3D Printer cost per cubic inch

I’ve been looking into desktop 3d printers for my design team, and I wanted to share a new metric I came up with to rate the printers: cost per cubic inch. It really helps to show the value each printer can give you. These are some of the better printers I’ve found so far:

Makerbot Replicator 2x : $2499 : 100 micron : 9.7x6.0x6.1 in vol : ABS/PLA : $7.03/cubic in.
Makerbot Replicator Mini : $1375 : 200 micron : 3.9x3.9x4.9 in vol : PLA : $18.44/cubic in.
Makerbot Replicator 2 : $1999 : 100 micron : 11.2x6.0x6.1 in vol : PLA : $4.87/cubic in.
Makerbot Replicator Z18: $6499 : 100 micron : 12x12x18 in vol : PLA : $2.50/cubic in.
Makerbot Replicator 5th gen: $2899 : 100 micron : 9.9x7.8x5.9 in vol : PLA : $2.61/cubic in.
Cube Pro : $2799 : 70 micron : 10.8x10.45x9.5 in vol : ABS/PLA : $4.87/cubic in.
Cube 3 : $999 : 70 micron : 6.0x6.0x6.0 in vol : ABS/PLA : $4.62/cubic in.
XYZ DaVinci : $499 : 100 micron : 7.8x7.8x7.8 in vol : PLA : $1.05/cubic in.
UP! Plus : $1599 : 150 micron : 5.5x5.5x5.25 in vol : ABS/PLA : $10.06/cubic in.
UP! Mini : $999 : 200 micron : 4.75x4.75x4.75 in vol : ABS/PLA : $9.32/cubic in.
Solidoodle 4th gen : $699 : 100 micron : 8x8x8 in vol : ABS/PLA : $0.99/cubic in.
Quant 3D Q150 : $699 : 200 micron : 4.7x4.7x4.7 in vol : ABS : $6.73/cubic in.

Do any of you have experience using any of these printers?

This is awesome, thank you!

My only experience is with Makerbots - they’re cool, but somewhat unreliable requiring part updates and mods to work effectively. Maybe they’ve fixed that on the newer models though. I’m surprised the Replicator 2x material cost is as much as it is!

I would not suggest going with a new model Makerbot. From what I have heard (no first hand experience) they are experiencing a good number of bugs.

Im sure you are probably just looking for something to buy and print with, but I would say you should still consider getting a kit from a reliable source . Yea, it might take a little bit of work getting it up and running (assembly and tuning), but when it is, you will know how to fix it if it breaks on you. Just some food for thought.

I would not suggest going with a new model Makerbot. From what I have heard (no first hand experience) they are experiencing a good number of bugs.

Im sure you are probably just looking for something to buy and print with, but I would say you should still consider getting a kit from a reliable source . Yea, it might take a little bit of work getting it up and running (assembly and tuning), but when it is, you will know how to fix it if it breaks on you. Just some food for thought.

I don’t understand what this calculation actually tells you, unless each printer is only used once, then thrown away.

You need to look at other things:

Filament costs- for example the Cubes use a proprietary filament that is nearly 3 times to cost of any other;

Makerbot Replicator 2x is essentially a Replicator 2 with two material printing- if that is what you need (dissolvable support filaments), I’d say that is worth paying for;

Print Speed- no point in having sub-100 micron printing if it is terrible quality, doesn’t stick to the preceeding layer, but also a faster print that maintains quality is always better value;

Software, the Ups have great easy to use software, but you can’t tweak it like some others;

What filament it can use. ABS and PLA are good starts, not all printers print both (you need a heated bed) but when you start wanting to print PET you need to be able to tweak the heat settings in the software. If you want to print the rubber-like filaments, you need a special extruder head;

Reliability. No point in buying a cheap printer if it always breaks down.

All the printers you listed are still in the hobbyist phase, still need lots of attention to get them to work consistently. I don’t think anyone has brought out the ‘microwave’ of consumer models yet- unless you want to pay $40K plus.

I’ve got an Up! Mini which was cheap (on special) works great and I’d recommend it to anyone, but it needs attention when it’s cold, stinks the house out, stupid noisy beep when it starts and finishes, extruder has fallen off mid print once, removing support material by hand is a pain, not confident to leave it running during a long print without checking it regularly, takes ages to print even tiny things.

Don’t forget the Form 1. We have one at work and it’s pretty nice, but the material cost is fairly high.

I don’t understand what this calculation actually tells you, unless each printer is only used once, then thrown away.

Is that not how you use your 3d printers?? :wink:

The calculation is really just to see how much build volume you can get for the initial cost of the printer, not the cost of material over time. Although that would be another good metric to rate them by, as the materials for some of these printers are sold only by the manufacturer like you say.

This is all good stuff to know! I don’t have any direct experience with FDM printers so I wasn’t aware how much maintenance they needed. I was considering the Form 1, but since we will be making mostly rough functional prototypes it may be a bit overkill. I think if one of these was super easy to maintain(or just easy to repair?), that would be the one to shoot for.

I suppose the printer software is another thing to consider. I’ve heard the Makerbot software is easy to use, but I don’t know about any of the others. Has anyone worked with the software for these printers?

@Jakebot: interesting numbers and would like to see some of the more innards of the metrics that were used. Like did you take into account support material in this equation? This is something that if you don’t have the software driver that runs the machine how are you calculating the proper material usage? If just going off of model volume alone then the calculations will be extremely skewed.

I think in part what some of the others are saying is that these desktop machines are not ready for primetime. They break a lot and you have to ready to do the repairs yourself. Also keep in mind that only the patent on the process is what expired not the fact that the machine can be enclosed AND heated. So not just heating the build plate but also the ambient temp. So think of these machines as like baking a turkey in the oven with the oven door open…:slight_smile:

With regards to specific software that runs the machine, they are all pretty easy to use. It ain’t rocket science to load a file and tell it to print. The much harder part is generating content in whatever 3D software of your choice is used. Most people don’t have a clue how to use 3D software and it’ll never be easy.

Here’s the kicker…in the end 3DP is just another way to make something and more importantly MOST people don’t care how something is made they just want to buy it. 3DP takes “too long” for it to ever be a viable tool that will be in everyone’s home…as was mentioned before it ain’t a microwave, most items worth their weight don’t come off the machine ready to use, there is generally some type of post processing that needs to be done.

Thanks for the feedback, guys! I actually found a pretty good compilation of 3d printers on the market:


They cover a lot of different aspects of the costs, like the filament cost and machine cost. It seems like a lot of printers require you to buy filament from the manufacturer, but it’d be great to find a printer that can use any filament available. Inventables has a good selection of PLA and ABS spools:

What they fail to realize is that just because you can buy it doesn’t mean it will work in your machine 100%. Case and point, since there is no regulation and or standards on purity, quality…etc of materials, and I’m speaking from personal experience, where I’ve ordered filament from the same company and gotten different results. Sure it’s great and all to be all cheap in cost, but at what point do you say to yourself, “I need my models to be consistent and reliable?”. Who each machine works with the same filament can also vary depending on if your machines is enclosed vs being open vs having a heated ambient area (i.e. not just the bed). Think of an open machine as being like cooking a turkey in the oven with the oven door actually open…:slight_smile:

Having both professional machines and desktop sitting side by side in my office I can absolutely tell you that you have to model to the machine. You cannot just take the same model made for a professional machines and expect to get the same result out of a desktop machine, it just doesn’t work that way. You may actually break the model apart so that it will print with next to none if any supports. This means that you may use less material BUT will require more work putting it together in post. These “X” factors/variables right now fail to take that into account mainly because very few people have access to both or have been doing it long enough to really understand the difference. And specifically in this case I am talking about machines doing the exact same process of FDM and materials.

It looks to me like Inventables sells Makerbot-compatible PLA, but other than that they don’t seem to guarantee the quality of the other PLA or ABS filament. They also sell the Makerbot itself, so I would assume the PLA they sell for it is legit.

I actually had a chance to talk to a Makerbot rep at Home Depot this weekend, and he was mentioning they had a service plan available. He admitted that the print head does eventually need to be replaced, but it would be covered in the service plan (which seems to cost less than the printer head itself). I’m starting to lean towards some kind of 5th gen makerbot, simply for the level of service you get with it, plus the low-maintenance, auto-calibrating functions.

Yea that 5th Gen MB just ain’t worth a hill a beans right now when compared to reliability of other companies. Just know that you are in for a world of fixing no matter what machine you get. It’s part of the quality of these low end machines no matter what plan they have in place, if you can make models because it always breaking then what’s the point.

I regularly use a Makerbot 5G and a Z18 at the office and its hard to believe they come from the same company.

With FDM, a level build plate is absolutely critical. The 5G uses springs for positive leveling and thumb screws for negative adjustment. The thumbscrews, though, come out of the build plate before we get enough positive leveling on our unit. At least when we level using the bot’s utility. When we just start a print and level by eye, it looks good but the print (sometimes) ends up skewed. Sometimes it can be hard to tell whats going wrong since it rarely seems like there is one part of the process without flaws (cheap toy-like design, thin plastic which flexes with the lightest of loads, hit and miss slicing in the software, unreliable extrusion, etc).

All these issues were laid to rest with the Z18. To date, we have only encountered one laughable but forgivable design flaw… The ‘smart’ extruder was originally designed to accept filament at an angle but was retrofitted to accept it perpendicular to the top - the Z18 design must predate that retrofit because the filament may snag on the units lid during a print. I leave the lid off. Beyond that, it has two z-axis screws and four additional pilot shafts (vs the 5Gs one and two, respectively) coupled with a metal build plate base. Its three (rather than two) leveling screws have plenty of positive and negative travel for leveling as well as a Z offset.

With both units, the ‘smart’ extruder is stupid easy to repair and maintain… it blows my mind that Makerbot decided to make it something you have to send in for replacement (4-8 day turn around last time we asked) or risk voiding your warranty. Fixing a PLA jam takes less than a minute. With the Z18, thats been the extent of the maintenance we have had to do.

I could go on but itd really just me explaining why the 5G is a $3000 disappointment (it does have its moments) while the Z18 is making me believe the folks at Makerbot know what theyre doing. My five cents says that you should only look at Makerbot units if the Z18 fits your budget.

That’s good to know about the 5th gen replicator, I’ll avoid that whole situation. I do really want the z18, but I think it’s out of our price range for the moment. I was leaning towards the Makerbot Mini because it seems like a very stable and reliable little printer. If I need to, I can always split up prints into multiple pieces, so I’m not too worried about the build volume. Has anyone had first-hand experience with the Mini?