How to lower the cost of your 3D printed parts

Understanding how professional 3D printing services calculate their prices can help you pay less for your printed parts. In this post, we will explain: which parameters are typically used by service providers to estimate the cost of a 3D print, how these parameters enter (or not) in price calculation algorithms, and how to analyze a quote.

This post will provide practical recommendations on how to get better prices for the same parts, whether you stay with your current supplier or decide to try another service. None of these tips require hard negotiation skills, and you will still be able to use instant quoting – so why not try?

How are 3D printing prices calculated?

We all know that there is a difference between cost and price. Cost is defined by the expense incurred to manufacture a product, (material, machine time, man-hours, shipping, etc) while price is the amount of money paid by the customer.

When you get an online quote for a 3D print, your service provider uses manual or automated methods to estimate costs as accurately as possible. These internal estimates are confidential and not communicated to the outside world.

The prices that you see on your quote are largely disconnected from the actual cost estimates, especially if you are getting an instant quote. Chances are your supplier uses a  separate pricing model based on four types of criteria:

  • Technical data extracted automatically from your CAD model. This data is used to calculate the feasibility of your print, the estimated time and amount of material required, and post-processing costs, etc.
  • Internal cost estimates for non-CAD model related items such as overhead costs, build preparation, quality control, etc.
  • Price benchmarks measuring competitive price levels in various market segments. Your supplier may decide to adjust its margins in specific segments to attract more customers and grow market share.
  • Dynamic criteria related to a multitude of internal factors such as current backlog, negotiated corporate discounts, minimum order values, volume discounts, promotions…

Detail of these price calculations is not displayed on the quotes you receive. Instead, pricing parameters will be used to produce a quote on which six price components are typically communicated:

  • Price per part, fixed or degressive with quantity
  • Setup fee, as a separate line item or included in the part price
  • Discount percentage if applicable
  • Minimum price per line item or per invoice
  • Shipping costs, as a flat rate, calculated or included in the part price
  • An optional expediting fee for faster handling.

Some suppliers provide almost no detail and simply indicate a piece price which includes everything. It’s great for simplicity and clarity but complicates the identification of price reduction opportunities. Other suppliers provide a more detailed breakdown; this works in your favor but can be frustrating at times when you have to navigate through the ordering process just to find out about minimum order value or applicable fees.

There is value in sticking with the same supplier if you are happy with their service. Periodically check other offers to get a feeling for market prices, and provide feedback to your supplier. Use the following nine steps as an annual process review.

How to get cheaper 3D printed parts


1.    Verify the orientation of your part

If your printing process uses a support material (SLA or FDM for instance), don’t trust the part orientation algorithm of your online quote.  Orientation can influence pricing in multiple ways: number of layers (hence printing time), volume of support material required, number of support points to remove after printing. Ask your service provider to review the orientation manually and confirm the price. If there is a difference, ask your supplier to finetune your quotes manually in the future.

This does not apply to powder-bed processes such as HP MJF where part orientation has no impact on cycle time or material usage.

Orientation is key to part quality but influences Z height and supports design, hence cost

2.    Look for material alternatives

Higher performance materials may cost less than standard materials. This happens when your service provider buys a given material in higher volumes. Ask your supplier to suggest upgrades based on his knowledge of his materials portfolio.


3.    Regroup parts

If you are ordering a family of parts that will go into a single assembly, get a quote for the individual parts then a second quote for the same parts, connected together by cold-runner-like beams. It may be worth the extra time and effort – but be aware that you will have to detach and trim the parts yourself. Always ask your supplier if his pricing model rewards or penalizes parts grouping.


4.    Compare prices online

Create an account at another service provider. In many cases, you can even get an instant quote without an account. Getting prices from 10 suppliers should not take you more than 30 minutes.

Be cautious with quotes from overseas companies. When your parts land stateside, it will be your responsibility to clear customs, which means filing paperwork, paying for import duties plus brokerage fees, and waiting several days. You carry all the risks if your parts don’t make it through customs. There are also IP protection risks.

Once you have received your quotes, take note of all key elements: price breakdown, lead time, shipping time, and minimum values. If there is a cost savings, talk to your current supplier about steps 5 through 9 before making a switch.


5.    Review shipping options

When shipping costs are too high and you have an existing account with a shipping carrier, ask your 3D printing service if you can use your own shipping account for deliveries. It may be cheaper.


6.    Negotiate expedite charges

If your 3D printing service charges you fees to expedite, compare its lead time with other suppliers and ask for the fees to be adjusted (or waived) to match competitive offers.


7.    Ask about promotions

3D printing service bureaus often offer discounts to first-time customers or early adopters of a new printing process.


8.    Find out about corporate discount conditions

Most suppliers offer systematic discounts to their best customers. Ask your account manager about the conditions required to obtain a corporate discount. It could be conditioned by your annual order volume, or simply by the fact that you are affiliated with a large corporation.

In some cases, instead of receiving a discount you will receive other benefits such as free order expediting, free shipping, or the elimination of minimum order amounts.


9.    Place orders with another supplier from time to time

It is considered a best practice to not place more than 80% of your orders with a single supplier in any product category. Even if you are satisfied with your current 3D printing service, you will always benefit from placing an occasional order with another supplier. You will learn about quality, service, pricing, lead time, and be able to use this information to help your favorite supplier improve.

Final recommendations

Instant 3D printing quoting tools are increasingly popular. They are a great tool to get immediate feedback on the price and printability of a design. They are a convenient way to order parts quickly without human interaction. We are big supporters of instant quoting and offer it to all our customers.

However, do not assume that automated quotes are always the cheapest option. Talking to the staff of your 3D printing service bureau will often result in identifying options for cheaper professional 3D prints. Your account manager will be able to navigate through pricing rules, and will be able to share technical tips, talk about upcoming improvements, and will have the authority to give you a discount – while still providing you fast service and reliable results.

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