If you want to earn money on 3D printing, you should know exactly what to do – and what to avoid. First, I will list five 3D printing business ideas that, if managed and developed properly, will prove to be successful.

Designing and 3D scanning – there is no better and more certain job in manufacturing. No matter what kind of industry you will try to find a job or contract, there is always a huge need for a good designer (both CAD engineer and 3D modeler). And if you combine it with the ability to work and operate with 3D scanner – and you are good at it, it will be really hard for you to be unemployed or not finding a customer. Importantly, the designer can work anywhere and with anyone – not only in 3D printing.

3D printing service – very obvious option, if you have a 3D printer, then you 3D print stuff for money. OR… you don’t have a 3D printer, but you provide clients to companies that have! And you become a 3D printing broker!

Sale of 3D printers and materials – another obvious choice for a 3D printing business idea, but more demanding. You need not only to have money for the initial stock, but also have to find the right products for sale, which will be in high demand, but also with a sufficiently high margin. And let’s not forget that the better and more profitable the product, the more difficult it is to convince the manufacturer to accept you for his distribution chain.

Service or upgrade of 3D printers – while the first idea is connected with previous one – when you sale 3D printers you often repair them, the second may not be as obvious. The thing is, that many companies buy cheap 3D printers and try to adapt them to more or less professional work. They often fail, because the machines they have are not suitable for that kind of job and need serious modification. And that’s the place for such a specialist – the one that will take care of the machine park of a company that cannot achieve it alone.

3D printing training – and finally – what about 3D printing training? If you are good at this, know how to set 3D printer up, optimize file and the Gcode, and know how to design things for this process, then you can try to sell your knowledge further. For example – not every vendor of 3D printers offers additional implementation training for his clients – you can be the person who will do it.

Now, what must be avoided…? The list below is for 3D printing business ideas that once used to be very profitable but are no longer today. Or they are extremely difficult to succeed. This of course does not mean that they are impossible – it means that they are very difficult to succeed.

What 3D printing business ideas you should avoid?

Manufacturing of 3D printers or consumables – the one thing you have to accept is that you won’t become a 3D printer manufacturer anymore – unless you’ve come up with a really new and revolutionary method that you’re patenting right now? If not – forget it. The time to produce popular FDM / FFF or resin based 3D printers is gone – the deadline for it was somewhere between 2016 and 2017. Today, cheap ones are made in China, while expensive and technically advanced – everywhere (including China). In the old days, many startups tried their luck at Kickstarter – unfortunately, the vast majority of them never delivered on their promises. There were many huge scandals with companies, who embezzled money and many people still remember them – ONO, Tiko, Buccaneer, PeachyPrinter. Today, to be successful in this area, you need to be a recognized producer – such as Creality, but still – the amount of funding will be far from what Formlabs once achieved.

But the biggest factor are costs of manufacturing. If your production is not based in China – and you want to make cost-friendly 3D printers – you will fail. If you want to make innovative, expensive and high-margin products, you have to be prepare two things – a lot of your own money at the start and something that you can patent.

The same goes for the production of materials – filaments or resins, and various types of accessories for 3D printers – adhesive surfaces for printbed, high temperature printheads, high performance extruders, sensors etc. When it comes to materials – this market is ruled by big players such as BASF, Mitsubishi Chemical, Evonik, Clariant, Bego, Corning and others. Single independent producers who are still very successful, such as the Dutch colorFabb or Chilean Copper3D, are just exceptions that prove the rule. Anyway – this is not a promising business – in a few years’ time large international companies will take the whole market anyway.

When it comes to accessories – it’s all the same as with the 3D printers. You either have a good connection to manufacturers in China, and provide good prices or make so uniqe and difficult to copy product, that barely anyone will try to fake it. In other words – it’s really hard, because you cannot focus solely on the product and its features, but also on how to protect it from being easily copied and sold for half of your price.

The time for such 3D printing business ideas is over…

Sales of 3D models – it is not the same kind of job as being a designer for hire. This type of job is very difficult and reserved only for the best in their craft. There are several on-line platforms where you can sale your designs like for example CG Trader or MyMiniFactory among others, but the competition there is enormous and you have to be really good at it to stand out from the crowd. Sales of designs on such platforms is just another level for designers that provides them with additional passive income, but its not a good option for starters. It’s not a job for rookies.

3D Printing Shows – this is an activity, that was quite popular and profitable in the old days, but since 3D printers are no longer a big novelty and most people have had contact with it as such, it is not something that should be given special attention. In addition, due to the current pandemic restrictions, conducting live events and presentations is very limited and it is not known if it will ever return to what it used to be?

Automatic 3D printing price estimators – a popular software tool, that provides quick and simple price quotations for clients directly from a website where it is installed. If you can code or have fellow programmers that do so, you might think it’s a fantastic business idea? Making such an applications, and selling them to 3D printing service companies. Well, a lot of people thought the same thing before.

The market is full of these types of automatic price estimators. They only apply when company deal with a very large number of regular customers who are already able to price things themselves and send ready order. It is not suitable when you are fighting for a new client. I will tell more about this in later lessons. Anyway, when it comes to making a new software for it, it does not make much sense… There are really many tools of that kind on the market.

Model libraries for 3D printing – so maybe just another library with models for 3D printing? Nah, that’s also failed idea… There are a lot of libraries of this type – both those belonging to companies producing 3D printers (Thingiverse by MakerBot, YouMagine by Ultimaker, Z-Library by Zortrax, Prusa Library by Prusa Research) and run by independent companies (MyMiniFactory, Cults, Fab 365). There is really no need for next one. And those libraries have one common factor to deal with – they need tons of good designs to start with.

Paweł Ślusarczyk
CEO of 3D Printing Center. Has over 15 years' experience in buisiness, gained in IT, advertising and polygraphy. Part of 3D printing industry since 2013.

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