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3D Printing Or CNC Machining: Which One Should You Choose?

16 Dec

3D Printing Or CNC Machining: Which One Should You Choose?


3D Printing Or CNC Machining: Which One Should You Choose?

This is one of the most trending questions of the recent times, with people still as confused presently, as they were a few years ago.

3D Printing technology is set to engrave its roots deeper, but with CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machining too offering immense competition to the same. And if you have been recently considering to buy a professional 3D printer for your needs, you got to read and comprehend this well.

3D Printing vs. CNC Milling: How they work?

Before we compare them, we need to understand the operational procedure of both these technologies:

3D Printing:

Better known as additive manufacturing technology, 3D printing uses a digital image of an object and subsequently the equipment (3D Printers) which print 3D objects in subsequent layers, till a fully developed object is ready to use. You could find all sorts of technologies in 3D printing and it also offers a great choice of materials.

CNC Milling:

This is just the opposite of 3D printing and is also known as subtractive manufacturing technology. In this, a block of solid materials, such as metal or wood is taken and further objects are prepared with the help of cutters or rotating mills. These rotating mills work on digitally fed codes from CAM software and the cutters remove the unnecessary parts of the block all according to the codes.

3D Printing vs. CNC Milling: A Comparison

Let us take a few basic points of consideration and compare these technologies to discover the best one:

Variety of Materials:

Let us first take CNC milling. Here you could choose from a number of materials to work on, such as metals (aluminum, brass, copper), metal alloys (bronze and steel etc.) wood (softwood and hardwood), foams, machining wax and thermoplastics etc.

And as these materials vary a great deal in their features, you need different kinds of cutters for all of them.

In case of 3D printers, you have a wide range of different equipment available. Some are personal while others are professional 3D printers. And as per this, you could expect a wide range of printing materials available too.

For instance, you could 3D print using ABS, Nylons, Thermoplastics, ceramics, different kinds of precious and non-precious metals, alloys, wood and paper etc.

Besides, people today buy food 3D printers which could also print consumable items such as chocolates etc. with ease. Not to forget, 3D printing also gave birth to bioprinting, where researchers were able to print 3D human body parts, tissues, 3D scaffolds for bones and other life-saving elements.

Working Precision:

If you were to compare the accuracy in working, here is what you could conclude.

CNC milling offers highly accurate jobs. Some of them such as the Nomad 883 and Pocket NC offer an immense accuracy of 0.001 inches and tolerance ranging to 0.005 inches.

But here too, if the cutting tools are dull or damaged, mills are worn, or the CAM software delivers inadequate data, you might see more than a few inaccuracies that spoil the play.

Coming to 3D printing, expect very high precision from some of the best 3D printers such as Prusa 3D Printer, Zortrax M200 and CEL Robox etc. The precision in 3D printing could also be affected by the print technology used.

However, not all 3D printers offer immaculate results and there are a wide number of reasons, such as blocked nozzle and inadequate temperature etc, where 3D printed results could turn to be faulty.

Rapidity in Working:

When comparing speed, you need to assess both the processes on different grounds. For instance, CNC milling works faster when chipping materials from a solid block of the object. But then, the complex machining jobs could still take hours.

In 3D printing, the speed is generally slower than its comparative partner. However, expect to get the most intricate and complex 3D objects printed with utter ease and without any hassles.

Vibrations and Noise:

 In any case, CNC milling process could be quite a noisy one. When the cutting tools collide with the metals and woods, the noise could be extremely ear-deafening. Also, a CNC mill would experience heavy vibrations when working on these materials.

Almost wholly against this, 3D printing involves negligible noise and vibrations. You could use a personal 3D printer to print objects at home and this never turns to inform others with its sounds.

Trash And Messiness:

Hands down, 3D printing technology is the undoubted winner in this. Expect no kind of trash and only negligible messiness when working with 3D printing materials.

However, CNC milling involves cutting and removing of materials from a block which not only involves a lot of waste material but is also a bit messy. CNC mills need to be fully enclosed in a case or room. If not, be ready to clear the mess and trash etc.


This is easy to compare. You do not always need to buy the best 3D printers always and suitable desktop 3D printers could be obtained for a decent price of $500.

For CNC mills, you need rather a big investment. The starter equipment could burn no less than $2000 from your pocket.

3D Printing vs. CNC Milling: On The Bottomline:

Viewing all the above aspects, it could well be concluded that 3D printing technology is a grade better and more cost-effective than the CNC milling technology.

Though the latter offers immense competition to its partner in some aspects, considering the newest trends of printing food items and bioprinting, 3D printing is what gains the edge.

So if you’re thinking of getting a professional 3D printer for your needs, you are probably heading in the correct direction. Buy the best 3D printers and these could be a promise to earn what you desire.

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Chris Joel (Author)

3D Printing Or CNC Machining: Which One Should You Choose?
Chris Joel is a writer at 3D Printers Online Store. Hailing from South London, he has a degree in English Literature. His interests include the application of 3D printing technology to art and its popularization.