Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing: What’s the Difference?

Last updated on by Editorial Staff
Comparing Additive and Subtractive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is also known as 3D printing. That means adding materials layer by layer to create a three-dimensional object.

On the other hand, subtractive manufacturing is the traditional way of making things by removing materials from a larger piece to create the desired shape.

Here’s a quick rundown of additive vs subtractive manufacturing.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing is making a three-dimensional object from a digital model by adding successive layers of material.

Additive Manufacturing vs Subtractive Manufacturing differences symbolic representaion

What is Subtractive Manufacturing?

Subtractive manufacturing is a process in which material is removed from a workpiece to create the desired shape.

Additive Manufacturing vs Subtractive Manufacturing

Additive ManufacturingSubtractive Manufacturing
Builds an object by adding layers of materialRemoves material from a larger piece to create an object.
This process includes digital manufacturing, 3D printing, and additive fabrication.This process includes traditional machining, CNC machining, or manual removing.
Creates prototypes or product models first by using computers and 3D printing equipmentIt turns, drilling, and other machining processes using computers and robotics.
It is a slow process.It is a fast process.
You must do post-printing to surface finish by sanding or blowing because layering makes a rough surface.Surface finishing can be done by machining like smoothing, stepping, etc.
It can be used with limited materials like plastics and metals.Suitable for all types of materials like metal, plastic, wood, composites, and glasses
It is best suited for small items.

It is best suited for large items.
A machine operator is not needed in this process because the software will take care of the 3D printer.Here, the machine operator required to monitor the CNC machine
Less expensiveMore expensive
Suitable for small batch productionSuitable for large-scale production
The finished product will have a weak structureThe finished product will have a strong structure

Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing Process

Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing Process comparison

Now that you know the difference between additive and subtractive manufacturing, you can decide which manufacturing method is suitable for your next project.

Additive manufacturing is more versatile because it can be used to create complex shapes that would be impossible to make with subtractive manufacturing. It’s also more efficient since there’s no need to remove excess material.

So, which one is better? It depends on your needs. If you need to create a complex object quickly and cheaply, additive manufacturing is the way. On the other hand, if you need a specific object, subtractive manufacturing is the better option.

Pros and Cons of Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing

Pros of Additive Manufacturing

  • Using traditional manufacturing methods, you can create complex objects that would be difficult or impossible.
  • You can create customized products quickly and easily.
  • It produces less waste.

Cons of Additive Manufacturing

  • It can be slow and expensive compared to subtractive manufacturing.
  • It often results in a poorer surface finish than subtractive manufacturing.

Pros of Subtractive Manufacturing

  • It is typically faster and less expensive than additive manufacturing.
  • You can create objects with a high degree of precision.
  • You can create a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Cons of Subtractive Manufacturing

  • It is limited to objects that can be created by removing material from a more significant piece.
  • Produces waste materials as machining removes layers from the block of raw material.
  • It requires specialized equipment and skills, which can be costly.

Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing Cost

Tooling and machinery cost

Material cost

The material cost of additive manufacturing is significantly higher than that of subtractive manufacturing. That is because additive manufacturing requires more material to produce a part, whereas subtractive manufacturing can reuse scrap material.

However, the difference in material cost is offset by the greater efficiency of additive manufacturing, which reduces the amount of waste produced.

Applications of Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing

Applications of Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing - a comparison
  • Additive manufacturing is used in jewelry, aerospace manufacturing, model fabrication, robotics, and medical elements.
  • Subtractive manufacturing makes household things, automobiles, and dental elements.


What are some examples of Additive Manufacturing?

Common examples of additive manufacturing include 3D printing, laser sintering, and stereolithography.

What are some examples of Subtractive Manufacturing?

Some common examples of subtractive manufacturing include milling, turning, and drilling.


Additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing are two very different ways of creating objects. Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, involves adding layers of material on top of each other until the desired object is created.

Subtractive manufacturing, which includes processes such as machining and milling, starts with a larger piece of material and removes parts from it until the desired object is left behind.

This blog post explored examples of each type of manufacturing and discussed the pros and cons of each.