How to make money with a 3d printer?

You just bought a new 3D printer and are wondering how can you justify your new toy/investment to your spouse. We'll, we're here to help you come up with an excuse that will help you get out of the mess you created.

Key Takeaways:

  • There are a lot of ways you can make money 3D printing

  • But it's not easy

  • You can also make money with selling 3D printer related products

Formlabs 2 & 3

May 20, 2021 (Last updated)

9 min read

How profitable is 3D printing?

But first, let's answer this question. Can you really make money with a 3D printer?

The answer is yes and no. It depends on the niche that you serve. If you're 3D printing for the general consumer, then your profit margin might not be high because it's for personal use. Consumers love cheap stuff. You'll barely cover your cost because of the amount of labor required to finish just one job. But if you're serving clients where 3D printing solves a costly problem that they have, then they are more willing to pay you a lot more to solve it for them.

Here's what we mean by that.

Scenario A: Joe is looking to 3D print a door handle because his door handle broke.

Scenario B: Amanda is looking to 3D print a prototype of a product she plans to sell on Kickstarter.

Believe it or not, we get a lot of Joe's looking to get a quote for their missing appliance part. And most of them are surprised by how expensive 3D printing is and why can't it be as a cheap as Amazon!

We turn them away. Cheap clients are not worth your time.

Different ways to make money with 3D printing

We've listed a couple of ways you can make money with a 3D printer. Some of these ideas are really good, some of them are bad. But we're listing them any way and it's up to you to make that decision if it's even worth considering.

Let's dive right in!

1. Sell pre-made 3D prints on Etsy

Etsy is one of the biggest marketplace for 3D printing. A lot of 3D printing hobbyists and even professional gravitate towards Etsy because of its large audience who are into handcrafted stuff. Some of them have even made a name for themselves on Etsy, whether that's selling pre-made items with a little bit of customization or selling full on 3D printed objects.

When we were starting out back in 2016, we were the first ones to start selling 3D printed planters. Made boatloads of money but ultimately had to stop because of copyright issues. But also partly, because it wasn't where we imagined company .

Remember how we said cheap clients aren't worth your time. On Etsy, you will encounter a lot of cheap clients.

Pros

  • Quick way to validate your 3D printing idea
  • Benefit from Etsy's huge audience
  • Running ads are cheaper compared to Google

Cons

  • Hard to build a moat (competitive advantage)
  • Low profit margins if you're unable to differentiate.
  • Raise to the bottom
  • Your business is under Etsy's hands
  • Karens everywhere

List of 3D printed products that you can sell on Etsy:

  • D&D miniatures

  • Planters

  • Vase

  • Freezing Bernie

How do you choose which products to sell?

On Etsy, you will see a lot of people selling different variations of the same thing - planters, iphone holder, headphone holder, etc.

Why?

Because these things sell!

Like it or not, Etsy will be full of copycats and originality doesn't matter. If your product sells, people will copy it. (And vice versa)

How can you stand out on Etsy?

There's a lot you can do to stand out, but here are some of the common ones that we hear over and over again.

  • Offer something unique that differentiates your product. Whether that's offering higher quality 3D print (resin), custom finishing, etc.

  • Avoid competing for price. It becomes

  • Ask your happy clients to leave a review

  • Take high quality product photos

2. Offer a specialized 3D printing

This comes down to finding a niche that you're comfortable to work with or if there's enough margin for you to be profitable.

Here's a list of niches you can offer your 3D printing services to:

  • Tabletop Miniatures

  • Toy Designers

  • Jewelry Designers

  • Architecture firms

  • Engineering firms for prototyping services

Pros

  • You can standardize your process
  • Repeatable business
  • Easier to master one industry than be a jack of all trades
  • You can become a known expert in that industry

Cons

  • Miss out on other opportunities
  • Choosing the wrong niche can lead to problems later on

3. Start a 3D printing business in your local area

We'll start off by saying that starting a 3D printing business is the most difficult thing to do out of all the other ideas on this list.

Pros

  • Potential for high profits
  • Local advantage over online only 3D printing companies

Cons

  • Demand highly depends on your local market
  • Market can be saturated
  • High investment costs
  • Hard to compete with the giants such as Shapeways, 3DHubs, etc.

We were fortunate that we were located in NYC, where there is huge demand for 3D printing, and that we started in the early days when 3D printing was still new.

We're not saying this because we don't want you to compete with us, but we're saying this because we want you to know the risks involved in the 3D printing business. Many 3D printing companies have gone out of business because they could not make a sustainable profit to keep the lights on.

The amount of work that you have to put in on fulfilling custom orders is a lot. If you don't opt for an automated system, you end up doing a lot of back and forth with clients. And if you do opt in for these instant quoting systems, you can get a lot of low end jobs and lose out on clients with a very custom need.

The real money in offering a 3D printing service, especially if your a small business, is if you can differentiate yourself from merely becoming a commodity.

For us, we had to become more than just a 3D printing service. It sounds corny, but that was the reality. We had to offer other services that would add value to 3D printing. For example, a marketing agency came to us for 3D printed trophy in 24k gold. But we know that we can't 3D print gold. We can either tell them to take it to a metal plating shop or we can do it ourselves and charge on top of it.

We can charge a lot more because:

  1. We're taking all the risk. If that metal plating fails, we have to 3D print again.

  2. We're making their lives so much easier by being an expert at this field.

  3. And if they're on a really tight deadline, we can charge even more because we're guaranteeing results.

Clients who care more about their time and results are willing to pay you a lot if you can deliver.

So we've partnered with a local metal plating company and later on started offering metal plating services for 3D printing.

Having capabilities more than 3D printing will allow you to charge more than just the 3D print by itself.

Whether that's painting, or creating molds. Whatever it is, you need to find the right clients.

Bonus: Offer 3D scanning services

3D scanning and printing services are perfect way to increase money you can make from owning 3D printer. Although this would require buying a 3D scanner, it's a good option to think about when increasing your chances of landing a 3D printing client.

4. Sell your 3D printing designs

Making money with 3D printing isn't only limited to running your 3D printer 24 hours a day. You can also make money from selling 3D models!

This might be hard if you don't have any design skills. You can either learn or hire a designer on Fiverr or Upwork.

Pros

  • You can make money while you sleep
  • More scaleable than running a 3D printing business

Cons

  • Getting traction might be hard
  • You need to spend a lot of time with community support/marketing your 3D model.
  • Can be very competitive if you don't come up with an original design
  • You can't sell copyrighted designs
  • Chances of people stealing your design and reposting/reselling them.

Patreon Business Model

Here's how it works. People pay you an X amount every month for you to publish 3D models for them.

This business model is very popular among the tabletop miniature community.

The above picture is from LordOfThePrint's Patreon. They're one of the popular designers focused on building 3D designs for tabletop gaming. They currently have 1,933 subscribers as of this writing. Assuming only 5% of that is merchants, (about 100) that's $3,866 of monthly recurring revenue!

Take this WallStreetBets 3D model by ChaosCoreTech for example. We spent $50 to have the rights to sell their design for a month. Imagine having 10 Etsy sellers wanting to sell your 3D model. That's have $500 of passive income every month for a few hours of design work!

Merchants/Etsy sellers are great target to sell your 3D models to because:

  • They'll use it to make more money

  • They know that your 3D model would print properly because you also know how to 3D print. You might also include supports to make it easier for them

  • You can show them how it would like 3D printed, thus, making it even easier to sell.

Marketplace Business Model

Some prefer to sell their designs as one-off product that people can just buy online without having to subscribe monthly.

Places where you can sell your 3D models

  • MyMiniFactory

  • CGTrader

  • TurboSquid

5. Start a YouTube Channel

We know that this is easier said than done. Creating content requires time, effort and consistency. With the amount of 3D printing related youtube channels out there, it might be hard to stand out.

But we're not here to stop you from starting your own channel. We're just here to tell you that you can make money with it.

Pros

  • Potential for high earnings
  • You can use your audience to make more money aside from YouTube Ads

Cons

  • Not easy

6. Sell an online 3D printing course

If your confident enough with your 3D printing skills and you have knack for teaching others, then selling an online course about 3D printing can

What should you teach?

Again, you need to find a problem where people are willing to pay money for. If you search "3D printing" on Udemy, you'll find 3D printing courses that people are paying for.

It doesn't have to be "how to operate a 3D printer", it can be a course on "how to operate a profitable 3D printing business". With this strategy, you'll attract clients who are willing to pay money to make more money.

Pros

  • Passive income

Cons

  • Might be hard to make money with so many free tutorials online
  • Creating video tutorials are not an easy task
  • You need to show that you're an authority on the topic

7. Rent your 3D printer for events

With the pandemic and all, this is probably not a good idea. But it's still an idea right?

The business is very similar to a photo booth. A bar mitzvah will hire you for 3 hours to 3D print keychains for them.

But 3D printing takes a long time. They are going to complain that you didn't 3D print for everyone.

Yup, bad idea.

8. Sell your 3D printer

You can quickly make money if you sell the 3D printer you just bought. Guaranteed.

All jokes, aside

9. 3D print the word "money"

You will literally make "money" with a 3D printer with this strategy.

In summary

Yes, you can make money with a 3D printer. And there are a lot of ways that you can do it, whether that's selling 3D printed items, digital goods, or even offering a 3D printing service in your local area. Is it easy to make money 3D printing? It's not. You still need to work hard(and smart) to become successful in the 3D printing business.