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3D Printing: 5 Minute Buyer's Guide

Everything you need to get started with our 3D printing and traditional manufacturing services.

We created this guide to help you determine the best technology and material for your project. It covers every step for developing your custom manufacturing solution with RapidMade, including:

  1. Choosing a manufacturing technology and material

  2. Finishing options

  3. Sending us your design

  4. Getting a quote

Want to learn more about 3D printing? Check out our Complete Guide to 3D Printing for everything you need to know. You can also learn more about our 3D Printing Services and how we can help on your next project!

Plastic Manufacturing Services

Plastic 3D Printers MJF

HP Multi Jet Fusion Printing

The fastest, most cost effective plastic printing solution on the market. Superior mechanical strength, finish and fine detail. The best option for most 3D printed plastic projects.

Relative Cost: ★☆☆☆☆

Typical Lead Time: 1-5 business days

Available Materials: Nylon PA-12

Thermoform styrene tray


Inexpensive and highly customizable option for creating trays, packaging and more. Uses durable thermoplastics with excellent thermal and mechanical properties.

Relative Cost: ★☆☆☆☆

Typical Lead Time: 2-4 weeks

Available Materials: ABS, PETG, Styrene and many more

FDM Modeling

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Quick and durable 3D printed plastic parts. Compatible with a variety of materials. Very accurate for large plastic products. Less suited for fine details.

Relative Cost: ★★☆☆☆

Typical Lead Time: 2-7 business days

Available Materials: ABS, PC, nylon, ULTEM and many more

Machining vs 3D Printing

Plastic Machining

High-quality surface finish and unmatched accuracy, especially for fine details. Well suited for small- to medium-sized production runs, including rapid prototyping. Generally more expensive than 3D printing.

Relative Cost: Quantity and lead dependent

Typical Lead Time:  2-4 weeks

Available Materials: ABS, HDPE, acetal, nylon, custom materials available on request


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Excellent thermal and mechanical properties. Printed plastics can be hard, tough, or flexible as needed. Very cost effective at high volumes. Large, thick parts can warp.

Relative Cost: ★★★☆☆

Typical Lead Time:  5-10 business days

Available Materials: Nylon-, carbon- and glass-filled nylon, rubber (TPU) and other composites

Typical Lead Time: 2-4 weeks

Available Materials: ABS, PETG, Styrene and many more

Silicone and Urethane Casting

Silicone & Urethane Casting

A faster, less expensive alternative to injection molding for small- to medium-sized runs with lower tooling costs and shorter lead times. Produces high-quality parts with detailed textures and consumer-quality finishes.

Relative Cost: ★★★☆☆

Typical Lead Time: 5-12 business days

Available Materials: Rigid and rubber urethane, acrylic, silicon, resins, plaster, composites and other custom materials

ColorJet Printing Company

ColorJet Full-Color Composite

The best way to produce full-color 3D printed plastic models with a full gradient of 339,000 colors. Very fast and inexpensive. Works best for medium to large products, as details smaller than 0.100” can be brittle.

Relative Cost: ★☆☆☆☆

Typical Lead Time:  2-5 business days

Available Materials: Full color composite

Injection Molding Services

Injection Molding

The tried-and-true method for high-volume manufacturing with the best quality and lowest cost. Longer lead times and higher tooling costs than 3D printing mean injection molding is generally not suited for smaller orders.

Relative Cost: Quantity and time dependent

Typical Lead Time:  4-12 weeks

Available Materials: ABS, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon, TPU and other custom materials

PolyJet Printing Company

PolyJet (Objet) Printing

Excellent surface finish, complex textures and fine details. Resins available in rubbery or rigid textures. Less appropriate for large plastic parts due to lower heat resistance.

Relative Cost: ★★★☆☆

Typical Lead Time: 2-7 business days

Available Materials: Acrylic and polypropylene-like, ABS-like, various elastomers and digital materials

3D Printing: 5 Minute Buyer's Guide

Large Format 3D Printing

The best (and sometimes only) option for very large printed plastic parts. Great alternative to traditional machining for casting patterns and molds. Less durable than SLS or FDM.

Relative Cost: ★★★☆☆

Typical Lead Time:  5-10 business days

Available Materials: Epoxy-infused acrylic, sand (sand casting), low-ash burnout resin (investment casting)

Metal Manufacturing Services

Stainless Steel 3D Printing

Direct Metal Printing

The best choice for small- to medium-sized production runs of metal parts. The most economical metal 3D printing. Far less expensive than DMLS at appropriate quantities. Best for parts smaller than 5”.

Relative Cost: ★★★☆☆

Typical Lead Time: 1-3 weeks

Available Materials: Stainless steel, stainless steel/bronze alloy, tungsten-bronze

Turning CNC Machining Services Near Me

Metal Machining

The most accurate metal manufacturing, with the widest range of materials, tightest tolerances and best surface finish. Good option for small runs or metal tooling.

Relative Cost: Quantity and lead dependent

Typical Lead Time:  2-4 weeks

Available Materials: Aluminum, stainless steel, custom materials available on request

Direct Metal Laser Sintering

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

Useful for complex designs or exotic metals that would be prohibitively expensive to produce with traditional machining. Designs generally cannot be larger than 10”.

Relative Cost: ★★★★★

Typical Lead Time:  5-15 business days

Available Materials: Aluminum, stainless steel, tool steel, titanium, cobalt chrome, inconel (nickel alloy) and more

Printed Metal

Printed Metal

Substantially less expensive than DMLS, but only compatible with stainless steel bronze alloy. Lower strength to weight ratio than other metals. Longer lead time relative to other 3D technologies.

Relative Cost: ★★★★☆

Typical Lead Time:  10-20 business days

Available Materials: Stainless steel bronze alloy

3D Printing Materials

Choosing the right material for a given project is every bit as important as choosing the right 3D printer. In fact, the 3D printer to be used is often determined by material requirements.

Whether a product needs to be rigid, flexible, mechanically strong, medical grade, food grade, chemical resistant, heat resistant, flame retardant, colorful or clear will all determine which material is the best fit.

Below is a list of some of the most popular plastics and metals for 3D printing. Check out our 3D printed materials page for even more information on materials.

3d+printed+rubber+tpe (1)

Plastic Materials

Nylon 12 (PA)—The go-to choice for industrial-strength parts. Used by MJF and SLS. High heat and chemical resistance, low water absorption. Quality gray (MJF) or white (SLS) matte finish that can be dyed black.

Nylon 11 (PA)—Another SLS and MJF nylon with more flexibility than nylon 12. Frequently used for tubing, fuel lines and hoses as well as living hinges. Available in white (SLS) or gray (MJF) with black dye options.

ABS—Engineering plastic for FDM. Very accurate but has a poor machine finish and is slower to produce than PA-12. Available in a limited range of colors, plus translucent (ABSi) and medical-grade (ABS M30i) options.

Ultem 9085 and Ultem 1010—Flame-retardant, high-performance thermoplastics with very high heat resistance and strength-to-weight ratio. Often used in aerospace applications.

PMMA—Dyeable plastic used for large format printing. Good tensile strength and high heat resistance. Large surfaces can warp.

Filled Nylons—Filled nylons offer many options for strength, rigidity, aesthetics and chemical and heat resistance. Glass-filled nylon is available for both MJF and SLS, while other filled nylons are exclusive to SLS.

Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE)—Flexible thermoplastic elastomers for creating rubber-like parts with SLS.

Polycarbonate (PC)—A durable, biocompatible polycarbonate used by FDM for medical applications. Highly sterilizable. Comes in white.

ASAUV-resistant FDM material, great for outdoor applications with lots of sun exposure.

Polypropylene (PP)—Semi-rigid, extremely flexible thermoplastic polymer with high heat and corrosion resistance. Often used in the food industry and for piping. Available for FDM and soon to be available for MJF.

Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)—Elastic, rubber-like plastic with high resistance to oil and grease. Used in a wide range of consumer and industrial applications. Currently only available for FDM, but slated to be introduced for MJF in the next year.

PPSF/PPSU—FDM plastic with very high heath and chemical resistance. Used for testing performance industrial prototypes and small runs of parts.

Metal Materials

Stainless Steel—The workhorse of 3D printed metals. High strength and corrosion resistance, sterilizable and easy to machine. Very economical in small to medium quantities when using direct metal printing. Varietie include 304, 316, 17-4 and more.

Tungsten-Bronze—High-density shielding material with a high melting point for direct metal printing. Used for radiation shielding and in applications for aerospace, medical and nuclear industries.

Titanium Ti64—Strong, corrosion-resistant and biocompatible metal for DMLS. Commonly used for medical devices and applications in the transportation industry.

Cobalt Chrome MP1—Another biocompatible DMLS metal with even greater corrosion resistance and strength, often used for replacement joints and dental implants.

Aluminum ALSi10Mg—Lightweight and strong DMLS metal, used for parts with thin walls or complex geometry.

Inconel 625 and Inconel 718—DMLS nickel alloys with superior mechanical strength as well as corrosion and thermal resistance. Often used in high-heat, high-corrosion performance applications, especially in aerospace.

Maraging Steel—Hard and durable tool steel, used to produce molds, tooling, and other industrial fixtures with DMLS.

CAD Files

CAD files are the best way to send us your design. This list shows our favorite file types in order of preference. If your file type does not appear below, we can probably still work with it. If you do not have a CAD file, you may be interested in our product design and engineering services.

Engineering and Design

  1. STEP (.STP, .STEP)

  2. IGES (.IGS, .IGES)

  3. Parasolid (.X_B, .X_T)

  4. AutoCAD (.DXF, .DWG – 3D, not 2D)

  5. SolidWorks (.SLDPRT, .SLDASM, .SLDDRW)

  6. Inventor (.IPT, .IAM)

Standard 3D Printing

  1. Stereolithography (.STL)

  2. Wavefront (.OBJ)

  3. Polygon File Format (.PLY)

  4. AutoCAD (3D .DXF, 3D .DWG)

  5. Rhino (.3DM)

Color 3D Printing

  1. ZCorp (.ZPR)

  2. Wavefront (.OBJ—must include MTL file and texture maps)

  3. Filmbox (.FBX)

  4. Autodesk (.3DS)

  5. Polygon File Format (.PLY)

  6. Rhino (.3DM)

  7. Virtual Reality Modeling Language (.WRL)

PolyJet Printing Company

Dyed Plastic Finish

Standard dyes include include black, red, blue, green, purple and orange, with custom dyes available on request. Opaque dyes are available for PolyJet and FDM. PolyJet also supports translucent dyes. Multi Jet Fusion and SLS both have opaque black options.

Sanding and Blasting Finish

Sanding, Blasting, Tumbling and Clear Coating

These standard finishes are available on almost all RapidMade products. They provide smoother textures and higher quality, consumer-grade feel. We are also able to simulate wood texture on ColorJet parts.

Painted 3D Printed Parts

Custom Painted Finish

We can create clear topcoats as well as single- and multi-color custom paint finishes on almost all RapidMade products. Paints are available in matte, satin and gloss.

Thermoformed Custom Coatings

Custom Coatings

Available on most of our products, custom coatings like Teflon, Cerakote and polyurethane improve abrasion resistance, enhance appearance and reduce friction.

polished surface metal 3d printed face

Metal Polishing

Polishing improves resistance to abrasion and makes parts easier to clean and sterilize. It also amplifies the appearance of secondary finishes like anodizing, silk screen, plating and powder coating.

metal plated 3d prints

Plastic and Metal Plating

Great for surface conductivity and electromagnetic interference applications, plating adds strength and rigidity to plastic parts while providing an elegant, metal-like appearance. It further improves the appearance of metal products.

Powder coated investment cast parts

Powder Coating

Powder coating is an inexpensive, permanent finish which protects metals from scratches, rust and corrosion while hiding imperfections. It has a smaller environmental impact than other coating processes.

Full assembly of machined components anodized


Anodizing prevents corrosion on aluminum components, creates a harder surface that is more resistant to wear and comes in many color options.


Laser Engraving

Less expensive than CNC engraving, laser engraving is simple to create. It can be done directly from a PDF and allows for custom branding or engraving part and serial numbers.

Start 3D Printing Today!

Whether you are in product development, transitioning into manufacturing or providing product support, we’ll work with you to develop high-quality solutions to increase your competitive advantage. That’s why we offer 3D Printing for Prototyping and other services to help your business grow.

Get started today by filling out a quote form, and we’ll get back to you in under 24 hours with a custom quote and project analysis—or instantly order select 3D prints using our instant quote tool. Just upload a CAD file!