Shapeways vs imaterialise — What I have learned

3D Printing the Smart Way

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I’ve been on the 3D printing band wagon for several years now. LOVE IT and have encourage model enthusiasts to use 3D printing to create. Read my five parts series titled 3D Printing the Smart Way. Since I started I have been using as my preferred printing company.

Another 3D Printing Company

Lately though I have been using another company i.materialise to have some of my printing done as well. This company has been around for a number of years and was actually suggested to my by a fellow model builder. It took this long for me to give it a go. I can be a slow learner.

This entry will compare the two companies.


Both companies offer a nice variety of materials to print in. Shapeways offers more choices over all. Shapeways (SW) and i.materialise (IM) have their own language for the various printing materials. The entry level plastics are called Versatile  Plastic – SW and Polymide – IM. This entry level plastic has a grainy finish akin to 400 grit sandpaper. The polished version of the plastic has the same fit and finish for both. Thus far what I have ordered in polymide polished from i.materialise has been cleaner than the equivalent from Shapeways. This is not a big deal in the scope of things, just something I noticed.

Readers may be familiar with the detail plastics from Shapeways. These types of plastics are great for bringing out fine details in models and the finish is smooth unlike the strong and flexible plastics. At this time the only equivalent material I have found at i.materialise is high detail resin. I have not used this product yet but as far as I can tell it appears to be par with detail plastics.


Shipping time for Shapeways can be less that I.Materialize. I receive email notices from both indicating when my products are completed and shipped at every step. When my order from Shapeways contains different kinds of plastics I have found shipping to be delayed. As long as the order contains the same types of plastics the products arrive as scheduled.

Packing for the companies differs a bit. Shapeways uses loads of bubble wrap and i.materialise ships a box in a box with packing paper which seems to work. My stuff arrives in one piece and I get extra really nice boxes to reship my products out. Win.

As far as shipping costs. Hands down SW wins this. Standard shipping on anything I have ordered is $4.99 U. S. Post Office. My last order with i.materialise was $15.05 for UPS Ground. The country of origin is Belgium so it makes sense it costs more. For my orders I receive this notice at the bottom of the screen — *Export – free of VAT. For buyers in other countries the VAT 21%.


Here is where the difference in Shapeways and i.materialise really show up. The image below is a screenshot from my Shapeways account showing the price of the MA20 grain/silage bed which is $41.45 for one bed in white strong and flexible polished.

White Strong Flexible




Here is a screen shot of the exact same bed from my i.materialise account. The price is $31.22 for one bed in polymide polished which is equal to versatile plastic processed. What is really cool though is the price if I buy four beds which is $91.32.  I.materialise offer a quantity discount that Shapeways does not offer. This drops my price per bed to $22.83 which is a savings of $8.39. Pretty cool!

Polymide polished Polymide polished

Now the bad news. So far I have found the best savings on larger items like my grain beds at i.materialise. Smaller parts are cheaper at Shapeways in versatile plastics. Take my roll over tarp frame for example.

  Shapeways i.materialise i.materialise
rollover tarp frame $4.18 x 1 $14.28 x 1 $31.40 x 4 or $7.85 each

There is a $10 savings ordering the tarp frame from Shapeways. Even with the declining discount at i.materialise the frames are still higher priced. What to do?

Odds and ends

There are a few other differences not related to the actual models. For example, if I choose to open a store on i.materialise, I can only sell designs I have purchased first. This is not a big deal as most of us designing models and parts buy test prints to begin with anyway. However, in my case, all my designs print fine on Shapeways and I would like to sell right away on i.materialise. So I’ll have to order items before I can sell them first.

The multi purchase discount I am offered at i.materialise only applies to me, the designer. That discount is not available to buyers in my store. A bummer as that would help sales. The work around is me to offer the items for sale on my website.

The ease of opening a store and organizing the designs goes to Shapeways. It may just be my familiarity with Shapeways but I like the feel of the administrator section a bit better.

At this time I will be ordering from both companies. They each fill a niche in my business and have provided great service and products.

If you have further questions please leave a comment in the comment box. Do share this post with friends creating in the 3D printing space.

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See you next time!


Updated September 2019