CNC Machining vs. 3D Printing: Which is Best for Your Project?

CNC Machining Center Dealer North America

In the realm of modern manufacturing, two prominent technologies have revolutionized the way prototypes and end-use parts are created: CNC machining and 3D printing. These technologies have ushered in a new era of precision and versatility, each with its own distinct advantages and limitations. That’s why we recommend contacting your North American CNC machine dealer, Fadal. Our team is dedicated to your success!

CNC machining and 3D printing cater to different manufacturing needs, and understanding their differences is crucial for making informed decisions in various industries.

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s CNC Machining?

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining is a subtractive manufacturing process that involves cutting away material from a solid block to create a desired shape. The process utilizes computer-aided design (CAD) models and specialized software to guide precise cutting tools, such as drills, mills, and lathes.

This technology is renowned for its exceptional accuracy and repeatability, making it a go-to choice for producing high-tolerance, intricate parts. From aerospace components to medical devices, CNC machines have proven their worth in industries where precision and reliability are paramount.

What’s 3D Printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, constructs objects layer by layer using materials like plastic, metal, or resin. This technology has gained immense popularity due to its ability to quickly create complex geometries that might be challenging or impossible to produce with traditional methods.

Its advantage lies in its capability to minimize material waste and offer rapid prototyping, making it highly efficient for iterative design processes. Industries like automotive, fashion, and architecture have embraced 3D printing for its creative freedom and time-saving benefits.


When comparing CNC machining and 3D printing, several factors come into play. Precision is a crucial consideration, and CNC machining centers take the lead in this aspect. The subtractive nature of CNC machining allows for extremely tight tolerances and smooth surface finishes, making it indispensable for applications that demand flawless accuracy.

While 3D printing has made significant strides in improving precision, it may still struggle to match the intricate detail achievable through CNC machines.

Related: The Importance of Precision in CNC Machining →

Material Selection

Material selection is another critical factor. CNC machines can work with a wide array of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites. This versatility makes it suitable for industries requiring diverse material properties, such as aerospace and automotive manufacturing.

Conversely, 3D printing materials are continually expanding, but some limitations still exist, particularly when it comes to achieving the mechanical properties of certain engineering-grade materials.

Speed and Production Volume

Speed and production volume also vary between the two technologies. 3D printing’s layer-by-layer approach allows for rapid prototyping and the creation of complex structures in a relatively short time. However, as the part size and complexity increase, printing times can extend significantly.

CNC machining, while generally slower than 3D printing for prototyping, can excel in mass production due to its higher removal rates and efficient use of materials.

Cost Considerations

Cost considerations depend on factors such as the size of the part, material choice, and production volume. In small-scale production or prototyping, 3D printing can be more cost-effective due to its minimal material waste and quick setup.

CNC machining, on the other hand, might have higher upfront costs but can offer better cost efficiency for larger production runs, especially when working with traditional materials like metals.

Request a Quote for a CNC Machining Center

Still aren’t sure if you should choose CNC machining or 3D printing for your project? Contact Fadal, your trusted CNC machine builder in North America. We serve everyone, from small machine shops to large manufacturers obsessed with quality. Call (844) 323-2526 or fill out our online contact form to get started.