Plastic injection molding and 3D printing are similar — they both primarily produce parts and components from plastic, and they are both capable of high degrees of geometric complexity. However, there are important differences as well.

One of the more appealing aspects of 3D printing is the absence of steep initial costs. Because of its need for specially tooled dies, the creation of which is an expensive process, injection molding requires considerable initial costs. Though imposing at first, these startup costs are amortized over the lifespan of the die and the production run — in large volume injection molding projects, the start up costs are amortized over more individual parts, leading to a relatively low per-part cost.

Aside from its benefit in terms of initial costs, 3D printing has a number of limitations that the technology has yet to surmount, especially when compared to injection molding. There are still technical and software issues that cause costly and time consuming misprints; 3D printers are still quite rare, the printing process is notably slower than plastic injection molding, and the produced parts are restricted in size.

Even 3D printing companies acknowledge these drawbacks. Sculpteo, an online 3D printing service company, conducted a study and found 3D printing to be cost effective only for very low volume runs of very small parts.

Both 3D printing and injection molding are capable of producing high quality, highly complex plastic parts. To determine which process of the two is a better option for your next project, there is one key factor you must consider: breakeven point.

When hiring an injection molder, even for a large volume injection molding order, there will be a high initial cost — this is inherent in the process of die tooling, often using stainless steel for the mold. You must determine the breakeven point — the point in production that those startup costs are amortized far enough to make injection molding a cost effective option over 3D printing. Part size and part complexity are other considerations.

Spark, a plastic mold making manufacturer, choose plastic injection molding. And you?