Are Resin 3D Prints More Expensive Than Filament?

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

Curtis Satterfield, Ph.D.

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People new to 3D printing often ask if resin printers are more expensive to print with than FDM. Usually they want to know if getting a resin printer will cost more per print than using an FDM printer.

Because there are more consumables involved with resin printing the cost per print of resin is higher than filament. The trade-off is the quality and detail in the resin print that you cannot get from an FDM print.

I decided to conduct a test by slicing the same model in my slicing software to determine how much it costs per print. I used a 3D model from online and sliced it in Chitubox and Simplify3D. Both slicers give me an estimate of material used for the print. I took this information and made calculations based on the cost of materials and consumables. You can read the results of my testing below.

Price Per Print Breakdown of Resin Printing

It is hard to directly compare resin printing costs with FDM costs. With resin there are more consumables involved in the print process. Beside the resin, the vats and screen of the printer are consumables and need replacing every so many hours. I’ve previously written about everything you need to 3D print with resin. Give that article a read if you’re new to resin printing.

You need to wash the part in a solvent after the print finishes. You will need to replace the solvent after it becomes saturated with resin. The curing process requires a curing chamber. Because the curing chamber should outlast all other consumables, we won’t factor its cost into our calculations.

The LCD screen in a consumer grade resin printer can last anywhere from 100-1000 hours. There are a variety of factors that influence the lifespan of the screen. For our calculations we will use an average of 500 hours. The average cost to replace your LCD screen in a resin printer is approximately $45.

3D Resin Printer LCD Screen Replacement
LCD Screen Replacement Courtesy of Anycubic.com

Overtime due to several factors the FEP film on your vat will eventually wear out. There are examples of FEP only lasting a couple prints to some lasting for many months of use. Most films that become damaged quickly are due to human error or mishandling of the FEP film. The average life of well-cared for FEP film tends to be in the hundreds of hours. For simplicity of calculation we will use 500 hours as the average life span. Keep in mind your FEP lifespan will vary.

An FEP film will run $25 on average for a pack of five sheets of film making our cost $5 per sheet.

Replacement FEP Film from Elegoo
FEP Replacement film Courtesy of Elegoo.com

Manufacturers recommend Isopropyl alcohol as the solvent used to clean your prints. I have used both alcohol and Mean Green cleaner for cleaning my prints. In my experience Mean Green does a great job at cleaning the prints and is much less expensive than alcohol. A gallon of Mean Green is around $5. I use around 35 ounces at a time for cleaning prints. I find that I can use the wash around 15 times before I need to replace it. This brings the cost of filling the wash container to $1.35. Divide this over 15 uses and cost per use is 9 cents.

How many items can you 3D print with 1 liter of resin?

For a comparative analysis I used a 3D miniature from Toawi on Thingiverse.  

3D Model of an Elf Ranger

I selected this model as it is represents a typical item that many would print on their resin printer. The model is a female elf ranger designed for use in tabletop games. I imported the model into my slicer, generated supports for the model and then sliced the model. My slicer gives me estimated resin use based on the volume of the model. After supports and slicing the model will use about 3.0ml of resin.

3D Elf Model in Chitubox

For the calculations of resin, we will only factor in the resin in the model. We will ignore the resin loss from washing prints or accidental spills making the math easier. Using a 1-liter bottle of resin we can print 333.33 of our test model. I will round down to an even 333 models from the 1-liter bottle. We will use a standard bottle of resin which is approximately $38. Dividing the cost of the bottle by the number of prints we get 11.4 cents per model. Not too bad.

How Many Items Can You 3D Print With 1 Roll of Filament?

To keep the calculations simple, we will assume there are no failed prints and no filament loss due to oozing or other reasons. I used the same 3D model as the resin print. The slicer reported a total filament length of 389.9mm. Because of the model’s characteristics I needed to include supports for the print.

A standard 1kg roll of 1.75mm PLA filament will contain approximately 330 meters or 1080 feet of filament. Going by Length we could print 846.37 of our test models which I will round down to 846. A roll of PLA filament can be purchased for around $22 on average. Dividing the cost of the filament by the number of prints we find that each print costs 2.6 cents per modelOur filament model is 8.89 cent cheaper based on material use alone. However, there are more consumables used when printing with resin that we need to take into consideration.

Cost Comparison Between FDM and Resin Printing

To calculate the total cost per model of our we need to add the cost per print of our other consumables. Our LCD and FEP films have a life expectancy of 500 hours. The print time for our model is 3 hours. We can print just shy of 167 (166.67) models on one LCD and FEP. But we calculated that we can print 333 of our models from the 1-liter bottle of resin.

In order to print the entire bottle, we would need to replace the FEP and LCD screen. And don’t forget about our wash solution. For 333 models we will be using $30 worth of Mean Green. Altogether we need to add $80 to the cost of our 333 modelsDividing the consumable total across our 33 models we now have a cost per print of 35.4 cents per model.

Based on the test our final cost per model for resin is 35.4 cents per model and our cost per model for filament is 2.6 cents per model. The resin models are more expensive to print but they are still on the order of a few cents per print. In addition, the quality and level of detail from a resin print is better than that of and FDM printer. You are trading quality for cost when using an FDM printer.

I need to make a note here about the figures used for calculation. For typical use, most users will not print single models on their resin printer. Because the length of print is based on the height of the print most users will load their build plates full. This reduces the number of hours per print reducing the number of LCD and FEP replacements per print. Let’s see what that looks like.

9 Models on build plate in Chitubox
I was able to fit 9 of the models on a single build plate. That reduces the number of prints needed to 37 and a total print time of 111 hours. Cost per hour of print time for the LCD and FEP is approximately 10 cents per hour. That means our print time for the models will cost $11.10 to print all 333. Dividing the cost of all our consumables across the models results in adding 12 cents to the model cost. This reduces our total cost of printing to 23.4 cents per model. Not as bad as printing one model at a time but still more expensive that filament.

All the numbers can vary depending on how you use your printer. As we have seen printing lots of small models results in more wear and tear on the consumables than printing full build plates. We also did not account for the resin that needs to be washed off after a print and when cleaning the build plate. The test was designed to give approximations for cost per liter of resin versus spool of filament