Cost Comparison of 3D Printing and Vacuum Thermoforming

Last Updated on November 3, 2023 by assistant

3D printing and vacuum thermoforming technologies are currently commonly used production methods in the manufacturing industry. In the previous article, we compared the advantages and application materials of the two. In this regard, many friends who read the article asked if they could write a blog comparing the costs of 3D printing and vacuum thermoforming. I wanted to choose the most suitable service for my machining project, today it comes。

When comparing the costs of 3D printing and vacuum thermoforming, several factors come into play. Here’s a breakdown of how the costs of these two manufacturing processes generally compare:

Initial Investment

The initial investment for a 3D printed prototype can vary greatly depending on the technology and complexity of the printer. Professional-grade 3D printers range in price from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars or more. Additionally, there may be costs associated with software, maintenance, and materials.

Vacuum thermoforming, on the other hand, tends to have a lower initial investment. Vacuum forming machines range in price from a few thousand dollars to a modest investment in more advanced, larger-scale equipment. The vacuum thermoforming equipment on the Ruitai platform is specialized equipment used in industrial manufacturing, so the cost of the molds or tools used is also a consideration, but it may be relatively cheap compared to large-scale 3D printing.


Material Costs

The cost of 3D printing materials varies widely, depending on the type of printer and the specific materials used. While some standard plastics are relatively inexpensive, specialty materials and high-performance options can be more expensive. Metal and ceramic 3D printing materials tend to be particularly expensive.

In contrast, vacuum thermoforming primarily uses thermoplastic sheets and is generally less expensive than specialty 3D printing materials. Thermoplastics such as ABS, polystyrene, polyethylene, and polypropylene are readily available and cost-effective, especially when producing parts in high volumes.



Yield plays an important role in determining the cost-effectiveness of each process. 3D printing is ideal for low-volume production, prototyping, and customization. However, as production volumes increase, the costs associated with 3D printing can become relatively high due to the time-consuming nature of layer-by-layer printing. At Ruitai, we typically use SLA printing technology and SLS 3D printing to support your project.

Vacuum thermoforming, on the other hand, is very effective for high-volume production. Once the mold is created, the actual molding process is relatively quick, making it cost-effective to produce parts in high volumes.


Complexity and Finishing

3D printing is better at producing complex geometries and intricate details that vacuum thermoforming may not be able to easily achieve. However, the complexity of 3D printing can impact overall costs due to longer print times, increased material usage, and potential post-processing requirements.

Vacuum thermoforming is better suited for simple to moderately complex parts with smooth surfaces. Compared to post-processing of 3D printed parts, finishing steps such as trimming and finishing are relatively simple and may require less labor and time. In other words, the production cycle will be shorter than that of 3D-printed prototypes.

It is important to note that these cost comparisons are general and may vary based on specific project requirements, material selection, machine performance, and other factors. If you have a manufacturing project and are looking for a reliable CNC machining service provider, Ruitai is your best choice. We will carefully consider your specific needs and conduct a thorough cost analysis to determine the most cost-effective manufacturing method for your specific application. Please feel free to contact us for a free quote on your design project.