The Difference Between 3D Printing and CNC Machining

When building a prototype for validation, you may find yourself asking the following questions: Should I use CNC machining or 3D printing to build my prototype?

Both processes can be used to build a single part or an entire prototype with. Each method has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

So, let’s define how they each work.

3D Printing

A 3D printer builds a part by continuously adding material layer by layer like Lego. The material (liquid, powder or plastic thread) is joined and solidified to create an object.

The Difference Between 3D Printing and CNC Machining | 3D Printing

CNC Machining

CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing technology. Unlike 3D printing which is layered up material,  CNC machining carves away material from a piece of metal or plastic until it has reached its intended form.

The Difference Between 3D Printing and CNC Machining | CNC

Benefits and the Disadvantages of 3D Printing and CNC


When developing a new product, you’ll have to consider a few variables. How strong does it need to be? How quick do I need a prototype, what quality? These questions are not mutually exclusive but dynamically affect each other. If your prototype needs to be highly functional and will undergo immense stress and tension, CNC machining might be the most viable technique. CNC machining utilizes materials that have much better mechanical properties than 3D printing


What shape or form does your part have? 3D printing is capable of producing complex geometry that would either be impossible or too costly to do with traditional techniques.

3D Printing | The Difference Between 3D Printing and CNC Machining


With regards to cost you will have to consider the amount of units you require. How many prototypes do you need? Volume of your production is a factor that will help you decide between the two processes. When you only need a few prototypes its best to use 3D printing. When you are in need of a slightly larger number of parts or prototypes CNC may be more cost effective. Although if you need more than 100 parts you are better off going with other low volume manufacturing methods.

CNC Machining | The Difference Between 3D Printing and CNC Machining


If we compare both technologies CNC Machining is a much faster process. If your project is time sensitive and require a fast turnaround depending on the 3D printing company you are working with they may be able to print a part in a few days.

CNC services will usually end up being more expensive, so it’s important to weigh out cost vs quality when making this decision.

In conclusion, with the advances and development of 3D printing technology people now inventors question which one is best their design. Will one ever be better than the other? Probably not.

One thing is sure, your project, expectations, form, and budget will define the ideal process on its own.

If you still have doubts on which process to use or you need help with any CNC machining part or 3D printing don’t hesitate to call us!