Can 3D Printing Be Profitable?
So you have your 3D printer and have spent lots of time practicing and gaining experience with it. You’re ready to start trying to make some money, but is it even worth the effort? Sure you can make some money with it but will it be enough to warrant the time and resources spent? Can 3D printing be profitable?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. It really depends on the situation and what you decide to try to do. Not all jobs are the same after all, so the rate of success will vary widely, especially at first.
However, if you do stick with it there’s no reason that you wouldn’t be able to make at least an extra thousand dollars every month if you put enough time in. In fact, I’ve known people who have been able to make upwards of $5000 a month using their 3D printer, enough for them to quit their day jobs entirely.
The important thing to remember is that the 3D printer itself won’t make you any money. It's the ideas that you come up with and the designs you make that will ultimately determine how successful you are.
Still, with a little bit of work, anyone can make money with a 3D printer if they want to. Its easier to get started than ever before and there are plenty of opportunities for anyone who’s willing to look.
Of course, with so many different options, it's completely up to you to decide which route you want to take. Asking yourself what you want to achieve and if you’ll be able to commit the necessary time and resources to whichever endeavor you want to choose is an important step along the way. But ultimately, as long as you ensure that your product or service is of good quality and continue to be persistent in your efforts, you’ll be able to find some kind of success making money with your 3D printer.
How To Make Money With A 3D Printer
There are lots of different ways you can make money with a 3D printer, all of which require different kinds and amounts of work to pull off successfully. Luckily for you, I’ve included all of my favorite ways to make money with a 3D printer here.
Selling Pre-Made 3D Prints In Online Marketplaces
One of the easiest things to get started doing quickly is selling pre-made 3D prints in one of the many popular online marketplaces out there, including websites like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay. All you’ll really need to do to get started is to make a profile for yourself on one of these websites and start selling. However, the quick setup isn’t the only benefit of choosing to sell pre-made prints in online marketplaces like these.
Traffic on popular e-commerce sites is only continuing to grow and more and more people are looking to the internet when it comes to their shopping needs. Because of this, you can solace in the fact that these large companies are doing everything they can to make sure that they drive traffic to their sites and help you to succeed.
Many of the largest e-commerce sites have all sorts of different programs to help sellers with marketing, sales, and fulfillment. Platforms like eBay, Amazon, and Google Shopping all have their own digital marketing tools that can you get your products in front of as many potential customers are possible.
Amazon and eBay also have programs that help sellers quickly and easily fulfill their orders. Fulfillment By Amazon and eBay Global Shipping can both help sellers ship their products quickly and, oftentimes for free. In fact, there are even options to have the warehouse pack and ship your product for you.
Another huge benefit of using these platforms is that they all already have huge customer bases. After all, these companies are so large for a good reason. It’s because they already have millions of customers that come to their websites every day looking to fulfill any and every need they have. That immediate access to such a large pool of potential customers is a huge advantage to have when you start as the more people there are, the more likely one of them will buy your prints.
Now if that all sounds a bit too easy, you’re not completely wrong. There are a few things that you should consider if you are planning to start selling pre-made 3D prints in online marketplaces like these.
Most importantly, you’ll want to do a decent amount of market research. While that does sound quite complicated, all you really need to do is search something like “3D printed models” on your preferred online marketplace and see what other people are selling. You should be able to get a good idea of what types of 3D prints are popular and selling well, not to mention the prices that other people are charging.
Setting the wrong price and printing a bunch of models that aren’t in demand enough to sell is a recipe for disaster. Don’t print too much inventory at first and make sure that the 3D prints that you do make are desired and in demand.
All of that being said, Etsy is probably the best website for selling pre-made 3D prints. There are all sorts of people, with and without 3D printers, that make and sell all kinds of handcrafted items there. Etsy’s user base being largely made up of people looking for this sort of thing makes Etsy the perfect place for you to start selling your pre-made 3D prints.
Everyday objects like planters, pencil holders, and keychains do great on Etsy as well as small models of D&D and other characters, or even memes. All of these can be unique and interesting products that will entice any Etsy customer. By doing the proper research and being creative with your ideas, Etsy could become a huge money maker for you.
Selling Custom 3D Prints
If you don’t want to sell pre-made 3D prints, offering custom 3D printing services is another great option for anyone who wants to make some money with their 3D printer. Though it might not be as straightforward as the first option, custom printing can often pay a lot more if you manage to get consistent work.
Unfortunately, when selling custom prints, you most likely won’t be able to use any of the aforementioned online marketplaces because those require you to have a pre-made product that can be marketed and sold. Instead, you’ll most likely have to use one of the many freelancing websites out there, like Fiverr and Upwork
Though the online marketplaces mentioned before are quite different from these freelancing sites, the initial steps to using these websites are the same. All you’ll need to do is make a profile and list the services that you want to sell. However, it is incredibly important that your profile looks good for any potential clients. Make sure to include pictures of some of your previous 3D prints if you have them so that any potential clients can see the quality work that you are capable of.
The bit of research that you will have to do is deciding how to price your services. However, this doesn’t require too much work to accomplish. Simply search for “custom 3D printing” on whichever platform you decide to use and see what other people are charging for their services. This can help you come up with an appropriate pricing model for your own 3D printing services.
One of the advantages of selling custom 3D prints is that you’ll have to do a lot less market research to get started and be successful. By very nature, allowing the customer to tell you what the custom print they want is, means that you don’t have to go out and worry about finding what prints are popular. You won’t have to worry about having too many of a pre-made print that you just isn’t selling.
The more difficult aspect of this, however, is that you’ll need to communicate a lot more with your client than you would if you were simply selling them a pre-made product. Being able to communicate promptly and efficiently and understanding exactly what your customer wants will be integral to your success.
There’s no doubt that you may find a decent amount of clients that already have a design ready for you to print. This makes your life a lot easier as you really don’t have to do much besides ensure that the print comes out well.
However, many will want to describe what they want to you and leave you to do the designing. Obviously, you can charge a lot more for this as it is a lot more labor intensive to design and print than it is to just print. That being said, if you are able to design and produce a custom 3D print to the client’s specifications, there’s no doubt that they will tell all their friends and bring more work your way soon.
Sell An Online 3D Printing Course
If selling your own 3D prints isn¡t something you are very interested in, there are other ways to go about earning some extra income with your 3D printer, one of which is making and selling your own online 3D printing course.
This route is definitely not for the novice printer as you’ll need to know exactly what you’re doing if you want to teach other people how to 3D print. That being said, if you are an expert and are confident in your ability to teach to an audience and explain things in a simple and easy-to-understand way, making and selling your own online course could be a great way to earn some extra cash.
Still, you will need to make sure that your name is out there enough and that you have proven yourself to be an exemplary 3D printing teacher. Not anyone can sell a course successfully, and the abundance of tutorials online can make it difficult to convince someone to spend money on your course when they might be able to learn the same information for free somewhere else.
The best thing you can do is make sure that your course offers something different and interesting that the alternatives don’t provide. That could be going out of your way to have a particular style in the way you teach or trying to make your lessons more fun and entertaining than the other options.
It could also mean offering a unique course in general. There are tons of courses on the basics of 3D printing on Udemy but offering something a bit different, perhaps a course on how to make money with your 3D printer, will differentiate you from all the rest and bring the amount of both your free and paid competition down.
Start A YouTube Channel
If none of the above options is enticing enough for you, starting a YouTube channel dedicated to 3D printing could be another great option for you to make money with your 3D printer.
If you didn’t know, YouTube is one of the largest and busiest video and social media websites on the planet. With over 120 million daily users watching more than a billion hours of videos every day, YouTube can be the perfect place to show off your 3D printing skills and gather a loyal audience of subscribers.
However, gaining enough viewers to make significant money is not easy. Not only will you need the necessary video production and editing skills to put out quality content, but you’ll also need to have a lot of great ideas and know how to make them come to life. Coming up with a script for a video can be challenging, especially for someone that hasn’t done it before, and even after all that work, there’s still no guarantee that any of it will work out. You’ll need a lot of luck in addition to all your hard work to be successful here. Still, if you have a knack for making videos and enjoy being in front of a camera, this could be a great option for you.
As for what kinds of videos you can make, the options are endless. You could do 3D printing tutorials that teach anyone new to the world of 3D printing how to make quality prints. You could show off your own design and printing skills by making some of your own unique prints on camera, or you could even do product reviews for different types of 3D printers, parts, and types of filament. The options are truly endless and anyone with a creative enough mind will have a blast coming bringing their own ideas to the screen.
YouTube isn’t even the only option here, TikTok and Instagram are also great platforms for anyone looking to produce content about 3D printing. TikToks and Instagram Reels are great ways to get your content in front of more faces, and their short nature allows you to not worry as much about script writing and video editing as you would with a longer YouTube video.
Sell Your 3D Printing Designs Online
Though you won’t actually be using your physical 3D printer much here, you can still make a lot of money selling the designs you make and use to other hobbyists and professionals. Of course, to do this well, you’ll need to be a solid designer yourself, after all, no one wants to spend money on a bad design.
However, once you do have your designs ready and you’ve tested them using your 3D printer, you’ll be able to sell them whenever you’d like. There’s no need to have your 3D printer running all day and night long, and you can even make money selling designs while you sleep.
There are essentially two ways of doing this. One involves using a subscription model while the other involves selling the designs individually.
In my opinion, the subscription model is the way to go and Patreon is a great platform built specifically for this. Though often used by content creators to fund their channels, it's a great place for anyone offering a product or service that people may be willing to pay for.
One way to do this is by simply releasing a design or two a month to your potential subscribers. This would allow them to use your designs with their 3D printers at home. This is especially enticing for hobbyists who simply want to continue to improve and make new 3D prints.
The best way to do this, however, is by selling the rights to your designs. In other words, offer your designs to merchants that want to sell the models they make with them online. By simply selling the limited-time rights to some of your most popular designs, you can easily make a few extra grand a month without only a few hours of design work.
If you don’t want want to use the subscription model, there are also websites where you can sell your designs individually. Many 3D printers just want one particular design that they can buy and be done with, instead of continuously paying a subscription fee every month. If you want to go down this route, websites like MyMiniFactory, TurboSquid, and CGTrader are great online marketplaces specifically devoted to selling 3D designs. Whichever option you choose, there is money to be made for anyone who enjoys the design side of 3D printing.
Start A 3D Printing Business In Your Area
Before I get started, starting a 3D printing business is definitely one of the most involved and risky endeavors on this list. That being said, if you are willing to put in the work and are able to find a place with sufficient demand, you might as well try.
You will have to do a lot of research and be in the right place at the right time for this to work out. Market research is incredibly important when starting a business and starting a business in a small town where there isn’t enough demand is a recipe for disaster.
Picking a particular niche to specialize in can’t hurt either. While general 3D printing services are quite common nowadays, picking the right niche can allow your company to grow and flourish. Whether it's designing services, prototyping, fashion, or even medicine and bio-printing, specializing your business in the right way can make all the difference.
Ultimately, you will have to differentiate your business from all the others somehow. Whether it's offering specialized services in addition to 3D printing or ensuring that your business takes pride in the relationship it has with its customers. Make sure that your product is good and your business can fulfill orders in as quickly and cheaply a manner as possible.
Should You Start A Business Or Freelance?
In general, starting a whole new business can cost a lot of money and be incredibly risky, even in an industry that's growing as quickly as 3D printing. You’ll need to spend a lot more time on all the things necessary to start a successful business like doing market research, advertising, setting up a shop, and building a website. While this can work out in the end, and I by no means want to discourage any up-and-coming entrepreneurs from trying, the average person is probably much better off freelancing, at least at first.
Though it is the quicker and easier option when it comes to getting started, there are still lots of barriers on the way to becoming a successful freelancer, so knowing what to expect and how to get off to a good start is really important.
Equipment and Quality Control
So you want to get started freelancing as cheaply and quickly as possible. Should you just go out and buy the cheapest 3D printer you can find to star and start printing whatever the first designs you can come by are?
While you could do this, it’s probably not the best idea. There are some great economically priced 3D printers out there, but unfortunately, there are a lot of not so good ones out there too. You’ll definitely want to do some research if you are planning on buying a new 3D printer.
Though the difference in print quality may not be immediately apparent to you, especially in isolation, using a printer that makes less than quality prints is no way to impress potential clients and make a lot of money. You’ll want to make sure that every print you make is top-notch so that any client or customer you manage to get will want to come back to you in the future.
You can do this firstly, by ensuring that the 3D printer you have is a quality machine with everything in working order. Print quality starts first and foremost with the printer being used so any problems with the machine must be addressed in a timely fashion.
The quality of the filament that you use can also have a lot of effect on the quality of the print you make. You’ll want to make sure that you buy good quality filament and ensure that it is stored properly, especially in the case of materials like PETG that are hygroscopic and absorb water over time. Filament that has become too waterlogged can cause all sorts of quality issues for your prints, so this is also very important.
Make sure that you have plenty of time to experiment with your printer beforehand as well. Sometimes it takes time to figure out how best to use your printer as every model is at least a little bit different. Experimenting with settings like hot end temperature and flow rate can make all the difference in finding out what settings allow your 3D printer to produce the best results.
Overall, the 3D printer, filament, and settings you use can have a huge effect on the quality of the final product. Knowing this along with the fact that print quality is incredibly important for gaining and retaining new clients and customers, you are much better off spending the time and money to ensure that your product is a good one, instead of rushing through and using the cheapest equipment available.
Persistence, Patience, And Gaining Your First Customer
Now that you have the right equipment and have experimented with it enough to know what will give you the best final product, you’ll be wanting to go out and start making money. However, this is oftentimes, easier said than done.
The key here is being patient and persistent. Don’t expect to start raking in the money right away. The road to your first customer could be a long one. You’ll need to get your name out there enough so that people know that you are a viable option.
Lack of proven experience can also be a barrier in the way of people choosing you for whatever 3D printing services they need. Most people will want to spend their money on someone who they know can produce a quality final product, but no matter what, stay persistent and keep looking.
Eventually, you will find a customer who is willing to take a chance on you, and you’ll have time to prove yourself. However, If you are really struggling to find work knocking down your price is always a good idea. Potential customers will be much more willing to take a chance on someone with an absurdly low price than if your services are priced equally to that of your more experienced competitors.
Once you do find your first customer, you have your chance to prove yourself. Don’t feel afraid to show off your work on social media and ask for a testimonial or review on whatever website or platform you are using to find work. If you are able to show people that you have a quality product, more customers will come to you. That’s why that first customer is so important. They are the foot in the door that you’ll need to become a successful 3D printing freelancer.