What should it cost? Or, seat-of-the-pants estimating.

There are a lot of things that a Fabber has to take into consideration when coming up with an estimate for cutting your job, and although the Fabber is the only one who can tell you exactly what a job will cost, here's some information to help you get a general idea.

Design time:

  • You can minimize this expense by doing much of the design work yourself or hiring a Designer to help. Unfortunately you can also waste a lot of time creating something that’s impractical or even impossible to fabricate, so if you or your Designer don’t have experience with digital fabrication, you are often better off doing only enough design work to give a Fabber a sense of what you want and getting their feedback
  • Each fabrication technique…CNC routing, laser cutting, and the various forms of 3D printing…has its own strengths and limitations. Learning them will help make some of your design decisions
  • Much like having t-shirts printed, making the first one of something can be expensive if it requires complicated holding jigs or toolpathing time. Fortunately once the preliminary work is done, subsequent copies become cheaper


Materials can fall into a couple of categories

  • Plywood and other manufactured sheet goods: from $.25 a square foot for OSB, $1-2 for MDF and construction/cabinet plywood, $3-8 for specialty ply like Marine or hardwood veneer. Might be a minimum size...generally 4 square feet
  • foams: from $1 a square foot for insulation foam, $10-40 for sign foam
  • plastics: from $4 a square foot for clear 1/4" acrylic, $6 a square foot for 3/4" PVC sheets, and up for specialty plastics
  • solid lumber: from $3-4 a board foot (12"x12"x1") for poplar and pine to $20 for teak and other exotics. There’s usually an extra charge for fabricating from solid lumber because of the issues with material holding and flatness
  • soft metals: Aluminum is  a commodity and varies with alloy...check with Fabber for current pricing

Cutting time: CNC Routing

  • An hour of CNC Routing generally costs $60-120 on average, but can vary quite a bit from that depending on location and type of work. It also varies with material and thickness: 1/2" ply might be cut in one pass, the same thickness aluminum might take 10 passes at 1/4 the speed.
  • Any bit changes during cutting will also add time and expense, along with 2-sided cutting which can more than double the cost of single sided if registration is important

Cutting time: Laser Cutting

  • Laser cutting is usually estimated by the length of the cut, ranging from $.20/inch to $.50/inch, but varies considerably depending on material type and thickness. Laser engraving is usually priced by square inches, usually from $1.00 - $3.00/square inch

Miscellaneous costs to consider:

  • Bits and cutters: A straight bit might last 30 sheets and cost $1-2 per cut sheet, but some specialty profile bits or bits for unusual materials like plastics or metal can cost several hundred dollars. Keep that in mind
  • Material prep and handling: generally more with lumber that sheet goods like plywood, unless you supply ready-to-cut materials
  • Packaging and handling: TBD
  • Holding jig building: important for efficiency in large production runs but can be expensive
  • Waste: a certain percentage of the material is wasted as sawdust, or unusable because of the shape or size of the pieces. Doing a preliminary layout on a "virtual" sheet of material on the computer can help see how much waste there might be.

3D Printing Costs

  • As this is a relatively new technology, it's difficult to provide "rule of thumb" estimating advice. Have a full discussion with your Fabber about his/her Design assistance time (if applicable), materials cost and printing fees.

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