios through the calculator.
Insights Gained from the Calculator
- Material cost is almost negligible, sometimes under 5% of a job.
- Electricity cost is practically zero in almost every case.
- Failures and repairs are not significant factors, but can be more than the material cost, depending on the situation.
- By far the largest cost is manual labor, sometimes accounting for well over half the job cost.
As future machines and materials become less expensive, this ratio will become even more extreme. This suggests that future 3D printer manufacturers might want to consider making their machines and processes far more automated to reduce labor requirements.
The calculator computes an approximate cost for executing the print job. To make the effort worthwhile, you should also include some amount of profit. That’s why we incorporated a “profit margin” into the calculation. This is the percentage of the customer cost that is pure profit. In the calculator, it can be set to zero if you don’t want profit. There’s also a “quantity” field for multiple identical print jobs.
The calculator works with both resin and FFF devices because the calculations don’t differ: material times X weight still works, and your time is still your time. The only catch might be that resins are often measured in milliliters. In that case, just assume that one millimeter equals one gram, and it will be close enough.
Try the 3D Print Cost Calculator and Share Your Feedback
The calculator is now available for all to use, and we encourage you to provide us with suggestions for improvement and fixes. If improvements are easy to implement, we’ll certainly consider making them.