Thinking about starting a 3D printing business? Want to try to sell 3D printed items on the side? You may be wondering where to start.
There are several ways to make money with a 3D printer, for example, you can open an online shop to sell 3D printed items, or offer print-on-demand 3D printing services.
In this article, we’ll cover how and where you can sell 3D printed items. We’ll also show cool (and profitable) ideas for things to 3D print and sell, and explain what you need to know before you turn your passion for the hobby into a business.
What to keep in mind when selling 3D prints
Selling 3D printed items can be a lucrative business. However, you need to consider a few things before opening your shop and taking your first orders.
Before setting a price for your 3D prints, you should calculate your costs and margins. This isn’t unique to 3D printing, since all business owners need to know if their product will make a profit.
You need to consider all costs associated with 3D printing the item and selling it. This includes the 3D printer cost, but also the print materials, shipping supplies, 3D printer power usage, seller platform fees, and wages for your time. The more thorough you are, the more accurate the results of your calculations will be.
The issue of copyright when selling 3D prints is twofold. If you are printing and selling a 3D model created by someone else, you must follow the designer’s license. If the designer has listed the model as non-commercial, you cannot sell it. If you still choose to do so, they can take legal action against you or your business for infringing on their copyright.
Another layer of the copyright issue is that you cannot sell prints of copyright or trademarked material. This is true even if the model has a commercial license. For example, Bulbasaur is a trademarked and copyrighted character of Nintendo. Thus, you can’t sell Bulbasaur planters even if the 3D model has a public domain license.
Where to sell 3D prints
You can sell your 3D prints using many different channels. Live events like craft fairs, festivals, and trade shows are a great way to garner in-person sales. Consignment shops and displays in local businesses can give your 3D prints a brick-and-mortar presence without the overhead.
Online eCommerce platforms are by far the easiest and most widespread sales channels to use. You can start your own website and sell directly from there or use an existing marketplace.
The latter option is much easier for beginners who don’t know much about online retail. By using existing marketplaces, you can leverage their existing audience and make money with a 3D printer in no time.
The online marketplace Etsy focuses on handmade, vintage, and handmade supply products. They charge a $0.20 listing fee per item every four months (or until it sells and is relisted). They also take a percentage of the sales revenue when an item sells.
Many 3D printing shops have been very successful in selling items like planters, cookie cutters, and toys on the Etsy platform. Aside from those, there are plenty of other things to 3D print and sell on the platform.
The Amazon marketplace is the largest eCommerce platform available. Amazon integrates third-party sellers into their warehouse system. An independent 3D printing shop using the platform can send their prints to the nearest warehouse and Amazon would process them and ship them out as they sell.
More dated than most of the other platforms on this list, eBay never quite left its days as an auction site behind. It has at least integrated the ‘Buy It Now’ functions that allow it to work more like an eCommerce platform.
New sellers get free listings to get started, then pay a flat fee per listing and a percentage of their revenue.
eBay shouldn’t be your main eCommerce platform for making money with your 3D printing business. However, it works well as a supplement to the other services we’ve listed.
Starting as a place to pay people to do menial tasks for $5, Fiverr has grown into a labor outsourcing giant. They are now competing with the likes of Upwork, Freelancer, and so on.
Fiverr’s system pays you for your labor, so you are not listing your product. You are listing your ability to 3D print cool 3D prints for other users.
Best 3D Printed Items That Sell
1. Miniatures (D&D, Warhammer, etc.)
One of the best things to print and sell with your 3D printer is miniatures for tabletop games like D&D and Warhammer.
These figurines are small and highly detailed. This means that if you want to make money by 3D printing miniatures, you are best off with a resin 3D printer. On the other hand, larger terrain pieces are best suited for traditional fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers.
Part of the appeal of miniatures is that they are customizable. They are sold unpainted (similar to some model kits) so the buyer can decorate and paint the miniatures as they see fit. This is excellent news for anyone looking to make money printing by selling 3D printed miniatures. No painting means there is less need for post-processing work.
3D printed miniatures are well-liked among consumers, as customers can buy miniatures that aren’t available to them through traditional manufacturing companies.
Consumers also enjoy commissioning customized minis. These figurines are often original characters in their campaigns or stories. If you have the level of skill needed to model and/or sculpt these personalized minis, that can be a significant upcharge for your 3D printing business.
If you want to go this route, you might want to check out our article on the best 3D printers for miniatures.
2. Cosplay items (helmets, armor, props, etc.)
Cosplay items are one of the most labor-intensive options on the list of things to 3D print and make money with. Taking hours or days from start to finish, making cosplay costumes and props to sell is not for the faint of heart. These items (especially 3D printed armor sets and 3D printed helmets) are large parts that take hours to print and post-process.
Most users expect their cosplay items to be finished and painted to a professional level when they buy them. This takes a great deal of time and effort on your part as the seller. The upside to this is that you can charge a premium price for these items to make up for the extra time spent 3D printing and assembling them. Customers are often willing to pay well for these items.
If you want to make money 3D printing and selling cosplay items, it is a good idea to use a 3D printer with a large build volume. That way, you won’t need to spend time splitting parts to fit the build plate and gluing them together when the printing is complete.
Use a large 3D printer for cosplay, and you can simply 3D print full-size pieces in one go.
The jewelry market is a high mark-up market with excellent profitability if approached correctly. Its main problem is that it is oversaturated with artisans and hobbyists. Your designs and marketing both need to be unique and strategic in this space. Otherwise, it is impossible to have any visibility on most of the eCommerce platforms mentioned in this article.
Since jewelry pieces tend to be small, you need negligible amounts of raw material to print each piece. This keeps production costs low and makes it possible to create many at once. Like miniatures, jewelry requires a high level of detail. For the highest-quality pieces, you will need a 4K resin printer or higher (6K/8K).
FDM 3D printers are not entirely ineffective for jewelry making. They can still print forms for silicone molding material. Then use those molds with things like polymer or precious metal clays, resins, low-temperature metals, and other castable materials.
3D printed mold forms need to be smooth and non-porous before molding. You’ll need to sand, fill, or use other extensive post-processing work to achieve the right look.
If you can keep the cost low and produce (customized) jewelry that you promote effectively (e.g. through social media), you will have a good chance at creating a successful 3D printing business in the jewelry niche.
3D printed toys are a great option to sell. However, you need to be cautious about regulations on children’s products when choosing to manufacture them with your 3D printer. Some countries require certification to make and sell certain items. This mainly pertains to products for babies and very young children. The guidelines vary from country to country.
Fidget toys and articulated creatures geared towards older kids and adults run a much lower risk of liability and are quite popular. These items are even more memorable when printed from something like color changing, glow in the dark, or filled (Woodfill, Copperfill) PLA filament.
Most toys are quick and efficient to make. They print easily on a traditional FDM 3D printer and don’t require much post-processing. Plus there are plenty of cool toy ideas out there that you can 3D print.
5. Nerf gun accessories
Customized or unique Nerf gun accessories and gun bodies are a popular niche in the 3D printing community. They also have quite a demanding retail market.
Items like sights, dart holders, extra clips for discontinued products, larger magazines, and improved barrels are all popular Nerf-related 3D prints. They are easy to create on most 3D printers and fit well with the other ideas of things to 3D print and sell.
It is also not uncommon for Nerf-enthusiasts to want custom guns that the company has not or will not make. Sometimes this means turning a cosplay prop into a functioning dart gun. Other times it means making a gun body that is not commercially available.
Cosplay prop and customized Nerf gun designs are great designs to sell. They have high markup potential and popularity. You can have a profitable business in this niche as long as you don’t overstep trademark rules.
The name Nerf is technically protected under trademark laws. It can help to use generic terms like dart gun, foam dart weapon, etc. in place of the brand in your product listings. This makes sure you don’t gain the attention of any corporate lawyers. They do periodic intellectual property sweeps on popular eCommerce platforms.
Accessories have a lower profit margin than 3D printing full Nerf guns. However, most users don’t care if their dart holders or magazines are not sanded smooth, so they are a quick and easy way to make money with a 3D printer.
6. Architecture models
Architectural models are a difficult 3D printing project. They often recreate both the interior and exterior design of a building. They are usually printed in pieces so that the roof and separate levels can be removed for easy access to all the interior elements. Because of their complexity, they can be sold at a high markup and are a great option to 3D print and sell.
Architectural prints can be used for prototyping/visualization, education, play, and decoration. Selling house models as a dollhouse toy or a recreation of a famous building for education or decoration purposes is a great way to market them to consumers.
Some architectural and engineering firms like to have tangible models of their designs. This is helpful for prototyping, sales meetings, and even for troubleshooting the design. Aligning yourself with local companies looking for this 3D printing service could be a beneficial opportunity.
7. Figurines and statues
Figurines and statues are yet another group of 3D printed products that sell exceptionally well. Many of the figurine and statue 3D models that are available online are of copyrighted content. Things such as characters from video games, movies, or tv shows. These are not particularly helpful resources for making commercial items.
Yet, there are still plenty of options for unbranded designs either through ready-made models or customized ones that you design yourself. Animals, mythological creatures, etc. are all popular designs to 3D print and sell without fear of copyright infringement.
Custom figurines of either customers or their pets are another option to diversify your product offerings. This does require an advanced skill level for 3D modeling and/or sculpting. If you aren’t there yet, keep it as an option for the future. In the meantime, you are welcome to look at our recommendations for free 3D modeling software.
8. Phone cases
Phone cases are a large market, and 3D printed versions are no exception. There are countless possibilities for making and selling phone cases with your 3D printer. You can print basic stretch cases using a flexible filament like TPU, or decorative hard cases made from PLA or ABS.
Basic cases are inexpensive and readily available to the consumer from most stores and online retailers. If you want to sell cases, it’s best to use unique or customized models.
The most eye-catching 3D printed options emphasize the technical capabilities of 3D printing. The geared iPhone case is a great example.
A large difficulty with 3D printing a phone case to sell is that there are so many different phone models available and they update constantly. As such, you may find it difficult to source consistent phone case models. You may also realize your designs are becoming quickly outdated if you model them yourself.
The best solution to the variability of phone case compatibility is to start out 3D printing and selling cases for only a handful of different phone models. From there, you could make the decision to scale up or down as needed.
9. Self-watering planters
Planters in general are a hot seller in the 3D printing world, but self-watering planters are even more popular. They are hard to find in stores, making them a fantastic item to add to your business’ offerings.
Self-watering planters are typically designed in two parts: the planter and a water reservoir.
Since both pieces are in contact with water, they need to be watertight in order to not leak. Typical 3D prints have microscopic gaps between each layer. Water can seep through these layers and onto whatever surface the print is sitting on. A clear, non-toxic sealant is a great solution for this problem and gives customers a much better experience with their planter.
10. Designer vases
3D printed vases are another home décor product capable of generating a large number of sales. With the exotic shapes that can be created in CAD and made on a 3D printer, the end results are far more modern and sophisticated than vases that are commercially available.
Like the planters mentioned above, vases need a sealant to make them watertight. They are quick and easy to make and can be 3D printed as one continuous spiral. The continuous print lines that this creates improve the speed and quality of the print job.
Items like vases can be printed on either FDM or resin 3D printers (if the print bed size is not an issue for the latter). Extruder-driven ceramic and clay 3D printers are also an excellent option if you are lucky enough to have access to one.
Regardless of the type of 3D printer you use, vases are an excellent choice for making money with a 3D printer.
11. Raspberry Pi cases
Raspberry Pi boards are a common component in homemade electronics projects. Pi boards are inexpensive single-board computers that are suitable for many projects. For example, they can control smart home equipment, act as a controller for other projects, power a video game emulator console, or run as an underpowered but functional DIY computer.
Since Raspberry Pi’s are so small, it is easy to print cases and enclosures for them. The cases not only protect their components but also make them look more functional and professional. Selling the cases to interested tinkerers has sales potential by itself. If you happen to be handy with electronics, you could also sell fully assembled Raspberry Pi projects.
12. Eyeglasses frames
3D printed eyeglass frames have risen in popularity over the years. Several major eyewear companies have started selling FDM-produced 3D printed eyeglass frames. These products are usually made from WoodFill and other specialty filaments.
Even so, consumers are also flocking to smaller businesses that can design a new pair of frames. Sometimes they want new frames designed for their existing lenses if their store-bought frames break. Other times, they want to transfer blue light or sunglass lenses to a new pair of 3D printed frames for comfort or aesthetic reasons.
We don’t recommend using PLA or other low-temp filaments on this project. If the person wearing them spends enough time outside on a hot day, the frames could soften and warp from the heat. ABS and Nylon are safer filament choices, as they have a higher glass transition temperature (i.e. they melt at higher temperatures).
You can make a variety of different types of lamps on a 3D printer. They are popular choices when it comes to making and selling 3D printed items. Home décor is a thriving market. When you can offer something unique for their living space, design-minded consumers take notice.
Lamps (especially pendant lights) most often require a 3D printer with a medium to large build volume. Because of their shape and texture, most designs don’t fare well when split and glued back together. Seams also change the way light passes through the filament, so they may be noticeable once the light is on.
Landmark models and statues recreate well-known buildings, places, statues, and other monuments. They vary from highly-detailed architectural models of famous buildings to sites like Stonehenge. They don’t usually come apart as architectural models do.
These models are popular sellers with tabletop gamers. They are sometimes used in tabletop campaigns and world or story-building exercises. They also make excellent educational tools and are great additions to the modern classroom.
Frequently asked questions
What are the most popular 3D printed items?
Cosplay props, planters, and miniatures are some of the biggest sellers. The popularity depends on which platform you are selling on. For example, on Etsy, the main customer base is looking for pretty, trendy things. Beautiful planters, jewelry, and the like will be most popular.
The best way to learn what is selling on your platform is to do a little research. Find the shops with the best sales numbers, see what their bestsellers are. Use that as an estimate of which categories and niches are most popular. It will be much easier to make money with a 3D printer by finding the niche that works best for you and to fill it with unique products.
Is it legal to 3D print and sell?
It is perfectly legal to sell your 3D prints. Issues rarely arise if you follow licenses of the models you download and you don’t sell trademarked goods. There are some extra considerations for certain groups of products. For example, you sometimes need special certification to make or sell items directed at young kids or babies.
Certifications vary from country to country, so research the limitations and laws of your country to find out more.
The easiest way to avoid liability is to design your own models to 3D print and sell. Creating your own models avoids the complications of using other people’s intellectual property.
Is selling 3D prints profitable?
Depending on what you make and how you market it, selling your 3D prints can be a very profitable way to make money online. To get the best results from selling 3D printed items, you need to do thorough market research.
You should look at what items are selling, where they are selling, and what you can do to stand out.
Do people buy 3D printed objects?
They sure do! As awareness of 3D printing technology increases, more people understand it is an easy way to get their hands on custom or unique items.
Be sure you are very clear in your descriptions about what material the item is made from. It is common to see customers confuse 3D printed items with wood in their reviews.
That’s everything you need to know about selling your 3D printed items. Do you sell your prints? What’s the most difficult part of running a 3D printing business? Let us know in the comments below!