Deciding whether 3D printing is a worthy investment or a waste of money is a question on the mind of many people. It’s a question that I’m going to answer in this article by using examples and information from many 3D printer hobbyists out there. It’s hard to answer this in a yes or no fashion since there are layers to the answer, keep reading to find out.
3D printers are a worthy investment if you take the time to learn the process thoroughly and act on the information. Have a plan and you can save, as well as make money with 3D printing. Everyone has the potential to make it a worthy investment.
A great quote I heard is “you can use a hammer to build a table or open a beer; the only difference is the person using it”. There are many legitimate, functional uses of 3D printing, a few which I’ve listed, but if you aren’t the type of person who has a desire to make things, then a tool for making things may not be a useful purchase.
The answer of something being a worthy or useful investment or cost effective is subjective. There are 3D printer hobbyists who use their printer day in and day out, do numerous upgrades and desire to find ways of getting better at their craft. We also have hobbyists who print a few times a year for gifts or fixing a broken appliance and find it to be useful in their lives.
Whether 3D printing is a useful investment or a waste of money is down to your personal circumstances. Do you want a fun hobby where you can show off some cool prints to family and friends, or do you want to build your technical and creativity skills with a certain goal in mind.
Examples of 3D Printing Being a Worthy Investment
TV Wall Mount
This is an awesome use of 3D printing right here. A user on reddit 3D printed a TV wall mount out of PLA+ filament which is a stronger version of PLA. He posted an update 9 months later showing that it’s withstood the test of time, and is still going strong.
There were worries that it would not hold up after some time due to heat making the PLA brittle. This would depend on where the heat is coming from and whether it travels far enough to effect the wall mount.
PLA filament is sometimes known to be a weaker plastic, so some people may opt in to print an object like this with ABS or PETG. PLA+ does have an enhanced layer adhesion, high rigidity, very durable and several times stronger than your standard PLA.
3D printed designs can be done in a way that allows a hold of 200 lbs and more, so holding up a TV, especially modern ones which are getting lighter shouldn’t be a problem, as long as the design is done well.
The proprietary wall mount for the TV in question was a whopping $120 on eBay and even without experience in 3D printing, they managed to pull it off.
Peep Hole Cover
The video below shows a design a 3D printer user made which gives you the ability to cover your peep hole. It’s functionality is very simple, yet effective and can be printed from here.
This is one of those prints which may be worth a lot more to you than other people. 3D printing being a useful investment depends on what is important to you. This extra layer of privacy could be priceless to many people. Some apartment studios have peephole where people can see straight through so this solves that problem with a quick print.
Key Card Holder
One individual had their school access wristband broken so it made it difficult to use it as they usually did. So using a 3D printer, they managed to print a key card case with the chip reinserted into the case to make a functional key card.
Something like this can be designed and printed fairly quickly depending on your abilities. Having the choice to put your technical and creative skills to work to come up with a solution is a great use of 3D printing.
I think this user will say that his 3D printer was worth the investment, being just one of the many prints they have done. An extra thought here is, they could print out a few more of these and sell it to students for a nice profit.
There is definitely an entrepreneurial angle that people can take with 3D printing, if you have the right ideas and opportunities.
Drill Guide & Dust Collector
This is an example of using 3D printing to make life that little bit easier, and being able to crossover into other hobbies and activities. Pictured above is a popular drill dust collector, the file to print it can be found here.
It’s purpose is to assist people in drilling perpendicular/straight holes, but it got upgraded to also collect drill dust with a small container.
The cool thing about 3D printing is it’s nature of being open-sourced, meaning people can see your designs, then make improvements that you may not have thought of. This way, people focus on the benefits of printed objects and think of ways to make it better and better.
3D printed objects can always be purchased, for example a similar dust collector can be found on Etsy. If you need a few items and don’t think you’ll need much in the future, this is a good option.
The good thing is the ability to customise your orders, for example below you can choose what colour you want your drill guide. On the other hand, you will have to pay for delivery and it will take longer. So it’s important to weigh these factors up to make your decision on whether a 3D printer is a useful investment.
If you want to be able to create these for yourself, and many more useful objects in the future I’d recommend buying your own. I’ve made a cool list of recommended 3D printers for beginners here.
Mountable Holster for Medication Scanner
This 3D printer hobbyist managed to recreate an existing mountable holster for a medication scanner at his workplace. Pictured on the left is the original holder, and the other two are his functional creation to hold the scanner.
Medical supplies like this can cost a fair bit of money when it’s bought from a vendor. Products in this industry are usually marked up quite a lot so being able to create something that does the same job, at such a low cost is very worthwhile.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Investing Into a 3D Printer
- It is an investment in time. It’s not a simple inkjet printer that you hook up and leave, you’ll learn some material science and troubleshooting techniques.
- Expect your 3D prints to fail. there are many variables to reduce failures completely, but as time goes on you can get a very good rate.
- The community will always be there to help, make sure you use it rather than going at it alone.
- You should learn how to 3D model if you want to do anything but print what others have designed.
- Printing is slow, there are a few ways to speed it up but it can come at the cost of quality. Max out your quality then work on printing times.
- The DIY aspect such as calibrating your printer can be tedious, but necessary to create successful prints.
Why 3D Printing is a Worthy Investment
With 3D printing, there is a world of possibilities that a normal person won’t see. The ability of 3D printing to fix real-world problems is impressive, paired with the speed at which it works and the low cost, it’s an innovative solution to many problems.
Some years ago, 3D printers were very expensive for the average person, now they are reasonably priced. You can get an entry-level printer for $300 or less these days and they are of great quality!
One 3D printer user, only two weeks after buying a Zortrax m200 managed to net $1,700 with a project for his workplace. His workplace had roughly 100 individual LED lights which would glare into other people’s eyes. After receiving his printer, he drew a quick shroud prototype to eliminate the direct lights and his boss was sold.
It can take some time, money and effort but as you progress, the knowledge and capability that you learn from 3D printing is far more valuable than the cost of the printer and the materials in the long-run. Plus if you know what you’re doing, you can make a business out of it.
Think of it in terms of a car purchase, the initial cost of the car as well as replacing parts to get it running smooth is the downside. After that you have to cover your basic maintenance and fuel costs.
Now you can use your car for driving to work, leisure driving, earn some money through a rideshare app like Uber and so on. What ever you choose to do, most people will say their car was a worthy investment, 3D printing can be the same.
In terms of 3D printing, your costs are basic part replacements which aren’t costly, then the actual materials that you print with.
After the initial printer cost, there is so much you can do to get a return on your investment to make your 3D printer purchase worth it.
Again, I advise you to learn how to design your own stuff because if you aren’t a creator, then a 3D printer isn’t as good of a purchase as it could be. They really are best for creators, experimenters and producers.
Most people who start their 3D printing journey are surprised by just how fun and useful it can be. Users have commented how it’s been one of the best purchases they have ever made.
Not everyone will have the same plans with a 3D printer, some will love the ability to print a bunch of cool action figures, some will use it to organise items in their household, others will just print stuff for a week and leave it for the rest of the year.
Both of these groups of people can argue that their printer was a worthy investment that brings them much entertainment and accomplishment, so it’s hard to give a straightforward answer.
Why 3D Printing is Not a Worthy Investment
If you aren’t too savvy with technology or have the patience of trial and error to get prints right, a 3D printer won’t be a good investment for you. It will just end up as a display model to remind you how annoying your 3D printer was when you were trying to figure it out!
There are a few disadvantages to having your own printer:
- The first thing being the initial purchase prince, the good thing here is as time goes on they are getting cheaper and higher quality.
- You’ll need to keep stocking up your filament. These can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 per 1KG of material depending on what you’re using
- There can be a steep learning curve for 3D printing. From assembly, to troubleshooting prints, part replacement and design. Be ready for your first few prints to fail, but you’ll only improve as time goes on.
You can hire a 3D printer for quick use where you’ll pay a small fee, then pay for the material costs. It will then take a few days to get to you as well as paying for shipping.
If you know you only want a few models printed, then using a printing service could be the choice for you. You’ll never know what things you may require in the future so it could be a better investment to get the printer now and use it at your disposal.
Sometimes you may design something that’s unprintable, or requires a design change to print more efficiently. If you send this design to a printing service, they will still print it as you requested, but you could have printed something better if you designed it while keeping the limitations of 3D printing.
You won’t know your print actually solves the problem until you receive it, where by then it will be too late to make changes.
These things come with experience from printing yourself.
The ability to customise using a 3D printing service is an upside here, as you may just have one or two colours of material. You’d have to buy another spool of material to get your desired colour so the cost can really build up. On the other hand, you won’t be able to observe the process and really tweak the settings to get the results you wanted.
Having a 3D printer gives you more flexibility, but you have to be willing to go through a learning curve to be in a good position.
3D printing can be a lot of trial and error when you have a specific function and purpose you are trying to achieve, so it isn’t always an option that you can take without your pockets being hit.
Having your own printer while extensively understanding the printing process allows you to make better designs, as you’ll know the limitations of printing and can create shortcuts around them.
It’s a good idea to find out if you have access to a 3D printer at a university or a library, then you could do much of what you desire without buying the printer. This gives you the opportunity to see if a 3D printer is actually worth it, or more of a short-term interest of yours.
The Main Reason 3D Printing Can Be a Waste of Money
The other side of the question of 3D printing being a waste of money is one that comes up a lot for many reasons.
It’s easy to get sidetracked with a 3D printer and start printing things that don’t have much use to you. Many 3D printer hobbyists will browse print design files online and print things they thought looked cool. Then after a week or two they get bored of it and move on to the next design.
With this type of process, you can quickly see why people will paint the image of 3D printing being a waste of money, because nothing of real value or function is being printed. If that is what you enjoy and it makes you happy, then by all means keep it going.
But if you want to get a return on your investment for a 3D printer and it’s materials, it would be a good idea to look broader at what you can create with your resources.
There is so much you can do and learn with 3D printing as a hobby so it’s your choice whether you make your 3D printer a worthy investment, or just a machine that collects dust.
So many people waste printing materials printing junk they don’t need, or printing things that seemed like a good idea at first, but doesn’t really serve a purpose. The video below is a perfect illustration of that.
Using 3D Printing For Other Hobbies
It’s like many hobbies, they can be a waste of time and money, or you can use it to the best of your abilities and make something out of it. I’d have to say, out of the many hobbies out there, 3D printing isn’t one that I’d class as a bad investment, or a waste of time and money especially if you have a plan already.
Many 3D printers make sure to use it for things they planned to do, such as playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends and family. There is a lot that goes into this game from extensive character building, to weapon modelling and dice printing.
It also brings out your artistic side because you can paint your 3D printed models at your desire.
3D printing is a great hobby by itself, but it works best as an accessory to another hobby.
List of hobbies that 3D printing assists:
- Engineering projects
- Nerf guns
- Building a custom simulator (racing and flight) controls
- DIY home projects
- Board games
- Stands & containers for any hobby
3D printing as a hobby can be a fun, entertaining, useful activity. You’ll print some useful items, as well as stuff just for pleasure or gifts. Most people wouldn’t think of getting into 3D printing as a means to gain a profit. It’s very possible, but not the main reason why people get into the hobby. It has proven itself cost-effective in several industries, and will only keep improving in it’s efficiency in the future.
I would get into printing as a fun journey/project, similar to many other hobbies out there. The versatility of it is what converts most people to it and there are so many functional uses outside of itself which makes it all the more better.