Is 3D printing props worth it?

  • Yes

    Votes: 3 75.0%
  • No

    Votes: 1 25.0%

  • Total voters


I am the technical director for the theatre dept. of a K - 12 school for LD students in Dallas. We are moving to a new, bigger campus in a little over a year and I have the opportunity to purchase all sorts of new technology. One thing I am considering is buying a 3D printer for the department. To cut to the case, would this in fact be a good use of funds? On one hand, the industry (theatre, film, TV, visual art, etc...) is moving in this technological direction, and the possible STEAM teaching moments are attractive. On the other hand, would it be worthwhile to make such an investment in time and money for something that may not be as useful for a high school program where the majority of students will not be going on to pursue a career in the arts? In addition, our middle and upper school science departments already have 3D printers which we have utilized on one occasion to create a jaw bone for our production of "Radium Girls" last year, so I'm sort of leaning toward just asking for help from the science dept. when needed.

I am very interested in hearing from any theatre educators who have a 3D printer for their department and whether or not they get any bang for their buck. Thank you so much for your input.



CB Mods
Premium Member
With my experience from working with several folks who are AVID 3D printers. My two cents worth: No. The tech is great, the learning opportunities are fantastic but as a practical solution for prop making, no. The process, outside of industrial 'rapid' technology, takes too long. big prints routinely take over night. any errors that occur overnight are routinely missed until the next morning by which time you've got a huge mess of useless plastic on the bed. It would be great to encourage kids to take STEM classes where they can learn to 3D model, slice, and set up a print. or even actually print something on the STEM dept's printer. It might be a great inter departmental cooperative to build something for a show even, but as a integral part of your scene shop I think you'd find a printer would wind up being a HUGE pain in the butt to maintain.
As cool as they are unless you spend a considerable amount of money #D printers take a large amount of time for maintenance and upkeep. To keep them operating correctly they are in constant need of re-calibrating and cleaning. I just fear using one would turn much more into a 3D printing class and much less of a Tech theatre class.


Active Member
It honestly depends on your comfort level (or who you have resources from). Our master carpenter has a strong tech background, and we routinely fashion things from 3D printers; however they are actually part of our technology department (which doubles as our scene shop). They have been great for small items, but I agree with Van that anything large scale, or mass produced is probably going to be more of a pain then anything. Although, you can find a file to print a mega-combo wrench...


Well-Known Member
My two cents (which may not be worth even that much)...

Especially since you have access to a 3D printer should you need one, I would look for other tools instead. A reasonably sized CNC router would seem to me to be more generally useful for prop and set construction, for instance, and probably need a little less attention to the proper care and feeding to keep it working decently well. I kind of like the idea of having both additive and subtractive computer-driven tools available, though that may just be my sense of intellectual aesthetics for lack of a better term. A vacuum forming press could be very useful. Many more traditional/simple power tools are also extremely useful if you don't have them: a jigsaw, a bandsaw, a drill press, various sanders, a router table (maybe with a pin follower attachment)….

For that matter, one could buy a fair few spring and bar clamps for the price of any of these fancy tools, and I've never in my life heard anyone complain about having an excessive number of clamps.


Senior Team
Senior Team
Premium Member
In an educational environment, yes, you need one. You also need a desktop CnC. If you buy one, buy a Prusa I3 MK3.

The Mk3 is 750 bucks and bullet proof. Don't buy a Makerbot, they are way overpriced junk. For 750 bucks you can afford to pick it up and let your kids learn both 3d printing and open up the opensource world to them.

Every shop going forward will have both of these. Most pro shops are moving to the point where saws are no longer used, everything is Cnc'd and glue/nailed together. They need to know how to work with Gcode and get and keep these things moving. Be aware though, both a CnC and 3D printer are precision tools that require a lot of TLC to keep going. I have 2 home built printers at home that we have running most of the time. @MrsFooter runs an Etsy shop with all 3d printed jewerly The Mk3 has a lot of stuff on it to make printing easier, but it will still require time to keep going. Learning 3d printing and modeling is a whole thing within itself.

Will you use it a ton for actual shows? Probably not at least at first. But, your kids will learn a ton by having it there.

There are also issues that most people only have experience with desktop 3d printing running PLA. PLA is junk plastic that is easy to print but blows apart easy. I primarly print TPU and PETG on my printers. TPU is a rubber like plastic that is bendable and takes hits well. PETG is the exact same stuff that plastic water bottles are made out of. After its printed its nearly indestructible.


(and yes, the 3d printers are 3d printed).
Last edited:


CB Mods
Premium Member
None of these posts are incorrect. Prints of any reasonable size DO take a ton of time and have tons of opportunity to screw up. They ARE an epic pain in the ass to maintain. (I take a printer with me to run when I sell at festivals and fairs, and when people ask how much one costs, I tell them it's $400 out of the box, $1k with all the mods, and about 1k man-hours to get each one built, tuned, and profiles built...and that's before I've done any of the drafting or design.) The number of Maker spaces with a broken 3D printer far outnumber the number with working ones. If you want to get into that space, just be emotionally prepared to spend a lot of time maintaining them, as they're incredibly finiky.

But I would argue that the greatest value of having one in an educational space is the mentality that it opens up. You suddenly have a tool at your disposal that can create (nearly) ANYTHING. Need something? Great, figure out how to draft it and you can create it. Have a problem? Your solutions are no longer limited to what you can buy at Harbor Freight, but to what you can imagine. And that, I would imagine, is a level of creativity that is desirable to pass on to students.

PS, Fusion360, my drafting software of choice, offers itself for free for educators and small businesses making less than $100k/year.

PPS, yes, I have an Etsy shop selling 3D printed jewelry. Please buy my stuff.


Remarkably Tired.
Premium Member
Fight Leukemia
3d printing I've found is great for prototyping props or if you're renting something like a wireless unit or have a battery pack or something you won't have access to until later, you can print battery blanks and use that to build and structure some props. super useful for that kind of thing. But most of the time from the distance theatre works at I don't need to be super detail accurate and can make something more durable, faster, in wood.


Fight Leukemia
I would say yes, if you're going to go with high end printers and continue to use it. If it's this thing off in the corner that isn't used because no one really knows how to use it, or because it keeps breaking, then find a different cool new toy and continue the partnership with the science department who knows their equipment well. We had a very nice printer in high school (fully enclosed, temperature controlled, would happily print all night long with no fear of it failing spontaneously), and it got a lot of use for many different departments, and I'm thankful that I was able to use it, because it's definitely come up at work now.


Well-Known Member
I agree with the above recommendation of a CNC.
Although it would require adult supervision, the computer design aspect of it is similar in a learning aspect, but because you can cut many different material types, you can teach kids how to design with the software, assemble things with glue, screws etc. and make props that can withstand in-show usage and mis-usage.

Users who are viewing this thread