How to calculate the cost of 3D printed parts?

How to calculate the cost of 3D printed parts?

Learn about how to calculate 3D printing cost, as well as how to optimize the 3D printer cost per cubic inch.

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Since the early 1980s, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has evolved to the point where it now offers designers and manufacturers a world of opportunity. Price barriers to entry have also steadily come down and the quality of 3D printed output has improved, offering access to an ever-increasing number of companies.

Today, 3D printing enables you to unlock exciting new levels of product and part performance thanks to design freedom and the capacity to produce geometrically complex parts. 

If you manufacture certain customized parts, you can also access levels of differentiation and enhanced product value difficult to achieve cost-effectively with traditional manufacturing methods more suited for mass producing the same object.

This article covers all of the elements you need to factor in when you calculate the cost of a 3D print project.

How to calculate the cost of 3D printed parts?

If you’re asking, "Is 3D printing expensive?" the realistic answer is "It depends" and at the same time, one should also ask, "What added value can 3D printing offer?" Many factors influence the 3D print costs of parts, but the starting point is what type of 3D printer you invest in. For example, are you focused on desktop 3D printing or industrial 3D printing?

The right 3D printer for your business

Your decision to invest in either desktop 3D printing or industrial 3D printing will be affected by considerations that include:

  • What you intend to print. Desktop 3D printers are ideal for home use, small businesses, and for educational institutions to train students, while industrial 3D printers are used for production of higher volumes of parts in industries that range from aerospace to consumer goods.
  • The size of what you intend to print. Desktop 3D printers can only print small models, but industrial 3D printers can print the larger parts often required for industrial, auto, or aerospace industries.
  • What part quality you need. Industrial 3D printers can make parts with mechanical properties and dimensional accuracy that rival injection molding and can be used as end products.

Expense is naturally also a factor. As you’d expect, industrial 3D printers cost significantly more than desktop printers. But when it comes to manufacturing large quantities of industrial-grade parts, they’ll ultimately deliver the right economies of scale, productivity and throughput, and cost per part.

Learn more in our article “Industrial 3D printer costs”, where we cover different 3D printer price ranges as well as payment models and financing options.

Other fixed cost – CAPEX factors

Fixed costs or capital expenditures (CAPEX) such as, 3D printing workflow elements beyond 3D printer hardware must be factored in when calculating the cost of your 3D prints.

You’ll also need to include 3D printer consumables such as nozzles, extruders, lamps, printheads, and other essential parts, software licenses, and installation. Support and maintenance services and contracts or fees will need to be included.

What else influences the cost of 3D printed parts?

When it comes to calculating the cost of 3D printed parts, you should consider other factors. These include the geometric complexity or volume of the 3D part you want to print, type of material, technology—for example, support structures are required or not—labor, energy, and so on. 

3D part volume

In 3D printing, part volume is the size/mass of a 3D printed object measured in cubic inches or centimeters.

When you design a part, you’ll be able to calculate its total volume when printed using dedicated design software. The total part volume allows you to predict the amount of consumed material and other consumables needed to 3D print the design. Typically, the rule is the larger the volume, the higher the cost.

Optimizing 3D printing cost per cubic inch or cubic centimeter

One of the ways to reduce the cost of 3D printing is to design your part to minimize the part volume. You could, for example, make your 3D printed part hollow or use a lattice structure in your design.

A lattice structure is made up of micro-architectures with a network of nodes and beams or struts – the Eiffel Tower is a perfect example. Using a lattice can contribute to reducing the weight of a part while maintaining structural integrity, strength, and look and feel. Because a lattice includes plenty of open space, you potentially use less material, which can help you arrive at a lower cost. 

Data courtesy1

Lattices also give you far more control over vibration and noise dampening, impact control, and shock absorption.


Learn more about Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) techniques to optimize 3D printing costs in our article “How expensive is a 3D printer to maintain?” 

3D part complexity

Printing simpler part designs can be automated, which should help streamline the process and ultimately save cost. But, for more complex parts, 3D printing takes essential preparation and planning. 


You will also have to factor in the cost of trained, skilled labor, especially if you intend 3D printing more complex parts.

Type of material

The materials you choose will have an impact on your cost of 3D printing:

  • Filament and powder thermoplastics can be reshaped and remolded, and are typically cost-effective and the most widespread materials used in 3D printing. Thermoplastics, such as HP 3D Printing materials – can deliver quality, functional industrial-grade parts.
  • Resins, which can sometimes be expensive, are used to build anything from tough objects to transparent or flexible prints.
  • High-cost materials such as aluminum, alloy steel, and titanium are expensive because they’re relatively rare and valued for qualities such as  exceptional toughness.

Our article “How expensive is a 3D printer to maintain?” offers a more in-depth overview of the different materials you can choose from depending on your requirements.

The final cost of 3D printed parts is also significantly influenced by the amount of material you use and are able to reuse with each 3D print job.

For example, HP’s 3D printing materials for HP Multi Jet Fusion technology offer industry-leading reusability. This is because powder not used when a part was formed can be reused for subsequent 3D printing jobs without sacrificing mechanical performance. 

Support structures

Support structures are necessary for designs that include overhanging features and post-processing will be required to remove them. 

They are either made from the same material as the part itself or from special soluble or insoluble support materials. Support structures are required in Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), Digital Light Processing (DLP), Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), Stereolithography (SLA), and Material Jetting (MJ).

They’re not required for other processes, including Powder Bed Fusion or HP Multi Jet Fusion.

If you’re using a 3D printing technology that needs support structures, this will impact the final 3D printing cost. More material is required to produce the support structures and post-processing is required to remove them from the part once it’s been 3D printed.


Depending on the 3D printed products you’re planning to manufacture and the process you use, you may have to use one or more different post-processing procedures.

Post-processing procedures improve the quality and performance of 3D printed parts but also impact their cost. There is a wide range of post-processing options available that typically fall into two categories.

Primary post-processing, for example, cleaning, is a fundamental step in the part production process, and can’t be avoided. 

Secondary post-processing, such as painting, graphite blasting, or electroplating, can enhance the cosmetic qualities of your part. 


Learn more about post-processing options in our “How expensive is a 3D printer to maintain?” and “Getting to grips with 3D printing post-processing” articles.

Labor costs and automation

If 3D printing is a fundamental part of your manufacturing workflow and business model, you need to include skilled labor costs when calculating your overall 3D printed part costs.

When it comes to labor, your team must include knowledgeable and creative designers who understand systems, software, and materials and are able to manage part complexity and design to fill the print build to maximum capacity. 

Your team will be expected to select the right part and process parameters and have appropriate data preparation skills, including how to design support structures that work.

It will need to include trained machine operators to oversee production, quality control, and unpacking. Unless you outsource this, they’ll also have to possess post-processing skills.

Naturally, the extent to which you can automate each step in the process will help reduce your labor costs.

Fortunately, HP’s industrial 3D printers provide a set of solutions designed to help automate your 3D printing workflow. For example, done manually, unpacking (removing parts from the powder in the 3D build area and allowing them to cool) can be time-consuming. 

Automatic unpacking saves time, increases productivity and cost efficiency, as well as provides a higher powder reclaim rate for some geometries.

Energy costs

Depending on the 3D printing process and technology you’re using, energy costs can also vary but may be significant enough to impact your 3D printed part cost calculation. For example, if the 3D printing process requires curing, this will contribute to higher energy costs.

Curing or, as it’s sometimes called, post-curing, involves applying UV light and heat to make 3D printed parts stronger and more aesthetically pleasing. It’s a technique that is an important part of the Stereolithography (SLA) process where functional UV-sensitive resin is used.

Staying ahead with 3D printing

In the past 40 or so years, 3D printing has evolved to the point where its advantages when it comes to building value into products and parts are almost universally recognized. From consumer and industrial products of all shapes and sizes to reconstructing fossils and ancient artifacts, 3D printing is transforming design and manufacture. Learn more about what you can make using 3D printing here.

Today, 3D printing is a fundamental part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is defined by increased automation and the use of smart machines and smart factories using informed data to power the rise of digital manufacturing now and in the future.

There’s no question that if 3D printing makes sense for your business, the same is true for your competitors. So, if you haven’t already done so, it may well be time you joined the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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Footnotes and disclaimers

  1. Data courtesy of Cuni Code