Pros and cons of using 3D printing for prototyping

3D printing is coming of age and applications throughout the product development timeline are increasing. Many products and industries are utilising it for low volume production. In spite of the growing case for utilising 3D printing in production, prototyping is still the most popular application.

3D printing is just one of the choices for manufacturing prototypes. Others include CNC machining from billet material or vacuum casting in polyurethane resins. So what are the pros and cons of selecting 3D printing for manufacturing your prototypes?



Fast – 3D printing is quick compared to other options. 3D printing is a digital technology which utilises software to slice the 3D digital model and prepare it for printing. This is generally automated and very fast. It is fast compared with CNC machining which still requires an engineer to program the tool path and vacuum casting which would require a master model produced via either 3D printing or CNC anyway.

Inexpensive – both the cost of the equipment and the materials have been falling and continues to come down. As the technologies become more widely utilised costs will continue to fall. Five years ago the cost of manufacturing a part via 3D printing was much more expensive than the same part via CNC. Now the cost of an SLA prototype is 9 times out of 10 much more cost-effective.

Accurate to CAD – 3D printing manufacturers parts to your 3D data so you should get parts which are the same as your drawing

Complex geometries – 3D printing allows you to design and manufacture parts which might be difficult or even impossible to manufacture



Materials – the material choices are limited, though they are growing. If you need specific materials or characteristics you might have to look at other processes. FDM has the widest selection of production like materials and SLS prints parts in nylon (PA) but if you need a specific grade you will probably not find it.

Surface finish – due to the layer by layer build process the surface finish can be a little rough and require quite a lot of post-process finishing to achieve a smooth finish like an injection molded part.

High quantity – both the costs and the lead times for higher quantities can become quite high and other processes might become more competitive once volumes increase

Price – metal 3D printing is still very expensive compared to other processes unless you are looking at very complex part geometries


3D printing is a great choice for most prototype applications, especially in plastics. HLH runs a number of different additive manufacturing technologies under one roof as well as conventional manufacturing.

To find out which would work for your project speak to our team today

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