What would you charge?

I know some people use their MakerBots as small scale rapid prototyping services.  What I don’t know is what or how they charge for providing these services.  Obviously, there’s a cost associated with the plastic, electricity, wear and tear, failed prints, etc. 1 Setting aside the intrinsic value of what you have produced 2 , what’s a reasonable way to set the price of an object printed on a MakerBot?

I can think of several ways to look at this:

  • Resource cost. $0.04 per cubic centimeter, of pure cost in terms of just MakerBot ABS/PLA.  Electricity is probably around $0.02 per hour of print time.  The laptop connected to the MakerBot is capable of multitasking, so there’s no real opportunity cost there.
  • Shapeways. Their gray ABS is $2.50/cc.  They also have a white nylon polymide for $1.50/cc with a $1.50 start up charge.  Their colored prints are made with a plastic powder that is relatively fragile.  At $2.50/cc and assuming it takes 4.5 minutes to print 1cc, this comes to $0.56/minute.3
  • Ponoko. Their UV curable resin is $2.76/cc and their white nylon polymide is $0.80/cc. 4 Their colored prints are made with a plastic powder that is relatively fragile.  At a MakerBot’s printing speed, $2.76/cc comes to $0.61/minute.
  • Metrix:Create. They charge $0.50 per actual minute of build time.  However, Metrix:Create members get 20% discounts and anything printed from Thingiverse gets a 20% discount.  Without any associated discounts and assuming we print at the same speed, this comes to $2.25/cc.

I believe transparency makes for a better customer experience.  That way a customer can see right up front what they may be spending, avoiding “sticker shock.”  It is probably a lot easier for the average customer to estimate the volume of a digital design than it is for them to guesstimate how long my printer would take to print such a thing.

What metric and pricing structure do you use to charge for your printing services?  Do you go by volume, weight, plastic used, machine time, or something else entirely?

  1. It takes about 4.5 minutes to print one cubic centimeter of ABS or PLA.  This is a rough average of several different types of settings, but assumes a roughly 0.36mm layer thickness. []
  2. Pretending 19cc of a puzzle cube is worth exactly 19cc of a toy rocket, window latch, or plastic part that will fix the international space station. []
  3. This is more of an analogy to a MakerBot’s printing speed than an actual assumption of the printing capabilities at Shapeways. []
  4. There are discounts for their “prime” members. []

One Response to “What would you charge?”

  1. Tony Buser says:

    I estimate things using a combination of volume of cost of type of plastic, machine time, and a base setup time per plate (a job might require several parts and there’s a certain amount of time needed for me to physically remove the parts and setup the printer for next job). When I setup my estimation formula, it was based on the going price of a set of reprap parts at the time (about $300, which I still think is fair even though the market price has changed).