3D printing and rapid prototyping are two different concepts often confused with each other. In this article we will discuss some of the main differences between both.
CAD has been used since 25 years by the design and development industry for the process of building 3D models layer by layer. Yet, who gets the title is a topic that has been under too much debate lately. General public has recently shown a greater interest in this additive layer technology due to lowering of cost and availability that who is a clear winner is a fact already established. When you are looking for models that can be developed layer by layer, then 3D printing technology is just the right kind of choice for you. Defining 3D printing is easy now as it is simply a process through which layer by layer joining of materials can be brought about. The definition is a simplistic approach towards this vast technology as it fails to cover the variations available in the application of this technology. To understand better you can take into consideration an example of an individual who is curious to make a 3D design that has a low cost and a professional who is seeking to get a model that is not only high on quality but is fully functional too. Since the requirements of both individuals are varied, their expectations are different too. Because of this reason, the Product Design and Development industry uses the title Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing especially referring to the layer by layer additive manufacturing technologies.
The differences between the two technologies include:

Part Size

3D printers are usually set as desktop devices. It has a restricted build platform which can only produce parts that are not bigger than 250mm cubed. Compared to that the prototyping machines produces parts that are not less than 250mm cubed. Some parts can go up to 2150 x 700 x 800mm. There are also some exceptions like the (very large) Stratasys Objet1000 that features an ultra-large build tray of 1000 x 800 x 500 mm (39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 in.)

Material Choice

Rapid prototyping has been greatly used in the product design and development over the years and a whole wide range of research has been made since the past 10 years in materials research with the help of it. 3D printing has made available a range of functional materials which have been used in a number of applications. One of such applications is concept modelling. The difference between rapid prototyping and 3D printing lies with the range of materials provided as rapid prototyping provides ceramic as well as metal based materials.


Differences in cost per unit can be seen when prototype models are sourced for an external service bureau in both 3D printing and rapid prototyping. This difference is due to varied running costs of both services. The cost of purchasing an entry level 3D printer is different to that of purchasing entry level rapid prototyping machines. While in the former there will be a set back of a couple of thousand and the annual running cost will be about several hundred to a few thousand pounds, the latter will cost you a hundred thousand pounds and a running cost and material cost of about tens of thousand pounds.

Ease Of Use

The designs of the new types of 3D printers are such that it is user friendly and you do not have to get trained to use it. Training has to be done to run Rapid Prototyping Machines on the contrary. They are hard to maintain as well. Consider application before you make a choice out of the two types of technologies. For early concept models, 3D printers are used mostly. Production of marketing samples, low volume production of production quality components can be brought about using the rapid prototyping machines.