What is the difference between CNC machining and 3D printing machining?

From the way they build to the product parts, they can handle, both CNC machining and 3D printing offer creative solutions in vastly different ways. Understanding their differences and strengths will help you find the right one for you and your business.

3D printing is more efficient than traditional manufacturing. 3D printers use simple materials to compose their projects, whereas traditional manufacturing methods, such as CNC machining, require more materials to complete the final project. In contrast, 3D printers generate less waste than traditional manufacturing methods.

However, traditional CNC manufacturing has distinct advantages when production is scaled up. In mass production, manual assembly lines can be faster than 3D printers because printers are built layer by layer, and the printing process consumes most of the project time. In the hours it takes to 3D print a product, an assembly line may have mass-produced hundreds of identical products.

Also, 3D printers can only use a limited area of ​​the printer to make parts. Large parts may not be suitable for 3D printing. While it is possible to break down parts into smaller parts that a 3D printer can build, this is not cost-effective and takes more time. Traditional manufacturing has the advantage of assembly line manufacturing, which can produce the required products on a large scale. Shortly, 3D printers may be able to make larger objects, but at present, neither quality nor production efficiency can reach the level that CNC machines can provide.

cnc machining is milling parts

Difference Between 3D Printers

Each 3D printer can handle different materials, such as plastics, metals, and polymers. However: not all 3D printers can use these materials. Each material requires a separate different printer.

Some materials have high melting points, and 3D printers cannot handle all materials used by traditional manufacturers. If certain projects require specific materials incompatible with the printer, you cannot use a 3D printer to complete the required project. 3D printing will not replace traditional manufacturing in a short period because it is currently unable to produce products in large quantities.

3D printing and traditional manufacturing

CNC machining starts with a piece of material, which is then milled into shape using rotation and tools. According to the programmed machine program, it will remove the excess until the finished product. This is the subtractive manufacturing method; when the CNC works, it completes the part product by taking away the material.

Build your designs by 3D printing layers on materials in an additive method. Both approaches have pros and cons regarding durability, precision, and material usage.

material usage

CNC machining is suitable for a variety of materials. They can use the following:

  • metal alloys
  •  trees
  •  acrylic fiber
  •  styling foam
  •  thermoplastics
  •  processing wax

CNC machines have heating systems that can manage heavy materials. These materials make vital components for engines, aircraft, and other machines. They need to be precise, reliable, and durable. Depending on the product, the cutting tools used are changed as needed, and most tools are standardized to fit any CNC machine. Businesses do not need to design complex tools to complete the product.

3D printing does not have this simple variety and can only use plastic or resin. The 3D printing method does not produce products strong enough to withstand harsh environments such as aircraft or other machinery. Also, 3D printers cannot switch between materials. Some 3D printers are suitable for certain kinds of materials.

Production accuracy

CNC machining is more precise in production than 3D printing because CNC-machined materials have higher heat resistance. And when the heat is too high, the product produced by the 3D printer will appear distorted. 3D printing can provide high precision, but the quality of mass-produced products is difficult to maintain.

Production speed

When choosing a solution for mass production, CNC is a better way than 3d printing. With proper maintenance, automated CNC machines can work 24/7. A product that takes an hour to CNC machine can take a 3D printer several hours or more to produce because it has to build the product layer by layer. The 3D printer may have to slow down during this process to get the design right. Different 3D printers are programmed with specific speeds that you cannot change. Production speed It depends on the machine you use.

3D-printed products also require post-processing after manufacture. The 3D-printed product needs to be cleaned, polished, and sealed before the product can be used. This will allow longer prototype testing times. 3D printers are currently only suitable for smaller custom products.

3d printer is printing 3d text

Mechanical versatility

CNC machines can produce jigs, tools, and custom-designed parts. They have extensive tooling setups that allow you to rough prototype designs in some areas and perfect designs in others so you can test the product.

When testing prototypes for projects, CNC machines can quickly build designs so developers can test them. 3D printers don’t have these options. It can only print and produce slowly according to the program in a programmed way. But when it comes to building the final product, accuracy and quality are key, and when time is limited, and you want to quickly test some prototypes, opting for a 3D printer for production can slow down your project.


CNC machining can make larger products and can handle heat resistance. There are more niche categories for 3D printing, such as printing food or working in space.

CNC machining and 3D printing

3D printing is not a solution to replace CNC machining. And it’s also part of the manufacturing industry; it’s not this invention that changes the market. But market demand.

3D printers can improve some aspects of manufacturing, but they cannot handle all market demands. CNC machining is still the better option in many cases. CNC machining still provides better quality than expensive 3D printers.

On smaller production scales or rapid prototyping, 3D printers can save companies money on expensive tooling. They also provide insight into product shape and aesthetics. But with the increase in production and the time factor, they do not perform as well as CNC machines.

Elimold provides superior CNC machining solutions to manufacturers in multiple industries. To provide you with the products you need promptly. Our experts will help you and your business lead the market. We have the solution you need. Contact us today.

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