3D Printing vs CNC Machining for Prototyping – 2024 Comparison Guide


Both 3D printing and CNC machining have become quite a popular choice when it comes to prototyping. It is obvious that the future is leading that way which is why so many people have started to invest in these two technologies in 2024. The potential of this technology is limitless and who knows where it will get in the last couple of years. For anyone that is interested in making an investment in this, I would suggest taking action as soon as possible. Investing in both, is not a good idea, especially when working with a limited budget.


Whether you want to invest, or if you want to utilize these technologies for your business, you will probably want to know about their advantages and disadvantages. Once you have all the benefits of both 3D Printing and CNC machining, you can put them side to side and make a comparison. This comparison will help you make the right decision.

Different methods of manufacturing

The first and most obvious difference between these technologies is their completely different manufacturing processes. Of course, they can lead to the same product, but they go through a different method which ultimately leads to a difference in quality and reliability.

For example, the entire CNC machining manufacturing method is based on cutting away materials. The way it works is quite simple. You have a certain material next to the tool, let’s say plastic and the machine starts slowly cutting away little bits and pieces. Depending on the product, the time needed to complete the process may vary.

Through this cutting process, the material will slowly start taking the shape of the final product. The reason why many industries consider using this method is because of its very high accuracy. When a very smooth service is required for plastic, wood, or metal, only CNC machines can achieve that.

3D printing works in a completely opposite way. Instead of subtracting/cutting form a certain material, the machine adds material. This method is a bit newer and still in its early stages, but the technological level is something to marvel at.


Products can be created through this type of printing by adding a certain material layer-by-layer. The entire process seems like drawing. The advantage of using this newer method is that it is much quicker and it doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning. A product can be quickly finished with just one render file while CNC requires a lot of programming for the best accuracy. Making one mistake with CNC can ruin the material permanently.

Usable materials

Another huge difference between these two technologies is how they can handle certain materials. Although I think it is worth mentioning that both CNC and 3D can work with most materials, but CNC has a much easier time handling metals. Most average 3D printers these days cannot handle the melting and layering of metal. For this, industries need to invest in much more expensive printers. These printers are usually priced well over a hundred thousand dollars.

However, even the most basic 3D printer can handle plastic much better than the most advanced CNC machine. Working with nylon, ABS or ABS is very easy for the printer while CNC requires a lot of precision. Too much force and the plastic might chip or completely break.

Accuracy and quality

This might be one of the most deciding factors for customers. When a customer requests a high-quality product, they expect that their product will go through a high-quality manufacturing process too. The reality is that CNC is several times more accurate than 3D, no matter which materials are in question. This method of cutting is even more accurate when a 4 axis CNC router is utilized, according to elephant cnc.


Another very important factor we have to consider is just how complicated or how easy is to use these machines. Well, I think it is safe to say that 3D takes this point because it has been proven time and time again to have much better ease of use. Considering the fact that the average person can buy a 3D printer from Amazon and use it at home shows us just how much simpler it is than CNC.


You will not be able to find an entire CNC machine inside of someone’s home because it is much larger in size, much more expensive, and very complicated to handle. An expert is required to handle this kind of machinery. One that is equipped with the right gear for protection. Having CNC in your home is just asking for trouble.


Whether you are a customer and or a business owner, the costs of these technologies are something that you will have to factor in. By now, you probably already know that 3D is much cheaper and it can be utilized for smaller quantities because the operator does not need anything more than just a CAD file. With it, they can make just one single item of your product and that is it. Just one item may cost you just a hundred dollars or maybe even less.

A CNC operator will require a lot more than just one CAD file. Since it takes a lot more pre-planning, preparing, and knowledge from the expert, the costs can rocket up to several thousand and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, most companies that utilize CNC will probably not even accept anything lower than 1000 item pieces.


Like I already mentioned in my first point, CNC reaches the final product by cutting through the material while 3D prints it layer-by-layer. This is why CNC creates a bit more waste when compared to its competitor.

There are quite a few more differences between these two manufacturing processes, but I believe that the ones I mentioned in this comparison guide for 2024 are the most influential and important ones. You can now truly compare the two and determine which one these will be the right choice for your needs.