Left of Arc #9 – 3D Printing Economics

One of the selling points of domestic 3D sla printing was the potential to save me a lot of money on model kits.  So nearly a year on, how has this worked out for me?

Well, lets first lay some ground rules:

  1. I may have lost count of everything that I have printed thus far, but I’m 90% certain I’ve accounted for everything.
  2. I’m not taking into account supplies like the FEP films, filters, or other ‘minor’ ancillaries, including electric.
  3. No sales have been made – I’ve not yet delved into the weeds of legalese.
  4. The time taken to setting up sla prints isn’t factored in.

One of my aims with 3D printing was to print successful models that I’m happy with, and at a volume which the value exceeds not only the initial startup and running costs but also the valued amount of the test and failed prints.

The first thing I did was to catalog everything; the setup and models printed.  After that, I researched what each item’s equivalent or approximate value would be would from a commercial retailer.  Some relatively simple maths later and you have the below spreadsheet…

3D Costings

So what does it tell me?  I’m a looong way off hitting even!

To give some context to how much money I’m saving, I worked out the material cost of each model I was printing so I could compare it to a commercially bought model.  With about 4 pence per 1ml of resin (based on £20 for 500ml of resin), a Challenger 1 tank, with an estimated volume of 60ml, would cost about £2.40.  Far cheaper than the £7 from the shop… in theory…. if everything goes well… and the planets align…

So let’s look at a case study.

First, an assumption

  1. All prints are successful first time

Let’s say you want to create a British list for Team Yankee of about 150 points.  One such list might have 7 Challenger 1s, 5 Warrior IFVs, 4 Abbot SPA, 8 Scimitar Light Tanks, 2 Spartan APCs, 1 FV432 FOO, 3 Chieftan Marksman SPAAG, 4 Rapier SAM systems, and 4 Lynx HELARMs.  I won’t count the infantry in this list as I’ve yet to find any for 15mm Brits to print.  All told, this force would cost you £297 in vehicles from the retailer, before postage.

Obviously, this force alone wouldn’t justify the expense of a domestic printer, but it’s getting close.  The approximate total amount of resin needed for this force is 1,215ml, which would be about £48.60.  For quick maths, that’s a saving of about £250!…  But the printer setup was £550 and we haven’t accounted for purchasing resources or failed and test prints!

Hopefully, this one brief case study should make it clear that buying a 3D printer for saving money is definitely a long-term investment.  Printing 3 such armies with minimal wastage should get you past breaking even.  There’s also the economics of time with 3D printing; it is simply far quicker purchasing models than printing them.

However, with practice and patience, and a fair bit of time, domestic 3D printing is a viable method to save you a lot of money, even more so if you have a plan.  And that plan doesn’t just have to be models for an army.  Argueably, FDM 3D printers for terrain would probably be the best money saver, again, if you have a plan.  Also, printing armies and terrain aside, the one thing 3D printing is great for is special prints… 28mm battlemechs anyone?

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