Poll: 3D Printer Versus the CNC Router

CNC Router or 3D Printer?

View Results

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After having a prototype printed at work, I got into a discussion with one of my fellow engineers about which one he’d like to have for home use.  It’s an interesting discussion, as both have their advantages and drawbacks:3D Printer Advantages:

  • Make nearly anything, including parts that couldn’t be manufactured traditionally
  • Little noise and debris
  • Learning curve is relatively simple, and there is a ton of “Maker” community support

3D Printer Drawbacks:

  • Must use specific type of plastic wire
  • Limited (in most cases) to plastic manufacturing)

CNC Router Advantages:

  • view of CNC router with Dremel 200 mountedAbility to use readily available materials, or modify/engrave existing parts
  • Speed is better than a printer in many applications
  • Can be used for light graffiti 🙂

CNC Router Drawbacks:

  • Can be very loud or at least louder than the printer depending on the spindle used
  • Dust cleanup can be problematic
  • Not able to produce some intricate shapes that a 3D printer can

Obviously, it’s a tough decision.  My colleague didn’t have a good answer, which to me makes for a good discussion/poll.  Be sure to leave your opinions as to why you chose one over the other!

This is a simpler version of this poll that I did back in 2012.


  1. As much as I love my 3D printer, I really really do… its a pain, and it takes a lot of babysitting to get good results (and usually some kind of dance to make things all seem right with the world and appease the stepper motors) – It can do some great stuff, but with the limited materials I find myself wanting a CNC more and more…

    I however don’t have room or time to deal with the drawbacks a CNC has… Used to have one at work that was super fun, but never got to use it for anything besides work…so maybe its just a grass is always greener scenario… but what I really want is a Laser cutter… I mean who doesn’t want lasers right??? – Really intereste to see the results of this poll!

    • Ha, yeah, a laser cutter would be really cool! There’s some stuff you can’t do with it that a router can, but same with the CNC router. I guess there’s always compromises that have to be made!

  2. My 2 cents:
    * 3d printer makes things that are not beautiful — they need additional processing to look good
    * I’m into RC planes, and they need parts that are strong and light — a 3d-printed part is not always like that. With CNC I can make parts from balsa and aluminium, which is great.
    * I’m also into microcontrollers, and CNC can make good PCBs.

    • All true. Thanks for voting and commenting! I was expecting the vote to be skewed to the 3D printer side, but I guess it’s still early.

  3. At this time I am still with the router, but routers have been around forever and I think in just the next few years the 3d printers are going bury them. With new materials and better cheaper printers the routers are going to have a tough time competing. I expect materials that conduct and can be soldered to and printers with multiple materials will be pretty common.

    • Thanks for commenting! Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. I think it’s possible that 3D printers are the technology of the future, but “subtractive” methods are still the technology of right now.

      • Not exactly what I’m saying, but I cannot currently afford a “good” 3D printer for a few hundred thousand dollars that prints in metal, or to extremely close tolerances, or some of the multiple material capable including a conductive/non conductive build machine.
        They are available, but I don’t believe I will ever see one in my garage…maybe Jay Leno’s garage but not mine.

  4. Why not have both on the same machine, cnc router and print head, take a look at this setup


  5. I have a makerbot replicator and am finishing
    building the zen toolworks 12×7 with the
    grbl arduino based controler. (which I intend to
    use a raspbery pi as a g-code sender)

    i also used a modela a while back.
    each has its merits, but the 3d printer
    is more of a turnkey device.
    I simply put a sd card in, and
    assuming the filament is loaded,
    it is a hit print and come back later.
    I have a low failed print percentage.
    CNC has the cost advantage of materials.
    flexibility of materials.
    speed of production especially larger
    Each has it’s merits, but FDM 3d printing
    is more office friendly.