Suggestions for 3D Printing

Looking for suggestions for 3D printing for prototyping designs for consumer products.

I met quite a few additive manufacturing vendors at the Design 2 Part trade show in February. It turns out that the cost is significantly higher than the impression I got at the show. For example, I have a design for a panel mount PowerPole holder that is quite small (1" x 2" x 0.625"). The price points I am getting are about $50 for one, $72 for two, and about $20 each for a quantity of 100. This is for MJF, I believe.

I have another part - a case for a home HVAC thermostat - that is somewhat bigger. The types of quotes I am getting for that are ~$150 for quantity one.

Normally, I would try various designs at the Makerspace. At these kinds of prices, the cost of developing anything is prohibitive.


  1. What is a good model and price point for a 3D printer that uses ABS filament?

  2. How much maintenance can I expect on an ABS filament based printer? Talking to other Makerspace users, it seems that everyone agrees that the Makerspace printers are very abused. But, honestly, the fact that they seem broken so often despite the excellent job that Max does with maintenance… I have been extremely hesitant. I like to tinker. But, I am really not interested in tinkering with a 3D printer.

  3. Same questions for resin type of printers.

  4. For resin, what price point/model would I be looking at for something that could be sold commercially? Obviously, ABS filament solutions are too “rough” for general commerical sale.

  5. How does the cost of printing vary between ABS filament and resin?

  6. Does anyone know of commercial options that might be less expensive than those I mentioned? I was hoping to pay somewhere around the equivalent of 30-40 cents per ounce of ABS filament.

I suspect the vendors you were talking to were providing a higher-resolution product than FDM prints out of ABS.

You might check out for 1 week turnaround. is another option for freelance work: it’s kind of the Uber of 3D printing, so the production supports local pickup.

Both of the print services I mentioned above allow you to upload a model and get price quotes using a variety of print methods and materials.

Make sure you consider the cost of shipping and turnaround time in your calculations. Shipping a 1-off of something is often almost as expensive as shipping 10 of something, so shipping is a bigger % of the unit cost for prototypes.

When comparing pricing, you might use a “standard” model as a benchmark: I recommend “Benchy”, which is often used as a calibration/precision stress test for printers.

It looks like Benchy is anywhere from $15 to $100. Shapeways is $15 while 3dHubs is $100.

Interestingly, the component I would like to print is cheaper at 3dHubs ($107) while Shapeways wants $172. The cheapest price for my component that I could find was GoProto for $100.

So, it looks like the price really varies by the part.

Whatever the case… $100 is a lot of money for a prototype; especially if it comes in and you discover that a screw hole is off 1/10 or something like that.

I am assuming that injection mold is much cheaper in large enough quantities. Obviously, there is no way to design a commercially viable thermostat if just the case is going to cost $100.

  1. Polyprinter is really one of the best out of the box ABS printers on the market. If you are willing do a little DIY and want a lower price point the Prusa i3 MK3S is great. To print ABS reliably with the Prusa you will want to make an enclosure for the Prusa.

  2. In single user environments on the Prusa or the Polyprinter I would expect extremely high uptimes. Routine maintenance like oiling the rails and checking Z height will need to be done every ~3 Kg of filament. Clogged nozzles can be avoided by using quality filament and storing it in a dust free environment ie. ziplock bag.

  3. I only have experience with Form Labs Form 2 but it is a great printer and has been incredibly reliable for me at work. A lot of people in the miniature painting hobby really love the Anycubic Photon and the Elegoo Mars. I don’t have any personal experience with either of these machines.

  4. Resin printing is more clean up intensive. You have to be diligent and make sure you dont spill resin and keep all the surfaces of the printer clean. For the Form 2 the level of maintenance for me has been approaching 0. Keep it clean, replace the vat on a regular basis.

  5. ABS is vastly more cost effective

  6. Nope

All that said from a prototyping point of view the right printer to get really depends on your final product manufacturing process and what question your prototype is intending to answer.

I have designed, prototyped and made many products the specific prototyping approach is different with every project. Here are some vary general rules:

  • FDM 3D printing can be used to prototype
    • thick wall injection molded parts
    • “human scale” products (bigger than a baseball, smaller than a milk crate)
    • touch and feel parts for CNCed parts
    • touch and feel parts for sheet metal
  • Photo Resin 3D printer
    • thin wall injection molded parts
    • fine detail parts
    • “Hand Scale” products (big enough to pick up, smaller than a baseball)

There is of course a lot of overlap in the two tools. But if you have give me some more details about the products I can give more specific advice.

PolyPrinter leases printers on a short-term basis. If you are already up to speed on using a printer, that might be the best price point for several iterations on a model in a short period of time. $480 for the 1st month including required training and delivery. Add’l months are $350.

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I will trade a resin printed part for some 91% isopropyl (1 liter if I can)

You could get ABS parts out of a $250 Ender 3 if you enclose it, but yeah you will be learning how to fix everything yourself or upgrading.