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10 Ways To Make Money With A 3D Printer

3D printers is a multi-billion industry and a disruptive technology.

Its popularity is because of those 2 reasons. But, to me, there’s other reasons why their popularity is trending up. 3D printers allow an individual to be their own manufacturer.

A manufacturer who produces value makes money, plain and simple. A tool like a 3D printer which is cost-effective and fast means any individual can take a piece of the pie from this multi-billion dollar industry.

This not only changes industries, it changes the way we can make money. This is why writing different ways to make money with a 3D printer was so appealing. There are many ways you can have a slice of the pie. All it takes is creativity.

Table of Contents

Printing Models On Demand

Printing on demand closely resembles Uber Eats. The only major difference is uploading designs.

All you gotta do is upload your design, pay for it, and the person who ordered gets a new model.

You can be the one printing models if someone near you orders a 3D model. All you got to do is register to make sure you’re on a network that supports this. For businesses like this, just list your printer on their network and customers near you will find you and request models.

If you’re interested in this option, look into businesses like 3DHubsMakeXYZ is another similar business you can look into if you don’t like 3DHubs.

Prototyping

Prototyping is a huge business.

Think of all the industries using prototypes. It ranges from engineering, manufacturing, and more.

You can monetize this by offering professionals a prototype using your 3D printer. Once the professional has the prototype in their hand, they can mass produce it through a contractor if they like it.

The reason why 3D printers are set to take over prototyping comes down to its advantages:

  • Cost-effective
  • Time efficiency
  • Able to produce more complex products
  • Reduce mistakes
  • Create more versions of products

3D printers are obviously cheaper than a whole manufacturing factory. What makes it cheaper is the overall cost of materials.

Everything from the filament to the equipment is cheaper. You can create something and implement it right away to your printer.

This speed in combination with its cost makes it appealing for prototype alternatives. No need for further evidence when you have Fortune 500 companies using 3D printers for manufacturing.

Local Firms

Prototyping for companies takes a lot of skill compared to other items on this list. Essentially, what you’re doing is taking a sketch or idea and making it reality.

This means you need to be good with CAD, printing, and post-processing. The good part is you have a lot of shots on goal. You don’t have to be perfect the first time.

To start, reach out to your local firm right now (assuming you have a printer). Contact them via their website, email, or social media, and let them know you’re able to print prototypes for them.

You might get rejected, but one yes and you’re on the fast track to a small business. You can also offer printing models on demand for prototyping if you don’t want to commit to a long-term relationship. This is similar to a freelancer, but for one firm.

Monetizing 3D printers by creating prototypes is harder in my opinion. If you print for multiple firms, you’ll have multiple projects going on.

Working for a local firm fixes this. You get one firm paying you which makes it riskier, but you don’t have to worry about where your money will come from.

I would look into local engineering firms first for your first customers. If that doesn’t work, look into the other logical industries (manufacturing, etc.).

Education

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There’s an unlimited demand for high quality content.

There’s an even bigger demand for free high quality educational content. There are so many ways you can educate people nowadays. 

Here’s a small list:

  • Courses
  • Podcasts
  • Blog posts
  • Newsletter
  • Videos
Both websites and videos are something I’ll discuss later. But, there are mediums like newsletters which are still undervalued in my opinion.
 

If you build a tight community, a newsletter is something you can monetize through a platform like Substack. A platform like Substack makes it super easy to just focus on content.

Substack makes it easy to get paid, and design your newsletter so it looks appealing. You can also make a course for Udemy and other educational platforms.

There are many avenues you can take with courses. I would recommend video though because printers are easier to learn visually.

The final option are podcasts. You probably think podcasts have to be ongoing, but I’ve listened to podcasts with a fixed amount of episodes.

These are just some of the options. Maybe you can combine some of these to deliver a comprehensive course. A bigger course including 2 or 3 of these methods will give the user a better experience.

Niche Website

Roborefuge is a great example of what a niche website is. A niche site is a site focusing on helpful content with a goal to monetize.

Niche websites are interesting because there are multiple ways you can monetize. One example is through affiliates. 

Affiliate marketing is when you get a commission for referring a customer to someone. How much you get depends on what type of product you’re referring, and who you’re referring to.

Another way you can monetize is through display ads. This is a more consistent income stream in comparison to affiliates, but it usually has a lower ceiling.

Then you have more advanced methods of monetization with products and email lists. To be fair, there are a few caveats though.

One, if you’re starting a site from scratch, it takes awhile for Google to recognize your site. The average time ranges from 6 months to a year. Second, the people going to your website can drop from algorithmic changes.

For those looking into a niche site for 3D printers, prepare for the long game and a lot of upfront work before seeing results.

Ecommerce Website

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An ecommerce website is a site for buying and selling goods online. 

Compared to a niche website, I would say this is harder for the sole reason of inventory. Managing inventory is stressful because you have to make sure you have enough. 

Although It’s a good problem, you also have the stress of making the orders unless you outsource it. There are more problems though, but I’m not experienced with ecommerce to state them.

Besides the inventory, let me state the advantages with ecommerce:

  • Limitless reach
  • Faster response time
  • Multiple payment options
  • Targeted advertising
  • Faster buying experience

There’s no limit to the amount of people you can reach on the internet. This is the main advantage with ecommerce sites.

You don’t get this advantage by printing on demand which limits you to people locally. When users are on a site, they also have the advantage of a faster experience. 

They don’t have to drive and walk into the store. They just fire up the computer and go to the site. In addition to the convenience is the optionality. Sometimes stores will not have any other option to pay besides card or cash. 

Online shopping can support net banking, cash delivery, and more. Digital payment provides more options in general.

The next 2 include targeted advertising and fast user experience. Both could switch between 1A and 1B in terms of ranking.

A huge advantage with ecommerce is targeted advertising. Instead of letting people come to you, you can target the type of person which likes 3D printers and have a higher conversion rate. 

The faster buyer experience is awesome too. They can just go to the search bar and type what they want and put it in their cart. Overall, this process takes 1-2 minutes max.

I could keep going with ecommerce sites, but you get the idea. Ecommerce is easier nowadays with all the online tools we have.

A great platform to use for those interested is Shopfiy. They’re a proven platform providing tons of plugins so you can start selling right away.

YouTube

For those who love to educate, YouTube is a great way to make money. If you’re on YouTube, you’ll see a lot of the content is reviews or explanations on 3D printing.

One caveat is the equipment. It’s pointless starting a 3D printing channel without any 3D printers in the video.

If you don’t have the money to get the 3D printers, you should look at other options. If you think you’re late to the 3D printing party, don’t worry, I expect 3D printing to keep trending up which means more demand for 3D printer content. In addition, video isn’t going anywhere.

If you start now, you can become one of the biggest resources on YouTube and make that sweet ad revenue.

Rental

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Using your 3D printer as a rental is a great form of passive income.

Renting 3D printers is not common since 3D printers are still relatively new. In fact, you can say this for any method that involves being local. If you’re in a technology hub, you should try this monetization method out.

One way you can jumpstart this process is by contacting your lawyer. They can help you draft a binding contract so the person using your 3D printer is liable if anything were to happen to the 3D printer.

You can even take a step up and buy a lot of 3D printers and rent them all out. Maybe even rent a dedicated space for those 3D printers to reside. 

Out of all the ways to make money on this list, this might be the most passive. It all depends on how many printers you’re trying to rent out.

3D files

Another passive way to make money is through STL files.

People can purchase the files to a model you created. You can see this being done by Gambody. 

You can also use another platform, Thingiverse. This is a more popular platform for showing off 3D printed models.

Thingiverse allows selling, but there are specific rules and licenses you need to pass. For example, a normal attribution license lets you use a product commercially, but you have to credit the creator.

There are other stipulations with different licenses though, so be wary of what license you choose.

Creating 3D printers

This one is the wildest of all the options.

Imagine your 3D printer making another 3D printer. Although you can’t print a whole 3D printer by itself, you can print separate parts and then assemble it yourself.

If printing 3D printer parts is possible, think of all the other machines you’ll be able to produce. I would categorize this method as more of an experiment, but, if you can build a brand around the 3D printers you’re creating, then you have a business.

You might even be able to create multiple brands with different 3D printers. 

Tips for generating income

Build Relationships

Building relationships is key for good business. 

This creates trust with your customers, and turns into more customers later. To create relationships, leverage social media.

Twitter is an underrated tool for doing so. Another underrated social media tool is LinkedIn. You can also cold email business owners for a more traditional touch. 

I would slow play my leads and offer value straight away. This is key to a good business relationship.

Leverage Media Channels

Building on social media, I would also use it for marketing.

Think about all the big sites we can market on now. We have Reddit, Facebook, Craigslist, and more.

You can also build a community in Discord and sell to them (as long as you provide value). Thingiverse is a good example of this. If you submit something on Thingiverse and it gets a lot of upvotes, it’s a sign that people like what you’re making.

All you have to do is know your target market and where they hang out.

Know The Process

A key ingredient to making money with any of these methods is to really know 3D printing. 

Do you know the ins and outs of 3D printing from start to end? Or, do you honestly make high quality prints?

These are just some of the big questions you need to ask yourself. Other details include asking yourself if you know what materials work best in each situation.

You get the point. It’s all about mastering your craft. 

Streamlining Your Process

Once you get your business going, find a way to automate your process.

If you can’t automate the whole process, then find a way to automate parts of the process. Not only do you save time, you have time to create other revenue streams.

You can hire virtual assistants or use Upwork to hire people for admin work. These are just a couple examples. Let me know if you find other ways to automate.

Invest When Necessary

There are some methods on here where you won’t profit right away. Some of those methods are a niche website and ecommerce.

The key is to invest in areas that’ll save you time or money, bonus if it’s something you don’t like doing. Outsourcing is a great way to invest. 

I wouldn’t invest until I know the process ins and outs though. This makes it so when I give the task to someone else, I make sure I give complete instructions.  

A good time to invest is when you have multiple, yet risky revenue sources. For this situation, I would double down on what’s working and reinvest profits.

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