Creating items from nothing has been a dream for thousands of years. Over the last ten years, 3D printing has rocketed in popularity as that dream became a reality.
Before 2020, 3D printing was expected to see a 5% increase in industry revenue per year: but COVID-19 and medical shortages helped enthusiasts and businesses make money with a 3D printer.
Fortunately, although 3D printing is wildly popular, that bubble is far from bursting. If you’re curious about how to make money 3D printing, here are some tips to keep in mind.
How Lucrative is 3D Printing?
In recent years, the demand for 3D printed items has exploded!
Shops have become popular online for creating everything from 3D printed D&D dice to vintage car part replacements. In 2020, the 3D printing industry was valued at 12.6 billion dollars, which speaks to just how fast it’s growing.
Unfortunately, 3D printing is not exactly cheap to get started.
At the beginning of 3D printers’ popularity, the main way to buy a 3D printer was to purchase a kit and start there. Fortunately, for those who don’t want to deal with the equipment design and build process, most come with simple tips and minimal building required.
The cost depends on a few factors, such as:
- The size of the printing surface
- The height of the printing space
- The type of filament or fiber you want to use
- The ease of use and access
- The speed at which it prints
- The age of the model
For most new makers, it’s a good idea to get a cheaper and older model to practice with until they’re sure it’s a good investment.
9 Ways To Make Money With It
Although there are endless ways to make money with a 3D printer, since it’s capable of creating almost anything you want, these are the top methods for earning potential.
Don’t spread yourself thin and try all of these, but instead, pick three to four and combine them.
This could mean creating videos of building new pieces for a niche shop, and selling both the item and the file itself on major e-commerce platforms.
Let’s dive into the top ways.
1. Selling Tested 3D Printed Design Files
This option is the best way to create passive income while also making new things and drawing a larger audience.
This type of design work sells easily because many people with printers don’t know how to render items, and you can sell these designs for $10 to $20 each without having to ship anything.
Earning Potential: depends on the popularity of your items but on average $20 per sale without any overhead.
Pros/Cons: the nice thing about this type of selling is that you can make incredible amounts of money without packaging or shipping anything. Unfortunately, the designs that sell the most require a lot of creativity and inspiration.
How to Get Started: make your files available for sale on a platform like Etsy, allowing you to add digital files that are delivered upon purchase.
2. Create Fun or Cute Home Decor
Brands like Jace Crab sell crab-shaped stylus holders, thus creating a brand of very recognizable and cute products while still selling other items and bringing in new customers.
Other examples include small trinkets, funny/clever sayings on signs, and unusual lamp designs. Many 3D printing enthusiasts make a killing selling stuff at flea markets.
Earning Potential: $20 to $300
Pros and Cons: the nice thing is that you can create whatever you want, even items you would like around your home. Unfortunately, gauging demand can be unpredictable, and it’s hard to tell what will take off.
How to Get Started: Try creating something totally unique. Some of the top-selling design items currently include:
- Funny toilet paper phone holder
- Phone dock and sound amplifier in nerdy designs
- Self-watering planter with cute unique designs
- Secret shelves that can slide out of cabinets
- Earbud holders for storage
- Wall outlet shelf that holds devices
- Google Home wall mount
- Creative cute cases for Nintendo Switch cartridges
3. Create ‘Maker’ Videos for Youtube or Tik Tok
This requires more social media know-how than other methods. Still, many 3d printers have found success and impressive income through joining the Tik Tok creator fund and showing the process of making items.
Maker videos are a great advertisement tool for online stores. It’s best if these items are visually interesting, and the camera angles and music selection are unique and grab viewers’ attention.
This is a common way for teens to make money with how popular this style of video content is online.
Earning Potential: initial earnings might be low until you’ve built more of a name for yourself. For example, many Tik Tok creators earn $9-$40 per day, but according to Tik Tok some videos can earn millions depending on view count.
Pros and Cons: the great thing is that this can be an awesome way to advertise yourself! Unfortunately, it’s somewhat unpredictable and requires social media know-how.
How to Get Started: post frequently, ensure your content is interesting, and interact with others on the app. Although you can do advertisements, it’s hard to guarantee the success of these so initially just focus on quality content.
4. Start a Print-on-Demand Service
If you go this route, it becomes more profitable the more printers you acquire. Consider creating a service where you’ll custom print anything within reason. If the customer doesn’t have a 3D file of the item already made, you can charge extra for that service as well.
Earning Potential: $30 to $5,000 per print. Pricing depends on how long it takes, how much filament is used, and how intensive it is to create it. With so much earning potential, this has become a popular second job among creatives.
Pros and Cons: the nice thing is that you won’t need to be constantly generating fresh ideas, since this model is all about creating other people’s ideas. Sometimes however, printers won’t be working properly, and you might be on a tight deadline which can be stressful.
How to Get Started: purchase a 3D printer and spend time getting comfortable with the functionality. Next, print several high-quality samples to show a variety of things you can print and list your services locally or online.
5. Make Custom Prints for Events
Company parties, weddings, and other gatherings are constantly looking for new and exciting attractions for their guests.
A few businesses have recently started offering 3D printing booths for rent at such events to print things on demand for guests.
You can charge in the thousands for this attraction, and you don’t even have to attend the event if you don’t want to – simply deliver the items.
Earning Potential: several thousand per event
Pros and Cons: the great thing is that you’ll be guaranteed a large service fee. But, it also means you’ll have to do a lot of prep work beforehand, including packing enough materials and creating easy to follow instructions for guests.
How to Get Started: Reach out to event coordinators and wedding planners. At these celebrations, guests will want mementos to remember the event by. Event planners will help you partner with the right people, make sure you let them know you’re interested in these types of events:
- Office parties
- Anniversary parties
- Birthday parties
- Bar Mitzvahs
6. Create a Custom Print Online Shop
This is a slow-earner, but you’ll gain repeat customers over time if you stick to it. One of the best ways to make an income from 3D printing is to create in-demand items.
This can range from 3D parts replacements for dishwashers to novelty hot sauce lid toppers shaped like chili peppers. Consider what trends are popular today and lean into it.
Making money on eBay selling 3D printed items is a popular way to get started.
Earning Potential: high earning potential, depending on the niche.
Pros and Cons: For this model, you will only create items that have been ordered, so nothing should go unsold. Custom print shops have lots of customer interactions and likely need to set up an online store.
How to Get Started: Research items in short supply or items in high demand. These are excellent starting points. In both cases, there will be plenty of interested buyers.
7. Create a Medical Necessities Shop
This option will require you to have some background with prosthetics or to work with someone who does. The average prosthetic arm, hand, or foot can cost thousands of dollars.
When utilizing a 3D printer, you can deliver these products at far lower prices while making them fun, colorful, and unique.
Unfortunately, items that are 3D printed are porous to some degree, so you’ll either need to seal the final product, or you’ll have to note to buyers they won’t last as long as metal or stronger fibers.
Earning Potential: thousands of dollars, but don’t overcharge, or they’ll go for the more expensive models.
Pros and Cons: you’re creating potentially life changing products for people, making this a highly rewarding way to utilize 3D printing. On the other hand, since these are medical devices, you may be open to litigation if you don’t follow the necessary protocol when selling these products.
How to Get Started: immerse yourself in the prosthetics industry, and find out how to create them and what they should be capable of doing.
8. Consider Setting up a Booth at Local Markets or Conventions
If you are having a hard time getting eyes on your 3D printed products online, consider selling them at local markets and conventions.
This is a highly successful strategy with custom made ‘fandom’ items (avoid trademarked designs) and sell them at fandom conventions in your area.
Earning Potential: $1,000 or more in a weekend
Pros and Cons: the great thing is you get to indulge in things you enjoy! Alternatively, if something you’re not a fan of is popular, you might end up being stuck creating trinkets for series you’re not interested in
How to Get Started: look into fandoms that you are into, and what’s currently trending. From there, create fun merch and test it with that audience. Apply to local conventions, letting them know you’re serious about selling.
9. Advertisements for your Business
When starting 3D printing, create a name for yourself by making items that fit your brand. Some folks will make simple poker-chip-sized disks, while others make keychains or buttons out of 3D printed materials.
People won’t throw away items like this, because they’re visually interesting.
Earning Potential: these aren’t something you would necessarily sell, but they’ll generate more sales for your business.
Pros and Cons: this is an excellent way to get your brand out there! On the other hand, it’s a product that won’t generate any direct revenue, so be mindful of the material costs.
How to Get Started: design a unique keychain or poker chip for your brand and mail it out or hand it out! People don’t easily forget these types of momentos, which helps your brand stick with potential customers.
Conclusion: 3D Printing Can Only Go Up From Here
Everyday more and more people take up 3D printing as a hobby or business venture, considering the endless possibilities.
Although competition in some niches is fiercer than others, there is still tons of opportunity left in the industry!