Design for Additive Manufacturing: Best Practices for Superior 3D Prints

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM)

Design for Additive Manufacturing:
Best Practices for Superior 3D Prints

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM)

The possibilities for designing custom, innovative solutions using 3D printing are endless. While this is undoubtedly true for 3D printing hobbyists who want to create and optimize DIY projects, the advantages to Additive Manufacturing (AM) grow exponentially at an industrial scale, especially when you own a large-format BigRep printer.

Aside from freedom of design, 3D printers offer the added benefits of low-cost customization, agile iteration, faster time-to-market, reduced material waste, and a way to avoid complicated logistics and supply chains. However, not all designs are suited for Additive Manufacturing. Having the right knowledge is crucial to get the most out of your printer, especially regarding the earliest design and conceptualization stages.  This is where Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) can make or break the success of your project.

What is Design for Additive Manufacturing?

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is the process of creating an object by building it up one layer at a time. It is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, where an object is produced by cutting away at a solid block of material until the final product is complete, such as CNC machining. While the terms are often used interchangeably, the most common form of Additive Manufacturing is 3D printing. DfAM is a method of designing parts specifically for Additive Manufacturing, which have unique requirements different from other common manufacturing processes such as injection molding or casting. The critical difference between DfAM and traditional design is that DfAM principles guide designers to take full advantage of the unique capabilities of 3D printing while avoiding some of its limitations with smart solutions.

This guide will explain some factors that make a design well-suited for 3D printing, plus it will introduce DfAM principles so you can maximize your 3D printing results.

3D Print Speed

Why DfAM Matters

Understanding DfAM is essential to ensure successful, repeatable, and scalable results that maximize 3D printing capabilities. What will you get from following DfAM guidelines?

  • Reduced material and part costs: By implementing DfAM principles, unnecessary supports are avoided, reducing materials and lowering the cost to print. By using generative design software and AI, parts can be designed to minimize material usage while easily still meeting all of the necessary part requirements.
  • Faster print times: Large-scale 3D prints may run for days or even weeks! However, when components are optimized for Additive Manufacturing, you can implement the most effective printing plan, ensuring the shortest print time that is possible.
  • Increased scalability: By designing with DfAM principles, designs can be printed on various printers and scaled up or down without requiring significant adjustment. 3D printers can also produce sequential batches of prints or, in some cases, parallel prints that drastically speed up the time required to produce each part.
  • Improved part strength: With Design for Additive Manufacturing principles, you can increase the strength of your 3D print, plus you can alter factors like part weight, flexibility, and more. CAD software with generative design functions uses algorithms to produce geometries that meet strength and performance requirements.
new_f1_frontwing (1)

DfAM Best Practices

Design for Additive Manufacturing principles result in many overall benefits, but some specific design choices will be influenced by the type of 3D printing technology used. However, DfAM best practices will help you reduce material use and printing time, consolidate parts, and optimize topology and performance, no matter what 3D printing technology is implemented.

1. DfAM Depends on Your Specific 3D Printer

Before you start designing for 3D printing, you must understand the different types of processes available. The most popular 3D printing processes include FFF (also commonly referred to as the trademarked term, FDM), SLA, and SLS.

  • FFF (fused filament fabrication) 3D printing consists of layers of melted plastic deposited onto a build platform. The plastic, in the form of a spooled filament, is fed through a heated nozzle that softens the material and extrudes it in a thin stream. The printer then lays down the melted plastic according to the design specifications of the printed model. Once each layer is complete, in the case of large-format FFF 3D printers, the extruder moves up in the Z axis exactly one layer height and another layer is deposited on top. In the case of some smaller desktop printers, the build platform lowers by the amount of one layer height to print the next layer. This process continues until the model is complete. Desktop FFF 3D printers are relatively simple and inexpensive, making them one of the most popular types of 3D printers among hobbyists and home users. However, large-format and specialized FFF machines can produce high-quality results, making them a viable option for professional and industrial applications. Any FFF 3D printer will require support structures for parts with overhang angles and bridging distances beyond limits. Depending on the model of FFF 3D printer, minimum wall thickness, layer heights, and other settings will vary. FFF 3D printers can print with a variety of materials, but virtually all filaments are some type of polymer which may also include fiber, metal, wood, or other additives. Some FFF printers can use water-soluble materials for printing support structures, which can then be dissolved in water for easy removal.
  • SLA (stereolithography) uses ultraviolet (UV) light to cure and solidify photosensitive resin layers one at a time. As each layer is printed, the vat of resin also containing the print in progress lowers by one layer thickness. SLA prints may require some support structures, which are slightly different from FFF supports and are not available in water-soluble materials. SLA prints typically require cleaning after printing to remove any residual uncured resin otherwise, the print would be sticky and harmful to human skin.
  • SLS (selective laser sintering) uses a laser to fuse powder materials, layer by layer, to create a 3D object. After each layer is printed, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness so another layer can be sintered on top. SLS prints do not require support structures because the print is surrounded by unsintered powder during the printing process. Finished SLS prints typically require cleaning, sometimes with specialized machines, to remove loose powder from the 3D printed part.

2. Reduce Material Usage and Printing Time

When designing a 3D model for Additive Manufacturing, it is crucial to consider the amount of material required and the time it will take to produce the finished product. Reducing material usage can reduce overall production costs and speed up the manufacturing process. You can minimize material by:

  • Reducing the surface details in the model: Most 3D printing software has specific tools for reducing the surface details in the 3D model.
  • Tweak the slicer settings: You can reduce the infill percentage, the number of walls, and more.
  • Reorient the part: Reduce printing time, material usage, and support requirements with optimized part orientation.

3. Part Consolidation

One benefit to 3D printing is that parts that would traditionally need to be produced separately and later assembled may be 3D printed as a single, consolidated part. By doing this you can reduce printing time, increase production speed, reduce assembly time, and enhance part strength. As an added bonus, part consolidation may only be possible with 3D-printed parts, and by utilizing DfAM guidelines you may be maximizing the benefits of Additive Manufacturing. Part consolidation benefits include:

  • Reducing the overall number of parts that need to be manufactured as multiple parts are combined together
  • Reducing the amount of time needed to manufacture each individual part
  • Reducing the amount of waste material generated during the manufacturing process
  • Improving the mechanical properties of the final part by reducing internal stresses

4. Topology Optimization

Topology optimization principles aim to use the minimum amount of material that can meet given performance requirements while minimizing the weight of the component. First, you must specify the mechanical performance requirements (such as stiffness or strength) and design constraints (such as maximum allowable stress or displacement). Some CAD software can simulate how your part will respond under different loads. Based on the results of the analysis, you can then automatically adjust various design parameters until an optimal solution is found.

Topology optimization can improve a component's strength, stiffness, or weight as well as reduce manufacturing costs. It is often used with finite element analysis (FEA) to assess the effects of design changes on the component's performance. The results can then be used to create a new design that is more efficient and effective.


Design for Additive Manufacturing Guidelines

Like any other manufacturing process, there are best practices to produce quality 3D-printed parts.

1.    Minimal Feature Size

Minimal feature size refers to an object’s minimum width or height that a 3D printer can accurately print. Sharp corners, holes, protruding text, and cutouts are the types of features where a minimum size can be critical for success. No matter on which axis the feature is oriented, it is usually constrained by the 3D printing technology used, as well as the specific hardware (e.g. nozzle size) or machine accuracy.

If your 3D-printed part requires holes, the minimum diameter will be dependent on different factors depending on the 3D printing technology. With SLS, for example, the holes must typically have a diameter over 1.5 mm to prevent powder from getting stuck in the holes. With FFF 3D printing, the minimum hole diameter is mainly dependent on nozzle size and layer height.

One DfAM recommendation is that all sharp corners should be chamfered or filleted to reduce stress. Applying chamfer and rounding the sharp edges ensures that shrinking forces concentrating on one specific point in the design are dispersed.


2. Wall Thickness and Layer Height

Wall thickness refers to the thickness of the printed object's walls, which are made of perimeters that are sometimes called the wall line count. The absolute minimum wall thickness is a single extruded line (a wall line count of 1) that is dependent on nozzle size: it must not be smaller than the nozzle diameter and usually slightly larger than the nozzle diameter, typically by a factor of 1.2. Additional wall lines such as inner walls, as well as infill, may be printed thinner than the nozzle diameter but is typically a minimum of 60% of the nozzle diameter.

A secondary factor determining minimum wall thickness is the overall geometry and intended use of the 3D print. If it is a functional object subject to stress or force, it is important to use thicker walls with a higher wall line count. If the object is a prototype for design iterations or fit checks, then thinner walls with fewer lines may suffice. The thicker the walls, the longer it will take to print the object and the overall part weight will increase.

Layer height, which is the thickness of each layer measured in the Z axis, will also factor into your DfAM choices. Although layer height settings are determined during the slicing, your design can be informed by which settings you plan to use. For example, a minimum feature size is dependent on layer height, so you should avoid designing features that your 3D printer cannot produce.

Layer height is dependent on the nozzle diameter: the height must be less than the nozzle diameter, typically a factor ranging from 0.3 to 0.6. The higher the layer height, the faster the print and the rougher the appearance of the layer structure on the surface. Part strength is somewhat impacted by interlayer bonding and the strength is slightly increased with higher layer heights. Typically, lower layer heights are used for finer, more precise prints with smoother surfaces, while higher layer heights are beneficial for faster printing when surface smoothness is not important or can be managed with post-processing.

Desgign for Additive Manufacturing: Layer Height

3. Support Structures

While not technically part of the design process, support structures may be avoided by following DfAM principles, thereby reducing printing time and material usage, and improving surface quality.

Suppoort Structures - DfAM

Support structures are temporary structures that help to reinforce 3D objects, prevent them from collapsing during the printing process, and improve their overall strength and durability. 3D models with overhangs or elements with a small contact area with the build plate require support structures during 3D printing. Parts with delicate features or low-density areas may need support structures to prevent them from being damaged during 3D printing. However, each 3D printer and material has its own threshold for requiring supports; a rule of thumb is that parts with a vertical angle of 50 degrees or less don't require it. 

Support structures are designed to be removed after the printing process. Breakable supports can be printed with the same material as the print and are manually removed when the print is completed. Another solution are supports, printed in a water-soluble material, that can be dissolved after printing. These are usually easier to remove and result in better surface quality. By following DfAM guidelines for overhangs and bridging (as noted below), you can reduce or entirely avoid the need to print support structures.

4. Overhangs

An overhang is any geometrical shape extending beyond the previous layer without any support structure. If an overhang is too steep, typically over 50°, it will sag or collapse without using a support structure.

When designing for Additive Manufacturing, you can adjust these angles to keep within maximum overhang angles, thereby avoiding overhangs that require support. The benefit of this is threefold: the printed surface will look better, the print will be faster, and it will require less material usage. With the BigRep BLADE slicer, the support structures can be created automatically based on material and machine-specific profiles. To experiment with higher maximum overhang angles, you can change this setting and reduce the automatically generated supports. The choice of material will also affect the maximum overhang angle achievable without support. If your project allows, you can choose a material that tolerates higher overhang angles to avoid printed supports.

Overhangs - DfAM

5. Bridging

Bridging occurs when material is printed in mid-air spanning two or more otherwise disconnected segments without a printed layer below. To successfully bridge, the material must be able to keep its weight as well as the weight of the model itself. The maximum length of a bridge will depend on the material and the 3D printer. Beyond that limit, the bridge will sag unless support structures are printed below. By choosing a material with better bridging properties, you may be able to avoid printed supports without altering your design.

As seen in the image below, the quality of a bridge degrades the longer it is. In other words, past a certain (material, machine, and geometry dependent) threshold, the bridge will sag. The image below shows a test print demonstrating various bridge lengths printed with a BigRep ONE using PLA filament. Here we see that the bridge quality begins to suffer when longer than 50mm. Keep in mind that this test print is a simplification of a real-world 3D printing application, so your 3D print will likely require shorter bridges or support structures when compared to this test print.

Bridging - Design for Additive Manufacturing
Bridging front view - Design for Additive Manufacturing

6. Orientation

Part orientation is a setting determined during slicing, but your part design can be influenced and improved with this setting in mind during the design stage. By changing the orientation of the part within the printer's build volume, you can increase part strength, reduce printing time, improve surface quality, and avoid 3D-printed support structures. For stronger parts, the print should be oriented so that the printed layers are perpendicular to the direction of the force that will be applied to the part. This is because the inter-layer bond, where each layer touches the next, is the weakest part of the print. By orienting the layers perpendicular to the forces the printed part must withstand, it will be more resistant to breaking.

Part orientation can affect the overall print time by reducing travel moves (when the print head moves the extruder to a new location without printing) and by reducing the need for printed supports.

The surface quality is negatively affected by part orientation in two ways: support structures and the staircase effect. Support structures can impact the surface quality of a 3D print which may appear rougher, more irregular, and may be damaged during the process of support removal. The staircase effect occurs when the ridges created by the printed layers are more pronounced on a 3D print, as seen on the image to the right. This can be reduced in a few ways to make the print surface appear smoother. First, the layer height can be reduced, but this will increase printing time. Secondly, the part can be oriented so that the layers are built up perpendicular to the surface of the 3D print. If it is important that a particular surface is smoother, the print should be oriented so that surface is as vertical (in relation to the print bed) as possible.

Part Orientation - DfAM

7. Tolerances

In Additive Manufacturing, tolerance measures how much deviation is acceptable or expected from the original 3D model. It is, in other words, how closely the 3D print measures up to the digital model. It is essential to consider tolerance when designing parts for 3D printing, as the build process can introduce inaccuracies.

Support structures can affect tolerance if they leave an overly rough or distorted print surface after the supports have been removed. Understanding tolerances is essential because they determine how well a part will fit and function as intended. For example, a loose tolerance may cause the 3D-printed part to be loose and wobble if fitted within another structure while a tight tolerance may cause a part to be difficult to assemble or create excessive wear.

The achievable tolerances of a 3D print are dependent on the accuracy of the 3D printer itself, its components, and the material used. Accurate tolerances can be negatively impacted by the 3D printer when it is not properly calibrated or vibrates too much during printing. Tolerances are also determined by nozzle diameter and layer height. A 0.6 mm nozzle will be able to achieve smaller tolerances than a 2 mm nozzle. Higher layer heights will give a rougher surface resolution, which also affects the achievable tolerance of the 3D-printed part.

Tolerances in Additive Manufacturing

8. Infill

Infill is a 3D-printed interior structure, typically a lattice pattern, that fills the interior cavity of a 3D print. The type and density of infill are determined in the slicing, but it can be useful to know what infill is needed when initially designing your part.

Infill serves two functions: it increases the strength of the part and is necessary to support the top layers of certain geometries. The infill can be a variety of patterns like a grid, triangle, or gyroid, and its density is determined by the slicing settings ranging from 0-100% of empty versus solid space. With 0% infill, the part will be lighter and print faster, but the part will be weaker. It is virtually never necessary to print with 100% infill, as the increased part-strengthening effect of infill is typically negligible above a certain percentage. The second function of infill, to support top layers, is only a factor depending on the part geometry. If the top area is smaller than the distance that can be achieved by bridging, then no infill may be required unless part strength is a factor. In practice, most 3D prints require infill to support the top layers and the infill density required for adequate top layers depends on the number of top layers, the machine's capabilities, and the material used. If a 3D print only has one top layer, the space between the printed infill walls may sag, but with additional layers, the final top layer may compensate and appear as intended.

The correct settings depend on your project requirements. For example, if you are 3D printing an object that does not need to be strong, you can use a lower infill setting to save time. When designing for Additive Manufacturing, the infill should be as strong as possible while using the least amount of material. This helps to reduce the weight of the object and the overall cost of printing.

If your design constraints allow, you can change the geometry of your part to minimize the need for infill or avoid it altogether. This can result in a faster 3D print, better surface quality, and reduced material usage.

Infill Patterns & Density

Testing and Validating Your Design

After following DAM principles, the success of your design can be evaluated before or after printing.

DfAM Software

Design for Manufacturing software, like DFM Pro, verifies if design rules for Additive Manufacturing are followed. The software takes the 3D part, identifies possible manufacturing issues, and suggests fixes. Automatic fixes can be applied.

FEA Software

FEA (Finite Element Analysis) software can be used to analyze the mechanical properties of your design before printing. You can alter your design using DfAM guidelines, AI, and/or dedicated software to improve the parameters within your digital 3D model.

Test Printing

Assuming that your 3D printer is calibrated and functioning properly, you can 3D print your part to evaluate the success of your design and iterate as needed. The ability to easily print tests, evaluate, redesign, and reprint is one of the great benefits of Additive Manufacturing.

Break Off Support Structures

Limitations of Design for Additive Manufacturing

Although designing for Additive Manufacturing has many benefits, it still has some limitations to what a specific 3D printer, material, or 3D-printing application can achieve. While DfAM guidelines can result in better 3D prints, they can not overcome inherent design flaws that may affect the overall functionality of a part.

One limitation of DfAM is human error. On one hand, expertise can greatly benefit the quality and outcome, but without the use of algorithms or AI, there is a limit to what experience can achieve, particularly in novel situations. The need to iterate designs and reprint can increase costs and delay timelines. When the time for design iteration is limited, analysis software (like DFM or FEA) and hardware (3D scanner) can reduce the likelihood of mistakes, however, these may require additional tools and software competence.

Some critics of DfAM suggest that stringent design rules result in less original or innovative designs, becoming more homogeneous in style. Others counter that the use of Additive Manufacturing opens up a world of design possibilities not achievable with other production methods.

Design for Additive Manufacturing


The DfAM approach is a powerful set of design tools that can improve the end result of additive manufactured products and parts. DfAM is essential for efficiency and consistency when designing models for 3D printing and is particularly essential for industrial 3D printing, improving the performance of products by making them lighter and more robust.

In many cases, DfAM can also benefit aesthetic choices to result in beautiful, quality 3D prints. DfAM is an evolving set of rules and best practices, which can be modified for specific design tasks and as 3D printing technology evolves.

Want to know more? Watch this webinar to learn about industrial design for Additive Manufacturing.


The BigRep PRO is a 1 m³ powerhouse 3D printer, built to take you from prototyping to production. It provides a highly scalable solution to manufacture end-use parts, factory tooling or more with high-performance, engineering-grade materials. Compared with other manufacturing and FFF printing solutions, the PRO can produce full-scale, accurate parts faster and at lower production costs.

Explore the PRO


The BigRep PRO is a 1 m³ powerhouse 3D printer, built to take you from prototyping to production. It provides a highly scalable solution to manufacture end-use parts, factory tooling or more with high-performance, engineering-grade materials. Compared with other manufacturing and FFF printing solutions, the PRO can produce full-scale, accurate parts faster and at lower production costs.

Explore the PRO

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon is a technical writer with a deep editorial background. He has a great interest in the many different applications involved with additive manufacturing, from the arts to automotive, prototyping to manfuacturing. His role at BigRep is to communicate the ins and outs of 3D printing to both the BigRep community and a wider audience.

Carbon Fiber 3D Printing: Everything You Need To Know

Carbon Fiber 3D Printing

Carbon Fiber 3D Printing: How to 3D Print Strong Parts

Adding carbon fiber (CF) to filaments improves both strength and stiffness. The added strength and increased stiffness provided by the addition of CF leads to a better strength-to-weight ratio, achieving lighter, stronger parts with less printing time.

Read on below to see how carbon fiber can benefit your manufacturing business and learn about the unique properties of CF filaments.

What are Carbon Fiber Filaments?

Carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) bring together the qualities and performance properties of carbon fiber with the polymer material they are reinforcing. Printability and ease of use of a standard thermoplastic like PLA, ABS, or PET gains superior performance properties by including carbon fiber content.

Chopped fibers are mostly used for industrial production and also 3D printing. These carbon fibers come as a "filler" material in thermoplastic materials for injection molding or as carbon fiber filaments to use in 3D printers. They can be processed like any other thermoplastic material. But they have extra requirements which will be explained later on.

FFF (extrusion-based) 3D printing uses chopped carbon fibers. These small fibers are then mixed into a standard thermoplastic as a reinforcing material.

Why do you need Carbon Fiber 3D Printing?

Industrial environments often demand specific mechanical properties and finely tuned precision. Fortunately, by bringing together the capabilities of a high-strength material and the many advantages of additive manufacturing, carbon fiber 3D printing offers exceptional dimensional stability in strong, stiff parts with a fine surface finish and a high heat deflection temperature - ideal for functional, high-performance applications.

With 3D printing moving ever deeper into end-use production, the ability to manufacture both parts and tooling using carbon fiber filaments is increasing in demand.

Whether using these materials in molds, jigs, fixtures, tooling or high-performance race cars, specialty aerospace equipment, or professional cycling equipment, carbon fiber 3D printer filament enables you to create the high-strength parts you need. Of course, as a relatively new offering in the manufacturing industry, carbon fiber 3D printing may have many pros, but it's also worth being aware of the printing requirements before you get started.

Carbon Fiber Filament
CF Filaments
This pattern was printed in BigRep Hi-Temp CF and is used to create drones parts made of carbon fiber prepreg.

Pros of Carbon Fiber 3D Printing

The advantages of carbon fiber 3D printing come down to their performance properties:

High Strength

Perhaps the most-touted property of carbon fiber 3D printer filament, high strength is key to its performance — and desirability as a 3D printing material. Carbon fiber offers a strength-to-weight ratio that enables high performance with low density.

Dimensional Stability

By lessening the tendency for part shrinkage, carbon fiber's high strength and stiffness contribute to its excellent dimensional stability upon usage, essential for parts that require precise dimensions and tight tolerances.

Light Weight

Hand-in-hand with its strength is the light weight of a carbon fiber 3D printer filament.  Light weights are a key advantage of 3D printing in general, and using carbon fiber materials enables that weight reduction without a loss of performance-grade strength.

High Heat Deflection Temperature

Compared to standard 3D printing materials like PLA, ABS, and PETG, carbon fiber filaments can withstand significantly higher temperatures. Carbon fiber composite materials — such as BigRep's PA12 CF — enhance the heat deflection temperature of the base material for better performance at elevated temperatures.


CF filaments make layer lines less noticeable. This gives you better surface quality and haptics, reducing the need for any post-processing operations such as sanding.


3D-printed carbon fiber parts maintain their shape under high stress. In contrast with other materials that trade off strength and durability for stiffness, the rigidity possible with carbon fiber ensures structural integrity.

Requirements to Work with Carbon Fiber Filaments

Carbon fiber filament is more abrasive than many other materials and has specific heat requirements. As is typically the case with engineering-grade materials, they cannot simply be swapped out for standard 3D printer filament and be expected to print with the same settings.

print bed

Heated Print Bed

Hand-in-hand with an enclosed 3D printing environment is a heated print bed, which is crucial to ensure that the first print layer adheres to the print bed. Without this strong foundation, the success of the remaining print layers may be compromised.

nozzle pro

Hardened Nozzle

Over time — which can vary from one to a few print jobs — carbon fiber filament will wear down a standard 3D printing nozzle due to its abrasiveness. A brass nozzle, for example, will wear out when extruding these materials and will ultimately be rendered functionally useless. Hardened steel is a requirement for a 3D printer to handle CF filament.

Of course, designers, engineers, and operators working with any CF-inclusive project must all be well-trained in the requirements for working with carbon fiber filaments. Training and upskilling must be considered when considering bringing CF filaments into operations.


Print Orientation

The addition of CF increases tensile strength but when managed incorrectly it can lead to a reduction in layer adhesion. To compensate for the material's low ductility, orient the part in the direction of the stress or the load.  This can be adjusted during the orientation of the part in a slicing software such as BLADE.

Composite Mould 3D Printed with Carbon Fiber Filament

Where are CF Filaments used?

Carbon Fiber 3D printing is best put to use in manufacturing environments thanks to its high strength-to-weight ratio and overall stiffness. Among the primary uses for these materials are the creation of molds, jigs and fixtures, and tooling.

Composite Molds & Thermoforming Molds

3D printed molds are one of the most cohesive ways advanced and traditional manufacturing technologies work together in an industrial environment. 3D printed molds offer the complexities and speed of production of 3D printing to the mass production capabilities of mold-based manufacturing. When it comes to composite molds and thermoforming molds, the performance properties of CF materials are a natural fit.

Composite molds are one of the most common manufacturing methods to cost-effectively produce large batches of identical parts. As their name implies, composite molds are made using composite materials, which can be made in complex shapes and stand up to repeated use — all at a significantly lower cost than aluminum or steel molds.

Thermoforming molds use heat and pressure to shape a flat thermoplastic sheet into a form using conduction, convection, or radiant heating to warm the sheet before conforming it to the mold’s surface. Thermoforming molds must stand up to repeated high-heat usage, requiring specific performance capabilities that can be well delivered via CF materials.

Jigs & Fixtures, Tooling

Often viewed as supplemental to manufacturing processes — but vital in their own right — are jigs, fixtures, and tooling, using in milling, drilling, and other subtractive operations. Jigs and fixtures are used to hold specific parts in place throughout different stages of their manufacturing, and tooling is used throughout.

These all-important tools often perform best when customized to the application at hand and may be worn out through highly repetitive use. For these reasons, jigs, fixtures, and tooling are increasingly 3D printed on-site. They can be custom-fit to their specific need and reproduced on demand without outsourcing or waiting to be restocked.

When made of reinforced materials like CF filaments, 3D printed jigs and fixtures and tooling last longer and perform better — especially in terms of long-lasting durability. You can learn more about replacing high-cost CNC milling with agile, cost-saving solutions for low-volume production here.

Automotive and Aerospace Industries

The design freedom of carbon fiber allows you to realize complex geometries that are not cost-effective with traditional methods. This design freedom enables you to rapidly iterate and then, due to its increased stiffness and temperature stability, create more functional prototypes. The enhanced aesthetics of the object, including complex curvature achieved with 3D printing and better surface quality with CF filaments, can open up innovation in automotive, aerospace, and other related industries.


BigRep PA12 CF and HI-TEMP CF

BigRep offers two carbon-filled filaments: PA12 CF, a nylon carbon fiber, and HI-TEMP CF, a bio-based, carbon fiber-filled polymer. The critical difference between these two carbon-filled filaments is that HI-TEMP CF has less demanding hardware requirements. HI-TEMP CF is applicable across multiple printers, including the ONE, the STUDIO, and the PRO, while PA12 CF is suited to industrial applications on the PRO.

If you want the best performance, then it's better to use a PA12 CF filament. PA12 CF possesses increased tensile strength, impact toughness, and heat deflection temperature, making it well suited to applications requiring superior durability and operational lifespan in challenging industrial environments.

The trade-off for HI-TEMP CF's higher stiffness, flexural strength, and less demanding printing requirements - compared to PA12 CF - is a slight reduction of impact toughness and heat deflection temperature. This makes it better suited to applications not exposed to impact but which maintain the need for dimensional stability under loading. This increased stiffness and flexural strength is provided by HI-TEMP CF.

No matter which filament you pick, taking advantage of the many benefits of carbon fiber-filled materials empowers you to increase the performance of your applications. Although specifically made for large-format printing on BigRep machines, these materials are compatible with most 2.85mm open printers with a hardened nozzle.


Stiff and Strong Carbon Fiber

Learn More


When you decide to take on carbon fiber 3D printing, you’re committing to an endeavor that requires significant attention to parameters and specialized equipment and requirements. When those conditions are fulfilled, you can produce best-in-class lightweight, durable, functional parts that can stand up to a variety of industrial uses with all the complexity in design that 3D printing has to offer. Get in touch with a BigRep expert today to learn how CF filaments can help to improve your production capabilities.


The BigRep PRO is a 1 m³ powerhouse 3D printer, built to take you from prototyping to production. It provides a highly scalable solution to manufacture end-use parts, factory tooling or more with high-performance, engineering-grade materials. Compared with other manufacturing and FFF printing solutions, the PRO can produce full-scale, accurate parts faster and at lower production costs.

Explore the PRO


The BigRep PRO is a 1 m³ powerhouse 3D printer, built to take you from prototyping to production. It provides a highly scalable solution to manufacture end-use parts, factory tooling or more with high-performance, engineering-grade materials. Compared with other manufacturing and FFF printing solutions, the PRO can produce full-scale, accurate parts faster and at lower production costs.

Explore the PRO

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon

Redmond Bacon is a technical writer with a deep editorial background. He has a great interest in the many different applications involved with additive manufacturing, from the arts to automotive, prototyping to manfuacturing. His role at BigRep is to communicate the ins and outs of 3D printing to both the BigRep community and a wider audience.

3D Printer Speed: What You Need to Know

3D Print Speed

In additive manufacturing, if you want to succeed, then you need high speeds. The crucial question remains: how can you maintain quality while significantly ramping up production speeds?

It helps to have a better understanding of how 3D printing speeds are defined, what they mean for your prints, and tried and tested ways of producing parts faster. To learn more, read our thorough guide below.

Defining 3D Printer Speed

Oftentimes 3D printer speed is equated with the speed of the print head: the faster the printhead moves and deposits filament, the faster a part is built. But that’s only part of the picture.

While the speed of the print head influences the deposition rate of filament on the print bed, it does not reflect the overall length of the 3D printing process. It is far from the only print setting to influence overall printing time. It’s worth taking a broader look at 3D printing speeds for the FFF process, considering the 3D printing process from beginning (pre-processing) to end (post-processing).

Each step in the FFF 3D printing process adds time, contributing to how long it takes to get from 3D model to finished product. Fortunately, this means that the end-to-end 3D print speed can be accelerated by optimizing certain elements of the print process and tweaking certain settings. We propose a slightly more encompassing metric of speed that takes into account the time and labor spent before and after printing, as well as the printing time itself.

What Influences 3D Print Speed?

To accelerate and optimize the speed of the 3D printing process, it is important to understand what factors come into play across the pre-processing, build, and post-processing stages.

3D Printing Speed
A batch of 3D prints are sliced with BigRep BLADE.


Pre-processing encompasses the time it takes to prepare the 3D model and the 3D printer for the printing process. Three pre-processing stages determine how long a 3D print will take.

3D Model Preparation

3D model preparation is itself a category that includes parameter selection and printing preferences. Decisions made in 3D model preparation have a massive influence on overall printing times. For example, choosing the right orientation for the 3D print on the build platform can reduce or even eliminate the need for support, cutting back on printing time. Some slicing programs, such as BigRep BLADE, offer automatic settings—like auto-orientation—that optimize these features so you don’t have to spend time figuring out the right parameters.


Slicing software translates 3D models into a language that 3D printers understand. This process takes time, especially if your 3D model is particularly complex or the STL file is too large. Adjusting the resolution of your 3D model as well as layer heights and infill densities can alter slicing times. Keeping your slicer software updated can also eliminate bugs that slow processing times.

3D Printer Calibration

Calibration is a necessary step that ensures your 3D printer is properly positioned and all components, such as the extruder, motors, and axes, are aligned. Manual calibration can be time-consuming and take hours, but many FFF 3D printers offer automatic calibration that can be done in mere minutes.

3D Print Speed
A sensor measures the printed structures to calibrate the extruders for dual extrusion before printing.

3D Print Time

The print time refers to how long the 3D printer spends creating an object. As you might expect, it is typically the most time-intensive element of the 3D printing process. Different print settings and hardware features can increase or decrease printing times.

3D Print Speed

Print speed refers to the rate at which the 3D printer extrusion system moves when extruding filament. Print speed is measured in millimeters per second (mm/s), and most FFF 3D printers have the capacity to print at speeds in the range of 40 mm/s to 150 mm/s. This setting can also influence print quality: the faster the extruder, the less precise the print becomes.

Travel Speed

Travel speed indicates how fast the print head moves when not extruding filament. The travel speed can often be faster than the print speed without affecting quality. However, if it is too fast, it can lead to 3D printing defects like less precise prints or even layer shifts.

The sustainable travel speed you can achieve, depends a lot on the mechanical structure of your 3D printer. A sturdier frame and portal allow for higher travel speeds without the risk of vibrations showing in your part.

3D Print Speed
Two 3D prints with different layer heights: 0.2mm and 0.6mm.

Layer Height

This measurement determines how thick each printed layer will be and thus has a direct influence on printer speed. The thicker the layer height, the fewer layers will be needed to complete a print and the faster your part will be built. As the layer height increases, however, the resolution of the print decreases.

Nozzle Diameter

The nozzle diameter is a hardware selection that can unlock faster printing rates. The bigger the nozzle diameter, the wider each printed line will be. This can eliminate the need for multiple perimeter layers to achieve a certain wall thickness. A wider nozzle diameter also allows for increased layer height.

Infill Patterns & Density
Two 3D prints are sliced with different infill percentages and wall thicknesses.

Infill Density

The percentage of infill density—the internal structure that supports the outer shell of a 3D print—can have a big impact on print speeds. The lower the infill density, the less material is required, which can reduce print times.

You should note that lower infill densities also provide less strength than a higher infill, so it’s about finding the right balance between speed and quality.

Support Structures

Generated to reinforce overhangs and bridges, support structures can also increase the time it takes to 3D print a model. Support patterns, densities, and other settings will influence support printing time. Orienting your model on the print bed to minimize supports can also speed up print times.

The white material is BigRep's BVOH filament, a water soluble support for easy removal.
The white material is BigRep's BVOH filament, a water soluble support for easy removal.


Once the 3D print is removed from the print bed, a certain level of post-processing is required. For prototypes and hobbyist-grade components, post-processing times can be minimal. For end-use parts or visual prototypes, however, post-processing can be demanding.

Support Removal

If your 3D model was printed with supports, removal is an obligatory step. The ease of removal is highly dependent on the type and number of supports.

Some supports can be removed manually in just seconds, while others require special cutting tools to avoid damaging the 3D print. The easiest and often fastest support removal can be achieved by using a dual extrusion 3D printer and a soluble support material that simply dissolves away.

Break Off Support Structures
Support structures are designed to break away easily after 3D printing.

Sanding and Polishing

Sanding and polishing are necessary steps for 3D prints that need a fine surface finish. Since both these steps are manual—requiring the use of sandpaper, polishing paste, or cloth—they can be very time-consuming, especially for larger prints.

Mechanical methods like tumbling and sandblasting are more complex yet speedier options for larger batches.

Priming and Coating

Other optional post-processing steps are priming, painting, and coating. The time each of these steps takes depends entirely on the technique used (for example spray coating, dip coating, or hand painting) as well as the scale of the 3D print and batch size.

For example, dip coating can accelerate post-processing for batches of parts, while spray coating can be more efficient for large prints.

3D Print Speed
A 3D print is post-processed with a brush-on coating to smooth and protect the surface.


3D printing speed is not as simple as knowing the mm/s rate of the print head: many other factors influence how long it will take to complete a 3D print job. In the pre-processing stage, model prep, slicing, and parameter selection can be optimized for faster processing.

In the build stage, various settings and hardware choices directly influence the speed and quality of a 3D print. Finally, the degree of post-processing required for an FFF 3D print can greatly influence how long it takes to get from a 3D model to the finished part.

By optimizing these various steps and understanding the correlation between print speed and part quality, you can achieve faster print rates and a more efficient printing process overall.

Want to learn more? Watch this webinar to see how to save time with the BigRep PRO 3D printer!

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

3D Printer Cost of Ownership: What You Need to Consider

3D Printer Price & Cost

The Additive Manufacturing market continues to grow at an exponential rate. This includes a significant increase in adoption from industrial manufacturers while the 3D printing industry itself welcomes new hardware, software and material companies everyday.

There are many factors to consider when purchasing a 3D printer, such as material capabilities, build size, purpose and future intention. However, one conversation that OEMs are afraid to have with prospects and clients is the true cost of ownership.

What are the upfront costs associated with my machinery? Where can I purchase consumables, resin or filament? When will my equipment become obsolete? This article will address all these questions and more.

The goal is to provide you, the end user, with enough information so that you can be prepared to present solutions to your management. Unexpected costs or limited financial transparency will become quite problematic, especially if your organization is budget sensitive.

The 3D printing market is vast. There are hobbyist-level 3D printers available for amateur enthusiasts, and then there is industrial additive manufacturing equipment used by engineers and professionals.

How much is a 3D printer?

Hobbyist-level 3D printer prices range between $200 - $7,500 with basic printing capabilities and materials. The industrial-grade 3D printing equipment has a much broader price range, $25,000 - $500,000, that is much more technologically advanced.

The price of a 3D printer rises with high resolution, bigger size and higher print speed.

But there is much more to it than just the purchasing price of a 3D printer.

Average Prices for 3D Printers
BigRep Industrial 3D Printers at Ford

The purpose of this article is to understand the professional-grade equipment and assess the costs associated. If you wish to learn more about the entry level 3D printing market, you can find more in this article at as a resource.

Part One: Capital Equipment Expenditures + Purpose

Regardless of company size or department budget, capital equipment expenditures over $50,000 will always be scrutinized. If it doesn’t fit on a corporate card then you will most likely be required to justify the purchase. And let’s be honest, your name will forever be connected to that piece of machinery once it’s installed—so it’s important to do the homework and make a good decision. In Part One, we will dissect the cost of AM equipment, and its purpose.

Industrial additive manufacturing equipment (operating with thermoplastic materials) can range from $25,000 to $500,000 depending on a variety of factors. This includes the size of the machinery, capability, reliability, ease of use, material compatibility and even brand name recognition. That’s a lot to keep track of.

For example, larger platform printers require robust servo motors and high-performance components to remain reliable and repeatable for users. Additionally, printers with advanced material capabilities operate with controlled heating chambers that will undoubtedly raise the cost of ownership and may be unnecessary for your application. You may be asking yourself, how do I determine which printer is the right one for me?

Is your department purchasing AM equipment for prototyping or production applications? What does your current process look like from a time and cost perspective? Who will be managing the machine? Analyze your current prototyping/production process and identify AM ready parts -- meaning which parts are too expensive to outsource or are too complicated with traditional machining. AM provides inherent values when it comes to designing, so understanding the intention and purpose of your equipment will help determine the return on investment.

For example, assembly line facilities have historically used metal parts for jigs and CMM fixtures simply because that was the only material available to them at the time. 3D printing with PLA plastic has become a viable alternative because it’s less expensive and lighter weight. Understanding the costs associated with traditional processes or parts helps determine the savings with 3D printing and ultimately, justify the ROI. The industry standard for equipment ROI is typically 18-24 months.

Kawasaki experienced a positive ROI after just 6 months.
Read this eBook to see how Kawasaki uses their large format 3D printer.

3D Printer Cost Return on Investment

Part Two: Service Contracts, Consumables, + Post Processing

The equipment cost is just one piece to the printer acquisition puzzle. Purchasing a service contract for an expensive piece of machinery is commonplace in every industry, but AM is unique when it comes to consumables and post processing technologies. Almost every 3D printing technology comes with proprietary materials and a recommended solution for support removal.

The best estimate for an equipment service contract is between 15-20% of the overall cost. Indicating that $100,000 3D printer may require a $20,000 annual service contract. Much of this is dependent on equipment reliability and complexity. However, the alternative of no service contract is having to purchaseing replacement parts at a much higher cost so you’re left with trying to decide what makes the most sense for your business. It’s possible that your business has separate budgets for equipment and service so we recommend speaking to your finance team first.

Every 3D printer OEM offers proprietary consumables in resin, filament or pellet form. The question is compatibility and control. Some OEMs restrict users from using 3rd party materials and consider it a breach of service contract if they do. Those OEMs tend to charge more for their materials while suggesting that the printer is more reliable because of that. However, the industry is transitioning to an open platform concept that enables end users to operate printers with third party materials.

BigRep’s approach is unique because it makes both options available. Be confident to use our suggested filaments with predefined settings embedded in the slicing software or feel free to experiment with other material providers. We simply recommend to our users to reach out and ask about the options. Oftentimes, we have experience with many materials and can point you in the right direction.

Historically, support removal and post processing equipment in 3D printing wasn’t discussed. Yes, it’s the less attractive part of the industry but it’s impossible to ignore if your AM technology requires it. For example, many thermoplastic technologies use soluble support materials which typically requires an ultrasonic bath for removal. The size of your parts justifies the size of the support removal system, which increases the cost accordingly. Alternatively, some AM technologies use breakaway support structures which require manual removal and sanding. Ultimately, it depends on your application and what type of finish your part requires. It’s not uncommon for designers and engineers to paint, weld, bond, sand or coat parts for optimal look and feel. With each process comes costs—whether automated equipment or manual labor.

These air duct fittings from Boyce didn't require any post-processing before they went into the Verizon Kiosk they produce.

3D Printing Lower Cost with less Post Processing

Part Three: Intangibles + Obsolescence

Okay, if you’ve come this far then it’s time to talk about the future of your 3D printer and how to maximize your investment. As previously mentioned, the AM marketplace is complicated and it’s challenging to discern which technology is right for you. After you have determined the purpose of your 3D printer and analyzed the cost of ownership, it’s likely that you will have several options to consider. There are so many competing technologies that exist; so which company, brand or product are you willing to commit to?

How long has this company been in existence? Who are the major investors? What are the equipment reviews and will the company provide access to users and references? There is no need to work in a bubble when there is a world of resources available. When it comes to intangibles like company reputation or service standards, never underestimate the user testimonial. The industry is constantly evolving, and it’s very common to see major partnerships between OEMs, material providers, research institutes, and industrial leaders. In 2021, we have seen several AM companies go public and multiple mergers. Take time to learn about the company you wish to invest in. After all, your name is going to be attached to the decision.

Obsolescence is a much trickier conversation, and is one of the major reasons why some companies are hesitant to adopt 3D printing. Technology is advancing faster than ever before, and no one wants to be left holding the keys to outdated equipment. How can your department proactively prepare for obsolescence? First, determine a realistic ROI and try to stay under a 24 month payback schedule, which will improve the printer’s profitability. Second, ask the OEM if they have upgrade paths or buyback programs — most organizations do and are willing to drive customer loyalty. Finally, build an internal or external network of users, customers and research institutes that want access to your equipment and would pay to do so. These are just a few examples of building purpose for your 3D printer and monetizing it as quickly as possible.

Industrial 3D Printer Price Customer Nikola Corp.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started?

"Talk to someone that has one of these. It's guys like me that are operating the machine that can really tell you. Learn from their successes and failures."

Riley Gillman,
Nikola Corporation


The industrial AM market is complicated and expansive. The technology exists to enable engineers to rapidly produce prototypes, increase new product development, and identify new methods or materials for production purposes so the cost is justified. The question is, what exactly are you trying to accomplish? There is an alternative mindset in the market to purchase equipment now and identify ways to use this machinery in the future. These businesses typically have the financial resources to make such acquisitions and the luxury to wait and see. For the rest of us, we must develop ways to justify equipment purchases and truly understand the costs associated. Every 3D printer available on the market was originally designed to solve a problem but now every printer is the ultimate solution—one size does not fit all.

We recommend taking the time to develop an ROI calculation and truly assess every aspect of a 3D printer purchase. How expensive is the annual service contract? If we find less expensive materials, can we run them through our equipment? Will my printer be reliable enough to become profitable for my business? We invite you to speak with our team of experts to learn more, and find out how BigRep can be profitable for you.

Talk to a 3D Printing Expert to help you calculate your ROI with a BigRep 3D Printer

4 Things to Consider Before Buying a Self-Assembled Large-Format 3D Printer

Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled / DIY

Would a self-assembled large-format 3D printer be worth the price tag savings?

Price of an Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled

The answer depends on a variety of factors.

The reality is there are an array of options when choosing a 3D printer, and the right system for you is going to depend on several factors, ranging from your knowledge of 3D printers, budget, and what you want to accomplish with the printer.

How much experience do you have working with 3D printers? Are you comfortably knowledgeable of every component? Can you troubleshoot most problems yourself or do you often depend on services? Even if you can troubleshoot your own printer, how large is your margin for error?

In the right situation, self-assembled 3D printers can be  an affordable option. Highly experienced users who understand 3D printer construction, maintenance, and modification with a wealth of time to build and troubleshoot their new 3D printer can make use of self-assembled offerings. Unfortunately, DIY 3D printers are too often treated as a cost-saving solution and purchased without fully understanding the expertise and time they’ll likely require.

It’s important to understand what each offering includes, and weigh them against your expectations. So, in this article we’ll go over 4 key considerations when deciding if a self-assembled (DIY) 3D printer is right for you, and why we believe premium offerings like BigRep’s 3D printers are a better choice.

Infographic: Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled

Assembly Time

Time is money and your time is extremely valuable. Assembly is one of the clearest reasons to buy a premium 3D printer, so we’ll get it out of the way first.

Many businesses invest in technologies like 3D printers with specific goals in mind. They may want to reduce the lead time on parts and tooling or decrease outsourcing expenditures. Others may need a resource for agile product development to create prototypes on demand. It’s important to consider when you want to start progressing through these goals if you’re considering a self-assembled 3D printer.

Just assembling a DIY 3D printer takes time. How much time exactly will vary from user to user depending on pre-existing knowledge and clear instructions and labeling but could take a few days up to a month or more depending on labor availability, parts and any issues that could arise.

Additive manufacturing requires high precision to function effectively. Even small imperfections – in the wrong place – can render a part useless for many applications. During self-assembly it’s easy to misalign or mistakenly construct a printer that can cause excess vibrations or other inaccuracies during operation. Experienced users may know how to troubleshoot and repair these issues if they aren’t simply the result of low-quality hardware. Less experienced users may be unable to properly assemble their new 3D printer at all. In this case, and if the manufacturer doesn’t offer onsite servicing, you would need to hire a technician for assembly – likely bridging the cost gap. Either situation, requires significant time investment to ensure a system is operating properly.

With premium 3D printers like offerings from BigRep, a highly skilled technician can install your system onsite and validate its performance in as little as one day. They’ll introduce you to your new printer, train you on typical 3D printer troubleshooting, and help you to understand large-format best practices. Better yet, should unexpected problems arise, a BigRep service technician can come onsite or through a virtual service call to remedy the problem and ensure as little productivity is lost as possible.

Assembly Time: Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled


At first glance, the price of a DIY system might seem too good to pass up. However, what many don’t realize is the price you see for many self-assembly 3D printers are “barebone” packages. These price points offer the most basic system, and a few upgrades are usually required to bring the system to an industrial standard.

Barebone systems are typically packaged en masse straight out of an affordable manufacturer, usually in China, and come with hardware of minimal quality – depending on the specific offer. If you don’t purchase upgrades before assembly, it’s likely that you’ll feel the need to once you’re using the system regularly.

When choosing upgrades, integrations are important features to pay mind. Is your build volume’s heating integrated with the 3D printer control board? If not, you might have to manually switch the heating off before the print bed can cool down. Limitations like this can severely restrict the flexibility of large-format 3D printing, like running prints overnight.

Aside from these big quality of life upgrades, there are a lot of smaller parts – like ware components – where quality will be very important.

Industrial 3D printers come fully equipped so they are ready to perform out of the box, no upgrade costs required. So yes the price tag will be more but it also comes with the assurance there are no hidden costs or components needed to bring it up to an industrial standard for printing.

Costs: Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled

Down Time

You purchase a printer to do a job. So when the printer is down, it effects the bottom line. Most users will compare a 3D printer’s key components out the gate and upgrade self-assembly systems where they feel necessary – hot ends, filament detection, and control systems are common in the first pass. While easier to ignore, it’s essential to also examine the quality of ware components. Check various gears, bearings, and straps for quality.

All moving parts are essential to replace early on cheaper systems to ensure consistency and reliability throughout operation. Low-quality parts will ware much faster than premium industrial parts or otherwise require additional intervention when compared to parts and systems that come standard with premium industrial 3D printers like BigRep’s.

Experienced users will either upgrade low-quality moving parts from the start or when they’re skilled troubleshooters, replace them as needed. It may be difficult for less experienced users to locate these smaller components when they begin to fail and overlooking these parts can lead to serious downtime and lost business if you’re not prepared.

Keep in mind that cost-cutting doesn’t stop with the quality of a system’s parts: many DIY 3D printer manufacturers maintain their low prices by offering limited support or none at all; meaning you’ll need to hire a third-party technician if you can’t fix it yourself. That’s not a slight against the companies, their systems are made to be routinely customized and upgraded by users with extensive 3D printer knowledge and familiarity. However, given to less experienced users or placed in demanding industrial environments these concessions could mean large maintenance down times and easily bridge premium cost.

Down Time: Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled

Quality Assurance

You buy a printer to produce parts – prototypes, jigs, fixtures, molds or end use parts. One expectation when producing them is that they will meet your quality expectation. The quality of parts coming off your 3D printer will be directly determined by the quality of your printer in many ways. In most cases this will be obvious parts – high-quality control boards or gantries will be pivotal to high-quality parts. Even upgrading these core components can eliminate your initial savings from many self-assembled 3D printers, but it’s important that you consider the overall quality of the system you’re purchasing.

In the wrong place even a degraded nut or bolt can lead to excess vibrations that heavily impact your production quality. While replacements for these flawed support components may be very affordable, they can be far more difficult to identify as the source of a problem. In industrial settings, those issues directly impact future revenues.

Mass manufacturing is all about cost efficiency, so many DIY 3D printer manufacturers will take advantage of these hidden concessions so they can compete better with visible features. Unfortunately, even these small components have a significant impact of the quality of your parts. If your business will be negatively impacted by reduced print quality or printer downtime, it’s vital that you consider your supplier’s commitment to their product over its lifetime. A robust service offering like BigRep’s shows that corners won’t be cut on manufacturing and assembly so your business can operate smoothly with consistent quality.

Quality Assurance: Industrial 3D Printer vs Self-Assembled


So the question “are they worth it?” is really up to your needs, time allowance, and expectations. If you have a dedicated technician who wants to know their machine inside and out, modify heavily, has endless time and is confident they can handle all servicing, a DIY 3D printer may be an option for you – even in large-scale. However, without the right staff, available labor, and 3D printing knowledge, they have the potential to cause more problems than they’re worth.

With an industrial large-format 3D printer like one of BigRep’s, uncertainties are taken out of the equation. Our products are carefully designed to balance cost with the performance and long-term reliability expected by industrial users. With German-engineered and validated systems installed onsite by a specialized technician, you’ll waste no time getting your 3D printer up and running with every assurance of its quality and reliability.

Not sure which solution is best for you? Talk to one of our experts and we’ll help you uncover which type of 3D printer could help you.

Dual Extruder 3D Printer – Two Heads Are Better

Dual Extruder 3D Printer

The old adage, two heads are better than one, simply indicates that two people can solve a problem better than an individual can. This is certainly the case when it comes to 3D printing, and why dual extruder technology is must-have for any engineer, designer, architect or artist. Single extruder technology that is available on the market today is incredibly limited and actually defeats the true purpose of a 3D printer, the ability to transform complex, digital designs into tangible, physical items. If you’re a serious designer with aspirations to bring your ideas to life, then you should never underestimate the value of a professional 3D printer. First, let’s understand the basics of 3D printing.

Limitations of Single Extruder 3D Printers

The vast majority of 3D printers available today operate with FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) or FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) technology. Essentially, thermoplastic material is fed through a heated nozzle that melts the material and simultaneously deposits it on the build platform. It’s arguably the simplest and most effective 3D printer technology that has been adopted by consumers and professionals in every industry imaginable.

With single extruder printing, you are able to 3D print very basic parts and shapes. For example, it’s possible to print a small pyramid or a six-sided box, because the geometries are not challenging and do not require additional design or rework. But 3D printers are supposed to enable the impossible. Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, why not redesign the peg? Why not customize the hole and create new functionality for the whole system? Adding a second material extruder enables this and so much more.

The Value of Dual Extruder 3D Printers

Advancements in 3D printing materials are enabling new applications across several different industries. What we are experiencing today will look very different tomorrow with the current rate of technology improvements and adoption. Dual extruder 3D printing is the primary mechanism fostering the next generation of industrialization because it allows engineers to design with freedom and without constraints. Compared to conventional manufacturing methods or single extruder 3D printers, multi-material 3D printers will equip product development teams to enhance functionality, aesthetics and other critical requirements.

“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein - Referenced in Aaron Council’s 3D Printing: Rise of the Third Industrial Revolution

A dual extruder 3D printer goes beyond design & print applications. Instead, it’s a mind-opening technology that can influence so much more. For example, single extruder 3D printers rely on the basic principles of fabrication and will simply print parts layer-by-layer with one material. This eliminates the ability to create complex parts, internal channels, or working gears which leads to a lack of functionality or purpose. Most engineers and designers operate with CAD (computer aided design) software that allows them to digitally design prototypes and products in a 3-dimensional space that doesn’t adhere to natural forces (i.e. gravity). Therefore, designs can become quite complicated and require a technology that is sophisticated and advanced enough to produce these parts.

That’s what dual extruder technology brings to the table for designers and engineers. From inexplicable art to impossible prototypes, this further supports why 3D printing is becoming the primary tool for so many different industries. To further paint the picture, or build the masterpiece, let’s dive deeper into several different dual extrusion use cases and how different industries are applying it today.

Dual Extruder 3D Printer - Support Material

Impossible Parts

The true beauty of a dual extruder 3D printer is the ability to combine model (M) and support (S) materials. Essentially, you are able to 3D print your model in a PLA thermoplastic material and simultaneously print water soluble support structures out of BVOH. This is the science that enables true design freedom and flexibility. You can design and print in a 3-dimensional space that goes way beyond surface level. Now, it’s possible to create interlocking features for workable gears or internal channels for fluid and air passageways. This is only possible with the use of support structures that are literally washed away once the 3D print is finished.

Tips for Users: Different support materials eliminate post processing nightmares or enhanced aesthetics. Contact our Engineering team today to learn more.

Enhanced Mechanical Properties

Let’s take it a step further and instead of Model +Support, why not Model 1 + Model 2? Yes, that is completely possible with dual extruder 3D printers and will provide improvements to the mechanical properties of your part. Combining Model 1 + Model 2 can be a strategic and helpful feature for those product development teams that wish to take functionality to the next level.

For example, lightweighting is a common tactic used by many transportation, automotive and aerospace companies that wish to reduce costs through design. Eliminating weight = less energy costs. A door, table or chair must retain the same strength capabilities but instead of a fully dense part, engineers can create honeycomb internal structures with lighter weight plastics. M1 is a PLA Shell and M2 is a PVA Ultralight infill material that ultimately prints a part with the same strength characteristics, but with less weight associated.

Dual Extruder 3D Printer - Multi-Material Print

Ergonomic Improvements

Ergonomics is the study of human and product (or machine) interaction. Those who design consumer products are constantly iterating prototypes to test ergonomics and user satisfaction (i.e. how to make user friendly, comfortable products). You’ll notice that the majority of consumer products and electronics are designed and built with soft touch overmolds, rubber or TPU materials to enhance comfort. Think of a grip on a power tool. With dual extruder 3D printers, engineers can combine rigid plastics with soft touch flexible materials to produce overmolds. Material 1 is a Pro-HT plastic with enhanced strength properties combined with Material 2, a TPU categorized as a Shore 98 A flexible material.

Tips for Users: Using PLA as a support material for TPU printed singularly will enhance aesthetic features. Contact our Engineering team today to learn more.

Improve Aesthetics

We have discussed functionality, now let’s turn to the possibilities for artistic features with multicolored 3D printing. We do not live in a monochromatic world, so we do not expect you to design for one. Oftentimes, prototypers will present their products to focus groups or potential customers for invaluable feedback to validate a design. It’s important to provide parts that are aesthetically pleasing and match a color scheme for the end product. Having multi colored parts is valuable for other applications - such as color coded safety fixtures on assembly lines, diagram models used in healthcare communications or other research, education or artistic purposes.

Dual Extruder 3D Printer - Multi-Color Print

True Mass Production

Unique to BigRep is that ability to print Tandem mode, which splits the printing platform in half and enables the production of parts in twice the time. The dual extruders are separated by distance, but connected by advanced software so that they mimic each other and print identical parts on the platform. This is ideal if you wish to begin batch production and want to bypass tooling, machining and other costly manufacturing methods. BigRep already offers one of the largest build platforms in the industrial market, and Tandem mode enables manufacturers to react immediately and produce parts on demand. This is unheard of in the marketplace today, and provides a significant time and cost savings advantage to users.

Tips for Users: If you have a print bigger than 8 kilos with the same material, split the STL, and print the first 8 kilos with Extruder 1. Use Extruder 2 with the remaining material which will allow you to print 16 kilos with the same filament.

Learn more about Tandem Mode by talking to our 3D printing experts today.

This is only a small collection of advantages awarded by a dual extruder 3D printer. It’s important to remember that new materials drive applications, and the book of 3D printing continues to write itself. Single extruder technology is a toy made for tinkerers and hobbyists. In order to produce parts that are functional and reliable, dual extruder 3D printers are a necessity.

The Future of Dual Extruder 3D Printers

To summarize the benefits: Industrial 3D printers and dual extruder technology with BigRep enables you to produce impossible parts with support material. It exceeds a variety of functional requirements such as mechanical property improvements or soft touch overmold applications. Dual extruders provide a pathway for artists, architects and creatives to think outside of conventional fabrication methods and bring color, realism and life to their designs.

Where does dual extruder technology go from here? Are three heads better than two? Maybe, but the evidence isn’t there to support it quite yet. In the meantime dual material printing continues to be such a major advantage for industrial engineers and designers. We recommend staying in touch with us, since we are constantly evolving our technology and materials to further the adoption of 3D printing.

Do you have a new application you want to bring to life? We want to hear from you!

Dual Extruder 3D Printers in Short

What is dual extrusion 3D printing?

Dual extrusion is the process of 3D printing with multiple filaments. You can mix colours or different materials with a print head that has two extruders and nozzles. With two spools loaded, the printer alternates between them by printing one at a time.

Do dual extruders print faster?

Many people think that a dual extruder printer finishes jobs faster than those with just one. That can be the case, but there's much more to it. A dual extruder printer is faster because it eliminates the lengthy process of swapping out one filament for another.

What is the purpose of dual extruder 3D printer?

The main purpose of dual extruder 3d printer is that you can print in multiple materials. A dual extruder 3D printer allows you to print in more than one material and / or more than one colour during the printing of a single object.

What is dual extrusion in 3D printing?

Dual extrusion is the process of 3D printing with multiple filaments. With two spools loaded, the printer alternates between them by printing one at a time. It's not actually faster at printing because it’s still using only one extruder at a time.

What is the benefit of having two extruders?

Dual extrusion provides the opportunity to reinforce your main printing material with something tougher. For example, one nozzle could print most of a part out of PLA while the other prints only specific areas using a carbon-fibre-based filament.

What is an extruder and how does it work?

An extruder is simply the machine used to complete the extrusion process. Using a system of barrels and cylinders, the machine heats up the product and propels it through the die to create the desired shape.

What are the types of extruders?

There are two major types of extruders single and twin screw (co-rotating and counter rotating). These come with a wide range of screw diameters (D), lengths (L), and designs. The single screw and co-rotating twin screw are inherently axially open-channel extruders. They can be regarded as drag flow pumps.

What does an extruder do in a 3D printer?

Extruders are used to produce long continuous products such as tubing, tire treads, and wire coverings. They are also used to produce various profiles that can later be cut to length.

About the author:

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

What is Vacuum Forming & Thermoforming? How to 3D Print Molds Easily

What is Vacuum Forming & Thermoforming?

Vacuum forming has been used for nearly a century to make many of the products we see and use daily. From grocery store items to car parts, vacuum formed components are all around us. But how are they made - and how is 3D printing making them better?

What is Vacuum Forming & Thermoforming?

Vacuum forming is a type of thermoforming: heat used to form a design. Thermoforming processes include vacuum forming, pressure forming, and twin sheet forming. Each of these processes uses a mold or molds to shape heated sheets of plastic into the desired form.

Pressure forming methods require that the plastic sheet be pressed between two molds and then heated to assume the shape. In twin sheet forming, two plastic sheets are heated and fused together to form double-walled or hollow parts.

Vacuum forming is the simplest of the thermoforming methods, using only one mold at a time. As the name might indicate, vacuum forming relies on a vacuum, as suction applied to the heated plastic sheet will draw it around the mold to create the appropriate contouring.

How Does Vacuum Forming Work?

The vacuum forming process comprises a few relatively straightforward steps:

  1. Clamp a plastic sheet in a frame
  2. Heat the plastic sheet to the point the plastic is workable - soft enough to take on a new shape, but not heated to the point of melting or losing its integrity.
  3. Apply vacuum to pull the plastic around the mold, shaping the heated sheet to the desired contours.
  4. Allow the plastic to cool before removing from the mold. This may be expedited for large pieces, using fans or cool mists.
  5. Trim excess plastic and smooth edges to final part quality.

See how the process works on a Formech vacuum forming machine:

Types of Plastic for Vacuum Forming

The ultimate result of a successful vacuum forming operation is creating a shaped plastic part. But what type of plastic should be used? That depends on what you want from the product; different plastics are applicable for different uses. For a clear plastic salad box, you wouldn’t need the same high impact strength as you would for an outdoor sign, for example, while a car bumper needs still more durability.

When choosing a plastic, considerations that should come into play include:

  • Strength
    • Rigidity
    • Chemical/impact/UV resistance
  • Specific gravity
  • Formability
  • Colours
  • Hygroscopicity
  • Temperature range for pliability
  • Availability/cost

Further, you’ll need to take into account the look and feel of the plastic for the end-use application you have in mind. A strong plastic may not be usable if it offgasses volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when subjected to high temperatures, for instance.

Among the most popular plastics used in vacuum forming are:

  • ABS -- acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
  • Acrylic -- PMMA -- Poly(methyl methacrylate)
  • HDPE -- high density polyethylene
  • HIPS -- high impact polystyrene
  • PC -- polycarbonate
  • PET -- polyethylene terephthalate
  • PETG -- polyethylene terephthalate glycol
  • PP -- polypropylene
  • PS -- polystyrene
  • PVC -- polyvinyl chloride

Each option has its pros and cons. As with any end-use material choice, you’ll need to weigh the cost and ease-of-working of a given material with its strength and performance.

Play Video

How to Create Molds for Vacuum Forming

The molds used for vacuum forming are critical to the process: they form the basis of the actual shape for the end product. How you choose to create your molds will depend on the precision, complexity, and timing of your project.

While wood, aluminium, and structural foam are among the conventional options for mold making, 3D printed molds are becoming more popular. These newer options enable more complex geometries to be made and can significantly speed up the process of mold making.

3D Printed Molds

The benefits of 3D printing are many. 3D printing can reduce the time and costs needed to make items like vacuum forming molds, as well as improve the geometric complexities possible. Faster turnaround and lower costs can be a major incentive when it comes to adopting a new way to create molds, forms, and rapid tooling.

In-house 3D printing can substantially shorten timelines when it comes to producing new molds and tooling. Without the need to outsource mold production, wait for turnaround is limited only to how fast a 3D printer can bring a CAD design to life - which can be as short as a matter of hours. Only the material needed to produce a given design need be used, eliminating waste and additional material costs. Furthermore, small features - think textures or even text - can be added without increasing the cost of a design. Customization and rapid prototyping of designs are also big benefits, getting unique designs to customers who need them quickly and for lower cost.

Working with the right 3D printing equipment is of course key to producing the best results. Industrial equipment offers professional quality, as well as the opportunity to work with heat-resistant materials like carbon fiber 3D printing filament. Furthermore, large-format 3D printers enable faster production of either large parts or several small parts in a single build job.

3D Printed Mold for Vacuum Forming or Thermoforming
3D Printed Mold for Vacuum Forming

Wood, Aluminium and Structural Foam Molds

Traditional vacuum forming molds are formed by subtractive processes, such as carved wood or structural foam, or by metal casting processes. While each of these processes when leveraged appropriately will produce workable molds, their use is subject to the wait times of casting and high costs of milling.

Wooden molds are well-known to be durable for vacuum forming. Strong wood choices can lead to molds that can be used for hundreds, if not thousands, of vacuum forming runs. Eventually, though, most wood molds will splinter or warp. The best usage of wooden molds is when little detail is required or a thicker mold is desirable.

Cast aluminum molds are among the most durable types, best-suited for scale production of 100,000+ parts. Costs of both material and production -- which can take up to a few months -- make aluminum molds infeasible for shorter production runs.

Structural foam molds are durable and can also be used for larger production runs. These molds are lightweight yet extremely durable, and are often a lower-cost alternative to aluminum options. Many plastics are viable, as a chemical blowing agent is used to makes the plastic’s internal walls thicker for longer-lasting molds.

Applications for Vacuum Forming

Vacuum forming is often used to create parts we interact with every day. Lightweight packaging, securely fit coffee cup lids, and car parts are just a few of the places we often encounter vacuum formed parts.


Aerospace applications for vacuum forming can range from specialty packaging to keep tools in one place to massive parts. Cabin components like large bulkhead dividers and seating needs like arm rests, footwell trays, seat backs, and tray tables are increasingly produced via vacuum forming.

Thermoforming Application: Aircraft Interior


In the automotive industry, both internal and external components are often vacuum formed. From relatively small cabin structures like the grate on an air conditioning vent to a full bumper, shaped plastics help to shape our automotive experiences.

Thermoforming Application: Automotive - Car Interior


Salad containers or sushi boxes, razor packaging, and sterilized medical device packages are just a few of the packaging uses for vacuum forming. The plastic sheets used in this process can be shaped to precisely house a premium product or made more generally to hold whatever we need to carry.

Thermoforming Application: Food Packaging

Consumer Goods

Toys, musical instrument cases, helmets, luggage, barware -- you name it and the plastics we use every day often come about through vacuum forming. From the outer housing on a bicycle helmet to the body of an RC car, vacuum formed products keep us all rolling.

Thermoforming Application: Luggage


When it comes to vacuum forming, the sky is the limit. Heated plastic can be exactly shaped to match a custom mold for one or thousands of parts. When the molds are 3D printed, they can be made with more complexity, more detail, more options -- and less cost.


The BigRep STUDIO G2 gets 3D printing off your desk and takes it to the next level. Operating with the same ease as a desktop 3D printer and with 10 times the build volume, the STUDIO G2 provides large-scale industrial manufacturing capabilities in a compact “fits everywhere” build.

Explore the STUDIO


The BigRep STUDIO G2 gets 3D printing off your desk and takes it to the next level. Operating with the same ease as a desktop 3D printer and with 10 times the build volume, the STUDIO G2 provides large-scale industrial manufacturing capabilities in a compact “fits everywhere” build.

Explore the STUDIO

Vacuum Forming and Thermoforming FAQs

What is thermoforming molding?

Thermoforming is a process of heating a thermoplastic sheet to its softening point. The sheet is stretched across a single-sided mold and then manipulated. Then, it cools into the desired shape.

Is thermoforming and vacuum forming the same?

Vacuum forming is a type of thermoforming, heat used to form a design. Thermoforming processes include vacuum forming, pressure forming, and twin sheet forming. Each of these processes uses a mold or molds to shape heated sheets of plastic into the desired form.

What are the advantages of vacuum forming?

The cost of tooling is significantly less than with other processes. In addition to this, the turnaround time is much faster. Because of cost savings and a faster turnaround time, the vacuum forming method is often preferred for R&D, prototyping, and, in some instances, long-term production. In addition, vacuum forming is highly detailed formed products that are possible in a range of sizes

What is the vacuum forming process?

Thermo or 'Vacuum forming' is one of the oldest and most common methods of processing plastic materials. The process involves heating a plastic sheet until soft and then draping it over a mould. A vacuum is applied sucking the sheet into the mould. The sheet is then ejected from the mould. In its advanced form, the vacuum forming process utilizes sophisticated pneumatic, hydraulic and heat controls thus enabling higher production speeds and more detailed vacuum formed applications.

What products are made using vacuum forming?

In recent years, vacuum forming has also started to be used for creative purposes, particularly within the retail and marketing industry. Numerous household items are made from vacuum forming plastic. The plastic bathtub in the bathroom, the plastic utensils, and appliances that can found in the kitchen, the garden equipment that is stored in the shed. These are all common products found in the home environment, things that are used on a day-to-day basis, created via the vacuum forming process.

What are the materials used in making thermoforming mold?

One of the most common thermoformed plastics, PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is commonly used for synthetic fibres and bottle production. Six plastics lead the way for thermoforming: ABS, HIPS, HDPE, PVC, PET and PETG.

How are thermoforming molds made?

Thermoforming mold is usually made of cheaper aluminium. Injection molds are made of steel, thick aluminium or strong alloys to maintain large production runs. 

Thermoforming is using a single-singe tool and injection molding is using a double-sided mold. The initial cost for thermoforming is lower than injection molding. But thermoforming mold is not as durable as injection molds so it can be used only for small volume and not repeat production.

Which type of molds are used in thermoforming?

Both ferrous and non-ferrous metals have been used extensively for this purpose, with advantages and disadvantages of different types well balanced depending on the nature of the part to be formed, the volume of production, type of equipment and numerous other variables.

Generally, wood and plaster are the most used materials. Cast phenolic and epoxy resin molds works well in short to medium runs. In long production runs generally require a metal mold.

How 3D Printing works with the vacuum forming technique?

When it comes to vacuum forming, the sky is the limit and when the molds are 3D printed, they can be made with more complexity, more detail, more options – and less cost. Heated plastic can be exactly shaped to match a custom mold for one or thousands of parts.

Today, Made in Space has announced that such a feat has now been proven possible through a series of tests performed here on Earth. This ability is an exciting one, but the true goal of NASA and Made in Space has been to 3D print in vacuum of space itself.

About the author:

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing

Rapid Prototyping - Better Engineering

Rapid prototyping changes the way you develop a product. That process, though, is subject to a variety of bottlenecks at various points throughout. Forestalling one major bottleneck that happens on the way to a final product design can make your entire process better - and faster. Rapid prototyping can ease your entire engineering process in a big way with large-format 3D printing.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Prototypes are physical parts or assemblies that come closer to final with each iteration. Starting with conceptual mockups and building toward a functional prototype, each successive prototype is a step toward a fully engineered final design. That’s prototyping - rapid prototyping refers to the cycle of quickly iterating to reach a final design.

We say “cycle” because that’s just what it is; a few steps are required to go from idea to delivery. At its simplest, it’s a three-step process that looks like this:

What is Rapid Prototyping

The review stage of each successive prototype gets the cycle one step closer to completion, with refinement in iteration required to move toward that acceptable conclusion.

Rapid prototyping employs a few technologies, from CAD design software to manufacturing process(es), to create a series of prototypes.

Traditionally, each physical prototype would require a new design to be outsourced to a manufacturer to be made with subtractive (e.g., milling, cutting) or molding/casting processes. That may require lengthy waits and costs, as tooling and logistics come into play every time. Speeding up the process, technologies like 3D printing remove the need for tooling and can take your idea straight from design file to the physical. This shortens wait times, as feedback can translate immediately to an updated design file that can in turn be 3D printed as quickly as just a few hours. When this is done in-house, several cycles of prototyping can even be accomplished in the same day - a far cry from the traditional weeks or even months between iterations.

Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing

Is Rapid Prototyping the Same as 3D Printing?

When the technology was first developed, 3D printing was so synonymous with rapid prototyping that the two terms were interchangeable. Whether referencing “3D printing,” “rapid prototyping,” or “RP,” the conversation generally all referred to the same thing. Today, 3D printing has developed into end-use production capabilities as well and is more commonly synonymous with “additive manufacturing.”

Still, rapid prototyping was the first and remains the largest application for 3D printing. Iterations from proof-of-concept through to functional prototype can all be 3D printed. Whether outsourced or in-house, using 3D printers speeds up the rapid prototyping significantly through removing traditional bottlenecks in tooling and/or shipping. Rapid prototyping can also increasingly be done using the same 3D printing technology as will be used for the final product.

Benefits of Rapid Prototyping

At its broadest, rapid prototyping carries the significant benefits of speeding time-to-market, offers better opportunity to test and improve each iteration, is a cost-competitive process, and improves the effectiveness of communication throughout the design cycle.

Decrease Time to Market

The time it takes an idea to move from concept to deliverable should be as short as possible. Replacing months or years of traditional wait times in the iterative prototyping process with days or weeks is an easily apparent benefit of rapid prototyping. A 3D printer can precisely create your next iteration from a slightly tweaked design file much faster than could any traditional tooling-based prototyping process. Speeding the design cycle inherently improves time-to-market for a new product.

Test and Improve

Each 3D printed prototype will be one step better than the version before it, ideally. Getting hands-on with a life-sized functional prototype can allow you fuller understanding of that particular design’s pros and cons, enabling fast approval or disapproval as it can be put through its paces in testing. Your engineering team can test performance and get a feel for the look and feel of each prototype, understanding, evaluating, and improving any manufacturability issues or usability risks while still in the pre-production stages.

Create Competitive and Cost-Efficient Models

Hand-in-hand with speeding time-to-market is the reduction of costs associated with lengthy design cycles. Getting a product to market faster will inherently reduce the hefty price of longer, more tooling-intensive traditional workflows. Competitive positioning requires that development and introduction be quick, especially in the consumer market. Large-format 3D printing also allows for several different prototypes to be made at the same time, allowing for faster decision making when the choice is between a few looks or feels.

Improve Effective Communication

The fast turnaround of rapid prototyping eases communication gaps by opening up the conversation. It’s much easier if every engineer on your team has the same understanding of a process, and quickly getting a next physical prototype in hand offers a clear point of reference. As each prototype becomes closer to the feel and performance of the final design, small tweaks and large adjustments both become easier to understand for your entire team.

Rapid Prototyping - Ford MegaBox

How to Use Rapid Prototyping in Your Engineering Process

Rapid prototyping sounds great, but where can it be used in the engineering process? The answer may not be wholly surprising at this point: from initial proof-of-concept to final-look-and-feel prototype, rapid prototyping can come into play across the entire process.

Concept Prototypes

The earliest prototypes are often conceptual. Proof-of-concept prototypes serve as physical validation of the ideas that may have emerged as a sketch on a napkin. Taking an idea into the three-dimensional real world is the best way to prove viability. Getting hands-on with a concept model can help your engineering team understand their next steps at the same time as it may encourage management to simply move forward with a project.

These early prototypes are often the roughest, as they are the lowest-risk representations made in the rapid prototyping cycle. These prototypes are made quickly and generally in different materials and colors than later-stage prototypes, much less final designs.

Rapid Prototyping - LOCI PodCar

Aesthetic or Industrial Design Prototypes

Once a design is validated in its roughest form, it moves next into an aesthetic or industrial design step. These next prototypes begin to hone in on how the design should look and feel, with the thought process beginning to turn toward usability and functionality -- without necessarily being fully functional quite yet. To ensure a new part will fit into a greater whole, or a new product will fit with your brand’s existing aesthetic or functional line, these prototypes more accurately look like something that is moving toward a final design. These prototypes also enable engineers to consider how exactly to best manufacture the eventual final design.

Especially when working with life-sized, larger designs like furniture, having life-sized prototypes to fit to spaces and users becomes ever more important as designs move through the prototyping cycle. Large-scale 3D printing can bring these large-scale designs to life, allowing for a full iteration to be made and tested in less than the time it would take for a traditional tool to be made. Furniture maker Steelcase experienced this benefit first-hand as they use their large-format BigRep 3D printer to create new furniture designs:

Functional Prototypes

A functional prototype does just that: it functions. These later-stage prototypes are often made of materials similar to what will be used in a final product, to validate that everything will work as intended. Engineers at this stage pay attention to performance: does it fit, does it function, do load-bearing parts bear loads?

Attention must be paid to detail, to how the final part will be manufactured (especially if this will be done in a different process than the prototype; for example, 3D printing a prototype for a part that will ultimately be injection molded) as well as how the final part will be post-processed/finished.

Test Serial Production

Many products bound for the mass market are bound for mass production, and this may mean in a different manufacturing process. While 3D printing may be the right technology for both rapid prototyping and serial production of the final part - consider, for example, cases of mass customization - this will not always be the case.

Prototyping must take into account the eventual manufacturing process to be used, and later-stage prototypes should use the same materials and fit into the appropriate manufacturing parameters as the final parts will be. Consideration for traditional production processes comes more into play here, for example for tooling, jigs and fixtures, or any other necessary implements. Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) may move toward traditional design for manufacturing (DFM) thinking.

Demonstration or Presentation Model Prototypes

The final look is the final stage in prototyping, the last step before full production begins. At this stage, a prototype should not only feel and operate like the final product, but needs to look like it, too. This prototype can be used for marketing materials while production ramps up, for convincing investors of final viability and feasibility, for final field testing, or for any other demonstration or presentation needs. The goal of rapid prototyping is to reach this stage faster than ever before using conventional prototyping workflows.

Rapid Prototyping - Rexroth AGV Automated Guided Vehicle

How Can I Get Started with Rapid Prototyping?

To get started with rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing you basically just need one thing: Access to a 3D printer. But there is more than one way to get there. You can buy a 3D printer in many sizes, from desktop to large-format 3D printers. Your easiest entry to prototyping in big sizes is the BigRep ONE.

If you are not there to buy a 3D printer yet, you can just order your part from a 3D printing service. With BigRep PARTLAB you can get your part in 3 easy steps: You upload you CAD file, we will send you a quote, and after your order, our 3D printing experts will do the rest.


Rapid prototyping and 3D printing work together hand-in-hand for better and faster engineering. By speeding up you workflows and removing bottlenecks and other pain points of traditionally drawn-out prototyping cycles, 3D printing enables a new solution for a faster time to market. Better-tested, cost-efficient rapid prototyping is a win for your engineering team.

Learn more about Additive Manufacturing

How Large-Format 3D Printing is Transforming Industries

Learn how industry-leading companies are putting 3D printing to use as we explore four applications that are helping increase productivity, reduce leads times and improve time to market.

Large Scale 3D Printing: Realizing Value from Design to Production

“Why does size matter and what value does it provide?” Join this free webinar to learn how the power of large-scale 3D printing can help you enhance design and reduce costs, all while accelerating time-to-market.

About the author:

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

Mass Customization and the Power of 3D Printing

Mass Customization and the Power of 3D Printing

Mass Customization and the Power of 3D Printing

One of the major selling points of adopting 3D printing technology into operations is the ability to mass customize.

But what exactly is mass customization, why would anyone want it, and how does 3D printing enable it?

What is mass customization?

At its simplest, mass customization is exactly what it sounds like: customization on a large scale.

Customization is typically thought of as more one-of-a-kind than one-size-fits-all, which can make it difficult to achieve on a large scale. The major benefit here is in combining the low cost-per-unit of mass manufacturing with the appeal and flexibility of individual design.

Mass customization can be simple or complex, depending on the manufacturer and application. Selecting a different color or size of a design, for example, is a relatively simple way of customizing a mass-produced product. Upping the complexity, the shell of a certain system may look the same, such as in the case of a computer, while the internal components may be swapped out to affect speed or power, to create many potential configurations of customization within a single product.

In many cases, the ultimate assembled product may thus be customized, even if the individual components themselves are still subject to standard mass production. In different applications, though, a single order of many of the same object may require slight variations between each item in the run. This inherently changes the plan for manufacturing, as a single mold for injection molding can only create the same geometry time after time.


Why is mass customization useful?

From shoes to computers to widgets, there are myriad reasons why a customer might want to offer variances within a single production run. Let’s look to an example in the medical industry to easily understand why customizing on a larger scale might be helpful to a manufacturer.

One of the earliest wide adopters of 3D printing technology was the hearing aid industry. Another more recent example is the orthodontic aligner business. In both these cases, a manufacturer must make an individually fitted device for the unique anatomy of a single person. No two ear canals, nor two sets of teeth, are quite the same. When it comes to dental aligners, even a single person’s needs will change as the teeth are shifted through wearing these and new aligners will be required on a fairly regular basis.

In both hearing aids and aligners, it’s clear to see why each design must be unique to its eventual wearer. But getting there with mass production technology can be a trickier proposition.

For a manufacturer, good business sense dictates that every effort should be made to create the best possible product at the lowest cost, using the least material, time, and labor possible. That generally means producing on a larger scale, as price-per-unit can be reduced through the concept of mass production. Combining that capability with the needs of products that are customized in at least some aspect is where the idea of mass customization begins to make strategic sense.

Mass customization examples

Beyond the medical industry, mass customization comes into play across many application areas.

One of the most interactive ways to access mass customization is through co-creation, which is a collaborative effort working closely with a partner or customer. Both parties’ expertise, whether of technology or end-user experience, comes into play to together design a solution that can be tweaked as needed to individualize the ultimate experience.

Sizing and color are among the primary aspects of many designs, from furniture to clothing, that can be customized, but by no means are they the only facets.

Mass Customization: 3D printed part for special needs car

German automotive company Paravan, for example, is the market leader in producing wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The company has turned to large-format 3D printing to customize vehicles for drivers and passengers with disabilities or special needs. While a base car may be similar, each individual’s needs are different; some may need a modified steering mechanism while another may need an adapted braking system.

Comfort, style, safety, adaptability, personality, luxury -- the reasons for wanting mass customization are many, though ultimately all boil down to the need to satisfy the end user.


Different approaches to customization

Just as the goals of customization differ case by case, so do the approaches to achieving it. Among the major approaches are collaborative, adaptive, transparent, and cosmetic customization.

Collaborative customization

When it comes to collaborative customization, co-creation is the key. Working closely together with your customer to identify exactly what needs must be met, and what may need to be adjusted to meet individuals’ unique needs from a base design, the co-creators are able to determine the whats and the whys to then develop the hows of appropriate mass customization.

Adaptive customization

Focused more on the end user, adaptive collaboration enables, well, adaptation. Allowing a few options to customize a product, a customer can select the fit or style that best suits them. When making products like water sports mobility devices, for example, ensuring the right fit for the rider is not only practical, but a safety measure. Large-format 3D printing is enabling just that for JAMADE’s AMAZEA underwater scooter.

Transparent customization

Sometimes customization seems obvious - and when needs are apparent, transparent customization can come into play. Here, individuals’ products are customized from the back end as the producer can reliably predict and then discreetly create designs that suit those needs. The goal with transparent customization is to make workflow easier for the client, removing the need for ongoing back-and-forth discussion.

Cosmetic customization

Customization can go into the very essence of a product, or be a bit more front-facing. Cosmetic customization comes into play for mass production that doesn’t “look mass produced.” No one wants to feel like they’re one of a crowd, so presenting essentially the same product in a few different ways can help differentiate between customers -- think company logos, different colors, and other cosmetic branding.

Challenges to mass customization

As valuable a prospect as mass customization is, actualizing the concept still faces some challenges. As more industrial 3D printing capabilities are put to use in mass customization, though, these challenges can be seen as simply the next landmarks of achievement.

Higher costs

The numbers are simple: it’s more cost-effective to mass produce batches of like items. We see this same split when considering injection molding versus additive manufacturing when it comes to mass production. As of today, injection molding is a more economical option for mass production.

The same cannot be said, however, when it comes to customization. Producing quantities of slightly different items means that the same mold will not suffice for each. Making new molds in this manner would be extremely expensive, and likely more costly in terms of both money and extended lead time to make them all than a manufacturer would find agreeable.

In order to effectively mass customize, either individualized molds must be made for each or manufacturing must be done with no molding at all - and that’s where industrial 3D printing comes into play. This changes the value proposition, as the lack of molds enables the individualization of each piece in a mass production pipeline without adding to costs as would happen with traditional processes.

When considering higher costs, comparisons must be apples-to-apples; like must be compared with like. Mass customization is not inexpensive, but with increasing demand from end-use consumers preferring their specific needs be met, it is only going to be on the rise across a variety of applications and industries.

Returning of customized products

Returns are a fact of life in any production environment. For any number of reasons, customers may see the need to return their goods. Any reason may be given, from having not selected the right item for their purpose to changing their minds - and most major suppliers have return policies in place.

When those items to be returned have been customized, though, things change for the supplier. Many returned goods can be returned to the shelves with only a slight inventory adjustment. Items made to fit a specific user or need, though, cannot simply go back on a shelf.

Returns must be handled on a case-by-case basis, with consideration of the ability to resell the product to a new buyer. When it comes to personalized medical goods, for example, there simply is no other customer. When customization came in the form of a size or color, though, more opportunities are likely for different buyers.

Supply chain efficiency

Finally, mass customization may alter the efficiencies of supply chain operations. Mass production typically requires longer lead times when custom options are available.

However, through advanced manufacturing technologies like large-format 3D printing, lead times may not see much impact. Because digital designs lead directly to the physical products, with no need for tooling or molding made along the way, each print job takes a specified amount of time regardless of the variation in designs on the build tray.

How can you achieve Mass Customization?

How can we achieve mass customization?

When it comes to true mass customization, making full product runs with slight-to-major variances among each object made, the single best option available today is to use 3D printing.

3D printing is a digital manufacturing technology that enables every object on a build plate, whether that be two or 2,000, to be different. By tweaking the 3D model, each design can be customized for its ultimate purpose without any additional expense. There is no need for tooling to be made, nor new molds for each individual design adjustment, significantly reducing the time and money typically involved in creating different designs.

When using large-format 3D printing equipment, new possibilities open up for industry and art alike, enabling every design to be as unique as a fingerprint.

How can we achieve mass customization?

When it comes to true mass customization, making full product runs with slight-to-major variances among each object made, the single best option available today is to use 3D printing.

3D printing is a digital manufacturing technology that enables every object on a build plate, whether that be two or 2,000, to be different. By tweaking the 3D model, each design can be customized for its ultimate purpose without any additional expense. There is no need for tooling to be made, nor new molds for each individual design adjustment, significantly reducing the time and money typically involved in creating different designs.

When using large-format 3D printing equipment, new possibilities open up for industry and art alike, enabling every design to be as unique as a fingerprint.

How can you achieve Mass Customization?

Learn more with these Additive Manufacturing Use Cases

Large-format 3D printers for education and research

Read how Kingston University, Helmut Schmidt University and more are using BigRep 3D printers for their classrooms and research.

Guide to Large-Format Additive Manufacturing

3D printing a large part all at once means less time is spent designing around multiple print jobs, less time assembling multiple parts, and more time getting those parts to work for you.

Learn Industrial Design for Additive Manufacturing

Demonstrating with real-world examples of large-format designs created by BigRep and its partners, see the unique product-capabilities that designers can take advantage of with AM in large-format on an industrial scale.

Find your industrial Additive Manufacturing machine


The BigRep STUDIO G2 gets 3D printing off your desk and takes it to the next level. Operating with the same ease as a desktop 3D printer and with 10 times the build volume, the STUDIO G2 provides large-scale industrial manufacturing capabilities in a compact “fits everywhere” build.

Explore the STUDIO


Der industrielle 3D-Drucker STUDIO G2 wurde speziell auf Zuverlässigkeit bei abrasiven und technischen Werkstoffen ausgelegt. Er ist ein langlebiger und kostengünstiger Partner für Ihre Innovationen, da er das gegenwärtig beste Verhältnis zwischen Bauvolumen und Auflösung bei 3D-Druckern bietet. Der STUDIO G2 mit seinem ansprechenden und platzsparenden Gehäuse eignet sich perfekt zur Produktion großformatiger Teile in jeder Arbeitsumgebung – vom Büro bis zur Werkstatt.


About the author:

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

HOW TO: 3 Steps to Hide the Seams and Become Design Leader

Hiding the seams with Marco

Why is it important?

If one has a good knowledge of slicing software, they can reach a higher quality of the printed object. That naturally influences the general outlook of the one. Important aspect of the final print are the seams. They might spoil the effect of the design. The continuity of the print can be lost at start and end points of every layer. Hiding the seams is important in case of creating a prototype that is true to the final product as possible. Furthermore, it’s especially meaningful if you want to print the ready-to-use objects with important details.

In 3D models a slicing program transforms the model into G-code. The code includes any preferred optimizations and parameter changes. Thanks to that, the person printing the object has much more control of the quality and final outlook of the print. If the software is not set up properly, it automatically generates random starting points in different locations. That can affect the quality of the print. However, when the settings can be changed. It means that user can also change the whole project into one united object. That includes hiding the seams or unwanted curves.

In BigRep we understand the need for the best possible finish effect of the project. That is why we try different slicing methods, to find the perfect one and apply it for the full print height. In our case it is very important due to the large-scale printable quantity.

The tutorial

Interested in BigRep's upcoming events?

Find Out More

The tutorial explains how to avoid this problem and how to, using Simplify3D slicing software, step-by-step generate optimal start points. Marco Mattia Cristofori, the Architect and 3D Printing Specialist at BigRep, explains that a few additional modifications of the start and end location of the layers can make it sure that the seam is created in an optimal spot on the print. Often there is a natural groove or corner in a print that is a hiding spot for the seam. For example, on the manifold pictured and printed on Bigrep STUDIO, the curve on the right-hand side covers up the seam nicely. “We can make the seams follow the exact path we want them to follow,” said Cristofori. “So, instead, we can optimize this when we generate the G-code”.

hiding the seams


You can hide the seams on your print in 3 easy steps:

1) Import your model on Simplify3D and figure out how many processes you need to split the part in. Make sure the seams follow the path you want.

2) Edit singularly each process on the LAYER section changing the X & Y setting where the seams should be set up closer to.

3) Slice the part generating the G-code and check for possible improvements. Try different variation of the X & Y settings until you achieve the result you need.

However, Simplify3D is not the only possible tool. The list and description of popular slicing software can be found here.


Cookie Consent Banner by Real Cookie Banner