You can make money 3D printing but it’s important to know that it’s not the easiest thing to do. It won’t simply be buying a 3D printer, looking at designs and selling them.
Making money will take a bit more than that, so I’ve decided to explore how people are making money 3D printing and how you can do it for yourself.
3D printing is a dynamic industry that can quickly be adapted to fit trends in other industries. It’s main advantage is the ability to be able to create a product within a short time frame.
Some people are able to scan an item, edit the model in a CAD software and set it in their slicer ready to print in a matter of 30 minutes. There are real potentials in being able to master these abilities and if done correctly, can make you a good amount of money.
If you are able to beat other suppliers to the market, you are in a position to gain significant benefits.
You don’t need an expensive printer to be able to create high quality items, as cheaper printers are matching the quality of premium ones.
How Much Money Can You Make With a 3D Printer?
With a standard 3D printer and a decent level of experience, you can expect to make between $4 an hour up to around $20 an hour depending on what your niche is and how well your operations are optimised.
It’s a good idea to set realistic expectations with how much money you can make.
The higher end of how much money you can make per hour will usually be for custom prototyping work. For the standard pieces such as toys, gadgets, models and so on, you’ll usually make around $3-$5 an hour so it’s not a good idea to quit your job for it just yet.
You can definitely get to a point where you have mastered your operations from designing, printing, deliveries and so on, to a point where you can expand to multiple printers and serve several regular clients.
This is where you can start to really see your profits per hour increase past that $20 mark.
Keep in mind, it’s difficult to find a market where your 3D printer will be running 24 hours at a time. The general timing of how long your printer will run, depending on what niche your in is around 3-5 hours.
Now lets jump into the main 5 ways to make money from 3D printing.
1. Printing Models on Demand
I find that the best way to make money from 3D printing on demand is to narrow down your niche. 3D printing can join up with almost every niche out there, so it’s your job to find something that solves a problem, has a demand, and makes it worth your while.
Compared to traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing loses when it comes to manufacturing speed, unit cost, consistency in tolerances and trustworthiness because the average person doesn’t know much about the field.
Where 3D printing does gain the advantage is design customisation, speed of a specific model rather than of each part, the range of materials used and colours available, and the fact that it’s a massively growing market.
It has massive advantages of being able to create items starting from an idea to a product in record timing.
An example of an idea that someone has used to make money 3D printing is creating and selling TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) rings. This is a niche product which uses a ‘Doctor Who’ concept and fan base to create a specific, low volume, highly demanded item to make money.
This is one of the main methods that people become successful making money.
There is no real benefit to 3D printing common items like holders or containers that don’t have any special function, because they are widely supplied and available at very cheap prices, unless they are custom. Basically something that people find valuable and unique to them.
How to Find People to Print For
The usual way people find others to print something in exchange for money is through online channels. This can range from Facebook groups, to forums, to online retailers and so on.
There are many designated websites which are designed exactly for this purpose and are good ways to build a reputation and rating around your work.
It’s important to focus on not just the quality of your product, but your overall customer service and experience from start to finish.
It will take some time to build up a reputation where people will start asking you to get specific work done, but once you get to that stage, you have a great potential to have a consistent income through 3D printing.
Other than online, you can always ask the people around you such as friends, family and work colleagues. This one can be a little more difficult because you’ll have to explain what services you can offer and they will have to come back to you for a project that you could help them with.
One example is where an individual had some curtains which he wanted the ability to pull back when opened. There are many options for this but he wanted a specific design which he couldn’t find.
The person who had the 3D printer in this situation had a conversation with the guy and worked on a solution for custom pullbacks for his curtain.
A few drafts were designed, which were to his liking and he printed them out for a nice amount of money, for his time, effort and the product itself.
2. Sell 3D Print Designs (CAD)
This is more focused on the design process rather than the actual 3D printing but it’s still within the confines of the 3D printing process.
The simple concept here is that people have pictures of something they want to 3D print but need the actual design made through a CAD program.
You simply design the product, then sell that design to the person for an agreed upon price and profit.
The good thing about this is you have the ability to sell this more than once since it’s your own property that you created. You also don’t have the downsides of prints failing because it’s all set in one digital program which can easily be edited.
At first, you may be relatively slow at getting designs completed so it’s good to start with the basics if you don’t already have experience.
There are many beginner-friendly CAD software and video guides to get you at a good level to make marketable designs.
Websites such as Thingiverse exist as an archive of 3D designs that can be downloaded and printed.
There are archives of 3D designs which you can display for people to look at, and if they like the design, can purchase for a fee usually in the range of $1 to $30 and some in the hundreds for large, complex designs.
It’s a good idea to use some of the designs you see on these websites as inspiration and a guide on what is popular and what people are actually buying.
Creating a design just because you like it isn’t always the best idea. A bit of research should be involved before you find an actual product to create, but all the practice you can get will help your journey.
You have many channels and tutorials on YouTube and other places which you can slowly gain an understanding of how to design things.
This will take time to learn so you’ll need patience, but once you get started, you’ll only get better and more refined in your abilities, leading to you having the potential to make more money.
There are 3D printed design marketplaces all over the web where you can find people who want designs done, or sell your own designs that you think people will want to buy.
The best thing about this method is it’s ability to earn you passive income. Once your model is completed and set up on a website for people to view, the main work is done. People are free to purchase your model without you having to talk to clients, discuss licensing and all the other stuff.
Also the costs of doing this are very low, as most design software is free to use so it only costs you in time spent designing.
Best Places to Sell 3D Models Online
- TurboSquid (Professional)
- Daz 3D
3. Sell Your Own Niche 3D Print Creations (E-Commerce) Manufacture Your Own Product
Put simply, this is building yourself a brand through 3D printed products. Rather than print to other people’s specifications, you create your own products and market it out to your potential target audience.
There is a wide variety of products and niches you can get into. The best method is to stick to one niche that you can see growing in popularity and get better at your craft. This will allow you to build up a following and a community behind your products. Once your products are up to scratch, you find a few customers through marketing, you will be on a good path to success.
You don’t just have one way of making this work, you can take many angles.
Think of ideas that will make you unique, to the point that it’s worth that extra value and has demand.
What Can I Make and Sell With a 3D Printer?
- Customized shoes (flip flops)
- Architecture models – produce buildings of sizes and styles
- Robotic kits
- Vases, aesthetic items
- Drone parts
- Custom buds for high end earphones
- Making fetuses come to life with the 3D files and printing them, unique product.
- Ornaments and jewelry
- Movie, theater props (keep legal in mind) – workshops or camps to be a vendor for props for them
- Nerf guns – massive gains in popularity (child toys up to office action)
- Logo stamp maker for companies or office logo decorations
- Custom cookie cutters
- Lithophane photos and cubes
- Vehicle accessories
- Personalized gifts
- Plane and train models
Where Can I Sell My 3D Printed Items?
Not everyone has the experience building a website for eCommerce so simply using one of the popular websites out there to sell your products is a good idea.
The main places where people sell their 3D printed items are Amazon, eBay, Etsy and in person. All3DP have a great article about selling your 3D printed items.
People already have trust in these big names so it reduces how much work you need to do to get products sold. You should know the demographic of your target audience and match it to specific places to sell your product.
If you get to a point where your printed product is very popular, you can demo it to distributors and retailers.
The thing to keep in mind here though, is that they will only place an order when they are aware it can be mass produced.
Tips for Creating Your Own Products
Establish a website niche where you create items that people will like, based on research, market knowledge, and history of what has worked before.
Try hopping on a trend.
An example of a trend is just like when fidget spinners were popular. The trick is to make something that’s custom or not the usual product being sold at very competitive prices.
For fidget spinners, a great idea would be using glow in the dark filament so you have unique fidget spinners that can make it worth while printing and selling to people.
Another thing you can print is drone parts, which have a big crossover with 3D printing. People realise that rather than paying a massive premium for a drone part, they can get it cheaper by getting someone to 3D print it for them.
They are usually very uniquely shaped parts which are difficult to get singularly, so there is a lot of potential here.
On top of this, you still have the ability to customize it to increase it’s value.
The bottom line is you need to find a product that people actually want, which isn’t too hard to find with a little searching around, then make it your own.
Find a high demand product that’s already out there and make it different.
Another angle you can take is the inventor side of things and catching on to the next hot product.
If you can make an adapter for some new electronic product that everyone is starting to get, you can get ahead of the curve and create that file then print it.
With a bit of marketing or sharing with people, you should be able to find your audience and start making sales.
You Will Have To Keep Motivated To Thrive
It will take time to start making money. You have to spend time in designing your product, printing it, post-processing, taking pictures of it, then appealing to the buyer enough for them to purchase.
This is more a personal journey where you’ll be making your own product in house. The way to come up with a product is by looking at where there are gaps in the market, meaning where is there a high amount of demand and a low supply.
If you hit a few of these gaps and market properly to your target audience, you can really make a good amount of money.
Once you are more established, you can reinvest your profits into more 3D printers and better material so you can boost your profits even more. When you hit a good rhythm of orders, prints and deliveries, you can really expand and look to move things into a certified business.
It’s important to not put all of your eggs into one basket when it comes to ideas. Many ideas won’t work as well as you think, so you need to be willing to fail, and try again, but not at a high cost.
Instead of jumping all in, simply try the idea on the surface with a few resources and see how far you can get it.
You should be able to see a decent potential to make money before using too many resources in an idea that may not work.
You won’t be successful with every idea, but the more experience you have, the more likely you will be to hit that golden idea.
It does take some trial and error, and you will have issues along the way, but keep focused and you’ll reap the benefits.
4. Teaching 3D Printing to Others (Education)
There are many different ways to make this method work. It can range from creating a YouTube channel to creating an E-learning course, to creating tools that educate people on learning how to 3D print.
If you have the skills and knowledge you can teach classes in your community. Some people have used their college to teach 3D printing classes to members of the local community, with a 90 minute class costing each person $15. They would have a maximum of 8 students per class and would make a neat $120 for 90 minutes of work.
This is especially great since once you have your lesson plan up to scratch, you can easily re-use it for classes in the future. You also have the option of creating a few levels of classes, beginner, intermediate and advanced if you have the resources.
If you’re delivering good quality information, you can start to market your classes and soon enough, it should spread through word of mouth or a Facebook group that’s gaining traction.
A better idea is to make this a passive type of income, where you don’t have to directly trade your time for money.
A good way to do this is to record 3D printer informational videos for an online class marketplace, good ones being Udemy, ShareTribe and Skillshare.
You create a plan and a journey for users to take where you can teach them something you think is valuable, whether it be the basics or something more advanced.
If you find an informational gap where people have trouble doing one of the main tasks for 3D printing such as 3D design or getting high quality prints you can walk people through this.
It will take some time to get the initial content created for this, but once it’s done you have a product you can sell forever and make passive regular income.
5. 3D Printer Consultant to Design Companies (Prototyping etc.)
Put simply, this is finding people that need someone to create prototypes for them and their business and is usually at a fairly tight deadline. This isn’t a regular job but more of a side hustle to the main income.
It usually involves someone sending you a sketch, a picture, or giving you details of an idea that they have and want you to create the product for them.
It takes quite a bit of skill and experience to be able to do this as you’ll need to design the CAD product, set it in your slicer, print it at a decent quality then post-processing to make it look presentable.
If you don’t have the experience, it can definitely be gained with some practice of your own.
Try designing things that you see around you and see if you can replicate it to a good standard. You can then build up a portfolio of your designs and prints to show your skills, making it more likely that people will be interested in having you create for them.
Here you can offer your 3D printing services to specific companies that would find it valuable in their business.
Depending on what type of business it is, you can maybe offer to do all of their prototyping so they don’t have to worry about tracking down other services to get their work done.
As long as you can provide a high quality service with great prints, then you should be able to continue your work consulting for different companies.
Build up a solid portfolio and you can get up to a standard where other people will market for you, simply through word of mouth and creating a name for yourself in a specific industry.
Tips for Making Money 3D Printing
Focus on Relationships Rather Than Just the Business.
Let people know what you have going on, and whether you can be of service to them or someone else they know. People are more likely to react positively to you when you come on the angle of being helpful, rather than chasing down business opportunities.
It will make a difference to your reputation and how well you will succeed in the future. One of these previous relationships can really help to develop yourself and your business in the future, so keep this in mind.
Don’t Lie Dormant with Your Creative Abilities.
You should be thinking up new ideas daily and implementing them to see if you can truly create helpful items that give people value. This can range from items that you personally think will work, to ideas that you might think of through normal conversations with people throughout your day.
For example, if one of your friends complains about how he always drops an item of his, you can design a stand or an anti-movement product that solves this issue. It’s these small things that put you in that entrepreneurial mindset that keeps you ahead of the curve.
Focus on What Resources You Have
You shouldn’t worry about the capabilities that you don’t have, focus on what you can bring to the table with your resources and build around that.
Just because you see other 3D printer creators with expensive machines and different ways of printing doesn’t mean that’s what you need to have.
I’d be more inclined to see it as a goal to where you can be in the future, rather than having to be there now to compete. There is enough space for plenty of people to enter this market, as long as the demand is there so stay in your lane and do it well.
Once you get to the stage that you have a few orders coming in, you want to make sure you keep on top of it by having products on hand. You don’t want to get caught off-guard where you’re distracted by life activities and you are behind on delivery times.
It’s a good idea keeping at least a few products on hand and ready to ship if you have it listed.
Focus on Operations Rather Than Profit
You want to understand the ins and outs of your 3D printer and your operations. You want to know how often your prints fail, how to store filament, what materials work the best and at what temperatures.
The environment of your printing area, is it benefiting prints or making them worse. Working on each aspect of your 3D printing process will only make you more efficient and give you the ability to create higher quality products.
Once you are at a good level in your printing journey, you know you have the needed consistency to begin making profits.
It’s important to know that the items you are looking to print should be things that you have designed and not just taken from another designer.
This can land you in legal troubles depending on what licensing the designer has given out. Sometimes they allow for commercial use.
You can always consult with the designer and work out a deal, but it’s usually in your best interest to design your own work.
Turn Your Passion into a Habit
If you aren’t already into 3D printing and don’t admire the process of it, it’s unlikely that you’ll have the passion to be able to carry things on to the point where you are making money.
Being able to turn your passion of 3D printing into a habit and activity you enjoy will keep you going, past the mistakes.
It’s the dedication and passion that will keep you going, even when things seem bleak and like there is little chance of being successful. It’s the people who can get past these stages that will come out on top.