Making money out of your 3D printer is not an easy task but certainly achievable. Here are some tips for running a 3D printing business.
To help your business grow and thrive, we gathered tips and advice from industry professionals, successful entrepreneurs, and your potential clients. These tips won’t work like a magic spell and make you rich in a blink of an eye, but could be helpful in establishing and maintaining your business.
Choose the right moment to start
3D Printing group on Facebook gathers a huge number of 3D printing enthusiasts, makers, and professionals. Everyone can join it, get his questions answered or share his knowledge. We asked people on the group for their advice for beginning 3D printing business owners. Ja Stoddart shared this with us:
Don’t give up yer day Job, while you are getting started, Go to School, get a degree in Design or Engineering, and a minor in Business, Get some Creed, and never stop trying.
It’s actually a great piece of advice before you start. Don’t rush things because the competition is huge. Sometimes it’s better to focus on your studies or getting more experience in an already established company. This is also a good time for you to start building your credibility and contact list.
Stay visible and active
Be visible before you launch a 3D printing business. Talk with people and make new friends. You won’t succeed without a proven record of activity on forums, Facebook groups, 3D Hubs Talk, 3DPrinting Reddit, and other places. You need to list and regularly visit all these places where your potential clients might be. Be nice and helpful while posting under your real name or nickname that you’ll carry into your future company.
Answering questions, sharing your knowledge, and commenting on the state of 3D printing technology won’t take you far, though. The next step is building your online portfolio. Either with the machines that you’ve built, original hardware designs, 3D models, or high-quality prints. Photos of your works on Instagram and videos on YouTube can do wonders, especially when you invest some additional time into editing them and promoting around the web.
Italian designer Simone Fontana started building his recognition long before launching a company 3DNA with Ricardo Salomao. He’s been printing and post-producing impressive props, like guns from video games or even a working skateboard. His advice for online activity is:
You need to be always really active on social media. I find Instagram and YouTube really powerful and sometimes for some designs, Reddit can be extremely useful.
Overall the best thing is to combine social networks. I often post on Reddit about my youtube video, and for instance, once I was able to receive over 50k views in less than 24 hours. This will bring more attention and work.
Simone also recommends sharing at least some of your designs for free, so people can make them themselves and get to know your work better this way. There’s always the danger of someone else trying to profit out of your work, though. Remember to add watermarks on your models as well as make sure that you’re the first one to post them in all major 3D printing file libraries.
Add design to the mix
When running your own 3D printing business you need to meet a lot of new people, talk with hundreds of potential clients. Jacob Rogers points out that:
You either need huge margins or a huge customer base, because most people do not repeat as customers at the consumer level. Large prints with high-profit margins can grow a small business, but you end up maintaining on countless small, low-profit prints.
These small, low-profit prints took most of Jacob’s time and resources. He wasn’t able to maintain his business because of that and decided to go back to designing yacht components.
Many professionals working with 3D printing we talked to mentioned that it’s the design side that can get you more profit than doing prints on request. Dorian Ferrari’s advice is:
The best money is going to be on the design side. I have my printers on 3D Hubs, I’ve made $750 from it. My design services pay the bills plus. Treat every customer as if they’re a priority. Price fair, but ensure you price appropriately. Develop a niche, as it will separate you, and bring you better clients. General modeling services are almost a commodity as everyone with a free or cheap CAD or design program believes they can model. What I’ve specialized in are servicing inventors and small businesses that don’t know how to get a concept through production. I help my clients all the way from product concept to mold-ready designs that can be produced in injection molding machines.
As it turns out many potential customers expect a full range of services – not only printing an item but designing it from scratch. Greg Carron has a similar experience:
We currently have 50 Prusa i3s and concentrate mainly on designing new 3D products for businesses. Most marketing companies we work with have told us their clients believe getting volume prints with SLS/Full Color is still too expensive.
We design branded, functional products that businesses can give out to their customers. You can make money as a hobbyist on 3D Hubs but as a company, you need volume or high-end prints.
Find your niche
Once you get some credibility by doing various projects for a wider range of clients, it’s good to look for a niche you’re the best at. Sometimes you can discover it by accident as it may not be the industry or type of projects you initially thought about. Just like Robert Bateman did:
I design my own products, sure I also print interesting things I find online but I do not sell them. I made trays for a company that uses them to fill bottles in their Electronic Cigarette Juice operation, It pays pretty well, I also make small gears for Business copiers that they can no longer get parts for. Just go and do it, it will be successful if you work at it.
Robert is right in saying that you probably won’t succeed overnight but can achieve a lot by gaining experience and learning new things with every project. You should also keep your eyes and ears open for new products, gadgets or jigs and fixtures that you could design and sell to companies. Again, having many contacts on your list can help in building your 3D printing business this way.
Find the right tools for the job
The quality of prints depends not only on your skills but also from the machine that you use to manufacture the object. This is why for running a 3D printing business you need reliable tools that can operate at peak efficiency around the clock. Some build their own 3D printers based on open source DIY designs but most of the companies and professionals utilize ready-to-use desktop machines.
Preet Jesrani from DesignBox3D told us why he would recommend ZMorph multitool 3D printers to people starting and already running their businesses:
If you are planning on printing batches of pendants or necklace pieces for example, as long as the design can be printed, you can go about the task of researching which printer will be the most suitable.
When you plan to focus on 3D printing with plastic-based materials, ZMorph 2.0 SX Basic Set will be an excellent choice due to the built-in closed loop functionality. But if you plan on using various mediums for creating your products or prototypes, there is no question – choose a ZMorph 2.0 SX Full Set able to 3D print, cut with CNC toolhead, and engrave with a laser.
Utilize the full potential of 3D Hubs
When running your 3D printing business never forget about 3D Hubs. It’s currently the biggest and most popular platform for ordering custom 3D prints from local providers. It changed a lot in recent years with more and more professionals looking for high-quality prints from reliable partners, so you should be ready for that.
Balazs Kisgergely from 3D Hubs shared with us the following tips:
- Create a great (visual) profile to get orders. Start with lower introductory prices and increase them later.
- Do all it takes to get good reviews, they’ll attract more customers.
- Printing for orders is a great way to start a business and build out a customer base if you don’t have one.
- Give away promo material with your orders so customers will remember you, plus you can advertise your design business this way.
- Try to find your niche (architecture, engineering, design for customers, etc.).
- Use Facebook and LinkedIn to get in touch with your customer base. I can also recommend 3D Hubs Talk for community and advice.
- For promotion, I’d say Instagram is by far the best. Build out a following, follow others who are relevant, do share 4 shares and generally read a lot of tips online.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to 3D printing and your local media. They love local stories and you’ll get featured if you actually make great designs or products.
- In the meantime try Etsy and Ebay for selling 3D printed gadgets, figures, and trinkets people would like.
And when nothing works for your 3D printing business…
You can always use this piece of advice Bass Blom wrote us on Facebook…
use plenty pretty girls in pics 😉
There’s no simple and universal set of rules on how to succeed with your 3D printing business. Different things work depending on time, place, and even people’s moods. Sometimes you just need to adapt to the situation, just like many successful entrepreneurs do, so always try to be flexible and keep an open mind.
Leave a comment below and share your stories, so other people can learn from your experience.