Globally, the 3D printing market was worth $13.8 billion last year.
With that figure expected to grow at least 18% year on year, it’s no wonder that people are starting to take more interest in this fascinating piece of technology.
We explore the money-making side of 3D printers, explaining everything you need to know to make some serious cash from this exciting technology.
This article is for you anyone that is considering turning their 3D printing hobby into a money-making venture, whether you’re a complete beginner or a professional printer.
10 ways how to make money with a 3D printer
We’ve listed 10 ways that you can create an income stream from a 3D printer. From full business ventures to ad hoc cash makers, we’ve included an option for everyone.
1. Start a 3D item printing business
Ever dreamed of owning your own business? Providing printing services is a fast way to earn extra cash and contribute to your local community. It’s also a popular way to turn your 3D printing hobby into an income stream. The business opportunities are endless for every area of interest and area of expertise
Decide on an area of focus for your business such as prototypes, toys, jewelry, phone cases, personalized items or home décor.
Here’s what you need and how to get started.
Items you’ll need for your 3D printing business
3D printer – obviously the first piece of equipment to invest in is a 3D printer. The price will depend hugely on the type of items you want to sell, however professional 3D printer can set you back between $1,000 to $10,000. You can buy low-cost 3D printers for as low as a few hundred dollars, however this will restrict what you can print. You can buy 3D printers from online stores such as Amazon or your local craft store.
Replacement parts – regardless of what you decide to print and sell, print heads, belts and beds are parts that may become worn and damaged over time. Keep your process running seamlessly by keeping these spare parts to hand if needed.
Your own website – a professional website is a key to the success of your 3D printing business. If you can afford it, hire a company to create a user-friendly website that will reach potential customers and you’re your business noticed. If you’re serious about turning your printing hobby into a business venture, you’ll also want a memorable logo and branding materials.
Places to sell your 3D items
Your own online store – online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon are great for reaching a wide audience. Advertising online gives you the opportunity to sell your 3D items globally.
We’ve summarised the pros and cons of selling 3D prints on each platform.
Etsy – Etsy is one of the largest marketplaces for 3D printing, which means you will need to offer something unique and price it competitively to get sales. Built-in analytics will help you increase traffic to your online shop but remember to take into account sellers’ fees when considering your pricing strategy.
Amazon – as the largest online retail market in the world, there are plenty of opportunities for sales on Amazon. Low marketing costs also make it a popular marketplace for small businesses. The cons of selling on Amazon are the high competition and selling fees.
eBay – one of the main benefits of selling on eBay is the opportunity to gain new customers every time you make a sale. However, there are rules and policy restrictions that buyers need to be aware of before listing and selling their products.
Offline – trade shows, craft shows, festivals and fairs are all great places to sell your 3D items in person. Consider getting access to electricity at your events so you can do a live demonstration of 3D printing to attract customers to your stand. You can also approach local businesses to ask whether they would like to display any of your items in their shop window. This will give you great exposure without the cost of opening your own physical store.
2. Provide 3D printer rental services
Renting your 3D printer out is a relatively low-effort way to earn cash. People that don’t have the money or space for their own 3D printer will look for places where they can rent one to create their own products.
You can either set up a rental business following the same steps as you would for a 3D printing business, or you can use companies such as 3D Hubs and MakeXYZ. Simply list your printer on their networks and local customers will be able to find your printer and request rental services.
Businesses are also often on the lookout for help with their 3D printing needs. Advertise your services in your local area or reach out to businesses directly to see if they require your rental services. Consider if you want to rent out your printer on a short-term or long-term basis. This will ultimately depend on whether you intend to use it to print your own items as well.
Remember to factor in your time, electricity and maintenance of your 3D printer to the price that you charge customers.
3. Create prototypes
Monetize your printing machine by designing and building 3D prototypes to test the usability and functionality of products. So, how does it work?
Inventors and entrepreneurs want to make prototypes of their product ideas at an early stage to determine viability. This is where you come in. Depending on how complex the item is, you could charge an hourly consultation rate plus a fee for the product that you’re making. Large 3D printing companies charge extremely high prices for this kind of service, giving you a great opportunity to price competitively and gain more business.
Every new business needs to create a physical product, which means entrepreneurs will be more than willing to pay for your service. Your income from creating prototypes is uncapped and will only be limited by how much time and effort you want to put into advertising your prototype creation services.
4. Create a YouTube channel
Why not consider using your 3D printing expertise to start your own YouTube channel and earn money that way?
You can earn more money from ad revenue, brand sponsorships and affiliate programs once you build up a loyal follower base.
If you’re not sure how to get started, follow our top tips for success.
Create your channel
· Once you have created an account, click on the user icon in the top right corner of the screen.
· The gear icon will take you to your account settings.
· Click “Create a new channel”
· Enter a business or brand name
If you’re struggling to think of a brand name, try an online generator for inspiration.
Strengthen your online presence
Followers are likely to search your other social media platforms, so make sure they all link to your website and contain relevant content to your 3D printing business.
Share your YouTube videos to the homepage of your website so people can see them as soon as they click your URL. Embed them in blog posts or even send your subscribers a newsletter containing your most recent video.
Plan your content
Consistent content that has a clear message performs the best on YouTube. What is the purpose of your channel? Are you teaching other people the techniques of 3D printing or showcasing your products? Get inspiration from other 3D printing channels, but try to pick an angle that is different from other people to gain the maximum amount of interest.
Upload your first video
After all the careful research, filming and editing, it’s time to upload your first video. Before your video goes live, you’ll need to fill in a title, tags and description. Spend time choosing your keywords carefully so your video can easily be found in the search engines.
Engaging with your followers and community is a great way to build trust and loyalty with people. Do this by replying to comments on your videos, answering questions and listening to people’s opinions.
Use YouTube Analytics
It’s important to know which of your videos is performing well and why. This information will allow you to target your audience better and improve your content.
Other analytics include:
· Audience retention – see which parts of your videos captured your viewer’s attention and which parts caused them to switch to another channel.
· Similar channels your audience watches – this is really important if you want to set yourself apart from your competitors. See what works well, what doesn’t and what you could do differently.
Invest in YouTube Ads
If you want to boost your video advertising efforts, consider using YouTube Ads to grow your number of followers. Formats include skippable and non-skippable in-stream ads, in-feed video ads and bumper ads.
It’s unlikely that you will earn enough money from a YouTube channel for a full-time living but it’s a good way to top up your income and have fun in the meantime.
5. Teach 3D printing courses
3D printing is a skill that can be taught, which means that you can create a course on the subject and earn a passive income from it.
People are willing to pay money to improve their self-development and learn something new.
There are several ways that you can earn money from an online course, including:
· Charging a one-off course fee.
· Using a subscription model to charge people a monthly fee for course content.
· A tiered payment option where people pay a lower price for introductory content then higher prices for more technical content.
· Selling course licenses to companies who will then provide the course using your content.
Udemy is an online platform that attracts over 40m global learners. All you need to do is create your online 3D printing course and you will receive money every time somebody signs up for and pays to do your course. The global network gives course creators a huge opportunity to market their courses.
Another option is to start a 3D printing consultancy business. This is where you teach people about 3D printing and how to make money from it. You will need to have a lot of knowledge and experience in 3D printing first and be able to build a network of contacts. Developing close relationships with consultants from different industries is a great way to get referrals and more business.
6. Start a 3D printing blog
Whilst blogging won’t earn you money straight away, it can be a lucrative side hustle if you want to put your skills and knowledge to good use.
WordPress and Blogger are free blogging platforms where you can set up a basic blog with no initial investment. By promoting your blog on your website and social media platforms you can start to increase your reach. Regular industry-relevant and engaging content is key to successful blogging.
Earn money from your 3D printing blog through:
Affiliate marketing: after you have attracted a decent amount of readers to your blog, companies will pay you a commission to include affiliate links in your content. These are links to a product or service. When a visitor from your blog makes a purchase, you get paid a small amount.
Adding banner adverts: banner advertising space is an effective way to make money from your blog. Companies that share your target audience will be keen to show their products or services on your blog. In the same way as affiliate marketing, you will get paid if the viewer clicks the advert.
Sponsored social media posts: brands pay successful bloggers to use sponsored posts on your platforms.
Not sure what to post? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
· Latest printing industry news and trends
· 3D printing tips
· How to tutorials
· Case studies
· 3D printing events
· Behind the scenes
7. Create and sell replacement parts
With some basic computer-aided design (CAD) knowledge and experience and some 3D modeling software, you can design and create replacement parts for appliances and furniture using your 3D printer.
This will come in handy to save money in your own house, but it’s also a good business opportunity. Normally, people would source a replacement part online or contact the manufacturer to purchase the relevant items. With 3D printing technology, people can keep their household items in full working order for longer and at a more cost-effective price.
You could add a replacement part service to your 3D printing business or set it up as an individual side business.
8. Offer a 3D scanning service
Got a passion to achieve more from your printing business? Develop your business model further by investing in a 3D scanner and providing your contacts with 3D scanning services.
A 3D scanner analyzes objects or an environment to collect data about its shape and appearance. The data is then used to create 3D models.
The cost of a 3D scanner is between $400 to $200,000, depending on the model and specification.
3D scanners are used in most industries, including healthcare, manufacturing and video gaming to create highly-detailed 3D models from the scans.
The best way to make money from 3D scanning is by searching for opportunities online. Companies and clients will list 3D file creation jobs that they want completed, so you can approach them and offer your services.
9. Fix and flip 3D printers
Put your 3D printing knowledge and expertise to good use by repairing broken printers.
Buying used and refurbished technology such as 3D printers can be a lucrative business, especially if you love searching for a bargain. You can also make a decent profit too.
The key to a 3D printer flipping business is finding the right printers at the right price. Use your 3D printing knowledge to negotiate prices, especially on second-hand technology that needs some maintenance before it can be resold.
Before you decide on a price to resell your item for, consider:
· How much the 3D printer cost you to buy.
· The price of materials and parts to repair or enhance the machine.
· Any cost of transport involved.
· Whether you will deliver the printer to the customer or they will collect.
· Did you pay for any marketing costs to get the business?
· The time you spent on it and how much to charge for an hourly rate.
Look at similar items online to see what they are selling for to price your flipped 3D printer competitively.
10. Sell your 3D printer
If you find that you need some fast cash, selling your 3D printer for a lump sum is a good idea to consider. Second-hand technology and appliances will typically hold their value well as long as it’s well looked after and in full working order.
Is 3D printing a good side hustle?
Even if you’re a complete 3D printing beginner, but have a passion for printing and the technology behind it, it’s a great side business to consider. Lots of industries need 3D printing capabilities to build prototypes and create custom parts for their innovations.
The amount you make will ultimately depend on which area you focus on. For example, 3D prints won’t have as high a profit margin as creating and selling prototypes.
If you really want to maximize your earning potential, consider choosing a few niche areas and services to offer customers.
3D printed items that sell
One of the best things about 3D printers is that your imagination is the limit. You can create pretty much anything. Here are some product categories that sell successfully.
Jewelry – 3D printed jewelry is hugely popular because of its uniqueness. Less production time has resulted in designers being able to spend more time designing some amazing pieces.
Pet accessories – the purpose of pet products are to make a pet’s life more fun and comfortable. As a designer, this is a fun area to explore but it’s important to meet all of the pet safety guidelines.
Artwork – Customized artwork make a great gift for people who are looking to commission someone to make their own artwork creations.
Mugs – who doesn’t love a mug? Mugs are also easy to personalize, making them a popular gift option. Artwork and text can be added to create a unique design.
Planters – self-watering planters are becoming a big thing. They are also a relatively straightforward object to design and print.
Toys – Toys are easy to make on 3D printers and fairly cheap. Fidget toys in particular are easy to design and even easier to sell. Other toys that sell well include surprise eggs, gliders and spinner toys.
Miniatures – figurines from games and movies such as Warhammer and Disney films are a great item for professional 3D printers to create because of their high level of detail and popularity.
Home décor – items such as vases, lamps and statues are fairly simple objects that can be created with a 3D printer. Homeowners often commission professional printers to create something bespoke. Wall decorations are another area that
Phone cases – personalized products such as phone cases sell extremely well. People like to change their phone cases regularly to suit different outfits or a change in taste. This means that it’s a lucrative area to get into. Phone and tablet stands are other popular item that can have a fun and quirky design to make them unique.
Model cities – people love having a model of a place that is special to them. 3D printing capabilities allow for tiny details such as landmarks and buildings. These types of items are usually commissioned and make great gifts.
Personalized keyrings – these are simple items to design and create and sell really well. Personalized keyrings are used as a form of identification by some people, which makes them really fun to produce.
How much money could a 3D printing business make?
It’s hard to put an exact figure on how much you can expect to make from a 3D printing business because there are so many factors that will affect your profit margins.
The best thing about starting a 3D printing business is that there is no limit on how much money you can make. You can put as much or as little time into growing your business and expanding your product range. Earning a six-figure income is more than achievable if you utilize your skills and the business opportunities around you.
Advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing
Before you start making money from your 3D printer, it’s important to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing. This knowledge will allow you to sell your services well and recommend appropriate solutions to meet your clients’ needs.
Compared to traditional printing methods, 3D printing provides the following advantages:
Flexible design – complex and intricate designs are possible with the technology of a 3D printer.
Fast prototyping – parts can be manufactured within a few hours, speeding up the entire process of product creation. This also means that any modifications can be done quickly.
Printing on demand – unlike traditional printing and manufacturing processes, 3D printing on demand doesn’t require lots of inventory space. 3D files are simply stored in an online library and printed in CAD or STL files.
Tailor-made parts – the main material used in 3D printing is plastic, which is lightweight and provides greater fuel efficiency for industries such as aerospace and automotive. The properties of a part can be adjusted to suit the requirements for water repellence, strength and heat resistance.
A quick design and production process – Machine-made parts can be a lengthy process, whereas 3D printers can design and create designs and parts in only a few hours. This can make a significant difference to the overall cost of a product.
Less waste – 3D printing only uses the materials it needs to create a product. There are no off-cuts or parts of non-recyclable materials that are wasted. In turn, this reduces the overall cost of materials and makes the product more cost-effective.
Cost savings – in business, time saved equals money saved. 3D printers also work on their own, which means there are no costs to be factored in for the operation. Add this to the lower cost of materials and you can see why businesses favor this method of printing compared to more traditional options.
More environmentally friendly – the reduction in materials and fuel efficiency from lightweight parts make 3D printing a more sustainable manufacturing process for businesses.
The process of 3D printing can cause some challenges, including:
Use of limited materials – 3D printing uses only certain types of plastic and metal. This is because they need to be temperature controlled to allow for the printer to work effectively. The limited choice of materials may restrict some product designs.
A restricted build size – the printing chamber of 3D printers is small, which means that only parts of a certain size will fit. This can increase the time it takes to complete a product that is made up of lots of small parts and joined together.
Copyright issues – as we’ve already explained, as 3D printing becomes more accessible, there is more chance for people to create counterfeit products that are extremely similar to their originals.
Is it legal to sell 3D prints and printed objects?
It’s perfectly legal to create and sell your own prints and objects online or offline. However, when you’re recreating other people’s items you need to be aware of the following:
Patent – if an object has a patent it prevents anyone from being able to legally reproduce and sell it.
Copyright – if a print is copyrighted, you will need the owner’s permission to recreate and list it for sale.
Trademark – a trademark stops people from using or copying any item that displays the trademark symbol.
Intellectual Property – patents, trademarks and copyright are all types of intellectual property. This stops people from copying or using your work.
How to make your 3D printing business a success
Hopefully you feel inspired by our 3D printer money-making ideas. Now, let’s help you make a success of your new venture.
· Create an effective business plan – even if it’s clear in your head what you want to achieve and how to do it, it’s important to document your thoughts in writing. This will also include any predicted revenues, sales and investment opportunities. A good business plan should list options for buying equipment, renting premises, hiring staff and detail your future ideas for the business.
· Find a niche market – the endless possibilities with 3D printing mean that there’s a lot of competition out there. Choose an area or product that you can personalize to make yourself stand out. Items such as rings, necklaces and other jewelry sell well for this reason.
· Invest in the best 3D printer you can afford – if you’re serious amount making cash from your technology, it’s worth buying one that can produce high-quality products. Research the different types and specifications available and choose one that meets your needs.
· Consider marketing and running costs – most start-up businesses fail because they didn’t factor in all the costs associated with running a business. For a 3D printing business or side hustle this will include parts such as nozzles and resin vats, general servicing and cleaning equipment. You may choose to take advantage of free marketing via social media or pay for online ads to reach a wider audience.
· Make your designs detailed – the quality of a 3D item depends on how detailed your design is. A high level of detail in your design will result in a high-quality product that sells.
· Price your products accurately – 3D printed items need to be competitively priced, but they also need to take into account the cost of your time, materials and general wear and tear on your printer. There’s no point in starting a business that doesn’t earn you enough profit to make money from it.
· Focus on developing relationships – 3D printing is a niche area. Companies want to do business with people who will take the time to understand their requirements and do a good job. Your reputation is what will bring you repeat business and referrals, not how many 3D models you can create in a short space of time.
· Continually come up with new ideas – the 3D printing industry is fast-paced, which means you need to be one step ahead of the trends to make a success of your business. Use your passion and dedication to come up with products that are unique.
· Don’t compare your 3D printer’s capabilities to others – there will always be someone that has a printer with a better specification than yours. Don’t let this hold you back. Instead, focus on your current capabilities and do what you can well. You’ll soon be earning enough money to upgrade your 3D printer if that’s what you want to do.
Tips on maintaining your 3D printer
Without your printer, you don’t have a business to earn money from. That’s why it’s important to look after your appliance properly. A well-looked after printer will also make your business more cost-effective because you won’t need to spend money on parts that break due to misuse or damage. These tips will help you prolong the life of your 3D printer and keep it in full working order, maximizing your profits and maintaining the reputation of your 3D printing business.
1. Lubricate your printer
The moving metal parts of a 3D printer can stop working if they are not lubricated properly. Check that the lubricant you plan to use is safe on plastics to prevent damaging your machine. Too much lubrication can attract dust, so only use what you need to.
2. Keep the build plate clean
During the printing process, glue is applied to the build plate to prevent the prints from being wrapped up. A build-up of this glue can affect the quality of printing and also some machine errors. Cleaning the build plate in warm water will help prevent this.
3. Replace the filters
Filters can get covered with ink, dust and grime which can cause them to get blocked. Filters are needed to keep the printer cool, so it’s important to make sure they are clean and functional.
4. Tighten the pulley screws
The printer’s pulleys are on axes that cause vibrations that can loosen the screws. Loose screws can cause a misaligned system in printers that will affect the quality of the output. Simply use some Allen Keys to keep the pulley screws tight.
5. Update your 3D printer firmware
A printer needs up-to-date firmware in the same way that a computer does. Without it, your 3D printer may experience problems with how well it can function.
So, is it worth making money from a 3D printer?
Using your 3D printer to earn cash can be a lucrative and fun side hustle or full-time business. Start by selling some 3D prints or items to test the market and see what will sell online well. After that, there are endless opportunities for you to make some serious cash from your 3D printer.