Can a $600 3D Printer Beat a $20,000 Machine?

3D Printing & Imaging
Can a 0 3D Printer Beat a ,000 Machine?


The internet is such an incredible and beautiful place: Two strangers with amazing toys came together to give us a showdown that is sure to amuse and inform. In one corner, we have Scott Hanselman, armed with a $600 Printrbot simple metal he got two weeks ago. In the other corner, we have Brandon Potter, armed with a $22,000 Stratasys Uprint SE +.  The two chose a file, printed it, and shared the results with the world.

The first step of this process was to establish exactly what kind of printers they were comparing.


Stratasys Uprint SE+ 

This information was taken directly from Brandon Potter’s blog:

  • uPrint SE Pro Printer and Dissolving Bath – about $22,000
  • 1 Spool of Model Material (Black) – $205 (produces 42 cubic inches of printing)
  • 1 Spool of Support Material – $200 (42 cubic inches worth)
  • Box of Build Plates – $125 for 24 (you need one for each print, so it costs about $5.20/each)
  • Soluble Concentrate – $149 for 12 bottles (dissolves support material, aka fancy Drano)
  • Warranty Support – $2,000/year (because it does break from time to time)

Add a little bit for shipping, and for a mere $25K you’re ready to print your very own coffee cup.


 Printrbot Simple Metal

This information was taken from Scott Hanselman’s blog:

  • Printrbot Simple Metal from Amazon that I got for $599
  • Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Camera to watch my prints and do time-lapse videos with Octoprint. Figure $60
  • A spool of RioRand 1.75mm PLA Filament in Black for $28
  • Digital Calipers for measuring stuff, $20

Next, lets take a look at the file they chose to compare: this coffee cup designed by “Barspin” on Thingiverse.

This file isn’t incredibly complex. There aren’t interlocking or sliding parts, but it does have some curves and a fair amount of overhang (more on this aspect later).

Off To The Races! 

The first to print was Potter with the Uprint SE+.

He did a fantastic job of outlining his process and sharing many images in his blog. Here are just a few:

printing away
printing away
dissolving the support
dissolving the support
all gone!
all gone!

And here is his final result.



At this point, he shipped his final print over to Hanselman for comparison.

Hanselman, who had only had his Printrbot Metal+ for two weeks was ready to go. You can find his complete breakdown of his printing process on his blog as well.

YouTube player

The results, as you can see from Hanselman’s pictures below, are very similar. Keep in mind that the Printrbot was printing at .2mm layer height in PLA and the Uprint was printing at .1mm in ABS.

Printrbot on left. Uprint on right.
Printrbot on left. Uprint on right.
Printrbot on left. Uprint on right.
Printrbot on left. Uprint on right.

For this specific test, the results were very comparable in quality. In cost however, they differed greatly. Not only in the cost of the initial printer, but also in material. Hanselman had this breakdown:

In real one-time costs my cup cost me 21.02 meters of filament, costing me perhaps $2 maybe a little more if you count the few pieces of tape. For Brandon and his pro printer, in direct costs, he used $23.62 in model material, $2.06 in support material, and $5.20 build plate, for a total of $30.88 for this cup.

While this was a fun and useful exercise, it would also be interesting to follow this up with a print that utilizes more of the strengths of one printer over the other. For example, these brain gears by “Hoeken” print just fine with soluble support material but would be nearly impossible to print on the Printrbot in a single piece.

YouTube player





4 thoughts on “Can a $600 3D Printer Beat a $20,000 Machine?

  1. Mr. Dave says:


  2. John Edgar Park says:

    Very ouch.

  3. amine dz says:

    Reblogged this on blog djedidi amine .

  4. rocketboy604 says:

    The material cost breakdown is somewhat relevant. But it comes down to what you are using the machine for. I have a large expensive bandsaw and a relatively cheap one…if all I’m going to use them for is cutting a small square either one will do the job equally well. It’s when you stretch machines to the limit of what they are capable of that you get a fair comparison. If you buy Stratasys to print coffee cups you are wasting your money… I don’t have any stake here I have two hobby grade 3D printers and I love them..but there are things I sometimes wish I could print easily that I can’t and I could with a Uprint SE+

  5. Tami Brass says:

    Ironically, I was on the phone this morning with a salesguy about a Stratasys machine. Our school currently has a makerspace with a $2500 3D printer on one campus and two 3D printers on the other. We want to use them for student projects and prototyping. We’d love something faster, but cost is always an issue in education. Thanks for the piece. Thoughts on printing/production speed?

  6. bryanbrutherford says:

    the first 3d printer i ever saw in action used cornstarch and binder,
    this was in 1999. The first 3d printer i ever purchased was a
    Stratasys, dimension bst 1200 for $30k over 10 years ago. Since then
    i’ve had the opportunity to be involved with the purchase and use of big
    machines from some big names zcorp, objet, etc. More recently i even
    picked up a makerbot and a Formlabs machine. My opinion has held for
    years that the technology is amazing, i use it everyday but i just
    didn’t see any reason to want it in my home, my experience with the
    consumer targeted machines reinforced that. 3 weeks ago i walked in to a
    local retailer and saw an XYZ davinci 1.0 on sale for $399. That price
    combined with the reviews i had read and the fact that i could check out the appearance and build quality in person was enough to tip the scales so i
    threw one in my cart and headed home. It has essentially the same build
    envelope and quality as the machine i paid $30K for. it looks like a
    home appliance (although as an industrial designer i’d say there’s room
    for improvement when it comes to looks), it hasn’t failed once and has been running nearly nonstop. it is easier to remove the breakaway supports from this machine than from the dimension machine. I even got a 2 year, no questions,
    replacement warranty for $50… I think after the initial warranty ran
    out on the dimension machine the maintenance contract was a few thousand
    dollars a year (to the machines credit it almost never needed maintenance)… the maintenance on my objet machine was $8000 a year (and to that machines credit, it failed so often that $8000 seemed like a bargain).

  7. Can a 0 3D Printer Beat a ,000 Machine? Matt Stultz says:

    The new Metal Plus should also soon support Dual extruders. This will of course up the initial machine cost from $600 but will gain the ability for it to do soluble support material so the geared model could be created on both machines. Dual extrusion changes everything!

  8. DatChu says:

    @Caleb, you should update the photo. From the timelapse, you can see that he uses a Printrbot Simple Metal Plus. It costs $1000 and it’s not the one pictured.

    1. lassi says:

      from the timelapse you should see that it is NOT a plus. it’s printrbot simple metal(599). if you dont’ believe, look how the x axis rod doesn’t come through to the other side of the extruder.

  9. Pat Cummings says:

    Caleb, if you see this you do not have to read what we are making – just drop by the Chick-fil-A in Santa Rosa, We’re there printing stuff 3-4 days a week, usually between 10:15 and 3:30. We have a Bukito printer from Deezmaker ($900/kit) which we use with RioRand and ProtoType PLA filament to make things like heart shaped biscuit and cookie cutters, your Makerbolts, cute baby dragons, etc. Kenneth gets to talk to dozens of interested people at each demo, and we pass out to the parents and kids alike most of what we print.

  10. AndyLeer says:

    This is an awesome test….I’m not sure about the previous comment. To me looks like the Simple Metal. I think the things that need to be taken into consideration are reliability and time spent modifying/fixing. As with anything time is money. That being said the gap from $600 to $25k definitely warrants a little time tinkering for those results. That also being said, you aren’t going to get the crazy complicated bicycle chain or brain gear machine with the Printrbot Simple, at least not with some heavy modifications. At this point after owning a Printrbot Simple for a little while, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve had to do some belt tensioning and alignment of the x motor gear but other than that it’s been printing like a champ. For $600 go get one…

  11. Justin Nesselrotte says:

    If you don’t drop your entire build plate, model and all, into the
    solution bath then you actually can reuse them several times. Just bend
    the plate a little bit while it’s still hot out of the build chamber
    (It’ll feel like you’re going to snap it, but you probably won’t. I’ve
    never broken one), then stick only the model in. You can vary where you
    put the model on the platform, but I find that it can withstand around
    4-5 prints on the same location.

    1. LV_FAN says:

      My work Stratasys wont let us print on the same plate. It scans the surface are rejects the plate if it finds an old build. We tried to remove the old build material but they purposefully apply a model layer first, before the base raft and it bonds with the build plate. No way to remove it.

      1. Justin Nesselrotte says:

        Whoa, that’s absolutely crazy. Sorry about that. I’m glad that issue hasn’t presented itself with my school’s printer.

  12. FlyAway says:

    Very interesting article, thanks. You must love the internet where we can do these things and instantly communicate comparisons in word, image, and even video. Seems that the price difference is nowhere near justified.

  13. Byron Badilla says:

    Full Disclosure: I sell Stratasys. Having said that, I think that your article is
    missing a couple of points; PLA is not equal to ABS+, you’re comparing orange
    and apples from an engineering standpoint, please go to MatWeb and check it
    out, if you need to print coffee mugs by all means buy a maker 3dprinter, a
    Stratasys printer will be quite expensive for that purpose, those machines are
    not intended to make simple nonfunctional parts, they are machines for engineers
    not for makers. One need to realize what is it the one is going to make prior
    to make the investment. For instance you’re not going to take your Hyundai
    Elantra to a Nascar race, are you? But, you can easily take your Nascar car to
    buy groceries. Let’s put things into context.

  14. Andy says:

    We have both a Makerbot Replicator 2x and a Stratasys Uprint SE PLUS in our office lab. (small medical device startup) I also have two home built machines at home- a MendelMax 1.5 and a Delta, so I’m no stranger to the 3D printing world. At the office we use the Makerbot for doing anatomic models, ninjaflex etc- and also low precision parts that we don’t want to tie the Stratasys up with.

    While the Makerbot is much cheaper, the Stratasys is a better value for us for prototyping. The extra money buys accuracy, precision, and dependability. It works every single time, dimensions are spot on, and I can set up a 100+ hour print job and walk away confident it’ll finish without any troubles. If I want to do something with the Makerbot I’m sure i’ll have to spend a bunch of time getting it to run properly.

    My time, and our engineering team’s time is much better spent designing, building and testing. If you are using a printer for your profession, and unless you are really cash strapped, I’d really recommend the Uprint. That said, it’s definitely not meant for home use- just far too expensive, and you are locked into their proprietary supplies.

  15. idunsw says:

    Reblogged this on idUNSW.

  16. Reese Smith says:

    Very interesting comparison. How long did each of the printers take to complete the prints?

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I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity I see in makers. My favorite thing in the world is sharing a maker's story. find me at

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