The differences between 3D Printing and CNC Machining

Article by Rod Mackay updated June 13, 2018


In the product development phase there are many process options for creating models, prototypes, patterns or molds. Selecting the best approach requires an appreciation for the project requirements, an understanding of the process considerations, and an evaluation of the resulting time, cost and quality. Without this information, it is difficult to identify the optimal approach.

Read this white paper to learn about the differences between 3D Printing and CNC Machining, including:

  • Workflows, including setup and complexities
  • Time and cost outlines
  • Quality characteristics
  • Terminology overview

What is covered in the paper

The focus of this white paper is on rapid prototyping to support the product development cycle. Although both 3D printing and CNC machining can be used for production purposes, the goals and demands are different from those when product designs are taking shape. Generally, the paper will address quick-turn, low-volume part making.

Engineer Machining

Engineer Machining

The discussion of 3D printing will broadly encompass all technologies. However, when specific examples are required, Stratasys FDM® (fused deposition modeling) will be the source of detailed information.

There are many CNC processes, such as routing, turning, and drilling. This discussion will focus solely on CNC milling. Additionally, the discussion will cover only 3-axis CNC because 4- and 5-axis CNCs are commonly dedicated to repetitive, production applications.

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.