3D printers are becoming one of the most exciting and talked-about technologies in the world, and it’s easy to see why; these amazing machines can create almost anything, from detailed models and artwork to functional parts and products.
But what exactly is this piece of hardware, and how does it work? In a nutshell, 3D printers build items by fusing layers of filament plastics or composite materials. This process is controlled by a computer file that contains instructions for the printer.
The file is created using special 3D modeling software, which allows you to design or download models from the internet. With a 3D printer, you can turn your ideas into reality in just a few hours.
But not many people own a 3D printer or know how to use one. That’s why a 3D printing business can be very lucrative, with several ways to use this machine to start a business. Here are some of the most popular ways to make money with your 3D printing prowess.
1. Custom 3D Print-on-Demand Service
A printing service involves taking custom orders from customers and printing the requested items for them.
With a print-on-demand business model, you only print items as you receive orders. Since there’s no need to keep a stock of products, it makes for a very flexible and scalable business! You can start small and grow your business as you receive more orders.
It’s a great business model if you enjoy designing different types of 3D prints based on the customer’s needs. For example, customers may request specific things, such as:
- Prototypes for new products
- Custom home decor
- Crafts for school projects
- Custom gifts
Keep in mind that for this business model, you may need more than one type of filament and device to create a wider range of objects. For example, fused deposition modeling machines (or FDM printers) are best for manufacturing low-cost prototypes and bigger, less complex items. However, stereolithography (SLA) printers use a resin that is better for detailed items, molds, and functional parts.
Start by creating a portfolio that showcases your expertise in printing 3D models. Then, set up a website or online shop and start marketing your service through networking and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram.
2. Create and Sell Your Own Products
If you want to specialize in specific types of 3D printed products, you can choose to create your products in advance and sell them online. Some popular items include:
- D&D miniatures and figurines
- Architecture models
- Glasses frames
- Toys and Nerf guns
- Phone cases
You can design items from scratch using 3D design software, or you can sell others’ designs – but only if the copyright license allows it.
Places to Sell Your Wares
One of the best platforms to sell 3D printed products is Etsy, which offers a wide range of tools and resources to help you launch your business.
Another option is to sell your products on Amazon Handmade, which also has a vast customer base and numerous fulfillment centers that can take care of all your inventory, packaging, and shipping.
When listing your products, it’s essential to provide potential buyers with as much information as possible. This includes high-resolution photos of your product, a detailed description, pricing information, and shipping details. It’s also important to set up return policies and shipping times that are reasonable for your potential customers.
While online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon can give you a leg up via access to their large customer base, marketing will still need to be a big part of your business strategy if you’re going to find long-term success.
Social media platforms are a particularly powerful method of advertising, especially TikTok and Instagram, where you can use videos and visuals to promote your products.
Publish short TikToks and Reels showing how you make and use your products. Remember that consistency is key to building a brand and fan base on social media!
Another excellent way to market your products is through influencer marketing. You can identify relevant social media influencers with a large following in your target market and send them free samples of your product in exchange for them promoting your product to their audience.
This can be a great way to get your 3D-printed products in front of a large number of potential customers.
If you gain a large enough following, you can also consider selling your items through your own online store or Shopify, where you can save on overall fees.
Offer 3D Printing Education
There are lots of hobbyists who want to learn how to use a 3D printer but have no idea where to start. You can make a lot of money as an online educator by showing other people how to design and print 3D items.
Here are some of the best ways to monetize this niche:
3. 3D Printing Blog
Starting a blog is still a great way to make money in 2022, but you need to have a strategy to succeed. The key is consistently publishing blog posts that are helpful to the reader and relevant to 3D printing.
Learning SEO is paramount if you want your blog posts to rank on Google. You can also drive traffic to your blog by guest posting on other blogs in your niche and using social media platforms to share your content.
Another great way to monetize your blog is through affiliate marketing. This is where you partner with products or services related to 3D printing and place affiliate links to their products or services in your content. Then, when someone purchases a product through your link, you get a commission!
For example, if you become an Amazon Associate, you can make a blog post about the best 3D printer tool kits and use your affiliate links to link out to your favorite products on Amazon.
4. YouTube Channel
YouTube is the second-most powerful search engine after Google and is the number one place people go to learn new things visually.
You can quickly build a following if you consistently publish video tutorials on how to design and print 3D items.
It typically takes several months to grow a YouTube channel, but once you reach 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time, you can apply to be part of the YouTube Partner program, which enables you to make money through ads and other perks like “Supers” (which are essentially like tips), and memberships.
5. 3D Printing Course
If you want to make a more passive income from 3D printing, creating an online course showing beginners how to use a 3D printer is a fantastic option. This is because once you create the course content, you can sell it repeatedly without having to put in any additional work!
The key to success with online courses is to create high-quality content that people will find valuable. This means including lots of helpful information, step-by-step instructions, and visuals to help people understand the concepts you’re teaching.
Online courses are most successful when you already have a strong online presence, either through your blog or social media channels.
6. Consultation Services
As an expert in 3D printing, you can make a lot of money by offering consultation services to businesses or people who need help with their 3D printing projects.
For example, you could offer services like 3D print file optimization, design consulting, or material selection advice. You can find clients through networking, social media, or freelancer platforms like UpWork and Fiverr.
The Costs of Starting a 3D Printing Business
It’s worth noting that some significant startup costs are involved in starting this kind of business. 3D printers and filaments can be expensive, and you may need to invest in some software as well. Here is what you need to know before starting.
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
There is a wide range of prices for 3D printers, depending on the type and size. The cheaper end is around $200, which is suitable for hobbyists. However, professionals use high-quality printers ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.
Another option is to rent a 3D printer; companies like Airwolf3D rent out printers starting at $650 per month.
How Much Does Filament Cost?
Filament for FDM printers can vary in cost anywhere from $20 to $120 per kilogram, depending on the material. Entry-level resins for SLA printers typically start at $50 per liter, with professional resins costing up to $400.
What Does 3D Printing Software Cost?
Some printing software, such as Ultimaker Cura and Tinkercad, is free and may do the job depending on the items you are printing. However, they lack the in-depth features and speed you may need for certain business endeavors.
For example, if you offer rapid prototyping services, you will likely need to invest in professional software, like AutoDesk AutoCAD, which costs $220 monthly or $1,775 annually.
Depending on your business model, there might be additional costs, such as shipping, advertising, web hosting, and more. But these three are the biggest upfront investments you’ll need to make regardless of whether you’re offering services, products, or educational material.
The best way to determine which 3D printing monetization strategy to pursue is to consider what you’re most interested in and where your strengths lie. For example, are you a great designer? Do you want to create specific types of 3D products? Or are you great at teaching?
Regardless of which path you choose, 3D printing can be so much more than a hobby. From Etsy and Amazon to blogging and consultation services, countless creatives around the world are successfully monetizing this fascinating niche! Will you be next?