3D printing technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, making desktop 3D printers affordable and accessible for personal and business use. A 3D printer can be a valuable tool to make extra income in your spare time or even start a full-time business. This article explores ideas to make money with a 3D printer and optimize it as an income stream, while providing accurate information readers can trust.
Selecting the Right 3D Printer Model
When deciding how to make money with your 3D printer, an important first step is choosing the right model. Consider key factors like:
- Print quality – Most consumer printers can produce detailed prints suitable for decorative items or prototypes. Industrial printers offer higher resolutions for mold making, engineering-grade parts, etc.
- Print speed – Faster print speeds allow you to manufacture more items in less time.
- Print bed size – The maximum dimensions of objects you can print. Larger is better for high production.
- Filament types – Common materials are PLA and ABS. Consider printers and filaments suited to your target products.
- Reliability – Read reviews to avoid models prone to frequent clogging, warping, etc. Choose quality components for consistent operation.
- Cost – Desktop printers range from $200 to over $4,000. Choose based on your budget and business plans.
Selecting a 3D printer optimized for speed, print quality, and reliability for your projects allows you to effectively produce items for sale or clients.
Ideas for Making Money
Once you have a suitable 3D printer, here are profitable avenues to explore:
Sell 3D Printed Products
- Design your own 3D models then print and sell the finished products online via Etsy, eBay, or your own website.
- Best-selling items include figurines, jewelry, phone cases, decor items, cosplay props, and more. Cater to popular hobbies and fandoms.
- Experiment with unique filament materials like wood, metal, glow in the dark, stone, or flexible TPU to create more eye-catching products.
Offer 3D Printing Services
- Provide fee-based printing services to local clients. Many small businesses, inventors, universities, and individuals need affordable short-run manufacturing.
- Services include 3D modeling or optimizing client-supplied 3D model files for improved printing. Print objects on demand for a service fee.
- Effective advertising channels are Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Google ads, flyers, word of mouth, and a business website. Highlight key capabilities and materials.
Sell Digital 3D Model Files
- Design your own 3D creations like printable toys, machine/engine/technology components, sculptures, tools, or product prototypes then sell model files online through sites like Etsy, Cults 3D, CGTrader, MakerOS, Thangs, etc.
- Provides a recurring passive income stream after the model design work is complete. Buyers print files at home.
Teach 3D Printing Classes
- Teach classes to adults or kids, coaching on 3D modeling software, printer operation, optimizing print quality, starting a 3D printing business, etc.
- Advertise via community center flyers, meetup.com, Facebook events page. Charge per seat.
With some creativity, a desktop 3D printer can generate excellent supplemental or even full-time income.
Optimizing Your 3D Printer for Business Use
To reliably produce items for sale or client projects, optimize your 3D printer performance:
- Carefully calibrate, clean and maintain your printer using manufacturer guidelines to reduce errors and downtime.
- Install improved components like steel/ruby nozzle upgrades for 30-50% faster prints over brass nozzles, Microswiss direct drive extruders for flexible filaments, quieter fans, reinforced belts, automatic bed leveling sensors, and Raspberry Pi Octoprint for monitoring and control.
- Dial in best settings for layer height, temperature, retraction, speed and supports to maximize efficiency and print quality for your machine, filament brand, and specific model geometry. Settings will vary.
- Use a heated enclosed print chamber to print tricky materials like ABS for smoother surfaces and no warping.
- Try out sample model files to benchmark speed and quality before committing to client orders.
With key hardware and software optimizations, you can produce consistent, high quality prints efficiently in the volumes needed to run a successful business.
Growing Your Business
Some options if demand increases:
- Outsource: Send high volume file orders to a professional 3D print farm offering online 3D printing services starting at just a few dollars per part. Faster and lower equipment costs than buying more printers.
- Hire: Employ additional designers, printers and shippers as needed for large orders.
- Scale vertically: Upgrade to higher capacity commercial printers that run 24/7 with features like remote diagnostics, hot swappable filament spools, HEPA filtration, conveyor belts, and software integrations. Higher equipment cost but dramatically increased production. Buy in stages.
With planning, a bootstrapped hobby 3D print business can scale to support full-time income goals.
- Desktop 3D printers provide affordable digital manufacturing capabilities to create items for sale or offer printing services to clients.
- Choose an optimized 3D printer model for your target print quality, materials, speed and reliability.
- Proven money-making avenues include selling 3D printed products online, local printing services, selling 3D model files online, and hosting 3D printing classes.
- Fine tune and upgrade your printer for consistent, production-level performance.
- Consider outsourcing, hiring staff or upgrading printers as needed to scale up revenue.
With some diligence, a home 3D printer can become a valuable income stream.
Desktop 3D printers make professional-quality manufacturing accessible for aspiring entrepreneurs. By selecting the right printer model for your needs then leveraging online sales channels, freelance services, digital products, classes and other innovative ideas, your home 3D printer can provide excellent income potential with relatively low startup costs. Use the guidelines in this article as a roadmap to research strategic opportunities tailored to your strengths, network, and passion areas. With persistence and optimization, a bootstrapped at-home 3D printing business can ultimately blossom into a thriving stand-alone enterprise.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What types of items can you sell that are 3D printed?
Popular 3D printed products include figurines, jewelry, phone cases, vases, lamps, board game pieces, tools, camera accessories, office items, and home decor pieces. Scan existing items to 3D model or design your own creations.
- How much does it cost to start a business with a 3D printer?
A basic start-up with a quality desktop 3D printer like the Creality Ender 3, filaments and free 3D software has low initial costs under $500. Leverage online platforms to also minimize web hosting, advertising and selling fees when getting started.
- Can you make good money by 3D printing at home?
Yes, 3D printing can provide strong income potential. Many hobbyists successfully generate over $1000 per month. With higher production output and operating as a formal business, pros consistently net over $2500 per month and some printers make over $100,000 annually.
- Is Shapeways or Sculpteo better for selling 3D prints?
Both platforms have good reputations and production capacity for creators. On Shapeways, you retain branding rights and intellectual property ownership while they handle logistics and manufacturing. Sculpteo emphasizes fast turnaround times and innovative materials. Compare revenue splits.
- Can you get in trouble legally or sued for 3D printing products and selling them?
You could face legal claims or takedown notices if printing trademarked items or artistic works in violation of copyrights and patents owned by others. Create your own designs inspired by public domain works and common non-protected general shapes (hearts, stars, etc) to avoid violations.
- Does 3D printing require artistic/design skills or can anyone learn?
Beginners can start with pre-made open source 3D models then customize with built-in editing tools once familiar with the software. No inherent artistic talent needed. A library of hundreds of thousands of designs exist to leverage and tweak vs creating fully original models if desired.
- How much electricity does a desktop 3D printer use when operating full time?
A typical 200 watt desktop 3D printer running 24×7 would use about 350-475 kWh per month, costing roughly $35-60 in average electricity fees depending on your local utility rates. Power draw spikes while heating then idles lower during printing.
- What types of materials can desktop 3D printers use?
Most consumer printers use PLA or ABS but many alternate materials exist like PETG, TPU/flexible, nylon, polycarbonate, composites with wood or metal powders, glow in the dark, dissolvable supports, etc. Materials have different characteristics so research to find the optimal filament to manufacture your products.
- Can you make food safe items using 3D printing that meet FDA standards?
Yes, using production grade stainless steel or titanium printers with food safe metals. However, FDA has not yet approved consumer/desktop 3D printed food ware since porosity may harbor bacteria over time. Best to coat prints with a food-safe sealant if making mugs, utensils etc.
- How long do 3D printing filaments last when stored properly?
When sealed in an airtight bag with desiccant packs and stored at normal room temperatures, commercial 3D printer filaments typically remain usable for 2-5 years before quality degrades. Exceptions include experimental/exotic blends which have faster expiration timeframes.
- What computer hardware resources are ideal for 3D modeling complex printable designs?
16GB+ RAM helps significantly when working with polygon heavy CAD files or rendering organic figures. A dedicated mid-range graphics card like Nvidia RTX 3060 can assist real-time visualization and calculating geometry modifications. An SSD provides faster scene loading/saving. A multi-core modern CPU speeds up tasks like analysis/simulation/slicing.
- Where can you get inspiration and ideas for designing your own 3D prints?
Study best selling themes on 3D artist marketplaces. Browse maker forums for niche requests. Identify highly searched missing products via Google/Amazon. Interpret your own hobbies into 3D concepts not well represented. Analyze crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Adapt existing items with a new twist or customizable options.
- What is the easiest 3D modeling software for beginners to learn CAD on?
Tinkercad, OnShape, and Fusion 360 offer the most user friendly and intuitive free browser based design tools using simple extrusion, translation and Boolean based geometry workflow vs complex polygon modeling needed in advanced software suites. Excellent for hobbyists and youth.
- Where can I hire freelance 3D modeling services to help with design projects?
Trusted sites like Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer and Guru have hundreds of qualified 3D modelers and product designers skilled in CAD software that you can hire per job or hourly. Define project specs clearly. Review portfolios closely for required style and past accuracy.
- What should you charge customers for 3D printing services?
Base your rates on time + material used + value provided + local market conditions. Calculate how long it takes you to 3D model, slice, operate printer etc then set an appropriate hourly rate. Establish a meaningful profit margin on filament/part costs. Compare pricing of competing service bureaus. Increase for specialty materials like metal infused.
- Can I run a 3D printing business out of my apartment legally?
Typically yes for a small scale desktop printer operation following safety guidelines around ventilation, fire risks and noise limitations defined by building codes and your lease. Consider any required business permits and zoning restrictions if employing staff or operating multiple industrial grade machines before signing an apartment lease.
- Is it possible to learn 3D modeling and printing skills for free via online resources?
Yes, many high quality YouTube channels, university open courseware lesson plans, software trials and documentation, 3D model download sites, and hobbyist forums exist to gain extensive self education through with only an internet connection and commitment to regular practice.
- What software do you use to create 3D model files to print?
Common programs are Tinkercad, Fusion360, Blender, SketchUp, ZBrush, MeshMixer, MeshLab, SculptGL, OpenSCAD and FreeCAD. Export/save files in .STL, .OBJ or .AMF file formats, widely compatible with most printers.