How to Start a 3D Printing Business

If you’re an artist, particularly one involved in physical works – such as statues or carvings – a 3D printing business can let you turn your ideas into tangible creations. Starting a 3D printing operation could be the way to fuse your technical and artistic skills and turn them into a profit.

What makes 3D printing unique among other manufacturing technologies is that is it easily accessible, opening the doorway for anyone with the wish to turn their creative ideas into physical products, tools, parts, and works of art. Arguably, the most important element of this job is being able to take a good idea and use a combination of software and artistic skills to make it into a reality.

The costs

The expenses involved in opening a 3D printing business are minimal. Most shops start in someone’s home, so there is no expensive lease or utilities to pay every month, nor any employee salaries to pay. If you’re going to work with companies like Shapeways, you don’t have to own a 3D printer – you simply upload designs to them, sell the products through your website, and split profits with them.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to buy your 3D printer, you can typically find a commercial model for around $6,000. Although, there are models available at a variety of price points. Otherwise, your primary costs will be developing a professional website (usually about $500) and marketing your services – since most advertising is done online, a starting budget will be around $2,000.

Software needed

There is a lot of great free open-source software out there. You might be able to rely on online shareware to complete your first couple of projects. However, as your business expands, you’ll want to invest in at least a single-year license for 3D modeling software with 3D printing features.

According to industry experts, some of the 3D-specific workflows of modeling tools that you might want to look for in software include checking printer models for 3D output, the ability to adequately orient models on the print bed, and support generation, which ensures the model remains stable during the printing process.

Establish yourself in a niche market

Rather than trying to please everyone, you have to find a tribe of loyal customers who see you as their trusted vendor. In other words, specializes in printing specific things. One group that may suit you is hobbyists. From gamers wanting to print objects for their roleplaying campaigns to collectors looking to replace parts for their model trains or model houses, hobbyists are the group with very niche interests and disposable income to accommodate them.

Take a look at the 3Doodler pen, for instance. These 3D printing pens cater to a very specific audience – kids and hobbyists looking to draw in three dimensions. Examples like this one can help you understand how narrow your niche should be to have a profitable business.

Your typical day at a 3D printing business

Your most prominent daily activities in a 3D printing business will be designing 3D objects and concentrating on ways of selling them to customers. If you aren’t relying on a third party like Shapeways, then a generous portion of your time will be taken up by printing those objects. Beyond this, you will often spend your time working on new ways to advertise your services online.

How to make money out of the 3D printing business?

As a 3D printing business, you will make money by printing and delivering 3D versions of shapes and objects to customers. You can also make a profit by taking design requests from customers who can’t find the shapes they want to be printed anywhere else.

Another great option is to supply e-commerce companies. Since they often have to source more stock than they need to avoid running out of products, your services can offer them a flexible and affordable solution for this problem. By printing and designing products for e-commerce shops, you tap into a major pain point in the industry.

The beauty of all this is that while a traditional startup to change what it does takes considerable investment, 3D printing can avoid this hustle. If you build a business that doesn’t need it, you can simply change it and create something else – because you haven’t invested tens of thousands in a 40’ shipping container of stock from China. You just change your designs and you have an entirely new business plan.

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