How to Make Money With 3d Printing in 2021- A Profitable In-Depth Guide
Make Money With Blogging
As the Internet becomes increasingly accessible and valuable for people of all ages and lifestyles, a growing number of people are turning to blogging and personal site development to discuss their interests with a rich community of like-minded enthusiasts. Although blogs have become somewhat formulaic, blogging remains one of the most versatile approaches to developing community—and monetization potential—without having to leave your home.
Some bloggers are very “accessible” by their audience, sharing personal posts and photos to develop a relationship with readers; others prefer to focus on the hobby or skill they post about while remaining somewhat unknown or entirely anonymous. Your style, tone, intended audience, and personality are essential factors to consider when deciding to start a hobby blog. There are many in-depth posts on this topic, so we streamlined this section to focus on the basics of starting a 3D printing blog with the intent of generating income.
Starting a blog
First, we cover the major concerns most people have when starting a hobby blog:
- Time commitment
How long will it take to start a 3D printing blog?
For something as personal as a hobby blog, it is difficult to establish a set timeframe for everyone who may wish to begin this process. The time commitment will vary according to the frequency of posting, the type of content, whether you are working alone or with a team, and how long it takes you to write (or design and produce prints, if that comprises most of your content). Some people can write a blog post in less than an hour, and most high-income bloggers recommend posting regularly at least twice per week. Considering research and/or designing and print times for individual posts, you can expect to spend a few hours per week on a beginner blog.
Once you delve deeper into community engagement, managing ads/affiliates and other site income, establishing email lists, and focusing on personal brand development, this can turn into a part-to-full time job. However, the process of establishing your 3D printing blog is quite simple and should take only 20 minutes to an hour—which means that you could do it as soon as you’re finished reading this article.
Is starting a blog expensive?
For a beginner blogger, it is usually not necessary to spend a lot of money on site management. While there are free hosting sites for blogs, those attempting to build a small brand or business off their blog should aim to go private as soon as possible. Blogging platforms that support personalization with individual domain names are not usually prohibitively expensive, ranging from $7–30 per month. This cost will vary depending on whether you use a premium template or have to bid on a domain name. If this is still out of range—don’t worry. Free website hosting services are still completely usable for establishing a hobby blog that can be monetized. These sites simply offer less control over revenue, design, and content.
Is starting a blog difficult?
In the golden age of the Internet, pretty much anyone can start a blog. The primary barrier to entry for hobby blogging is writing. Many people find it difficult to craft content, write engaging titles, and self-proof their work. However, it is important to remember that literally any type of person you can think of—from grandparents to young children—have written blog posts.
While creating content for a living can seem daunting, it is definitely attainable. There are many free courses and workshop videos that can provide guidance on crafting engaging content, utilizing search engine optimization, and working through creative blocks to keep the content flowing. Once you decide what you want to write about, all you have to do is write about it. That’s it.
We go over some guiding principles for creating content below that can help you get started.
Writing 3D printing content
Before you jump right into buying a domain name and setting up your site, it’s a good idea to have a few blog posts ready to improve the chances of immediately developing an audience and drawing attention. We cover some essentials of crafting content for 3D printing blogs below to help you get started.
Find the perfect title
Writing a clear and engaging title is crucial for blogging. You’ve likely seen “listicle” and click-bait articles on sites of all kinds. While these kinds of titles are not necessarily bad—after all, they’re used so often because they’re proven to be effective—you’ll want to diversify your title styles to appeal to different types of readers.
Some people prefer technical, to-the-point titles while others like to pique interest while concealing the main content of the article. The approach you use will depend on the tone you want your blog to have and the type of audience you want to engage. Are you aiming for a serious tech analysis and review blog, aiming to be an authority on all things 3D printing? What about a friendly print designer and maker that takes requests from community members and posts down-to-earth vlogs or instructional videos?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to engage with a variety of topics and audiences, it is best to remain generally focused on one approach as niche blogs have proven to be more engaging and lucrative than sites that host the owner’s day-to-day thoughts and ramblings about 3D printing.
Draw in the right audience
Your first post or two should serve as a basis for your future content, at least in the beginning. These posts can explain how you got started with 3D printing, why you wanted to start a blog about it, or provide valuable and foundational information to refer back to later.
For example, if you want to start a friendly blog that focuses on 3D printer troubleshooting, calibration, and optimization, you might want to briefly describe your introduction to and fascination with the mechanics of 3D printing and your desire to help others work through the problems you have faced in your 3D printing journey. In subsequent posts, you can refer back to this foundational post when discussing your motivation or desire to tackle a specific problem, which drives traffic toward a post that allows the audience to get to know you better. This can promote interest in your blog overall and generate trust with new readers.
As noted above, it is important to decide how you want to come across and focus on conveying this tone in your posts. For example, fewer like-minded hobbyists are likely to find value in highly technical information if it is written very informally or sensationally than if it is direct and clear and isn’t filled with excessive jokes or personal anecdotes.
While knowing your audience is critical, try not to fixate on crafting the absolute perfect post for one specific type of person. Your readers will have varied backgrounds or interests, so ensure that even beginner 3D printing hobbyists can engage with your content without coming up against undefined jargon or other “insider” knowledge.
Clearly organize each post
There is a huge amount of information posted to the Internet daily, and even if a post looks interesting, there’s no guarantee that someone will read each word. Particularly when writing about niche interests, it is crucial to present what the reader will “get” from the post upfront. Clearly and effectively organizing information allows readers to skim an article and decide whether the post is relevant or engaging for their particular needs.
For example, this guide is quite extensive, and some portions are highly detailed. To facilitate skimming, none of the paragraphs are too long, each subsection is clearly marked, and an index of major topics covered is presented at the head of the article to allow people to quickly direct to their topic of interest if they do not want to read the entire article. Because most blog posts are only 400–600 words each, indexes are usually overkill. Stick with bullet lists, clear headings, and short, easy to digest paragraphs.
Be relevant, be consistent
To keep old readers engaged and bring new readers in, stay topical. Stay on top of emerging tech trends in 3D printing or, if your content is more focused on models and design, highlight new design and sale trends as you notice them, providing readers a fresh look into interesting topics within the world of 3D printing. This tenet can be extended to holidays or major world events; you can post your own holiday prints or write up a 3D printing gift guide right before peak buying season to capture predictable spikes in web traffic.
Don’t be shy
Once you have some posts written and a site set up, tell your friends and family! Post on your social media accounts or ask your friends to boost your site to their followers—most friends are more than willing to support the creative endeavors of people they care about. A few views is better than none, and you might have a potential consistent reader lurking in your existing networks.
Blogging sounds fun, but can it pay the bills?
As with most unconventional income sources, the answer is a resounding “maybe.” Blogging requires consistency, dedication, writing (and editing) skills, and patience to become an established income stream. Developing an online persona is easier with social media that can be linked to a blog but developing trust and a network within a community takes longer. Don’t expect to buy a new Peopoly Phenom with your blogging revenue in the first month. Establishing an audience and hosting curated ads or working as an affiliate for existing, well-loved brands is the easiest way to start bringing in extra money. After you have a dedicated audience, consider linking your blogging endeavor to one of the approaches laid out below. For example, a well-known blogger who sells files or 3D printed materials can supplement their up-front costs from direct sales and generate more ad or affiliate revenue by incentivizing new visits to the site.
Monetizing your blog
The three most popular key strategies for generating revenue from a 3D printing blog are hosting ads, becoming an affiliate, and writing sponsored posts.
Google AdSense is one of the most popular avenues for delivering targeted ads to an engaged audience. The most important factors in generating ad revenue are consistently engaged readers and ad relevance.
There are dozens of online marketplaces geared toward tech, 3D printing, games, comics, and more. Many of these companies partner with YouTubers, Instagrammers, and bloggers to deliver coupon codes and special deals to audiences, giving the host a portion of the profit. If your favorite online store doesn’t have an established affiliate program, it never hurts to email them directly with your user metrics and ask to set up a deal.
Similar to affiliate programs, sponsorships allow people who are embedded in niche communities to try out and review products or participate in demos for their audiences. Many manufacturers and marketplaces will sponsor posts reviewing their services or products. These offers are typically presented by the companies after a particularly blogger or online personality has been “discovered” by their outreach team, but if you feel confident with your audience size and engagement, you might want to reach out to brands directly to try to establish this relationship.
If you’ve had your 3D printer for a while and are reading this article, chances are that you have considered selling 3D printed items for a profit. Essentially, a 3D printer can be used as the foundation of a small ecommerce business. This is different from a consulting or service-providing model, which is covered later. The direct sale approach is typically simpler and easier to get established.
When selling prints directly to consumers, the only major considerations are cost, time, avenue of sale, and copyright/permissions—this one is essential if you aren’t preparing your own designs for printing. A quick search of “3D printed” on Etsy, a popular handmade and small business craft marketplace, yields about 195,000 results. While it may seem that there is a lot of competition, this demonstrates the potential for anyone to start a small online business selling 3D prints. To avoid getting lost in broad searches, it is important for craftspeople of all types to find their niche. Consider that number and compare it to the search for “3D printed ornament” within the $0–50 range, which is just around 4,500 results. A 3D print maker who sells home decorations or themed items can easily stand out in this smaller search pool.
If you want to make money selling prints, find a niche and stick to it. Some people sell custom fidget toys only and make decent profits. Depending on the post-processing required for the prints you choose, you might even be able to print-and-pack your goods to be delivered same-day. Popular 3D printing niches are listed below, but this list is far from exhaustive. There are literally millions of models hosted on popular 3D model sites—if you have permission to use a model freely or design your own, you can sell just about anything.
Toys and figurines
Puzzle toys, tops, fidget toys, and video game and anime figurines are extremely popular 3D printed items. While the scale of your operation will heavily depend on the complexity of each print, picking a roster of 3–10 items that you print in succession can yield decent profits with minimal effort. Toys can range in complexity from tops to Tonka-style trucks to intricate puzzle prisms, each with their own audience and price ranges. If you already have a knack for designing, you can make a name for yourself by drafting and printing unique and hyperrealistic figurines from major franchises or designing limited-run puzzle boxes and specialty sets for tabletop games.
Owing to the simplicity of many items in this category, you can also offer the option for customization at a premium, such as engraving, custom filament or resin color, or custom paint. If you are using other people’s designs, be sure you have full permission to sell the results or else you may find yourself in a messy legal situation early in your new business endeavor.
Costuming and cosplay
It’s no surprise that costuming is an all-time favorite application of consumer 3D printing technology. For decades, dedicated fans have been doing everything from cutting cardboard into swords to hand carving wooden hilts for homemade swords to produce stunningly accurate costumes. Many game, film franchise, and TV/anime fandoms are international, which increases your chances of finding engaged clientele early on if your prints are high-quality.
While there is a decent amount of competition in this field, there is also a wide audience for prints at all price points. Some print makers sell meticulously designed, sanded, painted, and finished costume accessory pieces (or full sets) for hundreds of dollars to professional cosplayers. However, the kid going to their first convention dressed as Kratos likely won’t have that money and will be looking for something simpler and less expensive. Even within the costuming niche, you can find a sub-niche to secure a consistent audience, such as helmets, masks, kids’ costumes, or weapons.
The 3D print demographic is essentially boundless—people of all ages and backgrounds think that this technology is interesting or, at the least, are interested in purchasing custom items. Lithophanes have been around for a long time and make great memorabilia, gifts, and decorations. 3D printed lithophanes are embossed photos generated by a 3D printer that can be placed in front of a light to illuminate the photo subject in a striking manner.
One way to get started selling lithophanes is to print a stock set of common home décor pieces or character images to sell as-is and advertise a custom service.
For example, Maker A may have lithophanes of different colors showing tranquil waterfall or landscape scenes in their online shop with a link to a service to transform any customer photo into a lithophane. Maker B may instead focus on having a stock set of Lord of the Rings lithophanes or surreal, video game–style landscapes and offer a drawing and printing service to bring people’s favorite characters or game scenery to life in a custom lithophane.Selling the prints: Etsy, Amazon, eBay, and small-community marketplaces
Each marketplace for 3D printed goods can provide unique advantages for certain audiences. Like the examples presented above show, Etsy can be good for crafty and custom prints but may not be ideal for tool accessories or robotics pieces. Likewise, eBay is excellent for highly customized and rare parts but may not be ideal for selling stock toys.
Selling 3D printed items on Etsy
Etsy is a highly recommend starting point for most craftspeople who are just starting out, particularly when they aren’t working with highly specialized prints. Anything from jewelry to home décor to clothing items can be 3D printed and sold on this site. It is notoriously easy to get started on Etsy without an established brand or business, and there are many workshops and resources for those thinking about starting an Etsy craft business that can easily inform one’s online 3D printing business.
Selling 3D printed items on Amazon
Amazon is a unique marketplace for 3D printed items because it hosts a dedicated 3D printing store with less competition than most marketplaces. If you can get approved as an Amazon seller, you can take advantage of this offering with Amazon-mediated sales of custom 3D printed goods. The Amazon 3D printing marketplace works best for unique standalone objects.
Selling 3D printed items on eBay
Nowadays, eBay has been replaced as the foremost online marketplace by Amazon, but it is still the go-to site for specialty and hard-to-find items. Because eBay has an auction and buy now model, specialized 3D printed items tend to sell well, particularly for tools and robotics. This is a particularly lucrative avenue if you are skilled at modeling and reverse engineering parts for machines and tools as you can provide inexpensive replacement parts that are otherwise difficult to find. Thingiverse also hosts many models that sell well on eBay, so you may try out several approaches before finding what works best for you.
3D modeling and design engineering
As ubiquitous as 3D modeling is for industrial and hobby designers alike, many people (particularly small business owners and manufacturers) are still working with 2D designs. For some, the original designs may be unusable or require upgrading—why not offer the opportunity to upgrade to the third dimension and then some?
Rather than selling pre-made prints, you can design components for customers on a contract basis. This can be highly lucrative and rewarding, but it requires greater skill and precision than the 3D printing income opportunities listed above.
Here’s an example of how this business model functions:
A client has existing 2D drawings of a machine component that they need digitized, and they want to get a smaller prototype to illustrate the component’s function at a convention. The client contacts you through your website or freelance account (like Upwork or Fiverr) with the drawings, specifications, and any other considerations. You review the files and provide a quote that includes your estimated turnaround time and cost, which you calculate considering the time it will take you to model the component using CAD and print the prototype as well as how you value your knowledge and materials.
You model the part and check it for integrity at its original dimensions, if possible, and print a prototype at the client’s specified scale. Then, you contact the client, discuss any complications, send the files, and ship the prototype (preferably using a tracked and rapid shipping service). The client pays the agreed-upon amount and verifies receipt of the prototype. If all goes well, you can even ask for a testimonial from the client to post on your site.
Clearly, this is more professional and involved than blogging or selling prints and comes with higher risks because you are working with other people’s intellectual property and your prints need to be as precise as possible. If you plan to contract out your 3D modeling and printing services at a larger scale, it would be beneficial to invest in business insurance to account for such risks. Remember, people undergo rigorous education in engineering and design to hone these skills. Alongside your 3D printing skills, you’ll need some excellent CAD skills to make this a viable option. It may not be the best choice if you’re a beginner 3D printing hobbyist, but it can be a great goal to work toward when developing your skills.
User-hosted file sites
If you aren’t confident enough in your design skills to establish an entire one-person business that works directly with engineers and developers, consider playing around with designs and hosting them on premium file sharing sites or your own website where people can pay for designs that they can print using their own materials. This is a generally low-risk and low-cost endeavor but is unlikely to generate significant profit unless you find a particularly underserved niche right away.
Similar to selling your design services, you can leverage your access to a printer and high-quality materials by offering to print client’s designs and ship them. This is different than selling prints directly as each print will only be produced after a client has contacted you with their desired files. Depending on how you market this service, you might develop relationships with a few small businesses who rely on your services to send out their components and materials to other vendors or consumers, which can yield a hefty and reliable profit.
Because you are managing the manufacturing process, you can offer bulk discounts or provide faster shipping for a fee. To diversify your offerings and add potential value, you might consider adding post-processing services such as sanding or finishing, depending on the types of prints you’re working with. You can check out other small print services to get a feel for the right pricing, but you always want to make sure that your cost of materials, wear on the printer, and time are adequately compensated.
This business approach requires more up-front work than some others owing to the focus on visibility. You may need to spend a lot of time (and some money) marketing your services online and/or to local businesses that may benefit from having a local 3D print maker. Once you have fulfilled requests for a few clients and get a feel for the demands of the work, you may wish to apply to work with All3DP or Craftcloud’s printing services if you can handle quick and potentially large orders.
Another engaging approach to making money with 3D printing does not require selling physical items at all: teaching. As 3D printer prices continue to drop and exciting new technology becomes increasingly available, the number of people interested in diving into 3D printing continues to skyrocket. If you know the ins and outs of 3D printing technology and have a couple of machines to use for demos, you can develop specific workshops and training videos to add to the growing pool of shared knowledge.
Skill sharing sites and in-person teaching
Premium skill sharing sites like—as the name suggests—SkillShare or Coursera are excellent for new creatives and those learning new skills from home. Some sites allow teachers to host miniseries or workshops, which are perfect for reaching specific audiences with niche content. Libraries, community colleges, some universities, and other community centers also host public learning events and can be great for single-day workshops.
For example, someone who has experience designing and printing toys with robust technical knowledge about 3D printers can design and host a three-part workshop called “3D Printing for Kids” that teaches children the technology behind different 3D printing styles, explores basic design principles, and guides them through making three toys to take home at the end. Then, this workshop can be recorded, transcribed, and optimized for a skill-sharing site for parents and other teachers who want to teach kids about 3D printing.
Despite the ridiculous comment thread fights and misinformation that pervade online spaces, everyone who has been online long enough has probably had a “Thank god for the Internet” moment. The Internet has allowed anyone with access to it limitless information for learning new things, and YouTube teachers and coaches have helped innumerable people get out of sticky situations. If you don’t feel qualified to host a paid 3D printing workshop, consider starting a YouTube channel.
While starting a YouTube channel is extremely easy, attaining and maintaining an audience is notoriously difficult, and monetizing YouTube content takes a lot of time and effort. We included this because it is still a great way to get noticed and develop a potential clientele for knowledge sharing, but it wouldn’t be our top recommendation for people hoping to start making money quickly.
Ride sharing, apartment sharing, car sharing, bike sharing, tool sharing…the sharing rental economy is only growing and has significant potential for 3D printer owners who don’t consistently use their machines to make money on the off-time.
Renting access to your 3D printer through networks
Although the sheer potential of 3D printers makes us wish that they were household staples like computers or cell phones, it is likely going to be quite a while before 3D printers are truly mainstream. While many institutions, such as larger tech-forward libraries and universities have 3D printers that the public can access, these are not always the most accessible without making appointments or having guaranteed time with the printer when you need it. Further, while your laptop, which likely has all your model files stored, is portable, your printer definitely is not.
Consider the client from the “Selling digital files” example. Let’s say they had a 3D model developed but printed out the prototype using a printer at their local library before preparing to fly to the convention. When unpacking, they realize that they left the prototype at the office and won’t have access to a 3D printer until after they are supposed to present. This client can hop on a 3D print network, find someone in the area that has a 3D printer, and print their prototype before the convention.
This approach is more passive than providing a print service alone. MakeXYZ allows designers to find a local idle 3D printer to produce their designs, and the printer’s owner can profit without going through the work of finding clients and sending quotes. MakeXYZ calculates pricing based on the volume of the part file and charges a use fee to the client.
If you are still somewhat new to 3D printing or unsure about trying to make money from your 3D printing hobby, the opportunities described in this article may seem overwhelming. For those just starting out, our advice is to start with whatever is comfortable. This does not have to replace your day job, but with enough time and dedication, you may find that your side hustle can transform into a full-time business. Makers of all levels have the opportunity to make money with their 3D printer. Not everyone who makes money off a skill or hobby needs to be an expert, they just need to be dedicated to their craft and honest about what they offer.