If you've started 3D printing—or you're thinking about buying a 3D printer—you may wonder what you can do to make some return on your investment. 3D printers can be a lucrative asset if you play your cards right. How much money you can make with a 3D printer depends on what kind of printer you have and what you plan on selling with it.
There are two major types of 3D printers—resin and fused deposition modeling (FDM). Resin printers often have a smaller build area but use liquid resins to create high-quality objects. Check out our resin printing FAQ page for more info on resin/SLA printers. FDM printers typically have a large build area and use spools of filament to print. FDM printers are notorious for their visible print lines and often need more aftercare to smooth down final prints.
When choosing which type of 3D printer you want to invest in, you should consider not only the cost of the machine but the cost of material used in printing. One kilogram of PLA (a popular type of FDM printer filament) usually costs around $15-$25. By comparison, 500 grams of photopolymer resin costs around $20-$30. The quality output of the resin printer can be worth the cost difference—it just depends on what you need out of the printer.
Don't forget any maintenance costs. If you plan on resin printing, you'll need a regular supply of gloves, masks, and alcohol for cleaning fresh prints. FDM printers may need a little tweaking here and there, but that's often something handled by an Allen wrench.
One obvious way to make money 3D printing is to sell things you print. You can sell items business-to-business (B2B) to existing stores, create an online shop, or even sell them on websites like Etsy or eBay.
Creators sell a huge variety of 3D printed objects—like jewelry, gadgets, figurines, and more. You can find free-for-commercial-use designs, purchase designs, or create your own. The options here are really limitless. Be careful if you plan to sell anything for use with food, as only certain types of filament are food safe.
Selling 3D printed objects isn't the end-game with a 3D printer. You can use a printer to create objects from plenty of other materials by 3D printing a custom mold. If you want to learn more about the process, check out our guide on how to 3D print a custom mold.
This is a really useful tool for artisans and professionals alike. There are so many applications for printing custom molds:
Metal creations like mechanical components or jewelry
Many people aren't willing or don't have the means to invest in a 3D printer, but still want 3D printed things. You can use this opportunity to help supply them with what they're after. Making 3D printed objects to order is a good way to guarantee that what you're printing is exactly what the customer wants. This can take a lot of guess-work out of deciding what to print and sell.
There are a few online platforms designed to connect 3D printer owners with those who want something printed. Once you register with one of these sites, customers let you know what object they want to be printed, and you supply it to them. Rates can vary depending on website fees and order details. Here are some major platforms you can explore to get started.
A passive way to earn income with your printer is to sell designs. It helps to already have a little knowledge in 3D design, but don't get discouraged if you don't–you can learn! You don't even need expensive software to get started. Blender is a totally free open-source tool used for creating 3D objects. The internet is full of Blender tutorials to get you on your way.
You can use the printer to test your creations and work out all of the design details before submitting your final design. Testing your 3D-printed objects is critical to ensuring the designs you sell are up-to-par and usable.
Once you've created a design, it's time to sell it. You have a couple of options: sell designs B2B to existing online shops, create your own online shop, or upload them to a website designed for selling 3D designs. Here are a few examples to help get you started:
Like any other money-making endeavor, you need a little business sense to really turn a profit. If you're not making money with your 3D printer, reevaluate your plan. Run the numbers and make sure the money you'll get back covers your time, material, and maintenance costs. With the right plan, you're well on your way to a 3D printing business adventure!