Can You Make Money with 3D Printing?
With 3D printers gaining so much popularity over recent years, it is not so much of a novelty anymore. However, that does not mean you cannot make money from it. All it means is that it is a little harder to make your 3D printing business stand-out, since owning a 3D printer is not enough to do that on its own.
Creating clean, high-quality designs is still a valid path to success, and you can absolutely make money designing and printing your own 3D products.
However, as with any business, there comes risk. The trick to being successful with any self-start-up is to learn everything you can about the industry before you dive in.
While you are guaranteed to learn more about the ins and outs of the business over time, it is helpful to learn from history rather than experience when possible. In other words, do your research to keep from making easily avoidable mistakes.
There are two ways you can approach making money from 3D printing:
- You can engineer and print self-made designs and start up your own business.
- You can fulfill orders for businesses with 3D printing needs.
The latter mostly depends on finding businesses that are looking for your service. Therefore, this article primarily addresses the former method.
Is It Legal to Sell 3D Prints?
Unfortunately, it is not just as easy as printing and selling whatever you want. There can be legal ramifications if you try to print and market designs that are legally covered by intellectual property rights (IP). Making sure you are aware of what you can and cannot sell is essential before you get started with your money-making venture.
What Are Intellectual Property Rights?
If you are in the business of creating, you will be happy to know that your creations will be protected by law, preventing others from using and making money off your hard work. Of course, that goes both ways, and you need to ensure that you are not infringing upon someone else’s rights with your designs and products.
There are four types of IP rights. Though it can get complicated, it is crucial to be aware of their intricacies so that you can avoid severe legal problems. Here are the basics of each type of intellectual property and how they apply to a prospective seller of 3D prints like yourself.
Patents are usually acquired by people who are looking to commercialize their designs or products. If you create a stellar, innovative design for a household item, for example, you could investigate getting it patented so that other people cannot reproduce and profit off your work.
If you are creating a product similar to others out there, you should first look into potential patents that might interfere with your production’s legality. It is also worth noting that patents are the only type of IP that requires you to apply and register.
Trademarked work consists of distinctive texts, phrases, symbols, sounds, or color schemes that are easily identifiable as being associated with a particular product or company. They often contribute to brand building, such as company logos or signage.
Unlike patents, trademarks do not have to be registered, and they can cover a whole range of products instead of just one.
Copyright is another form of “automatic” IP, though it does not protect ideas or thoughts. Instead, it protects tangible creations, such as art, music, software, codes, and more—including 3D prints.
The best example of copyright infringement for 3D print would be if you tried to print and sell a replica of an already existing toy or model. If the parent company found out, you could be sued or worse.
Trade secrets protect business secrets, such as formulas (like in a recipe), or strategies that are confidential and crucial to a business’s success. Think of it as a company’s classified information that they would not want competitors to know.
In a one-person business, trade secrets are not quite as relevant as the other forms of IP since these are usually utilized in non-disclosure, non-compete agreements with employees.
Summing Up Legal Printing Issues
Even though most forms of IP have some degree of automatic accreditation, formally registering your product is a safe and reliable way to ensure ownership. Proving IP credibility can sometimes be difficult with a non-registered trademark or copyright. And in this case, safe is undoubtedly better than sorry.
You should be especially careful when printing designs that incorporate recognizable creations from others. For example, fan art is a large grey area. Even creating models of Disney characters or superheroes for personal use can be subject to legal action. If you plan on selling them and the company with ownership finds out, you can expect to run into legal trouble.
Tips for Making Money With 3D Printing
As with many new ventures, it can be helpful to learn from others. This section lays out a few tips and tricks to help you be successful with your 3D printing money-making business.
Get Good at Creating 3D Designs
It may seem obvious, but the first step to making money from your 3D prints is to become genuinely good at it. As outlined above, you will not be able to sell prints with a design patented by someone else. Hence, you will have to become adept at creating designs of your own, which can be plenty challenging in itself.
In fact, selling 3D print designs rather than the actual prints is another way to make money in the world of 3D printing. Businesses and individual 3D printer owners can have a hard time designing 3D files even if they have the capability to print. They will often outsource or purchase designs from people who are especially good at it. Coming up with well-designed prints is one way to stand out.
If you are planning on selling prints, you will need to make sure they do not infringe upon any patent laws or claims anyway. Practicing and becoming adept at creating 3D designs is a logical step for your 3D printing business. If you make your own excellent designs, you will not have to worry about any possible legal ramifications.
Perfect Your Finishing Method
You can save a lot of time and money by figuring out your optimal finishing process. Finishing a print is integral to attaining a high-quality, factory-finished aesthetic that is attractive to buyers. Furthermore, you can waste a lot of money by buying materials that are not compatible with each other or are not cost-effective.
Crunch some numbers, experiment on some test prints, and figure out what works best for your printer and project needs.
Do Not Be Afraid to Evolve
With experience comes wisdom. The more you print, the better you will understand what makes the printing process easier and cleaner. You can keep improving your designs to make the printing process more efficient.
You can also adjust to accommodate the market. Do not be afraid to put out test products to get a feel for the demand. It can also be smart to take hints from your consumer base. Pay attention to what kinds of items sell more, and if there seems to be something that people are asking for but having trouble finding, it might be a viable niche for you to capitalize on.
Let Complexity Come Naturally
Beginner printers will quickly find out that creating exceptional 3D prints is not as easy as pressing the print button. It takes finesse and experience to figure out what works and what does not work. When you are just starting out, simplicity is key. Do not start by trying to create intricate designs with lots of bells and whistles that will be difficult to print and finish.
As you gain more experience with 3D printing, you can start branching out and experimenting with ideas.
What Should I Print?
This is perhaps the hardest and most important question to answer before you can get started with turning 3D printing into a real business. With so many options for objects out there, how can you know what would be worth selling? Here are a few ideas:
Make It Personal
Some of the best things you can print are the things you would use yourself. Think about your own life and worldly desires. Does anything come to mind that could be turned into a 3D printed object?
Maybe you need a good organizer for your home office but have not been able to find one with all the compartments you want. Or perhaps, you always wanted plastic dinosaurs instead of ducks as a child. Now is the perfect time to bring those visions to life.
Another direction you can take is to take requests for 3D prints. Just like when you look at your own life and can think of objects that would make your life easier, other people do too!
Figuring out how to create designs for different types of projects can add to the fun.
You can open up your 3D printing business to all ideas or focus on a niche that calls to you. For instance, maybe what you love most in the world is a nice, hot shower, so you start up a 3D printing business for custom-designed shower heads.
Find a Niche
Whether you are mass printing a design that you come up with or offering customized prints, you should focus on a niche that you are enthusiastic about. 3D printing is a little more personal than a factory production line, and you should have a passion for the designs that you are creating.
Some ideas for interesting designs include:
- Modifications for already existing products that can be augmented. For example, nerf gun attachments and additions to 3D puzzles.
- Kid’s toys are always a great option, especially for beginners. They can be pretty simple to create, and children are prime targets for easy entertainment.
- Your twist on common or basic household tools. Think of a way to slightly modify everyday tools in a way that makes them even more useful.
- Sculptural or artistic pieces. Though intricate designs can be complicated, there are a lot of ways you can make beautiful pieces that are unique to your business.
The most important thing is that you are inspired by whatever it is you are printing. If your favorite part of printing is figuring out how to solve a problem, working on custom orders from others might be your cup of tea.
Set Up Your E-Commerce Website
Fortunately, it is very easy and relatively straightforward to set up an e-commerce site for relatively cheap. You can even sell your products on sites that are exclusive to 3D printing. Some examples of sites you can use to make money from 3D printing include:
- 3D Hubs: 3D Hubs is a website consisting of a network of manufacturers or individual companies that participate in 3D manufacturing. Though there are specific requirements and a vetting process to join, you can benefit from excellent access to orders if you meet them.
- I.materialize: i.materialize is a useful tool, especially when first starting in the world of 3D e-commerce. You can list products on their online marketplace and benefit from services, such as direct shipping to your customers.
- Shapeways: Shapeways is a full-service platform that provides services that aid with design, production, and scale of 3D printing. One of the most useful features is that you can connect your products through Shapeway’s integrated e-commerce options, including Etsy, Shopify, Marketplace, and SWAPI. You also gain access to a variety of printing materials, customized shop design, and additional support. The best part about the platform is that they are tried and tested, reliable, and have large consumer bases.
If you are looking for a more personal option and have the time to get creative, you can look into making your own unique website and integrating e-commerce capabilities. While you will not have the same degree of easy access to potential customers, you will have full control over your design and marketing.
Take Advantage of Social Media
In the modern era, it only takes one design going viral for your entire business to take off. Keeping up with social media is an easy way to open doors to opportunity. Create social media accounts such as Twitter and Instagram that are specifically for your business.
If you create a product that you are especially proud of, you can make a post about it on Reddit to share with others. There are probably numerous subreddits where you can share your creation. For instance, say you create a custom-designed DVD rack covered in 3D printed Disney characters. You could make a post on any number of subreddits such as r/3DPrinted or r/Disney.
You never know who might see your work and want to procure your services. Social media is an excellent way to take advantage of the digital world and its propensity for sharing. 3D printing also has a naturally engaging process. Showcasing the steps, you take to make your designs, print, and finish them is an excellent way to get people interested in your work.
3D printing is a niche in itself, and custom services are in high demand. According to Grand View Research, 1.42 million 3D printers were shipped in 2018, and the number is expected to reach 8.04 million units by 2027. If you get started today, you might be a step ahead of a growing industry.
Starting your own business can come with headaches and frustration. At least with 3D printing, it is easy enough to start on your own, and you can create things that you can be proud of. If you are looking to make money from the comfort of your own home and enjoy creation, 3D printing could be a good fit for you.
Following our easy tips will help you get started. Figure out what to print, perfect your process, start-up your e-commerce, and share your projects with social media. Just remember that, as with any self-started business, generating interest and support for your projects may be challenging at first. But if you stick with it, learn from your mistakes, and keep improving, you can undoubtedly make money 3D printing.