How to Start a 3D Printing Business: 380+ Etsy Orders in 9 Months

Hi! Who are you, and what are you currently working on?

My name is Westley Bracamontes, and I’m a project manager at a residential design firm in McKinney, and a retiree from the Air Force reserve.

I started Brock Custom Designs as a side project and retirement activity that focuses on selling 3D printed items and hand turned wood pens.

brock-custom-designs

I don’t expect it to float my retirement, but hope it gives it a little boost.

What’s your background, and what motivated you to start Brock Custom Designs?

After working 20 years as a home designer, I learned how to build many different things and what methods work best.

One of the biggest kicks is walking into a home I drew the plan for, looking around and thinking back on how the design unfolded.

Running Brock Custom Designs allows me to design and create interesting objects, as well as stay active.

3d-design-shop

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How did you get started? What did the early days look like?

As a birthday present last year, my wife bought me the Ender 3 Pro, after I mentioned wanting to try out 3D printing.

Over the next few months, I made more toys than Santa Claus.

3d-printing-shop

Then during Christmas, she surprised me with a wood lathe, which I’ve talked about for years.

By the end of January she said the grandkids didn’t need any more toys, so I opened a shop on Etsy.

When customers shared positive feedback about my work in the early days, I felt so amazed and proud that it pushed me to work harder and explore creating new items.

Turns out the articulating slug is a very popular seller.

3d-printed-slug

This item is difficult to print correctly though, due to the various moving parts (many attempts were thrown out during the printing process).

This object has out sold everything so far.

One way I saved money during the start of my business was by repairing broken cabinets from Lowe’s to be used for my printer setup.

How have you grown your 3D printing business?

During my first week on Etsy, I sold a whopping $47 worth of prints and pens.

Now 9 months later, I’ve fulfilled 380 orders which includes over 500 items, and added six more printers.

3d-printing-rig

The first printer I added to grow my business was an Ender 5 Plus. This model can print larger items more quickly than my smaller 3 Pro.

I was keeping up with production fairly well until the Ender 3 went down. I wasn’t sure if it could be fixed, so I ran over to a local store and picked up another Ender 5 Plus.

The next two printers almost fell into my lap. A coworker told me about a local auction site where I found my next printer for half price. The fifth printer arrived right on its heels, again at half price.

During this time, I was keeping up with orders, and never went out of stock on anything for more than a day.

Right now I’m gearing up for Christmas, and beginning to resin print angels to hang on the tree.

They should sell well considering a few enhancements to the design. I initially print them in gray, and then add a white primer before finishing them off with a pearl mist paint.

One way I expanded my shop is from studying top sellers on Etsy for new items to potentially start designing.

What is one small but powerful tactic you implemented that helped you achieve success?

3d-printing-business-strategy

What is one of the biggest challenges you faced during your business journey, and how did you overcome it?

One of my biggest challenges is time, because 3D printing can be a slow process. Without multiple printers there’s no way I could keep up with orders.

If a machine goes down, you need to find the time to get it fixed and back online, which can be challenging since I still work a full time job.

During my 13 years as active duty in the Air Force, I worked on radios in aircraft, and as a reservist I was a drafter. Those years as an electronic tech, taught me to troubleshoot just about anything.

That along with hours of YouTube videos have kept things going.

What is one new or unusual trend showing up in your industry that you’re paying attention to?

3d-printing-trends

What is the biggest factor that separates successful people from people who fail or never get started?

One word, dedication.

My daily routine is to get up around 5:45 am, get dressed, grab a coffee, and work in the shop until 8 am which is when I start my primary job.

After work it’s right back at it. My wife works later than I do so that makes it easier to go back into the shop.

Some nights while my wife is watching TV, she’ll take a few prints to clean up the supports on the models. Without her support, I’d never be able to keep the shop going.

The people who think they can print a few things, and make big money with minimal effort will almost always fail.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started?

During your first year, be prepared to not earn much money.

When getting started, you’ll need to purchase the necessary items to run your shop, research what to sell, and determine how to sell inventory effectively.

Don’t start something you’re not willing to dedicate time to, because working on something half heartedly will make it very difficult to succeed.

How are things going today and what’s next?

Things have slowed down a little bit (my best month so far has been July with 5,000 shop visits).

I’m hoping my new website will make up the difference for the Etsy slow down. I’ve also ordered new items for my shop that aren’t made by me, which will boost sales without costing extra time.

My wife jumped in recently as well, and etched some glasses to sell. Her first set sold within one day!

how-to-etch-glass

What have been the most influential podcasts, books, or other resources?

YouTube has helped me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The channel CHEP (Filament Friday) taught me tons about printing and how to improve the process.

Where can we go to learn more?

Feel free to check out my Etsy shop, Brock Custom Designs. The website will be live shortly (we’ll add the website here once it launches).


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