How Long Will a 3D Print Take? A Quick Guide

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

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Unlike Laser and Inkjet printers that can spit out dozens of pages per minute 3D printers take much longer to print. There are several factors that can affect the length of time that a 3D print will take.

A 3D print can take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Size, complexity of model, printing speed, material and the printer itself affect how quickly a 3D print finishes. The type of printing also affects the time as FDM, and resin printers work differently.

The factors that determine the print time are unique to each print. If you are working on a project that has a deadline be sure to allow for enough time when printing. In this article we will examine the factors that influence the time needed to 3D print a model.

Print Time Comparison

Let’s use some models of everyday objects and compare their print times. I’m going to use a Samsung Galaxy s20 phone case, an Apple iPhone XR phone case, a tabletop gaming miniature, and, a coffee mug. I chose the objects because chances are that you are familiar with the size of at least one of these objects.

We have become accustomed to fast printing from our inkjet and laser printers. Seldom do we need to wait more than a few minutes to print handouts or worksheets. 3D printers are an entirely different matter. Prints can take anywhere from a few minutes to over one hundred hoursThe larger your print the longer it will take.

When you prepare your model for printing your slicer will give an estimate of the print time in your slicer, but it is only an estimate. For our comparison I will slice all the models in my slicer for printing on my Wanhao D6 and use the estimated print times. Al items are sliced for .2mm layer height at 15% infill and 140mm/s print speed. It is important to remember these times are estimates and can vary between printers. The purpose of this comparison is to give an idea of print times based on size and complexity of the object.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Phone Case

3D Printed Samsung Galaxy S20 Phone Case
Source: Thingiverse.com

The Galaxy phone case is 80 x 170 x 11.5mm in size. Because the case is so thin it will be printed completely solid. The estimated print time for the Samsung phone case is 1 hour and 10 minutes.

iPhone XR Case

3D Printed iPhone XR Phone Case
Source: Thingiverse.com

The iPhone case is 80 x 155 x 11.5mm in size. Like the Samsung case it is a solid print. Estimated print time for the iPhone case is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

Tabletop Gaming Miniature

Dwarf Front Post Cure

I’m a huge gaming geek so of course I print 3D miniatures with my printers. The above image is a dwarf I printed on my Elegoo mars for another article I wrote on support removal. You can check out the article here. Printed on my Wanhao D6 the print time was around 1 hour 10 minutes at .1mm layer height. I had to reduce layer height for this print in order to retain any level of detail.

A Coffee Mug

3D Printed Coffee Mug
Courtesy of Thingiverse.com
This coffee mug is 71 x 54 x 59mm in size. Print time estimate for a coffee mug you don’t want to put hot liquid into is 2 hours and 21 minutes.

Here are the results of our comparison of four everyday objects:

Model Size Print Time
Samsung Galaxy S20 Case 80 x 170 x 11.5mm 1 hour and 10 minutes
iPhone XR Case 80 x 155 x 11.5mm 1 hour and 29 minutes
Gaming Miniature 22 x 16 x 37mm 1 hour 10 minutes
Coffee Mug 71 x 54 x 59mm 2 hours and 21 minutes

The times shown in the table are meant to give an idea of print times. Many factors influence the total print time including complexity of the print. The Gaming miniature is the smallest item on the list but due to the complexity of the model it takes the same amount of time as the rectangular Galaxy case. Next let’s look at larger prints and print times.

Examples of Larger Prints and Times

Below is a Samurai mask I printed. This mask as printed is large enough to be worn by an adult. According to the slicer the estimated print time was 20 hours and 52 minutes, but the actual print time was 36 hours. The size of the print is not the only reason it took so long. This is an example where the details of the model required the printer to move much slower than the slicer expected.

3D Printed Samurai Mask

Another consideration for print time is a print with multiple parts. I love the T-Rex skeleton created by Makerbot which you can find here on Thingiverse. I have printed the full T-Rex skeleton twice and it took approximately 40 hours total print time each time. The print time only includes the time the printer was printing parts. It does not account for failed parts, removal of the parts, or preparation for the next print. As an aside, if you want to print the T-Rex Skeleton I recommend this remix by icefox1983 which includes several improvements to the original model offering better print success.

3D Printed T-Rex Skeleton

These examples are included to show that large parts take a long time to print. Don’t expect to print out a dinosaur skeleton overnight.

The problem with a slicer’s time is that it doesn’t consider the firmware settings of the printer. Certain settings such as acceleration can dramatically increase the print time needed. After using the printer for a while, you will get an idea for how long a print will take as compared to the slicer estimated time.

Actual printing time is not the only consideration when talking about total print time. You also need to factor in heat-up time for the extruder and the bed (if the bed is heated). Printers can take from 2 to 15 minutes to heat up to printing temperature.

You will also need to wait for the heated bed to cool down before removing prints from the printer. If you are using a printer with a heated bed you will want to wait until the bed has cooled down completely before removing your print. As the heat dissipates the print will come off the bed with very little force. Trying to force the print off the bed prior to cooling can damage both the print and the bed. Cool down times depend on the bed material used in your printer.

There are other factors that will impact your print times. In the next two sections we will look at how FDM and resin printers work and then we will discuss different factors that influence print times.

Why FDM Printers Take so Long to Print

Artillery Sidewinder X1 3D Printer
Courtesy of Artillery3D.com

The specifics of how an FDM printer works will differ slightly between printers but the general process is the same for all FDM printers.

  1. Thermoplastic filament is fed into the printer and down into the printer’s nozzle.
  2. The print nozzle is heated to a temperature appropriate for the type of filament being used.
  3. The printer is designed to allow movement in the X, Y, and Z dimensions for the print head to deposit the plastic in the print area.
  4. As the material melts it is pushed out or extruded from the print nozzle as the print head moves around the X and Y dimensions tracing out the path designated by the slicing software.
  5. The extruded plastic cools and become bonded to the layer beneath.
  6. The printer will print a layer and then the printer will move the print head up 1 layer to begin printing the next layer.
  7. The printer repeats this process for each layer until the model is fully printed.

Layers that have more material will take longer to print as the printer must fill in the empty space one line of plastic at a time. This is like coloring in a picture with a crayon. If the area you are trying to color is bigger than the tip of the crayon you must make several passes with the crayon to fill in the open space.

The image below is the layer view of a small rectangular box prepared in my slicer. Each line in the image will be copied by the 3D printer. The printer will follow the path of the line “drawing” each layer of the model. Layers with less lines to draw print faster than full layers that are solid plastic.

3D printable model sliced in Simplify 3D showing tool path

Drawing in many solid layers will take a significant amount of time so slicing software will allow you to determine the percentage of infill used in the print. Decreasing infill will save both time and material. We will examine infill in a separate section. FDM printers take a long time to print because they have to print one line at a time.

For my list of recommended FDM printers check out my recommended FDM printers page.

How Resin Printers Work

Unlike fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers where the material starts as a solid, resin printer material starts as a liquid. While the liquid resin is not exposed to UV light it will stay in a liquid state.

Finished resin 3D print hanging from build plate
A finished print on my Elegoo Mars

The liquid resin used in photocuring resin printers is a mix of chemical monomers and oligomers. When exposed to UV light, the energy from the light causes the monomers and oligomers to cross-link forming polymers. The newly formed polymers are solidified on the body of the 3D print.

To turn the liquid into a solid, the printer uses a UV light source, either a laser or UV LED array, to shine on the resin. Using a laser, the shape of each layer is traced onto the resin causing it to harden. For home use printers, an LCD screen is used to mask out the print layer. The UV light exposes through the clear areas on the screen exposing and hardening the resin. Once a layer has been hardened the build plate raises and the next layer is exposed. This process continues until the entire print is finished.

Once the print is done the model is then removed from the build plate and washed with a solvent to remove and residual resin. The model is then placed in a curing chamber to finish curing the resin.

Because resin printers expose a full layer at once they can print each layer faster than an FDM printer than needs to draw out each layer line by line. However, because the layers are thinner on a resin printer this can add more time to smaller prints.

For my list of recommended resin printers check out my recommended resin printer page here.

3D Printing Speed and its Effect on Print Time

Printing speed applies to FDM printers and is the speed in millimeters per second that the print head will move while printing. Increasing the print speed will decrease the time it takes to print the model. But there is a trade-off of quality and time. The faster you run the printer the lower the quality of the final print will be. Over time and with calibration you will be able to find a happy balance of print speed and print quality.

Printing Speed Settings in 3D Slicer

The range of printing speeds for FDM printers range from 50mm/s up to 150mm/s. Some printers can run faster than 150mm/s but on average 150mm/s is an upper limit for budget machines. If you are considering purchasing a 3D printer pay attention to the print speed as it will greatly impact your total print times. You should also check out user communities for the printer you are considering and see what print speeds they have achieved with the printer. The advertised print speed of a printer may not be the actual speed you can print at reliably.

Fewer Layers = Shorter Printing Time

Layer height affects both FDM and resin prints. As the layer height decreases the number of layers and the print time increases. Most users attempt to balance quality and speed by finding a layer height that offers good detail while not drastically increasing the print time. For FDM printers printing at .2mm layer height offers decent quality and speed. For home resin printers there is debate about the best layer height. Most users will print between .02 and .05mm layer heights for resin prints.

Depending on your FDM printer you may be able to print even smaller layer heights for better details. As stated before, if you lower your layer height it will increase the overall print time. Layer height is a compromise. Increased layer height results in faster prints but with less detail. Lower layer heights increase detail and increases total print time.

Resin Printers are designed to print with extremely thin layer heights such as 20 or 50 microns. Even though resin printers print a full layer at once because they print such thin layers, they can still be slower than an FDM printer.

To examine print time difference, I created a 50mm cube in Fusion360 and imported them into my slicers. For the FDM print I used a .2mm layer height and a 15% rectilinear infill. Total estimated print time is calculated to be 1 hour and 59 minutes. In Chitubox the same print is estimated to take 10 hours and 30 minutes using 7.5 second exposure time per layer. The big difference in time is caused by the number of layers in the resin print. For the FDM print at .2mm there are 250 layers. For the resin print at 50 microns or .05mm there are 2500 layers!

Less Infill = Shorter Print Times

The need for FDM printers to fill in each layer with thin lines of plastic adds time to a print job. In order to reduce the amount of print time needed slicers allow us to choose the percentage of infill when printing the model. Lowering the infill density of the model allows us to speed up the print time while still retaining strength in the model.

The more infill you use for a model the longer the print will take to complete. The less infill you use for your model the less overall strength the part will have. You will need to determine what kind of use your part will have and how much strength the part will need.

I sliced a 50mm cube using rectilinear infill at 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% to compare the times. I also included the amount of material used.

Infill Percentage Material Used (in meters) Print Time
0% 6.1 1 hour 1 minute
25% 16.5 3 hours 23 minutes
50% 25.6 6 hours 34 minutes
75% 34.4 10 hours 9 minutes
100% 42.5 13 hours 41 minutes

As you can see from the table as the infill percentage goes up so does the print time and material use. We want to use the least amount of infill necessary while still retaining the strength needed for our application. If you’re printing 3D sculpts that will sit on a shelf and never get used, you won’t need much infill. If you need your part to have good compressive strength, you’ll need to up the infill.

How Resin Exposure Affects Print Time

For resin printers the main influence on print time is how much exposure time your resin needs for each layer. With monochrome LCD printers you can have exposure times as low as two seconds. With RGB screen printers you may need anywhere from 6-12 seconds per layer depending on the resin. You also have a lot more layers to print with a resin printer than FDM. Let’s look at how resin exposure affects print time.

We will use the 50mm test cube from the infill percentage test and look at print time for the starting from 2 seconds and increasing all the way to 12 seconds per layer. The 50mm cube will be printed at .05mm layer height resulting in 2500 layers to print. Keep in mind that the first several layers of a resin print have a longer exposure time. For my settings I am using 8 base layers at 70 seconds each.

Layer Time Print Time
2 6 hours 40 minutes
3 7 hours 22 minutes
4 8 hours 38 minutes
5 8 hours 45 minutes
6 9 hours 26 minutes
7 10 hours 8 minutes
8 10 hours 49 minutes
9 11 hours 31 minutes
10 12 hours 12 minutes
11 12 hours 54 minutes
12 13 hours 36 minutes

We can see a linear increase in print times for the resin printer as layer exposure increases. Layer exposure time is the single biggest factor that affects total print time for resin printers. Unlike FDM printers where you may be able to calibrate and tune your printer for faster speed, the only way to decrease resin exposure time is by using different resin.

Conclusion

In this article we reviewed the factors that affect total printing time for 3D printers. As usual with 3D printers the ultimate answer is “it depends”. Many of the factors that affect the printing speeds are specific to the printer you are using, the model you are trying to print, and the materials you are printing with.