3D printing as a vocation is in vogue right now. On one hand, you have enthusiasts who do it as a hobby because they are passionate about it. On the other, there are professional 3D printers who have turned the vocation into a side gig. Who wouldn’t like having a side income, right?
But, exactly how to make money with a 3D printer? In most cases, it requires you to spend money, either to maintain the machine or to buy materials and attachments. How can you turn it into a money-generating gig?
Let’s take some time today to go through ways in which you can earn money with 3D printing. This is a guide on how to start a small 3D printing side business.
Benefits of 3D Printing
3D printing makes creating things easy and flexible. For instance, think of a small toy car. Due to active use, assume that the cap that covers its battery enclosure has broken. And now it’s near impossible to hold the AAA batteries that it held together, rendering the toy useless. Except for if you use tape. With 3D printing and some basic effort, however, you can create a new cap that will stay on for a longer time. All you need to do is get the measurements and 3D print a replacement.
Similarly, 3D printing has several more benefits such as:
- Flexible product design – customize product design as per your needs and tastes
- On-demand printing – you can print only when there’s a need
- Low-cost, DIY production
- Mass production on a budget
Where to Buy a 3D Printer? How Much Does It Cost?
The best 3D printer is one that serves your needs, is highly customizable, and lasts long. We recommend getting one from online marketplaces like Amazon.com. You can explore a variety of options across price points and brands.
Amazon.com is often the first choice for buying such 3D printers and associated accessories as you can check user reviews and make a wise purchase.
Most entry-level 3D printers cost between $200 and $500. These are typically FDM 3D printers that are a great start for hobbyists and beginners.
There are also mid-level and advanced 3D printers with more functions and features. However, when starting a small business, you should first get your hands on using a basic or mid-level 3D printer. Use our buying guide to get started.
Reasons to Start a 3D Printer Business
One of the biggest reasons to start a 3D printer business is to earn a side income. After all, why shouldn’t you turn your passion or hobby into a moneymaking venture?
Unlike the craft and art business, 3D printing is still a niche field, even in the United States. You can start with small objects and target your friends and family first, and then slowly grow your business. With a small business at home, you can gradually gauge its potential to become a full-fledged enterprise or your primary profession.
3D printing is also not about a single product. The print-on-demand (POD) industry is fledgling and has huge potential in the future.
Another advantage of a 3D printing side business is that it’s industry-agnostic. You can print stuff of virtually anything and any form. From small toys to souvenirs to showpieces to accessories. There are tons of ways you can print different types of products and monetize your 3D printing business. How to make money with a 3D printer will then only be a matter of taking orders.
Other reasons to start a 3D printing business include:
- Honing your 3D printing skills
- Expanding your 3D printing knowledge
- Exploring new 3D printing techniques
- Getting into additive printing R&D
Different Ways to Make Money With a 3D Printer – List of Ideas
There are several ways to make money with a 3D printer. All you need is a functional entry-level or mid-level 3D printer, the skills to produce near-perfect objects, and some business skills.
But what exactly will you print and sell? It is not like there’s a high demand for a certain object that has limited supply. Even if there is, there will already be a market online or offline servicing that demand. So, what can you sell? How can you set up a business?
As experts in this field, we have listed some of the most lucrative and easy 3D printing business ideas below. Pick one of these to gauge the prospect of running a small business from your home.
1. Build and Sell Customized Products
This is one of the easiest ways to earn money with 3D printing. You can create customized mugs, caps, pens and pencils, and what-not. The ideas are endless on this as it’s similar to running a craft and art business.
To get started on this, think of a couple of products that sell easily. Then you can create your own designs for these products and market them online.
You can find preset designs and measurements for most everyday products online on 3D printing boards. Just make sure you add your own style to your products to make them stand apart.
2. Design New Products
While selling customized products online is almost as old as the internet, designing with a 3D printer is more of a novelty. It requires skill and product design experience to print out something that people will want to buy.
For instance, Amazon.com is filled with collectibles and fun objects that people buy to gift their friends and family. Many of these are a product of 3D printing businesses. Some good examples are teabag spoon, pen stand, synthetic mouse pad cum wrist rest, and USB key chains. The possibilities are endless if you have the faculty to imagine new objects and build them with your printer.
Once you have one or two good designs, you can start printing them and sell. There are several ways to sell your 3D designs, which we have covered later in this article.
Pro Tip – If you can’t think of any new design, you can consider improving an existing design. Don’t like the original design of that pocket knife holder? Make your own version!
3. Enter the Print-On-Demand (POD) Market
The above two ideas involve producing something and then marketing them to an audience. How about you reverse it? How about an audience comes to you with a request?
Ever since 3D printing became mainstream, the print-on-demand market has evolved a lot. There are sections on the internet where solopreneurs like you engage in forums and take individual orders. Someone might ask for a specific type of Lego piece for their collection, while another one will ask for a wireless mouse receiver replacement.
Such a business can be perfect for those who are not looking for a steady activity and stream of income. You can create a website and take orders from there. As long as your customer gives you a rough idea about the required product along with the measurements, you can print it on your machine.
The POD market is highly popular these days. Hundreds of solo professional 3D printers take up orders and make a good income out of it in the United States and other parts of the world.
4. Start a 3D Printing Blog or Vlog
If you can’t sell your products, start teaching. Although 3D printing has arrived in mainstream circles, it’s still considered niche. Sometime in the last few years, it lost its steam, as people got engaged in other fancy stuff like cryptocurrency.
Fortunately, this has opened up an opportunity. There is still a section of 3D printing enthusiasts in the world who want to explore more in this field. If you have the know-how and the patience to document your learnings, you can start an educational blog. It can be either a text-based traditional blog or a YouTube channel.
We recommend the video format as you can record your sessions and show your audience the ABCs of 3D printing. While there are tens of such 3D printing tutors already, it’s not a wide industry. There’s still room for skilled and experienced 3D printers to showcase their skills and earn something on the side.
With this business idea, you can monetize your content as well as sell courses and podcasts.
Pro Tip – If you have a flair for writing, you can also convert your 3D printing skills into technical content and write for a blog. Having your own 3D printer will only improve your content as you can write from your experiences.
5. Become an Ecommerce Supplier
If you are an experienced 3D printer, you can reach out to your suppliers and other dealers to give you orders. These will involve everything from spare parts to fixtures to small objects that need to be mass-produced.
For example, an ecommerce company selling furniture online may need your help in creating small plastic screws or a wand that’s required to tighten a screw. There are sorts of tiny objects that these suppliers need to add to their ecommerce orders. If you can reach out (through cold calling) to these suppliers, you can get some orders and put your 3D printer to good use.
Of course, along with the cold calling, you will need to demonstrate your skills and experience. Make sure you can show some samples to get business contracts.
Pro Tip – You can also reach out to hospitals and medical institutes to get orders for prosthetics and other medical devices.
6. Make and Sell Art
Another great way to make money online with 3D printing is by making and selling art. You can even go abstract if you don’t want to go the traditional way by selling customized t-shirts and mugs.
Some examples are wall hangings, car accessories, showpieces, and customized plant holders (for succulents).
7. Make Spare Parts
Remember the example we gave of the toy car battery cap? This type of business, although a niche, has a lot of takers. Sure, you will need to get in touch with dealerships and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to get orders, but it can be a lucrative side job.
It is also one of the most challenging ways to earn money with 3D printing. This is because you will need to follow the instructions to the T. Spare parts of any object or machine will need to be printed with accuracy and precise measurements.
One industry where this can be a lucrative business is automotive. There are hundreds of car models that have gone out of production. Owners have to make do with refurbished spare parts. How good would it be to help them get new, better spare parts?
Note – This is a highly skilled business idea. If you are an entry-level 3D printing enthusiast, you will need experience and advanced printers to even start something like this.
Platforms to Sell Your Products
We know what you’re thinking. You have latched on to a business idea, but where do you sell your products?
Well, here are some platforms/channels where you can promote your 3D printed items:
- Etsy – #1 choice to sell your 3D printed objects
- Amazon.com – sell customized products as an Amazon Seller
- Shopify – create your own website using Shopify and sell
- WooCommerce – similar to Shopify but integrated with WordPress
- 3D printing channels like Thingiverse, TurboSquid, CG Trader, and Cubebrush
Apart from these online channels, you can also tie up with local shops and marketplaces. If you have the startup money, you can also open a small store in your neighborhood and provide 3D printing services. These can range from modeling to printing to prototyping.
The question ‘how to make money with a 3D printer’ has several answers but we have to admit that none of the ways is easy. In addition to skills and experience, you will also need some business and marketing skills to sell your prototypes and products. For some users, this may be a challenge. For others? A walk in the park.
Therefore, making money through 3D printing boils down to what you can produce and how you can sell it.
We hope this guide has given you a fair idea of how to proceed. The first step is to brush up on your 3D printing skills. Next comes choosing a business idea and then planning around it.
Remember, as they say, starting any business requires a lot of patience. With a 3D printing business, you also need a full load of technical knowledge and skills.