Why Choose High Resolution 3D Printing vs. CNC


If you have a product idea that is going through the design phase and will eventually going to be prototyped, most likely, it’s going to be either CNC machined or 3D printed.

You may think one is better than the other, but it’s usually up to the engineers who analyze and tweak the files as to which service is chosen for your prototype and why — and there are plenty of reasons behind their decisions.

There are pros and cons to choosing 3D printing versus CNC. Depending on the type of technology you use, a 3D printed prototype may be more brittle when it’s built with a high resolution printer; however, it may cost far less and have a much quicker turnaround. A CNC machined part may take longer to make, but will be much more durable, and it won’t break easily.

Jaycon uses MultiJet Printing Technology for its 3D printing service, which is more advanced and precise than previous printing types. It works similar to an inkjet printer, and it can produce layers as small as 32 microns, producing quality prototypes with a quick turnaround. For example, typically prototypes that come through Jaycon get printed in a day and polished within a couple days.

When prototyping with 3D printing, hollow designs are the best for the customer since they’re cheaper in terms of material cost. If a part was initially designed solid, it’s important to use hollowing techniques while keeping structural strength intact prior to 3D printing it.

Our CNC machining is in our offshore facility in China, producing quality, durable pre-production prototypes that last. It can take up to two weeks if the product is produced via CNC, mostly due to transportation time.

For example, say you have a bike hook that needs to be able to hang in a garage and hold a bicycle. A 3D printed prototype probably wouldn’t be a good choice here, and that’s where CNC machining would be necessary. Since 3D printing is an additive process, material strength is not optimized. On the other hand, CNC machining starts with a block of solid material, meaning that the structure of the material that is milled away is not compromised.

But let’s say that your prototype is not going to be subject to harsh testing, or that you need it fast, to be displayed in a showcase, for example — the obvious choice is 3D printing.

Another factor to take into account is its size. Our in-house 3D printer has a maximum build capacity of 11.6 × 8.3 × 5.6 inches, which is a fairly large platform. The problem is some designs cannot be 3D printed if they are too large to fit this shape and area, and thus have to be CNC machined.

An alternative option is to break up the design into different smaller parts and have them 3D printed on the same run in the same platform. When the parts are done being printed, an engineer can put them together either with a latching system initially included in the redesign, or with post processing methods such as adhesives.

It’s important to consider that by working with 3D printing, you can only work with a finite number of materials, such as hard resin, flexible resin, and castable. Whereas with CNC, you can work with virtually any material that can be shaped.

3D Printing and CNC services are fairly similar, and grow more and more similar as 3D printing technology advances, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both when prototyping. Luckily, your product design company knows best when picking which service to apply to your prototype, so your product can be designed with manufacturability in mind and be ready for production after prototyping.

This article was published by the Jaycon team. Learn more about how we can take your product design and hardware idea to the next level here.