Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fingerbob's guide to Elite Dangerous Trading, Part Five

Hi! Welcome to the last post in my beginner's introduction to trading in Elite Dangerous. This post, we'll focus on how to find a good trade route to make the big money.

If you want to see the rest of this series, here's some links to my beginner's guide:
Part one - the basics
Part two - I think we're going to need a bigger boat
Part three - Rare trading for the win
Part four - Ahab and the whales (bigger ships, mo money)
Part five - Commodities, economies and route planning

If you're getting bored of trading and fancy heading out to see the sights, check out my explorer's guide here.

Are you prepared?

Hopefully you've been following along at home and you're in a ship that's big enough to justify normal commodity trading. If you're still in a Type 6 or smaller, you're probably best served by running one of the various rare routes I covered in my introduction to rare trading. If you're in something larger, or just want to get the hang of making the most of your space with normal goods, then let's go!

What do I buy, and what do I sell?

One thing it really doesn't show is the trade spread. This is the difference between the lowest you can buy the commodity and the highest you can sell it for.

Assuming you can afford a full hold of the most expensive items, then you are always best buying the item with the biggest spread - this has the largest profit potential.

I ran some numbers on the latest trade data from EDDB (and cross-referenced the results with MadDavo's dataset). please note that this is not ever going to be accurate, as the only people who have the full live trade database are Frontier Developments - until then we're relying on croudsourced data (this is true of Thrudds, Slopey's tools, etc).

All of the prices below are based on hundreds or thousands of sample values with anything that appears invalid stripped from the analysis. I'm calculating the lowest and average buy price of any good that has supply, and the highest and average sell price for any good (you can sell something even if the demand is zero, you'll just get an average terrible price for it).

Take a look here for a rundown of the top ten trades by economy pair for every commodity, ordered from largest profit delta to smallest.

Painite : DELTA 36497 SELL 360 < 35768 > 36497
Platinum: DELTA 19954 SELL 697 < 19706 > 19954

You can't buy Platinum or Painite anywhere. They have high sell prices, so if you're mining, they are the best things to target.  The average sell price is pretty close to the maximum, so you'll likely get a good deal at most stations.

In general, slave trading is the highest profit! unfortunately, the supply is low - they just can't crank slaves out fast enough to make it worth chaining gangs of them inside a Type 9. This leaves you with the obvious candidates of Palladium, Gold, Beryllium, Performance Enhancers, Consumer Tech, Progenitor Cells and Superconductors. Looking familiar? You're probably used to trading these commodities already, either through your own trading routes or those suggested by other tools.

You are not going to be able to pick the top two and hope to run them back and forth, however - because the economy of the systems and commodities comes into play, both in terms of what they care about (supply and demand balance) and how much they actually have to trade (supply and demand values). If we take Slaves out of the running for now, then it should be fairly obvious you can't trade Palladium one way and Gold the other - anywhere that sells Palladium at a good price will probably also be producing Gold at a good price.

So, what you actually want to know is the economy type that sells the commodity for the lowest price, and the economy type that buys the commodity for the highest price.

You can make a pretty good guess based on the infographic above. You can sell goods of just about any type in just about any station or outpost, but some economy pairs are much better than others, as the infographic indicates.

However, not every system is created equal. Some systems have a primary economy - and some don't. Systems with huge populations are likely to have more production capacity and more demand. Many systems have secondary economy stations mixed in with their primary (often of a different faction) and some stations satisfy more than one economy type (with varying results on the prices due to internal supply and demand satisfaction).

But, why guess? Let's just do the math! I've worked out the top pairings for every commodity type to validate the kind of routes you should be planning to take.

You'll see in the table that there's a breakdown of the top ten (by profit) economy routes. You'll also see the average supply in the starting economy. A small supply number relative to another economy source means it's highly unlikely you'll find a starting system with a large amount of that commodity (and potentially it won't be there at all).

I've also removed all the data for systems where the economy isn't obvious - this is a big proportion of the dataset and accounts for most of the outlier prices. You might be able to make slightly more if you expand your system search away from the obvious spots, but in general we're talking less than 5% difference on the best prices I've listed.

Again, these prices change constantly. I'll be updating the list every week or so.

How much money can I make?

As you can see from my prices by economy list, the actual sell prices don't vary hugely between different economies - but the supply and demand of the economies varies enormously. As expected, you're best off buying commodities in the economies that provide the highest supply and selling in the systems that have the highest demand.

Jump distances impact your time and profit, but fuel is a tiny cost against a large load (much less than 1% of your total profit even for a full tank) and 45 seconds per jump means a four or five jump trade route is likely cost effective if you can earn more on the trade. As an example, you can run a 10 minute route 6 times an hour, and a 12 minute route 5 times an hour. If you make 1.8K/t on the 10 minute run and 2.2K/t on the 12 minute run, you're going to make more profit on the slower run.

The absolute maximum profit you can make on Palladium / Consumer tech is 3.5K per ton. That would be awesome, but in all the various routes I've plied, the best I've managed on these two is around 2.8K - the buy price is never as low as you want, and the sell price is never as high. If you're making 2.5K/t or more, you're on a good route - stick with it.

With a Type 6 at full cargo (112) and a 10 minute 2.5K/t run, you're making 1.68 million per hour.
An Asp at full cargo (128) on the same run can squeeze 1.9 million.
A Type 7 at full cargo (232) can make 3.5 million. Hitting 10 minutes might be trickier and you're not going to be able to use outposts, so finding a 2.5K/t route will be a longer search.
A Type 9 at full cargo (532) can push 8 million an hour.

Stop with the statistics, and give me some examples!

using the table linked above, all you need to do now is figure out how many systems you want to visit and make sure you link the economies. For example, an obvious high earner is:

Palladium (Extraction to High Tech) with a max profit per ton of 1899
Performance Enhancers (High Tech to Extraction) with a max profit per ton of 1621

another, potentially less illegal, route would be:

Palladium (Extraction to High Tech) with a max profit per ton of 1899
Consumer Technology (High Tech to Extraction) with a max profit per ton of 1598

If you want a three station route, and don't mind being a slave driver, then
Imperial Slaves (Agriculture to Extraction) (1954)
Palladium (Extraction to Industrial) (1915)
Slaves (Industrial to Agriculture) (1866)

would fit the bill nicely.

The typical two jump trade loops will be:

Palladium -> Beryllium
Palladium -> Consumer Technology
Palladium -> Resonating Separators

Switch Gold with Palladium for slightly lower profits.

What should I avoid?

Apart from Tobacco and Slaves, Agriculture systems sell hardly anything that will ramp your profit. You might find an extraction station in an Agriculture system that can hit you up with some Silver, Indium or Gallium. If you're looking for easy to find routes, I'd skip them.

Industrial systems are also generally going to give you mid-profit items. If hauling Power Generators and Mineral Extractors is your thing, then throw an industrial stop in your loop but be prepared to take a hit to your profit per hour.

Just like the real world, the big money is in illegal items (weapons, drugs, slaves), shiny metals and huge TVs.

How do I pick a starting place?

Use the galaxy map, filter by economy type for the starting economy of your first planned stop, and then ramp up the population. You'll start to find candidate stars. check the system map (buy it or fly there) and check out the stations to see if they have enough supply to satisfy your needs.

Once you've got a starting spot, repeat the process for each hop in your route. You can speed this up by, after docking at candidate stations, checking the "exports to" for systems that are already expecting to get that commodity. Sanity check it is of the economy type that matches your next purchase.

Or, if you're feeling lazy, look at Thrudds or use Slopey's tool (or any of the alternatives). If you're hauling huge amounts of cargo around, don't be at all surprised if the prices are not what you expect when you arrive (or tank as soon as someone else jumps on your route).

You will mostly find that systems don't list the top candidates in their export list. There's two reasons for this - the first is that the supply is lower than another item (and you'll only see three items on the list). The second is that it's just not present. Because of this, you can't just rule systems out based on the "imports / exports" view in the system map. You can try and purchase trade data and then filter the map view to show the trade arrows, which will hopefully let you filter to exactly the commodity you want - if you see it flowing, great. If not, it might still be there but not in the supply you want, or it might be there but no-one is moving it.

Trade routes tend to show AI trade just as much as player trade, and an existing flow does show the route is possible - but it doesn't show that it's very profitable. If there's a lot of trade on the route already, chances are the supply is high but the commodity will be well off the price extremes you're looking for - if there's lots of traders hauling a commodity then the station won't be motivated to sell at a discount or buy at a premium.

Ultimately then, this means that the in-game tools are not much use for finding the best trade routes. You can't rely on the import/export panes, you can't rely on the trade route flow indicators and you can't rely on the system map to tell you what you need to know. You are going to have to go visit stations yourself and write down the prices somewhere (or take screenshots).

I find this pretty frustrating - you might really enjoy it. It's all down to your playstyle, I guess. I'd definitely prefer FD to put in some sort of trade prices log for pilots in-game, so you could see what prices were like at the stations you previously visited (instead of having to capture them outside the game). We can hope they add this at some point.

Using the in-station price list and the commodities profit spread data above, you can pretty quickly see if the buy or sell price is going to give you a good profit.

How far should I travel?

Finding your starting system, I'd recommend pushing out of the core (but obviously not as far as the outer rim systems). You want somewhere that's a bit backwater but has a large set of populated systems in a fairly close range.

For your jumps, don't be afraid to make a couple of hops - it's going to add less than a minute to each leg for every hop you make, and fuel costs are negligible these days.

Tools of the trade

Thrudd's Trading Tool:
Elite Dangerous Database :
MadDavo's price database :
Slopey's Best Profit Calculator :
EliteOCR :

There's plenty more tools out there if you look - but I'd recommend learning how to do this in the game as much as possible - I'm certain Frontier Developments will make our lives easier in the long run.

Wrapping up

Thanks for reading along, I hope you've found this introduction to trading a useful resource. I'll be continuing to update it over the coming months (maybe even with some pictures and videos) but for now I'm heading out into the wide black yonder to see the sights.

If you're interested in Exploring, check out my explorer's guide here.

See you out there, Commanders!


  1. Awesome guide you have here!

    I was trading rares with a type 6 when I found your blog. My thoughts: Also trading routes can be designed to pass through power HQ so we can trade and get merits at the same time. :)

  2. Thank you for the guide, I picked the game up on the black friday discount, and it's been an amazing trip so far. I was completely out in the dark until I read your guide, but now I got the basics down and for the 3 days that I've been playing on and off, after a couple of deaths and some losses along them I managed to buy a type-6, fully upgraded and I am running a 4,5k/t loop run without smuggling anything illegal. I am having so muh fun with this game and I haven't even started any exploration or fighting at all, and if I have to be honest I have never played a space simulator ever before but damn this game is so much fun. Thanks for the immense help.

    1. I just can't believe that you after all patching find 4,5k/t profit loop . Can you prove it?

  3. I haven't played as of 03.12.2015, last entry on the log is after I got destroyed with all my cargo by a bandit player.