Make Money 3D Printing (or at Least Try!)
One of the many reasons people might pick up a 3D printer is because they think it can help them make money. It's looked at as an investment and a way to possibly get rich quick. While simply purchasing a printer isn't going to give you an opportunity to "print money", there are definitely some ways you can use your hobby to bring in a little bit of side income. Don't expect to quit your day job with most of these however why not earn yourself a little bit of money while doing something fun for a hobby?
In this article I'm going to cover a few ways of making money with your 3D printer including opening an online shop, hopping on a short term trend, providing 3D print services, and the most lucrative providing 3D design expertise and services.
By no means is any of this a guarantee that you can make money nor is it supposed to be any kind of financial advice.
Opening an Online Storefront
The first and most obvious option for those looking to make some money with a 3D printer is to simply print things and sell them. If you search for "3D print" on Etsy, you'll get thousands of results. Everything from planters to dungeons & dragons dice towers to small desktop toys. Heck, I even have my own Etsy shop with a handful of my original designs.
This is probably the most accessible and simple option for people, even those without design skills. That said this is not a way to get rich quick. Your return on investment of money for time is extremely low. There is a TON of competition out there and the time it takes to 3D print things mean you won't be able to sell high numbers of anything. I primarily use it when I have some extra prints around and I don't want to throw them away, or when I have a particularly cool design that I'd like to do a limited run of.
Many people think that 3D printing just means you hit a button and within a couple hours you can have a small army of items to sell. In reality, depending on the size and quality of the print of course, that couple of hours may only you'll get one item or less! That also doesn't account for any unexpected technical issues you might run into, increasing your time investment.
That said, if you just want some extra pizza money and are having fun doing it, selling extra printed models on Etsy could rake in an extra little bit of money each week with the right products.
This next example is very specific but can potentially pay off your cost in investment of a printer pretty quickly. You have to get extremely lucky and move fast though to make it work.
I'm going to use one specific example of the fidget spinner craze. Resourceful 3D print enthusiasts realized that fidget spinners are easy to print and aren't that big so don't take that much time. By selling each spinner for anywhere from five to $10 a piece at the height of the spinner craze, it was relatively easy to recoup any costs and make it out ahead. That said, those who did well and maximized their earnings had to move quickly and keep their printers constantly running. Again, 3D printing is not a good method of high volume manufacturing, but if you can turn out a box of 20 fidget spinners in a weekend and sell it to a local store for resale, it's probably worth your time.
Quick trends like this that align with 3D printing are few and far between, but it's always worth keeping your eyes out for the latest and greatest in fad toys.
Here's an example of a gyroscope fidget toy I designed and sell via my shop that has done pretty well for me!
"Renting" Your Printer's Time
The next method of earning money 3D printing is by offering up 3D print services. By that I mean, printing other people's objects for a fee and shipping it to them.
If your printer is running smoothly and your prints are turning out with a good quality, there's a good chance someone out there might need your services. There are forums dedicated to it such as Reddit "3DPrintMything" where users put in requests in for various 3D printing needs. They will send you the model they want printed and you can print it in their requested color or material, then ship it to them.
Your mileage may vary on how much you actually make from this but I would expect it to be similar in the range of if you were just selling things on Etsy. That said, if you find a good customer who regularly needs things printed and develop a good reputation, there's some potential to build a small client base can reach out to you if your services are needed.
3D Design and Modeling Services
The last option on this list can be the most lucrative by far. Keep in mind though that it requires the most amount of knowledge and work but it uses 3D Printing and design skills so it makes the list! If you've taken the time to learn 3D modeling and printing as a hobby, this could be right up your alley.
Offer-up your services as a freelance 3D designer. The client may or may not want you to 3D print a physical version of their item, but offering your services to design simple things on sites like Fiverr can command you a good price for your time. 3D modeling a specialized skill and is not readily available to those who haven't spent the time to learn it.
You sent your prices based on the time spent or effort needed and in reality the sky's the limit on the money to be made if you put in the work and develop a good client-base. You could be designing anything from prototype toys, to small industrial or product designs, to even architectural prototypes.
Offering them 3D printing services on top of it or even possibly including a free 3D model in your price is a nice bonus that can help set you apart from people who are just 3D modelers.
As you can see, 3D printing by no means will get you rich quick. As with anything, the more time and effort you put in to develop special skills the more money you have the potential to make. Right out of the box 3D printing will not make you money, but if you can develop your 3D design skills or offer consulting on 3D models and prototypes for physical products you can build yourself a portfolio and potentially a future career as a freelance 3D designer.