10 Ways You Can Make Money With a 3D Printer Starting Today

Marcello De Lio

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Close up of a 3d printer printing for a small batch manufacturing company

By owning a 3D printer, you have access to a powerful tool capable of creating a wide range of products, from intricate models to functional household items. This rapid prototyping technology allows for the personalization of objects and offers a unique opportunity to monetize your crafting skills.

You could design and sell your own creations, offer printing services to those without access to a printer, or even produce educational content, sharing your 3D printing knowledge.

Here are ten ways to turn your 3D printing passion into a business.

Ways to Make Money With A 3D Printer

A 3D printer sits on a desk, surrounded by various items it has created such as figurines, prototypes, and custom parts. A sign nearby reads "Ways to Make Money With A 3D Printer"

3D printing provides the ability to turn digital designs into physical objects, offering an enticing business opportunity to makers. Whether you’re a seasoned 3D printing enthusiast or just starting to explore this innovative technology, you can make money with a 3D printer in several ways.

Let’s dive into the possibilities that 3D printing technology holds for aspiring entrepreneurs and creative minds looking to turn passion into profit.

1. Sell 3D Printed Objects On Etsy

A screenshot of the search results page on etsy when searching for 3D printed gifts. Thousands of people make money with 3D printers selling printed items online
Pros

Easy to get started

Benefit from Etsy’s marketplace of sellers

Cons

Lot’s of competition

High platform fees

Complaints can destroy your business

Low profit margins if you can’t differentiate

Selling 3D-printed objects is one of the easiest ways to make money with your 3D printer. Etsy makes it easy to get an online store up and running. And the marketplace already has millions of shoppers browsing for crafts to purchase.

Etsy is one of the best places to sell 3D models for 3D printing because of its large community of buyers. Additionally, Etsy limits sellers to crafts and handmade items, meaning you’re not competing against mass-market goods like you would by selling on Amazon or eBay.

However, the ease of setting up an Etsy shop has one major drawback: competition.

The Etsy marketplace is much more competitive than when I sold prints several years ago. Thousands of sellers offer 3D-printed items using designs from free sources like Thingivers and MyMiniFactory.

With the increased competition, you’ll want to find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Create your Etsy shop around a specific theme like cosplay, home decor, or organization.

It’s difficult to differentiate yourself from selling free designs on the internet.

You’ll do best if you combine your design skills with 3D printing. Offer original designs or personalized gifts to stand out amongst the crowd.

When pricing your products, consider the cost of materials, your time, the complexity of the designs, shipping costs, and Etsy’s fees.

Set your prices competitive yet fair to ensure you cover costs and gain profit.

I recommend promoting your products using Etsy’s advertising tools. There’s a common belief that you’ll gain additional organic reach when you turn on Etsy Ads. I’m unsure if that’s true, but you will get additional exposure through their promoted listings.

You can also promote your products through social media to reach a broader audience and build a brand around your shop. In my experience, short-form videos like TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Reels are the best way to grow. Pinterest works very well for some categories, like home decor and storage solutions.

Take some time to learn about Etsy search optimization. Incorporating keywords related to 3D printing and your specific product niche helps customers find your items through search. Be sure to add all the relevant product information and fill out all the keywords, tags, and product features.

Providing excellent customer service is vital to helping you grow your Etsy Shop. It builds a reputation and increases your organic reach through Etsy search. Here are some tips to help you ensure excellent service:

  • Respond promptly to inquiries and feedback.
  • Ship your items securely and on time.
  • Encourage reviews to build a reputation.

2. Create a 3D Print on Demand Service

A row of 3D printers on a table. The printers are used as a print farm for a 3D printing on demand service
Pros

No inventory

Low startup costs

Cons

Lot’s of competition

Difficult to market your services

A print-on-demand service operates on a straightforward concept. Customers bring you a design that you print and deliver. This model eliminates the need for inventory, as each item is produced only after it has been ordered.

This business model taps into the growing demand for personalized products, offering a unique value proposition to both individual consumers and businesses.

With the low cost of today’s 3D printers, there’s a lot of competition in the 3D print-on-demand space.

You’ll want to find ways to differentiate your services, like offering design services or custom paint jobs for tabletop miniatures.

This is the strategy Mario took when he built his print-on-demand service. Mario offered 3D printing and design services to local businesses. Using his background in mechanical engineering, Mario found clients looking to develop prototypes or simplify designs for small-batch manufacturing.

I took a similar approach when selling custom cosplay items. I offered custom sizing and finishes for items. I used freely available print files but could differentiate my services by offering painting and sizing.

Look to combine your talents with 3D printing to offer a unique service and differentiate your offering from competitors.

Getting clients for your print-on-demand service requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are some strategies:

  1. Leverage Social Media: Showcase your 3D printing capabilities on Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn platforms. Regularly posting images and videos of your unique creations can attract potential customers.
  2. Create an Online Store: Platforms like Etsy, Shopify, or WooCommerce make it easy to set up an online shop where customers can browse and order your 3D-printed products.
  3. Network with Businesses: Reach out to local businesses and startups that could benefit from your services. Consider offering specialized services for engineering firms, designers, startups, or event organizers.
  4. Offer Prototyping Services: Many inventors and product developers need prototypes but lack the resources to produce them in-house.
  5. SEO and Content Marketing: Create content highlighting the benefits of 3D printed products and optimize your website for search engines to attract organic traffic.

Starting a print-on-demand service with your 3D printer is easy to get started, but you’ll face a lot of competition. Look to combine your printing service with other complementary skills to stand apart from other companies offering similar services.

3. Sell Your Original Designs

A screen shot of the pricing for Lord of the Flies Patreon account who sells designs for 3D printed D&D figures
Pros

High profit margins

No inventory

More scalable than selling physical prints

Cons

Coming up with original designs might be hard

Some people will steal your designs to resell or print and sell

With so many free designs on the web, creating something people will pay for is difficult

Selling your original 3D designs online is an excellent way to monetize your creativity and technical skills.

As a 3D artist, you have the opportunity to cater to a niche market of 3D printer owners who are on the lookout for new and intriguing items to print.

Where to Sell:

  • Online Marketplaces: Platforms like Etsy, Shapeways, or Sculpteo allow you to sell directly to consumers.
  • Design Repositories: Sites like Thingiverse or MyMiniFactory offer ways to share your designs, often with an option to request donations or charge a fee.

Popular Design Categories:

  • Miniatures and models for hobbies
  • Custom game pieces for board games
  • Cosplay accessories
  • Tools and gadgets
  • Replacement parts
  • Unique jewelry pieces

Getting Started:

  1. Create Your Design: Use software like TinkerCAD, Blender, or AutoCAD to create original 3D designs.
  2. Test Print: Ensure your design is printable to save your customers from a failed print. Consider creating prints that don’t require support.
  3. Take Great Photos: High-quality images of your printed design significantly increase sales. Consider printing different sizes and colors to create variations in your listing and catch the eye of potential buyers.
  4. Create Your Listing: List your digital design on marketplaces like MyMiniFactory, CGTrader, or Creality Cloud.
  5. Write Clear Descriptions: Include dimensions, printing parameters, and material recommendations. Be specific about what the product is and why it’s worth purchasing.
  6. Set Fair Prices: Consider the time you spent designing and the potential demand for your design. Digital products have lower prices than physical goods, but there’s no inventory for you to manage.

Patreon provides the best revenue stream if you can build a following. On Patreon, people pay you every month to publish new designs. The monthly subscription provides recurring revenue for your business.

You can create different pricing tiers with added benefits for higher users. Tiered subscription models increase brand loyalty and provide higher revenues.

For example, the popular Lord of the Print Patreon offers a monthly subscription of $10, giving customers a new monthly design, a welcome pack, private discord access, and 50% off their catalog of models. People can upgrade to $40 per month for the license to sell printed versions of the design.

4. Start a YouTube Channel

A 3D printer sits on a desk, surrounded by various printed objects. A computer screen displays a YouTube channel with the title "Make Money With a 3D Printer."
Pros

Less competition

Easier to build a brand

Potential for high earnings

Once you build an audience, it’s easy to create additional revenue streams

Cons

It’s not easy to create compelling videos

You might need to be comfortable with showing your face or voice

The comments section can be negative

Creating a YouTube channel focused on 3D printing is a dynamic way to share your passion and earn money. It’s a great way to share your passion and connect with other like-minded creators.

First, you’ll need to establish your channel.

Begin by identifying a unique angle or niche within the 3D printing community that you are passionate about and that can attract viewers. Create a catchy channel name, logo, and banner to tie your brand together.

Once your channel is set up, produce high-quality videos. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tutorials on how to design and print complex models.
  • Reviews of 3D printers, materials, and software.
  • Time-lapses of your 3D printing processes.
  • Post-processing tips and advice.
  • Q&A sessions where you answer viewer questions.

Lighting and sound quality are crucial, but most smartphones are good enough to use until your channel begins making money.

Engage with your audience by responding to comments and considering their feedback for future videos.

Monetization options:

  • Ad revenue through the YouTube Partner Program (once eligible).
  • Affiliate marketing by promoting 3D printing products.
  • Sponsorships from brands within the 3D printing industry.

Consistency is key, so plan your content calendar and stick to a regular upload schedule.

5. Share Your Passion By Blogging

Pros

Easy to start

Multiple revenue streams

Easy to scale

Cons

It takes a long time to get traction

Big time commitment with little results at the start

If you’re enthusiastic about 3D printing and have a wealth of knowledge or experiences to share, starting a blog could be a lucrative venture for you. This is the method we’ve used at 3D Print Mentor.

We began our blog to share our passion for 3D printing and connect with members of the 3D printing community.

You can create a blog and do the same, all while earning money through ad revenue, affiliate marketing, or sponsorships.

  • Ad Revenue: Place ads on your blog and earn money each time a visitor clicks on an ad.
  • Affiliate Marketing: Recommend products and earn a commission when your readers make a purchase through your affiliate links.
  • Sponsorships: Partner with brands that want to reach your audience; they pay you to promote their products or services on your blog.

Begin by choosing a catchy name for your blog and setting up a user-friendly website.

Here’s a simple roadmap to get you started:

  1. Select a Domain Name: Make sure it’s memorable and relevant to 3D printing. We use NameCheap to purchase our domain.
  2. Pick a Website Platform: Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, and Medium are all great choices. We recommend sticking with WordPress for your blog. It’s the largest website builder on the planet, powering over 70% of websites. WordPress offers easy-to-use tools and a vast catalog of plugins to customize your user’s experience. Substack is a newer option if you prefer to create a newsletter instead.
  3. Website Hosting: Choose a reliable hosting service. We use Cloudways hosting, but Sitground is another user-friendly alternative.
  4. Design Your Blog: Use templates or create a custom design that reflects your personal style.
  5. Create Content: Start writing posts that cover various topics within 3D printing, such as tutorials, project ideas, or reviews of printers and accessories.
  6. Engage Your Audience: Respond to comments, create a mailing list, and be active on social media to grow your following.

Remember, consistency is key. Keep your blog updated with fresh content regularly, and stay genuine in sharing your passion for 3D printing. As your blog’s readership expands, so too does the potential for monetization.

6. Sell A 3D Printing Course

A 3D printer in action, creating intricate designs. Money and a course certificate are displayed nearby
Pros

Passive income

Cons

Difficult to advertise

Creating a high-quality course is challenging

If you’ve achieved a level of expertise with 3D printing, sharing your knowledge can be quite rewarding—both personally and financially. Creating a 3D printing course is a savvy strategy to tap into this educational niche.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Choose Your Platform: There are multiple online platforms where you can host your course. Udemy, Skillshare, and Teachable are popular choices. Each has its pros and cons, so research to find which aligns with your goals. You can also self-host your course on a WordPress website using plugins like LearnDash.
  • Design Your Curriculum: Break your course down into smaller, digestible lessons. Start with the basics, then progress to more advanced techniques. Include videos, text summaries, and quizzes to engage different learning styles.
  • Promote Your Course: Leverage social media, 3D printing forums, and your personal network to spread the word. Consider creating a free introductory webinar to attract potential students and give them a taste of your course.
  • Continuously Improve: Gather feedback from your students to improve the course over time. Updates and additional modules can keep your course current and valuable, encouraging new and returning students.

7. Rent Your 3D Printer

A 3D printer sits on a desk, surrounded by various objects it has created. A sign reads "Rent Your 3D Printer Make Money With a 3D Printer."
Pros

Less competition

Difficult to advertise

Cons

Customers may damage the printer

Risk of theft and loss

If you have a 3D printer that’s often idle, consider turning it into a passive income source by renting it out. Your printer can be a valuable asset for hobbyists, designers, and small businesses not ready to invest in their own machines.

  • Determine Availability: Decide how often your printer is available for rent. Is it on weekends, or can you also spare it on weekdays?
  • Set Rental Prices: Research the going rates in your area to price your rental competitively. Ensure your rates cover your costs and bring in profit.
  • Create Clear Terms: Draft a rental agreement specifying the duration, costs, usage limits, and liabilities. This helps protect both you and the renter.
  • Marketing Your Service:
    • Use social media to reach potential renters.
    • List on local classified websites.
    • Join 3D printing forums and groups.

Remember to provide a brief orientation or instructions for use if the renter is less experienced with 3D printers. Maintaining clear communication and offering support during the rental period can lead to repeat customers and positive referrals.

8. Flip Broken 3D Printers

A young man fixing a broken 3D printer hot end on a Prusa i3 MK3+
Pros

There are plenty of used and broken printers available

Low competition

Cons

Requires knowledge about 3D printer repair

You may find unexpected issues that cost more to fix

Low profit margin

Repairing and flipping broken 3D printers is a smart way to leverage your technical skills for profit. First, identify barely broken or lightly used 3D printers that collect dust in garages or offices.

Often, owners are willing to part with them for a fraction of their original price due to minor malfunctions they don’t know how to fix.

You can find printers for sale on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist.

Steps to Flip 3D Printers:

  1. Purchase: Look for listings on online marketplaces. Look for printers with minor issues that you’re confident you can fix.
  2. Repair: Assess and diagnose the problem. Replace parts like nozzles, belts, or sensors as needed. Sometimes, it’s a simple software issue that requires a firmware update or recalibration.
  3. Test: Ensure the printer is fully functional. Run multiple prints to confirm reliability.
  4. Sell: List the refurbished printer. Accurately describe the condition and repairs made. Transparency builds trust and can help you command a fair price.

Below is an example of the economics of flipping 3D printers. Remember to include your time in the calculations when determining profitability.

Purchase CostRepair CostSelling PriceProfit
$150$50$300$100

Remember that the less you spend on repairs while ensuring the unit works perfectly, the greater your potential profit. Always ensure your repairs are of high quality to maintain a positive reputation if you plan to flip printers regularly.

9. Create Content on TikTok

Pros

Easy to start

You can explore additional revenue channels once you build an audience

Cons

It takes a long time to build an audience

You may need to get comfortable with showing your face or voice

Low revenue

If you’re adept at 3D printing and love sharing your projects, consider harnessing the power of TikTok to showcase your work. TikTok is a platform where creativity thrives, and 3D printing content can quickly catch the eye of millions.

Here’s how you can make the most of it:

  1. Share Unique Creations: Capture your audience’s attention by posting videos of unique and innovative 3D printed items. Whether it’s a custom-designed shampoo holder or extendable scissors, if it solves a problem or is visually interesting, you’re more likely to get views.
  2. Highlight the Process: Don’t just showcase the final product—engage users by sharing the entire creative process. Timelapse videos of your 3D printer in action can be mesmerizing and educational for those curious about the technology.
  3. Provide Tips and Tricks: Many creators use TikTok for quick tips on 3D printing techniques or troubleshooting. Viewers appreciate content that helps them improve their own 3D printing skills.
  4. Engage with Your Community: Respond to comments and questions on your TikTok posts. Your followers will appreciate the interaction, fostering a community that’s intrigued by your 3D printing expertise.

Remember, the goal is to create engaging and shareable content.

Use hashtags relevant to 3D printing to reach a wider audience. With consistent posting and a bit of creativity, you can build a following that not only enjoys your content but can also lead to monetization opportunities.

10. Small Batch Manufacturing

Close up of a 3d printer printing for a small batch manufacturing company
Pros

Less competition

Larger order value

Cons

Requires a higher initial investment

Not many customers

With a 3D printer, you have the capability to engage in small-batch manufacturing for businesses. 3D printing offers lower costs than traditional manufacturing processes for small product runs.

Consider advertising your services to local businesses manufacturing products in small batches or offering customer customization services.

This business idea is similar to 3D printing on demand, except that you need the capacity to churn out a higher rate of products.

Only consider this business model if you have several printers and can produce a high volume quickly.

Starting Your 3D Printing Business

A person setting up a 3D printer in a well-lit, organized workspace with a computer and various materials and tools nearby

Embarking on a 3D printing business venture requires careful planning and financial consideration.

The success of your enterprise hinges on selecting an appropriate business model, acquiring the right tools, and effectively marketing your products or services.

Investment and Starting Costs

Starting a 3D printing business demands an initial investment. You’ll need 3D printers, materials, software, and a workspace. Here’s a breakdown:

  • 3D Printers: Costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. You’ll want to choose from our list of the best 3D printers to ensure a high print quality when selling the printed objects.
  • Materials: Includes various types of filaments and resins. Include post-processing items like paint, sandpaper, isopropyl alcohol, and packaging to ship the finished goods.
  • Software: There are plenty of free modeling and slicing software. But you may need to pay for more advanced CAD programs.
  • Workspace: Consider the cost of electricity, rent, tables, and other equipment to run your business.

Choosing a Business Model

With more market competition, it’s more important to differentiate your offering to stand out from your competitors.

Consider combining multiple business models and service offerings for greater market appeal.

Think about your ideal customer and their needs.

What is the primary service they are looking for? What complementary services can you add to enhance the value of your offering?

You don’t need to stick with one business model.

Consider the pros and cons of each business model and your skills before picking one to start. Add complimentary services and additional revenue lines as you grow your 3D printing business.

Pricing Your Products and Services

Setting the right prices for your products and services involves finding the sweet spot where you cover your costs, reward your expertise, and still appeal to customers.

Consider these cost factors when setting your prices to understand how much your services cost:

  • Material Costs: Figure out the cost of raw materials for each item, including any extra materials needed. This includes the amount of filament used for 3D prints.
  • Energy Consumption: Include the energy cost for running your 3D printers.
  • Maintenance and Depreciation: Plan for the wear and tear on your 3D printer and other equipment. How much does it cost to maintain and repair your equipment? How often do you need to perform maintenance on your 3D machines?
  • Labor: Don’t forget to account for the time spent designing, preparing, and finishing up items, even if it’s just you doing the work.

Understanding your business costs is crucial.

With that info, you can start thinking about how to price your products and services based on what customers are willing to pay, considering:

  • Competition: Look at what others charge for similar offerings. While competitive prices give you a starting point, the unique value and quality of your work can allow for higher pricing.
  • Target Audience: Know your market’s spending habits and preferences. Businesses might pay more for specialized services like rapid prototyping, whereas everyday consumers might prefer more affordable options.

When setting your prices, think about your pricing strategy. For products, you’ll set a fixed price that customers pay.

Service businesses have more pricing options. Consider the following approaches:

  • Hourly Rates: Set an hourly rate for the actual time spent on a project. This is my preferred strategy for design work. Just be clear with clients about your hourly rate and how many hours the job might take.
  • Project-Based Pricing: Set a fixed price for the whole project. This gives clients cost certainty but only works when you have an accurate assessment of your product costs.
  • Tiered Pricing: Offer different levels of service (e.g., basic, standard, premium) to meet various needs and budgets.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to pricing.

Starting with competitor prices and customer willingness to pay is good, but ensure you’re covering your costs. Continue to adjust your pricing as your business grows and changes.

Getting your pricing right is key to your business’s success and growth. It’s not just about costs—it’s about valuing your offer and communicating that value to your customers.

With a thoughtful approach, you can create a pricing strategy that works for both you and your clients.

Selling Your Product and Services

Once you’re set-up, here’s how you can reach customers:

  • Online store: A website to showcase and sell your 3D printed goods. Use a platform like WordPress, Shopify, or Etsy to sell finished goods.
  • Digital Marketplace: Use platforms like MyMiniFactory, CGTrader, Creality Cloud, or Patreon to sell your digital designs.

You’ll need to do some marketing for customers to find you. You can use paid ads to supercharge your growth. However, it’s best to focus on low-cost or free marketing strategies that bring customers to your business.

Use social media to build brand awareness and showcase your business products and designs. Reach out to local businesses in need of 3D printing services. And provide outstanding customer service to ensure repeat purchases and word-of-mouth advertising.

If you’re selling digital files, take a look at our list of the best platforms to sell 3D models.

How Profitable is 3D Printing?

Expect to invest time in learning both the technical aspects of the 3D printing process and the business side of things.

Some individuals make an extra $1,000 to $5,000+ per month. Your income will be influenced by the amount of effort you put into quality creation, marketing, and customer service.

The key to maximizing your profitability is to provide value in a niche where demand is steady or growing. Keep your quality high and your customer service excellent, and you’ll set yourself up for a better chance at success.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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