The 3D Printing Guide For Startup Founders

If you’re a startup founder or simply an owner looking to enhance your prototyping capabilities, you should consider how you evaluate 3D printers. The options truly are endless no matter if you have a small team looking to stay lean (or keep costs low) or if you’re looking to better serve your growing customer base. And with 3D printing taking the world by storm, there are certainly trends to keep in mind for the future.  

In this guide, we’ll review key considerations before deciding what works best for your company and clients. By the end, you’ll have all the necessary resources to decide on the capabilities and price of your intended 3D printer. 

Ovyl On: 3D Printer for Startup Founders

  • What should I look for?
  • How do I decide what’s best for my business?
  • Can I 3D print my end product?
  • What materials should I choose?
3d printing guide

3D Printing Guide For Startups

3D printing has completely revolutionized the way all industries produce, but these offerings vary completely depending on a number of factors. However, the top reasons for utilizing 3D printing are:

  • The ability to iterate quickly, without waiting days in between. 
  • For those with specific technical expertise, the prototyping stage can become a bottleneck in the overall development process. 3D printing may work to streamline those efforts (avoiding a delay). 
  • An in-house 3D printer removes the risk of iteration, especially if ordering prototypes from 3rd parties with similar clients. 
  • You can reduce time to market by using an in-house 3D printer.
  • With such high personalization and computational abilities, your 3D printer can help you find problems in your design faster. 

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of 3D printing possibilities, but it does serve as a basic understanding of what to expect from your 3D printer. 

How To Decide Which 3D Printer Is Best For You? 

First you need to think about the problem you are trying to solve for your client. Is your prototype meant to be replicated on a larger scale or are you printing less? This is where you should evaluate your own specifications and how best they can be replicated depending on the needed scale. Furthermore, you should consider:

Size of Product

We can think of this as the physical size of your product, and also the volume at which you are producing. Both are critical to determine early on. If you are creating a smaller prototype to start, then you will most likely not need the most expensive 3D printer on the market. However, if you are rapidly scaling and need something more intricate, then you may want to consider at least one, if not a few, high powered printers. 

3d printed  objects

Detail Needed

Is your prototype largely detailed with seals and fine snaps? If so, consider how much your intended 3D printer can handle. A smaller, less immersive 3D printer may not be able to handle intricate detail compared to a commercial printer. Think about how detailed your prototype is and if you have the bandwidth to physically produce or if a more robust 3D printer is the better option. 

Material Properties

While the unit itself is crucial to determine, the materials used also largely impact the functionality, design, and overall appearance of the product. Thermoplastics are often used because they heat up well and can then form to your specifications. They can also be reused, which is amazing for keeping material cost down and adhering to environmentally friendly practices. Aside from plastics, nylon, resin, titanium, and stainless steel are often used as well. Determining your material and if you need a speciality material will also have an impact on total cost. Generally, plastic filaments are less expensive to purchase than the steel and titanium ones. 


If you’re producing products for healthcare, dental, or biomedical industries, is what you’re making safe for use? This means that you must have biocompatible materials that are non-toxic and unable to degrade quickly once in the body. For example, biomaterials are considered to be stainless steel, titanium, and collagen because they are not often rejected by the body and present little degradation or corrosive elements. 

3d printed dental items

Print Throughput

This is where you think about wear and tear. Is this a product that is used occasionally or is it getting daily use? Here you can determine the material necessary and if you should buy a more expensive printer. While you don’t always need the most expensive printer, you should decide if a more expansive one suits your needs. 

Can I 3D Print My End Product?

As a startup founder, you’re probably looking for cost effective ways to maximize your prototype offerings, which may involve attempting to print your end product. While the idea sounds amazing (and streamlines your process), for most people, it is not possible to 3D print your product. This is mainly due to the cost and cycle time required to print an entire end product. 

This is also where you should think about overall volume. For example, 3D printing is often better for smaller batches with more complex parts and  intricate details. Whereas, injection molding is far better for large batches and less complex parts. In this case, injection molding is the better option if you are looking to keep unit costs down. 

However, If your goal is high-custom, high-value products, or has impossible geometry, then it could be a good candidate to print your end product. If you are in a highly customized prototype group you should evaluate printing cost against unit cost. You can evaluate this and determine if it’s worth doing on your own or enlisting in additional help/resources. Below are a few examples of more intricate products that may be better printed by your own company including:

  • CPAP masks
  • Lightened lattice structures and optimized geometries
  • Cast for broken bone
  • Prosthetics
  • Dentures
  • Personalized mold making (i.e. for dental aligners or surgical drill guides)
functional prototype

Think Of Your Printers As A Team Member

It will help to think of your printers as an extension of your team. This means that each printer plays a role as part of a printer fleet.

Some printers are better for “draft” prints, and others are pricier, but better for more finished parts. A mix of FDM and resin printers will give you lots of options for all ranges of size and detail.

How To Choose A 3D Printer For Your Product

Your 3D printer should be decided based on your needs and a slew of important requirements such as:

  • Application - What is your industry and/or intended use?
  • Material - What material best suits your needs? 
  • Budget - Can you afford a printer in the $200 range or are you willing to pay thousands of dollars for a more robust printer?
  • Volume - Are you printing single-use products in smaller quantities or widely used products in greater quantities?


Your materials matter when it comes to finding the best 3D printer for your prototyping needs. Common materials are made from plastics or nylon, but there are countless other variations that can even be combined for greater use and efficacy. Below is a list of top materials to consider using for your 3D printer. 


Fused Deposition Modeling (or FDM) is a popular method for prototyping as it is quick and affordable. The process works by taking a plastic filament and heating it until melted. Once melted, the printer “draws” your prototype layer by layer - cooling as it hardens. At the end, you have your exact prototype as designed in the program first. You may have to soak the prototype in water or a solution to avoid any breakage, but after this step you have your final piece. 

PROS - Low-cost, fast, portable, reusable filament

CONS - Nozzle may clog, weaker for larger projects, longer time to print than others 


Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is another commonly used 3D printing and injection molding material and thermoplastic polymer. It’s a low-cost option that performs well with impact resistance, high and low temperatures, and in electrical insulation. Many products from LEGOs to small appliances and keyboards keycaps are made from ABS material. 

PROS - Great for wear and tear, can be sanded and painted after production, compatible with other materials like nylon or Polycarbonate-ABS depending on your needs

CONS - Does not hold up well in exposed sunlight, cannot be stored in humid environments which can clog the nozzle, the smell emitted when heated can be unpleasant (you should have a properly ventilated facility that can handle this)


Poly-Lactic Acid (PLA) is a bioplastic/thermoplastic made from cornstarch and sugarcane. It is processed down into a filament with additives that change the material’s color and overall strength. The filament is typically then wrapped around a spool for easier storage and use. PLA can be found in food packaging, prototyping, textiles, and cosmetics for the eco-friendly benefits. 

PROS - Inexpensive, easy to print at low temperatures, biodegradable because it is made from plants

CONS - Weak and not the strongest material to use, not great for outdoor use 


Nylon is a type of plastic known as a polyamide that is generally found to be very tough, but also blends well with other plastics. This creates a composite such as carbon-fiber nylon or glass-filled nylon. Nylon is also used largely in 3D printing because of its durability and flexibility, especially when producing fabrics. 

PROS - Durable, can take wear-and-tear, flexible material that can be manipulated

CONS - Highly moisture-absorbing which can impact efficiency


Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is a type of plastic that appears rubber-like making it very flexible and durable when manufactured. There are also different types of TPU including: polyester, polyether, and polycaprolactone -- of which are useful for oil resistance, use in underwater applications, and in cold resistance. TPU is similar to clear silicone in that it may yellow over time due to a chemical reaction that occurs. This often happens with clear phone cases after being exposed to light and heat for example. Manufacturers also use TPU in seals, medical tubes, and sportswear like sneakers. 

PROS - Highly resistant to abrasion, cold temperatures, and oil; strong and elastic as well

CONS - Material cost may be higher because this is a more specialized product, clear TPU yellows and cannot be reversed 


Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) is a very soft polymer that is also biodegradable when in contact with water. It will actually dissolve the material if submerged, making it a great option to test supports or in packaging. Aside from manufacturing purposes, PVA has a low toxicity making it a useful application in cartilage replacement and eye care (contact lenses and drops). 

PROS - water soluble for testing purposes, very flexible, can make quick prototypes

CONS -  May be a more expensive option, moisture sensitive, can clog the 3D printer’s nozzle 


High Impact Polystyrene is a type of thermoplastic that requires lower heat but offers higher impact strength and stiffness. It is a cost effective material that is made with resins to be used in food processing, signs/displays, and even for screens and digital printers. 

PROS - Easily manipulated and mass produced, FDA compliant, sturdy and durable

CONS - Increased moisture absorption, highly flammable and long burn time


Size Of Projects 

The size, or scope, of your project will largely determine the printer that works best for your company. If you’re a fresh startup with little capital, looking to test out the waters you would probably choose a different printer than someone with a large contract and customer base. 

Small Projects

For small projects you may want to consider an FDM printer because of how inexpensive they are. It’s a great option for those looking to begin their own 3D printing offerings, without breaking the bank. A small project can constitute printing an early prototype to test and use before moving ahead with production. 

Ovyl Pro: Example of a small 3D print project here 

Medium Projects

A medium sized project is obviously a bit more involved than an early prototype, so your 3D printer will probably have to handle more here. This means that you should consider a printer that is compatible with multiple materials, especially if you are evaluating the strength and efficiency of your product/prototype. 

Ovyl Pro: Example of a medium 3D print project here 

Big Projects

This is where you should evaluate wear-and-tear of a printer. A big project may mean having multiple printers or testing variations of materials as well. You’ll also want to consider having a larger space with proper ventilation as sometimes the smell (depending on the material) can be quite strong or unpleasant. 

Ovyl Pro: Example of a big 3D print project here 

3D Modeling Software  

Software is endless these days. There’s something for every need and every business. We’ve broken down some top 3D modeling software to consider for your 3D printing needs. 

blender logo


Is a free, open source 3D creation suite that supports modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, and motion tracking. While Blender has been used in 3D printing since 2002, it now features a 3D Printing Toolbox and real-time Mesh Analysis features. 

They even offer a course, Blender for 3D Printing, to help beginners and professionals as they create efficient and high-quality 3D prints. 

Cost: Free!

Compatibility: Linux, Windows, and Mac 

Ovyl Pro: Expert tip on Blender here

autodesk maya

Autodesk Maya

Autodesk Maya is a 3D animation and visual effects software that has the ability to create realistic characters, shape 3D objects and scenes with intuitive modeling tools, and create realistic effects (hair, clothes, and even explosions). 

Cost: Annual Subscription is $1,785; Monthly Subscription is $225; 3 Year Subscription is $5,085

Compatibility: Linux, Windows, and Mac

Ovyl Pro: Expert tip on Autodesk Maya here

autodesk 3ds max

Autodesk 3ds Max

Autodesk 3ds Max is similar in structure and functionality to Autodesk Maya, but there are differences to consider. 3ds Max is a professional 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software for games and design visualization. This toolset is highly detailed with intuitive texturing, shading, and the ability to create high-quality renders. This is often used by artists and architects to create massive environments and worlds. Where Maya is more character driven for films, games, and TV; 3ds is more detailed for expansive game design and design visualization. 

Cost: Annual Subscription is $1,785; Monthly Subscription is $225; 3 Year Subscription is $5,085

Compatibility: Linux, Windows, and Mac

Ovyl Pro: Expert tip on Autodesk 3ds Max here

k-3d logo


K-3D is a free 3D modeling and animation software that combines plugins with a visualization pipeline architecture. It was made to keep consistent with your platform’s current look so it is often easy for beginners and professionals to both use. It also features an undo/redo system, allowing you to go back without losing anything. 

Cost: Free!

Compatibility: Windows and Mac 

Ovyl Pro: Expert tip on K-3D here



Qlone is a bit different from the above software platforms. It is an all-in-one 3D scanner app that creates 3D models from real objects. You can edit those images and export them to 3D file formats, 3D printers, and even animate a model in AR. 

Cost: iOS - Free to download and scan (AR view with animations and scanning is a premium feature in the app); Android - paid app

Compatibility: iOS and Android 

Ovyl Pro: Expert tip on Qlone here


How Much Does A 3D Printer Cost?

This really varies depending on the size and capabilities of the printer. A 3D printer can run as little as $200 for a personal/smaller scale printer. And they can run up to $100,000 for commercial printers. 


While the appeal of inexpensive 3D printers may be high, you should also think about the time it takes to manage or fix a less robust printer. You don’t have to pay $100k for a printer, but investing in something between those two costs may be a better solution. A lot of this decision will be based on performance, speed, and material cost as well.                     


Even If You Have A Printer, You Need A Designer!

Whether you’re deciding to start your journey in prototyping or expand your current offerings, 3D printing continues to be a revolutionary way to design and test before going to market. Startup founders can find this information especially useful as you research the endless 3D printer offerings on the market. 

If you’re on the hunt for a 3D printer, but need additional help with your project, Ovyl is here to help! We’ll guide you through phases such as strategy, development, and production so you always have a smooth transition into production and future design efforts. 

Start the conversation today by filling out our project form or check out our Ovyl Venture Studio if you’re a pre-seed hardware founder looking for investments and rapid growth opportunities. 


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