Digital Manufacturing FAQs

What is the advantage of working with Protolabs? Why should I choose your company to make my parts?

Our industrial 3D printing, CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, and injection molding services provide parts made directly from the customer’s 3D CAD model, reducing the likelihood of errors. Proprietary software automates toolpath generation to decrease manufacturing times and reduce costs.

What companies do you work with?

Due to the proprietary and competitive nature of projects we work on, we do not disclose a listing of our customers. However, we do regularly receive permission to share customer success stories. Read our success stories here.

Is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) required to do business with Protolabs?

An NDA is not necessary to do business with Protolabs. When uploading your CAD model to our site, we employ state-of-the-art encryption and anything you upload is protected by confidentiality obligations. For more information, contact your account representative.

What industries use Protolabs services?

We serve a variety of industries including medical device, automotive, lighting, aerospace, technology, consumer product, and electronics.

When should I use machining versus injection molding?

Before making the investment to have injection-mold tooling made or high-volume machining processes, you likely will want to test a part that is as close to the production part as possible. CNC machining is the best option for this situation.

Additionally, engineers often need just one or maybe a few parts for test fixtures, assembly jigs, or assembly fixtures. Machining is the best option here as well, but traditional machine shops often charge a significant non-recurring engineering (NRE) charge for programming and fixturing. This NRE charge often makes getting very small quantities not affordable. The automated CNC machining process eliminates the upfront NRE costs and is able to offer quantities as low as one part at an affordable price and get parts in your hands in as fast as 1 day.

Injection molding is better suited to support larger amounts of samples for functional or market testing, bridge tooling, or low-volume production. If you need parts before a steel tool can be made (typically 6 to 10 weeks with other molders) or your volume requirements don't justify expensive steel production tooling, we can supply production parts to meet your full requirements (up to 10,000+ parts) in 1-20 days.

How many machines do you have?

We currently have more than 1,000 mills, lathes, 3D printers, presses, press brakes, and other manufacturing equipment. With our long history of growth, this number is always changing.

Are my parts made in the United States?

We currently have 10 manufacturing facilities in the United States and Europe, all of which are producing parts.

Why do you have manufacturing facilities in other countries?

We manufacture all parts for North America at our U.S. facilities. We also ship internationally to many other countries from our U.S. facilities. Our manufacturing facility in England supports all of the European countries.

How do I get a quote?

To get a quote for all of our services, simply upload a 3D CAD model on our site. You'll get an interactive quote within hours with free design feedback. If there are problem areas in the submitted design, our quoting engine provides detailed information on the potential manufacturing issues and suggests possible solutions.

Can I quote my part with all services at once?

You can get a quote for injection molding and machining, but a second quote for 3D printing will need to be requested.

What types of files do you accept?

We can accept native SolidWorks (.sldprt) or ProE (.prt) files as well as solid 3D CAD models from other CAD systems output in IGES (.igs), STEP (.stp), ACIS (.sat) or Parasolid (.x_t or .x_b) format. We can also accept .stl files. Two-dimensional (2D) drawings are not accepted.

I don’t have a 3D CAD model. Can you create one for me?

We do not offer any design services at this time. If you need assistance creating a 3D CAD model of your idea, contact us via email and we’ll get you contact information for designers who are familiar with our process.

Does Protolabs offer finishing options and secondary processes with its services?

Enhanced finishing options and secondary processes are available across all of our service lines:

Injection Molding, CNC Machining, 3D Printing, Sheet Metal Fabrication

Do you provide first article of inspection (FAI) service?

We offer FAIs on machined and molded parts.

How is 3D printing different at Protolabs?

Everything we do at Protolabs is focused on providing the fastest and highest quality prototypes and production parts in the industry. This demands the latest technology, managed by tight process controls. Our industrial-grade 3D printing equipment is state-of-the-art and rigorously maintained to perform like new with every build. Orchestrating it all, our trained staff produces your parts according to carefully honed procedures.

What is stereolithography?

While stereolithography (SL) is the oldest of all the 3D printing technologies, it remains the gold standard for overall accuracy, surface finish, and resolution. It uses an ultraviolet laser focused to a small point, drawing on the surface of a liquid thermoset resin. Where it draws, the liquid turns to solid. This is repeated in thin, two-dimensional cross-sections that are layered to form complex three-dimensional parts. Material properties are typically inferior to those of selective laser sintering (SLS), but the surface finish and detail are unmatched.

What is selective laser sintering?

Selective laser sintering (SLS) uses a CO2 laser that draws onto a hot bed of thermoplastic powder. Where it draws, it lightly sinters the powder into a solid. After each layer, a roller lays a fresh layer of powder on top of the bed and the process repeats. Since SLS uses actual engineering thermoplastics, its 3D-printed parts exhibit greater toughness.

What is PolyJet?

PolyJet builds multi-material prototypes with flexible features and complex parts with intricate geometries. A range of hardnesses (durometers) are available, which work well for components with elastomeric features like like gaskets, seals, and housings. PolyJet uses a jetting process where small droplets of liquid photopolymer are sprayed from multiple jets onto a build platform and cured layer by layer. After the build, support material is manually removed. Parts are then ready to be used without the need for post-curing.

What is direct metal laser sintering ?

Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) uses a fiber laser system that draws onto a surface of atomized metal powder, welding the powder into a solid. After each layer, a recoater blade adds a fresh layer of powder and repeats the process until a final metal part is formed. DMLS can use most alloys, allowing parts to be functional hardware made out of the same material as production components. Since the components are built layer by layer, it is possible to design internal features and passages that could not be cast or otherwise machined.

How dense are DMLS parts?

DMLS parts are 99.5% dense.

What companies do you work with?

Due to the proprietary and competitive nature of projects we work on, we do not disclose a listing of our customers. However, we do regularly receive permission to share customer success stories. Read case studies here.

I don’t have a 3D CAD model. Can you create one for me?

We do not offer any design services at this time. If you need assistance creating a 3D CAD model of your idea, contact us via email and we'll provide you with contact information for design firms that are familiar with our process.

What is the typical cost of 3D-printed parts at Protolabs?

Prices start around $95, but the best way is to submit a 3D CAD model to get an interactive quote.

What are Protolabs' CNC machining capabilities?

We mill and turn low quantities (one to 200 pieces) of parts very quickly—within 1 to 3 business days. We machine parts with engineering-grade materials that are suitable for functional testing or end-use applications. 

For advanced machining capabilities and volume pricing, visit Hubs, our digital supply network.

What is unique about the Protolabs' process?

Our quoting process is unprecedented in the machining industry. We have developed proprietary quoting software that runs on a large-scale compute cluster and generates the CNC toolpaths required to machine your part. The result is a fast, convenient, and easy way to get quotes and order machined parts.

What is the typical cost of a machined part at Protolabs?

Prices start around $65, but the best way to find out is to submit a 3D CAD model and get a ProtoQuote interactive quote. Because we use proprietary software and automated fixturing processes, there are no up front non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs. This makes purchasing quantities as low as 1 to 200 parts cost effective. Prices compared to 3D printing are comparable to somewhat higher, but machining offers improved material properties and surfaces.

How does the quoting process work?

Once you upload your 3D CAD model to our website, the software calculates the price to produce your design in various materials and then generates an “as-milled view” of your part. An interactive quote is provided that allows you to evaluate the choice of different materials and different quantities, as well as a 3D view of how your machined part will compare to your original model with any differences highlighted. See a ProtoQuote preview here.

What materials does Protolabs offer for machining? 

We stock a variety of plastic and metal materials from ABS, nylon, polycarbonate (PC), and polypropylene PP to stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass. See a full list of more than 40 stocked materials for milling and turning. Currently, we do not accept customer-supplied material for machining. 

Don’t see what you are looking for? Check out the list of materials offered through our digital supply network.  

What are Protolabs' machining capabilities? What are the minimum and maximum sizes offered?

For specific information on part size and other considerations for milling and turning, please see our milling design guidelines and turning design guidelines

For tighter tolerances, volume pricing options, and additional anodizing options, check out our digital manufacturing network

Why should I have my part machined rather than 3D printed?

Machined parts have the true properties of the material you select. Our process allows you to get parts machined from blocks of solid plastic and metal in the same time frame, if not faster, than 3D-printed parts.

If I have an existing Protolabs quote, but would like to see additional anodizing, tighter tolerances, and volume pricing options from Hubs, how do I make the switch?

In your Protolabs quote, you will see an option at the top that says, ‘See anodizing, tighter tolerances, and volume pricing options from Hubs, a Protolabs company.’ Click that link and you’ll see a blue pop-up box. Click the ‘Get an Instant Quote from Hubs’ button and wait for the system to load. 

What are Protolabs’ sheet metal capabilities?

We fabricate functional prototypes and end-use parts in as fast as 3 days.

What is unique about the Protolabs’ process?

Through design and manufacturing automation, Protolabs is able to get quality sheet metal parts in your hands within days.

What is the typical cost of a sheet metal part at Protolabs?

Prices vary but can start around $125, depending on part geometry and complexity. The best way to estimate your cost is to upload your model to our website to receive a FREE quote within hours. If you want instant costing and design for manufacturability feedback, download our free add-in eRapid for Solidworks.

How does the sheet metal quoting process work?

For sheet metal quotes, you’ll need to upload your CAD model and specifications to You’ll receive a detailed quote within hours. Once you’re ready to order parts, you can log in to myRapid to place your order.

What are Protolabs stocked materials for sheet metal?

We stock a variety of metal materials including stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass. See a full list of stocked materials for sheet metal fabrication.

What are Protolabs’ capabilities? What size can my part be?

For information on part size and other considerations for sheet metal fabrication, please see our sheet metal design guidelines.

What are Protolabs' injection molding capabilities?

We offer plastic and liquid silicone rubber molding as well as overmolding and insert molding in low-volume quantities of 25 to 10,000+ pieces. Standard lead times as fast as 7 days. Rapid injection molding helps product developers get prototypes and production parts that are suitable for functional testing or final use within days.

What is unique about the Protolabs' process?

We have automated the process of quoting, designing, and manufacturing molds based on customer-supplied 3D CAD part models. Due to this automation, and running software on ultra-fast compute clusters, we typically cut the manufacturing time for the initial parts to one-third that of conventional methods.

What is the typical cost of injection-molded parts with Protolabs?

Prices start around $1,495, depending on part geometry and complexity. The best way to estimate cost is to upload your model to our website to receive an interactive quote within hours. Protolabs is able to create your mold at a fraction of the price of traditional injection molding because of our proprietary analysis software, automated processes, and use of aluminum molds.

How does the quoting process work?

Getting an interactive quote will show materials and finishes available, highlight any potential issues with manufacturing your part, and show quick-turn and delivery options available (dependent on your geometry). You’ll see price implications of your material and quantity selections in real time—no need to re-quote. See a sample ProtoQuote here.

What resins can (or should) I use?

Designers should consider application-specific material properties like tensile strength, impact resistance or ductility, mechanical characteristics, molding properties, and cost of the resin when selecting a resin. If you need help selecting material, please feel free to call us.

What are Protolabs’ stocked resins for injection molding?

We house more than 100 thermoplastic resins and also accept many customer-supplied resins. See the full list of Protolabs' stocked resins.

What are Protolabs’ capabilities? What size can my part be?

For information on part size and other considerations for injection molding, please see our design guidelines.

Why should I buy a molded part rather than a 3D-printed part?

Molded parts from Protolabs will have the true properties of the material you select. With the true material properties and improved surface finishes, injection-molded parts are suitable for functional testing and end-use production.

What is a Protolabs Proposed Revision?

A Proposed Revision is a suggested modification to your part geometry to ensure your design complies with the capabilities of our rapid manufacturing process.

What file format will you send me?

It depends on the source file. Generally, we provide STEP, IGES,and SolidWorks files.

If I like the change, what should I do?

You can purchase the part as it is shown with proposed revisions if:

  • there are no unresolved required changes.
  • you accept the Proposed Revision by checking the box in section three of the quote.

If I like the change but want to order from my own source file, what do I do?
Update your model to match the Proposed Revision and resubmit it:

  • Click the 'Download Revised Model' button in section two of the quote to compare the Protolabs geometry to your original version.
  • Replicate the changes shown by Protolabs in your own modeling tool and re-submit your part for quote. Quoting again is required by our process to ensure a match between the quote and the part.
  • The updated quote should be returned with no required changes and thus, your part should be orderable.

What should I do if I don’t like (or can’t accept) the change?

Design issues can often be resolved in multiple ways. You can:

  • modify your part geometry a different way to meet the intent of the Proposed Revision.
  • discuss alternative solutions by contacting an applications engineer at 877-479-3680 or [email protected].

How do I find out more about why you made the change?

To discuss process requirements, contact an applications engineer at 877-479-3680 or [email protected].

Are there extra fees? What is the price of this service?

Proposed Revisions are offered at no additional charge. Revised geometry is priced as any part would be. Some changes will influence price up or down. In practice, most prices changes from minor geometry revisions are negligible.

Is this a design service?

We do not offer product design services. Proposed Revisions are offered to demonstrate geometry that is compatible with our manufacturing processes.

Why was I asked to update my Protoviewer plug-in?

Proposed Revisions are compatible with newer Protoviewer versions only.

What happens if my part doesn’t function based on the Protolabs change?

You are responsible for part design and function.

Can I opt out of the Proposed Revision process?

We hope you find this service valuable, but if you’d prefer to not participate, note so when you upload your part.

What is the Protolabs Network?

Our global network of premium manufacturing partners powered by Hubs offers expanded capabilities, tighter tolerances, volume pricing, and the ability to handle more complex parts.

Where can I learn about these capabilities?

You can visit and click on the ‘Capabilities’ tab in the navigation bar at the top of the page for the full list of machining, 3D printing, molding, and sheet metal fabrication services available through Hubs.

Who can I talk to about vetting an opportunity for the digital network at Hubs?

Talk with your Protolabs account manager to understand which is the best route for your project. Feel free to explore quoting through both systems and reach out to your account manager with any questions.

How do I get a quote from your digital network at Hubs?

Click the blue ‘Get instant quote’ button in the top right corner of and upload your part for a quote through Hubs’ regular quoting portal.

Do I need two different sign-ins/accounts for Protolabs and Hubs?

For now, you will still place your order through one site or the other ( or and will need a login for each site.

What if I want to use Protolabs for some parts on a project and Hubs for other parts?

Order the parts you want fulfilled by Protolabs through and the parts you want fulfilled by Hubs’ manufacturing network through

What if a project requires ITAR compliance?

Protolabs will continue to offer the ITAR compliance we do now. Hubs does not currently support ITAR or export restricted projects, so those orders will need to continue to be placed through