The Best Ways to Make Money with a 3D Printer
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11 Ways to Make Money with a 3D Printer

Ever wondered about turning your 3D printing hobby into a profitable business venture? We’re here to tell you that there are several ways to make money with 3D printing even as a beginner.

In this guide, we’ll examine the best ways how to make money with a 3D printer, which 3D printing services are most in-demand right now, and what you need to know about running a 3D printing business before you get started.

Best ways to make money with a 3D Printer in 2022

1. Design and sell 3D prints

If you want to design, print, and sell your own 3D printed items, there are a few different ways to do it. For example, you’ll need to decide if you want to stick with a set of specific designs or if you want to work on commission.

Personalized or custom items mean you have to make a new 3D model for every order. Offering only pre-designed items allows you to make items ahead of time and ship them out as needed.

There is a market for nearly every type of 3D print you can create, so choose the types of items you enjoy making. After you have decided that, figure out where the customers for those items like to shop so that you can offer your products there.

What can I make and sell with a 3D printer?

In terms of the things to 3D print and sell, your products can be anything from planters to phone cases to home décor items. Ideally, the products you sell line up with your own passions while still being in high demand from your target audience.

Some of the most popular things to make and sell are:

  • (D&D) miniatures. 3D printed miniatures are very popular at the moment. Unlike store-bought miniatures, these can be fully customized to your customers’ liking. You can also paint the miniatures before shipping them out, but many customers don’t mind painting minis for themselves, or they leave them unpainted altogether. When doing this, we recommend you use a resin 3D printer for miniatures.
  • Jewelry. 3D printed jewelry can be sold at a high mark-up and for more money than other items, but there is a lot of competition in this niche on sites like Etsy. For 3D printing jewelry, resin-based printers are ideal.
A 3D printed jewelry pendant that can be sold.

There is a lot of demand for 3D printed jewelry (Source: xfanta via MyMiniFactory)

  • Cosplay items. Creating and selling cosplay items can be a profitable endeavor. 3D printing helmets, 3D printing armor, or all kinds of other props are valid ways of making money with a 3D printer.
  • Planters. Attractive self-watering planters aren’t always easy to find in retail stores. That is one of the reasons why they are popular things to 3D print.
  • Toys. Toys are easy to make on FDM printers and barely need any post-processing.

These are just a few examples, but the list is practically endless. Think key chains, customized shoes, personalized crafts, or other one-off items. You can sell designs of others (if the copyright license allows), or create your own designs and your own products.

Where to sell 3D prints?

There are many platforms you can use to sell your 3D printed items and make money with a 3D printer, both online and offline. Most sellers choose a few different platforms for selling to reach a variety of markets and audiences, as well as to bring in more money.

While it’s important to not limit yourself to one sales channel, you should also be careful not to spread yourself too thin.

Offline

You have several choices for selling your 3D printed items in person. Events like craft fairs, trade shows, garage sales, and festivals can all give you the opportunity to show off your 3D prints and gain customers. If you have access to electricity at the event, setting up your printer in your booth can be an easy way to attract people to your table.

You can also put your 3D printed items into consignment shops or set up a display in local businesses. This gives your 3D printing business local exposure without committing to a storefront.

Online

To reach a large and varied global market with your 3D printed items, you should sell online. You should ideally have your own online store at some point. In the meantime, there are several eCommerce platforms that can help you get started:

2. Start a local 3D printing business

Starting a local 3D printing business is one of the quickest ways to get customers and generate sales. You can manufacture custom parts, tools, and necessities for other local businesses. This is especially true if you live around several factories or plants. You can reach out to your local bakery about cookie cutters, or make trophies or awards for events.

The list goes on. You will be surprised by how much you can contribute to your local community once you just start asking. If you are wondering how to make money with a 3D printer, this option offers you lots of potential.

While opening your own business sounds complicated, it’s a rather straightforward process. You should contact your local authorities or city council to double-check the ordinances. You may find that you won’t need any permits or zoning updates to run it from your house. That depends on where you live and how your local laws are set up.

What do you need to start a 3D printing business?

3D printer

It goes without saying that if you want to start your own 3D printing business, you need a 3D printer. In this case, it should be a reliable 3D printer that you are already familiar with and have a stock of spare parts for.

You don’t want to start taking requests from customers and have to cancel their orders a week later. Things like this happen when you’re waiting on a replacement part or because something basic went wrong and you don’t know how to fix it. Be prepared with basic troubleshooting knowledge of your machine and backup components before you start.

You don’t need a top-of-the-line printer to offer your 3D printing services. However, you should aim to have a properly working and time-efficient one. Every minute that you spend re-leveling your build plate because your printer falls out of alignment is a minute that you have to account for through higher printing fees or lost maintenance costs.

A man standing in between a collection of 3D printers in a print farm

Business website

You need a website to inform your potential customers about your 3D printing business and to capture leads. You should have this set up by a professional web designer if possible. This will be your main touchpoint for customers to interact with your brand. As such, you want it to look good and reputable to bring in those early clients.

You should also contract a graphic designer. They will make your logo, company palette, and other branding materials. Your web designer will need them to keep your website design on-brand.

Some web designers can do both (and vice versa). Just be sure that they have a strong foundation in branding if you choose to use one person for everything.

You can go as basic or complex as you would like with your final website design. It depends on what types of services you plan to offer and how much of the pre-purchase and buying phase you want to happen online.

Premium add-ons like an online store, quote generator, appointment scheduling app, and other tools add value to your end customer. They will cost you more money in upfront design charges since they may require adding a web developer to your project as well.

3. Design and build prototypes

Using your 3D printer to design and build your own (or someone else’s) product prototypes is a great way to monetize your machine. For other people’s prototypes, you can charge them for designing and building them. For your own prototype, you can send it into production and have your own product line thanks to your 3D printer.

A 3D printed prototype being handed over

4. Rent out your 3D printer

Many people love the idea of 3D printing but don’t have the time, space, or money to buy their own printer. Or sometimes they just need the occasional niche print and don’t think it’s worth it to buy their own machine.

That’s where you and your 3D printer rental services come in! You can charge customers a fee for a printing service where you print their models on your printer. Doing this during your 3D printer’s usual downtime lets you make money 3D printing in moments where you don’t need to use the machine for yourself.

This seems like one of the easier options on this list to try. However, print on demand does have some complicated elements to consider. You have to be properly compensated for all time and materials involved.

That includes the cost of your time spent leveling and maintaining the printer (as well as the cost of wear and tear on your machine from additional usage). Keeping in mind the 3D printer’s electricity usage and its associated cost is important too.

For your 3D printing service, you also need to consider if you will honor requests for certain colors of filament, what types of filament potential customers can order, and if you will also include services for post-processing for a fee.

A set of Kraken tentacles being painted blue and purple

Post-processing can also include painting (Source: Mtar Einbern via MyMiniFactory)

5. Sell digital 3D models

If you’re a skilled modeler, sculptor, or drafter, you can forgo the necessity for physical products and sell your 3D model files online. This option is more of a passive income business model that can work beside or be independent of a physical product line.

Selling digital files like 3D models lets you make money on one product several times without having to make the item more than once. It becomes even more efficient if the digital files you sell are existing assets from another project that weren’t used anymore and would otherwise have no value.

While you won’t be making money in large sums per sale for 3D models, they can still earn a higher lifetime revenue than a print and sell option of the same model. Digital files simply sell with more regularity than physical objects and have no production cost associated with each extra copy sold.

Where to sell 3D model files

The first place you should consider selling your 3D models is on your own website. If you already have one of those for your local 3D printing business, excellent. If not, start looking for a web designer ASAP.

Third-party platforms charge fees to use their services. Having your own eCommerce site ensures that you get a larger percentage of profit from each sale and increase the money you make 3D printing. The downside to this is that you have to build your audience and website traffic yourself. Most third-party eCommerce platforms bring their audience to you.

Some of the best places to sell your 3D models are:

A 3D model with rendered support material

3D models are loaded into a slicer program to generate instructions for the 3D printer (Source: DarkFigurines via MyMiniFactory)

6. Start a YouTube channel

You can use your 3D printing knowledge to set up your own YouTube channel. Build your audience by posting cool and helpful 3D printing YouTube videos to your channel.

It is possible for you to earn revenue from ads, donations, affiliate programs, and brand sponsorships. If you get a large enough following, companies might also send you free products to review.

You most likely won’t make a full-time living from YouTube (especially at first). However, if you grow it as one of several monetization strategies, it can be helpful. It’s a great way to push potential customers to your website or online shop. It can also help develop your name as a knowledgeable person in the industry.

7. Start a blog

You can use a blog to write 3D printer-related content and share your knowledge with others. Like YouTube, you can monetize the content on your blog through ads, affiliate programs, and paid sponsorships. Having a blog gives you more control over the creative process. You also make a lot more from ads on your website than YouTube pre-roll ads.

You can also use your blog as a way to bring readers to your website where you sell your prints, 3D model files, and other products. Your blog content acts as a verification that you know what you’re talking about on the subject of 3D printing.

It shows that you can be looked at as a trusted source. This is called brand authority, and it makes it much easier to convert an audience member into a customer when they already trust what you’re saying.

8. Repair things in your household

A 3D printer is a great tool to have around when something in your house breaks. With basic computer-aided design (CAD) knowledge and (free) 3D modeling software, you can design replacement parts for broken appliances, furniture, and so on.

Normally when something breaks, you have to order a new part from the manufacturer. You potentially have to replace the entire thing if the manufacturer can’t help you. By doing basic repairs, 3D printing your own replacement parts, and keeping your old belongings in functional shape, a 3D printer helps you save money over time.

9. Repair 3D printers for others

There is no denying that 3D printers can be a bit temperamental sometimes. They have a large number of parts to make them operate the way they should. If someone is new to 3D printing or never learned what most of those components are meant to do, they will struggle to fix it when something goes wrong.

Put your technical 3D printer knowledge to good use and offer to fix broken printers for a fee. Most people will be happy to spend money to let someone more capable deal with it. You get paid work from a person who was likely never going to use your 3D printing services or buy your products.

A collection of 3D printing-related objects and accessories on a white desk

10. Flip broken 3D printers

If a 3D printer is broken badly enough that the owner doesn’t want to fix it, you can still salvage it by fixing it up. After you have repaired it, you can then resell it for a profit. You can also keep it for spare parts for another 3D printer and sell that one afterward.

11. Offer 3D printing courses

If you’ve been 3D printing for a while, you probably know quite a bit about the subject. Consider using that knowledge to create an online course or series of online courses that teach new 3D printing enthusiasts the basics.

It will be a big initial investment of your time to plan the course, film it, edit it, compile it, and market it. However, you can continue to sell the course for years to come while doing little to no maintenance work on it.

You can host the course through an online learning platform like:

You can also host it through your website if you have one (and use your blog to help market it.)

Frequently asked questions

Can you make money with 3D printing?

Yes, there are many ways you can start making money with a 3D printer. Selling 3D prints (like phone cases) or offering 3D printing services are some of the most popular methods, but there are many more you can choose from.

Is it legal to sell 3D prints?

As long as you follow the copyright license on any 3D model you use, you are legally allowed to sell 3D prints of the model. For any models you design yourself, you are the license holder, so you can use the models freely.

If any of the models depict copyrighted or trademarked content, that overrules the designer’s license. For example, if someone designed a 3D model of a well-known cartoon character, they still cannot sell prints of it because the character is not their intellectual property.

A 3D printed and painted viking helmet

Always check whether the objects you 3D print are copyrighted or not (Source: edoyola via MyMiniFactory)

Is 3D printing a good side hustle?

Yes, 3D printing is a great side hustle if you already know a lot about the subject. If you are brand new to 3D printing and are trying to jump into starting a business with it from day one, it might be a frustrating experience.

Taking some time to learn your 3D printer, understand the settings, and be able to troubleshoot the most common issues are going to be very helpful in the long run. It will also ensure that you don’t guarantee your 3D printing service to someone before you are able to render it.

3D printing is also not much different than beginning any other side business. Starting a 3D print store or print-on-demand service requires niche market research, marketing, social media skills, and some understanding of business management. Those are all skills anyone can and should learn to increase how much money they make with their side business.

How long does it take to start making money with a 3D printer?

That depends on a few different factors. If you are trying a few of our suggestions on how to make money with a 3D printer, your chances of quickly connecting with new customers are higher than if you only stick to one method or sales platform.

How quickly people buy from or contract you also depends on having things like:

  • A professional-looking website
  • Clean and effective copy on your website and product listings
  • High-quality pictures of your products
  • Well-defined policies for shipping, returns, customization, etc.
  • Good pricing (that doesn’t mean fighting to be the lowest)
  • Accurate market research and a good strategy for your business

Not all of these factors have to be a slam-dunk every time. Online shops with terrible pictures make sales every day, while some with professional product photography do not. People stumble onto products by accident every day, even if their marketing strategy is abysmal. These are just some things that may color your timeline for profitability.

How long does it take to learn 3D printing?

If you have a plug-and-play 3D printer that is designed to set up and start 3D printing almost instantly (note that these are usually the more expensive machines on the market), you can start getting serviceable prints within a day.

Cheaper and more hands-on 3D printer models have a steeper learning curve and take more time to become adept with. Many of the tasks that plug-and-play printers do automatically are manual on budget printers. It will likely take you a few days to start producing quality parts. It will take a few months to have a firm understanding of all the 3D printer’s elements.

As far as being able to make your own 3D models, those skills are considerably more time-consuming to learn. You can make very basic models within a day or so by following tutorials. However, it can take months or even years to become a skilled designer who creates original and aesthetically pleasing 3D models.

Do you need a license to 3D print?

Anyone with access to a 3D printer can print 3D models for non-commercial uses. However, the rules are slightly different when you intend to sell the finished product. Any models used need to have a commercial use license.

That means only choosing ready-made models online that have the proper license. You can also contact the designer to inquire about obtaining commercial rights. Many designers are willing to charge you a licensing fee in those situations, but some will still refuse. It’s important to be respectful either way.

What software do I need?

To start 3D printing, you need a 3D modeling program and a slicer program. The 3D modeling software lets you create 3D models to print, while your slicer turns your models into lines of code that your 3D printer can read.

For help picking out a 3D modeling program, we have an in-depth comparison between the best free modeling software options.

Is 3D printing expensive?

The expenses of 3D printing depend on several factors. These include what type of material you use, what type of 3D printer you have, if you keep your printer well-maintained, and how you store your materials.

Paying attention during 3D model slicing and set up can cut down costly or wasteful mistakes. Keeping your 3D printer clean and lubricated extends the life of its parts. Storing your filaments or resins away from moisture and light will extend its working life and help you save money.

Conclusion

There are several options to make money 3D printing, which means there is something suitable for everyone. Do you make money with a 3D printer? What do you find most challenging about running a 3D printing business or side hustle? Let us know in the comments!

  • Emily is a content writer who focuses on DIY, 3D printing, graphic design, and technology. She grew up learning about design, drafting, and machining from spending her afternoons at her father’s tool and die shop.

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