How to Earn Money with 3D printing: 4 Best Business Ideas

by Guest Author on September 28, 2020

in Articles, Guest Posts

With the onward of additive manufacturing came the era of affordable 3D printing. Subsequently, the advent of budget-friendly home-based manufacturing opened dozens of doors each of which leads to a profitable and flexible business idea that revolves around making three-dimensional objects in demand. 

Would you like to know how your 3D printing expertise, modeling, and maker’s skills could be applied in practice? Would you like to start making money off your hobby? We’ve got you covered — here are the 4 best 3D printing startup ideas with the pros and cons of each. It’s up to you to decide whether you will actually use one of these to start the business of your dreams or combine the listed ideas and make something different.   

Idea 1 – Sell the Printed Models / Start a 3D Printing Shop

First up is the most obvious idea. What about running a 3D printing shop? I believe that this particular thought has crossed the mind of every experienced maker. The feeling is especially strong when you finish building an astonishingly detailed and creative model. 

Credit: La Tarte au Citron

In order to start a 3D printing shop, you’ll have to get a little bit of 3D printing experience first. Know your 3D printers, find out the best settings for particular 3D models and materials, and give an actual shape to a couple of original, extraordinary designs.

Credit: Seth Woodworth

It might be a good idea to have several machines since different clients have different requirements. Some might want highly accurate figurines with a smooth surface finish printed with a semi-professional resin 3D printer. The others will opt for a cheaper yet practical model built with a budget-friendly FDM 3D printer, or require strong and highly durable parts.

Running a 3D printing shop is a very flexible business since the initial workflow can be organized according to the budget. For instance, you can start small by creating a group on a social network. Make sure that your friends, relatives, friends of your relatives, and other people are aware of your business too. After receiving some feedback and getting more clients, create a website, and focus on getting even more clients by implementing different digital marketing strategies.

Pros

  • Flexible workflow
  • Freedom of design
  • Low setup costs

Cons

  • Hard to obtain digital visibility
  • As a rule, it is hard to come up with truly unique designs

Idea 2 – Reverse engineering and rapid prototyping

Another great idea would be to go the reverse engineering way. To make a long story short, it all comes down to building 3D models from blueprints or scanning/measuring a physical part to create its model and print the replicas. Depending on the client’s needs, be ready to deal with surface modeling, solid modeling, and to create a parametric object model with a history tree. If you require immediate production of outstandingly durable parts or prototypes and you don’t have an expensive printer, you can simply use a service such as Craftcloud to find a supplier you can subcontract to. 

Credit: fabworkz

A 3D scanner is a necessity in this kind of business since it allows to complete the development stage in the blink of an eye. If you don’t own a 3D scanner, you can also subcontract to an individual in possession of one. Make sure to receive feedback from your clientele and make necessary improvements accordingly. In addition, provide a steady stream of new customers by rising your business above the other ones by applying top-notch marketing strategies and providing excellent services. 

Pros

  • Flexible workflow
  • Decent setup costs
  • Fast development stage

Cons

  • Requires a bit of engineering expertise and reverse engineering software skills
  • Hard to quote right

Idea 3 – Eco-Friendly 3D Printed Projects

Another bright idea would be to promote the love for our planet by minimizing environmental impact and printing with non-toxic and biodegradable materials. For example, you can use PLA, which is a cornstarch-based 3D printing material. In addition, there are machines like Filabot that can create plenty of eco-friendly filament at home in the blink of an eye. Did you know that a plastic bottle of milk can be recycled into two and a half meters of eco-friendly filament? All of the models made from plastics can be recycled into a printing material too.

Credit: transylvania_3dprinting

Environmentally-friendly manufacturing has never been so available. Use your 3D printer, 3D modeling skills, and expertise to craft eco-friendly costumes, props, accessories, jewelry, and much more. There is a variety of compatible filaments to choose from. For example, you can print with wood or soy, or even create something out of recycled concrete and other building materials. 

Credit: adafruit

Eco-friendly additive manufacturing is quite a promising niche with its potential yet to be fully realized. In addition, it serves a greater purpose and contributes to saving our planet. 

Pros

  • Recyclability
  • Eliminate waste and protect the environment
  • Cost-efficiency

Cons

  • Limited amount of compatible materials

Idea 4 – Become a Supplier of Rare Spare Parts

Additive manufacturing of clips brackets, cable holders brackets, jigs, and fixtures for cars is highly demandable too. Autobody shops, appliance repair stores, engine repair shops, and other related businesses are always looking for quality, hard-to-find spare parts. In a nutshell, you’ll have to manufacture parts that such shops cannot get from official suppliers anymore, like extremely rare car parts for classic and old automobiles. 

3D printed ignition barrel connection holder. Credit: philiph_

Note, however, that in order to manufacture integral parts like release lever, crank arms, brake parts, and others, you’ll have to invest in a professional device like an SLS 3D printer to be sure that your parts have the best mechanical properties. Of course, you can still start small and begin with making clips brackets, cable holders, and other related parts by using an FDM machine.

Credit: Porsche

Pros

  • Niche market
  • Flexibility

Cons

  • Acquiring an SLS 3D printer might be expensive 

Bottom Line

Just like we promised, we delivered you the 4 best ideas for a profitable 3D printing business. As a matter of fact, you’ll need more than just an idea in order to succeed. You’ll have to develop a thought-out business plan, be persistent and ambitious. Aim high, be creative, and don’t let anything stop you from executing the startup of your dreams.

Guest article written by: Amadu Sou is the Editor-in-Chief at Top 3D Group. Since 2013, the company has integrated digital manufacturing in more than 10,000 homes, businesses, and educational institutions. Discovering new applications for innovative 3D technologies and the integration of additive manufacturing is a core part of the company’s work. Top 3D Group hosts one of the largest 3D printing conferences in Eastern Europe.

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