Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read the full disclosure here.
Last Updated on April 23, 2023 by Chris Panteli
How to Make Money with a 3D Printer
3D printing is a growing market, and more and more people are seeing the value in custom-printed products.
If you’ve ever thought about buying a 3D printer or love the idea of making custom models, this could be a great side hustle for you.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to make money with a 3D printer, the best niches to target, and the best 3D printers for beginners.
If you’re looking for easy ways to invest your money, read our full article on the benefits of cash flow investing, and we’ll show you how to invest in cash flow properties.
- How to Make Money with a 3D Printer
- Is 3D Printing Profitable?
- Is 3D Printing a Good Business?
- How Long Does it Take to Learn 3D Printing?
- What Can I Make With a 3D Printer?
- How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
- What to Look for When Buying a 3D Printer
- Things You Need to Know Before Starting a 3D Printing Business
- Where to Sell 3D Printed Products
- Best 3D Printers for Beginners
- Is 3D Printing Right for You?
- How to Make Money with a 3D Printer
Is 3D Printing Profitable?
Running a 3D printing business has the potential to be hugely profitable if set up correctly. Even if you start it as a side hustle, you can quickly make $1000+ a month after your initial investment in a printer and supplies.
The reason 3D printing is profitable is that 3D printed goods have a novelty value and a healthy interest, so prices are higher. What’s more, 3D printing produces much less waste than traditional manufacturing, so costs are lower.
As long as you invest in decent 3D printing technology, market effectively, and target the right niche (we’ll look at all these factors later), your 3D modeling business has the potential to become a six-figure business.
Is 3D Printing a Good Business?
If you’re currently trying to figure out which side hustle is right for you, 3D printing is a good contender. There is a huge demand for a 3D printing service in a range of sectors, and it’s slowly becoming more and more mainstream.
The key to building a successful 3D printing business is finding the right market. There is huge scope in the manufacturing and engineering industries, but you could be just as successful as an on-demand 3D printing service.
We’ll look at the specifics later in the post, but it’s important to know that this is a viable business model with the right research and business plan in place.
Looking for profitable business ventures? We’ve rounded up some of the best income-producing assets you should consider investing in.
How Long Does it Take to Learn 3D Printing?
It does take practice to learn 3D printing, and your first few attempts will probably go horribly wrong. But you’ll be able to set up a 3D printer in just a few hours, and you’ll get the hang of the process within a couple of months.
When you start, you can download existing model designs to try out to get to grips with the software. Once you feel confident enough, you can move on to creating your own designs.
As a newbie, there are three things you’ll need to master to set up a successful 3D printing business:
- How to set up your printer.
- How to use the 3D software.
- How to convert models to a file that your printer can read via a slicer.
Once you have these down, 3D printing becomes easy.
What Can I Make With a 3D Printer?
The possibilities are endless when it comes to 3D printing. But let’s take a look at some of the most profitable niches you should consider mastering.
Prototypes & models
Around 65% of the demand for 3D printing comes from engineers in the industrial, electrical, and consumer goods spaces.
Architects and engineers rely on 3D prototypes and models when working on new projects. When new designs are created, 3D printed items allow clients to visualize the structure before investing heavily in the build.
Prototypes are also needed in the medical and scientific research sectors. If you’re near a university or college, you might find high demand for custom-made models for the labs.
Industrial 3D printing
This sector of the 3D printing industry is the most profitable but also the riskiest. It’ll cost you between $20K and $100K for an industrial 3D printing machine, but demand is incredibly high for this service.
Industrial businesses and manufacturers rely on 3D printers to create plastic parts that are unavailable from stockists. This could be for furniture, car parts, bikes, ships, and even planes.
Quality 3D printers are expensive and difficult to learn, so most people hire a service when they need something 3D printed. This type of print-on-demand business can cater to individuals or businesses and works best on a local level.
Most customers will want a quick turnaround, so local shipping or pick-up comes in handy.
This is a growing niche but an underutilized sector to break into. 3D scanning allows you to replicate something by scanning it and making a copy. This is a useful service for car parts, broken toys, restoration projects, and more.
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
3D printers can easily run into the thousands for high-end and industrial models. However, when you’re just starting out, you can buy pretty decent printers for under $500.
However, the cheaper printers tend to be less accurate than the higher-end models. If you plan on making anything with a lot of detail, it’s going to be worth investing around $700 to $1500 on your first machine.
What to Look for When Buying a 3D Printer
There are hundreds of 3D printers on the market, all with different features. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by choice, here is what you need to look for.
The purpose of the model
The most important thing to think about when buying a 3D printer is its intended purpose. Here are some examples of what qualities you need to look for:
- Making decorations, display models, or figures: Visual quality
- Making tools: high stability and reliability
- Outdoor use: UV-resistant and weatherproof
To print anything, your 3D printer needs to be connected to a computer via a USB or WLAN, or you’ll need an SD card to transfer the designs. Make sure you’re happy with the type of connection the model has.
Although 3D printers will have a print speed that you can compare, the print speed is actually impacted by different factors. The temperature, print nozzle, material being processed, and the number of supports can all impact the print speed.
So, even though a fast print speed does look good, it’s not something you need to worry about too much.
Print size or volume
If you buy a mini printer but want to print something big, you’ll have to print different pieces and then connect them together. If you plan on printing a lot of larger items, it’s best to invest in a larger printer upfront to save yourself time and materials.
3D printers with a dual extruder can use different colors or materials in the same print. This saves time and comes in incredibly handy when you’re making more complex 3D printed items.
The lower the layer height, the finer and smoother the surface of the 3D printed item will be. On average, commercial 3D printers have a layer height of 0.1mm to 0.32mm. A lower layer height is usually better.
Things You Need to Know Before Starting a 3D Printing Business
Now you know the basics when looking for a 3D printer, let’s look at some of the things you need to consider before starting a 3D printing business.
What’s your budget?
Before you start looking for a printer, outline a full budget first so you know what you can afford. The price range for a printer is wide, so it’s easy to get swayed into buying something that’s too expensive.
Don’t forget to also factor in running costs. Filaments cost around $25 per kg, which will be an ongoing cost.
Where to get models
If you want to practice your 3D design skills with ready-made models, you’ll need to know where to get these. There are tons of online databases with 3D models you can customize to your needs.
There are also websites where you can buy designs to 3D print and sell, but you’ve got to be careful with licenses – we’ll look at the issues of copyright below.
Choosing the right technology
There are many different 3D printing technologies available, each suited to different tasks. For example:
- If you want to create intricate parts with high tolerance, Stereolithography works best.
- If you want to create multicolored plastic parts, Polyjet is better.
- If you want to 3D print in metal, you’ll need to use Direct Laser Metal Sintering or Electron Beam Melting.
Do some research and figure out which technology is best for the projects you’ll be working on.
Licenses and permissions
No matter where you find 3D model digital files, they will almost always have some sort of license attached. The original creators attach permissions to their designs to prohibit certain uses.
For example, if you find a 3D printed object design that doesn’t allow you to sell the final item, you could get hit with copyright infringement if you sell it anyway.
It’s best to find designs that either allow commercial use directly or allow you to edit the file and then sell on your altered versions.
If you want something that’s totally copyright free, creating your own design files is the best option.
Where to Sell 3D Printed Products
Once you’ve figured out what you want to sell and you’ve got the basics of 3D printing down, the next step is figuring out how to sell your 3D printed product.
Sell pre-made 3D prints on Etsy
Etsy is one of the largest online marketplaces for 3D printed models. There is a huge built-in audience of hobbyists looking for unique 3D models on the platform.
There are already some large stores selling 3D printed products on Etsy, so do some market research and figure out what sells well on the platform.
Some of the top-selling items include:
- D&D miniatures
- Personalized figurines
Create a specialized 3D printing website
If you decide to go down the custom route, you could start a website targeting a specific sector. You’ll need to have a professional-looking website and research the best keywords to target your potential customers.
Here are some sectors where 3D printing is in high demand:
- Tabletop Miniatures
- Toy Designers
- Jewelry Designers
- Architecture firms
- Engineering firms
- College labs
Start a local business
If you live in a city, you might find there is high demand for 3D printing right on your doorstep. Do some local research and see what kind of businesses you have nearby.
You can then do local outreach and promote your new business locally. This kind of grassroots approach requires less investment and allows you to grow your business more slowly and organically.
Sell your 3D printing designs on marketplaces
If you find a passion for creating 3D print designs, you can make money selling them on 3D printing platforms.
Since you can only run your 3D printer for 24 hours a day, you can also sell designs as a way of supplementing your main business.
Use online 3D printing platforms
There are plenty of online platforms dedicated to 3D printing. For the public sector, Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are great choices because they are so well known.
However, there are also platforms where you can showcase your products, such as:
Start a Patreon
If you have a great idea for a range of things to 3D print and sell that would appeal to a specific buyer, you could think about starting a Patreon. People subscribe and pay a certain amount a month for you to send models to them.
This model is particularly popular in the tabletop miniature community since it relies heavily on collecting intricate tabletop figurines.
LordOfThePrints is a great example. They create miniatures for tabletop gamers and have 1,933 Patreon subscribers. That means they generate around $3K in monthly revenue from this platform alone.
Best 3D Printers for Beginners
Now you know how to make money with a 3D printer, we’ll look at three of the best low-cost 3D printers that are great for beginners looking to start a printing business.
XYZPrinting da Vinci Mini
This one costs around $180, making it extremely affordable for beginners. It’s got WiFi connectivity, a fairly large build area for a mini printer, and an auto-leveling bed.
You have to use either PLA or PETG filaments, but either is good for beginners learning the ropes. The best part is the simplicity – it’s incredibly easy to use, and the modeling software is included.
You’ll also get 30 free printing tutorials to get you started.
Monoprice Select Mini
This is another low-cost option at around $190. It has a small build area, but you can print almost any material, including PLA, PVA, and even wood.
The printer comes fully assembled and works with a PC or MAC. It includes an SD card but also supports a WiFi connection, so it’s easy to set up.
It’s a little slower than the da Vinci mini, but it’s great if you’re looking to try out different print materials.
Sintron Kossel Mini
This one is a little more expensive, retailing for around $260. But it’s worth it for anyone looking to build larger parts and models. Its circular base plate has room for larger builds or models with interlocking parts.
It looks basic, but it’s actually pretty high-tech. The heated base plate prevents the filament from sticking, and it is self-leveling.
Overall, another good option for beginners looking to test the waters of 3D printing before investing in a more high-end model.
Is 3D Printing Right for You?
3D printing is a unique and underrated side hustle. It doesn’t take a huge investment, and with a little research and practice, you can have a profitable business set up in a matter of months.
The key is finding the right niche to target and becoming an expert in that sector. Once you have ideal clients, this is a lucrative business with huge potential for growth.
But maybe 3D printing isn’t for you. If you don’t have an interest or passion for it, it’ll be hard to create a sustainable business.
If you’re looking for creative ways to make extra cash, head to our next guide, where we show you how to make some serious money with domain flipping.