Posted by Ed Tyson on
We’ve covered a few methods to build different businesses around 3D printing in this article. In today’s article we’re drilling down on the business model of creating your own custom prints on your existing 3D printer and creating your own scalable brand to sell these prints online.
Note: Please don’t get this article confused with ‘theory ideas’ thought up by a generic blog writer trying to piggy-back on the ‘3d printing boom’ and people’s desire to build extra income ‘the easy way’. I’m a businessperson first, a 3D printer second and a writer, third. This article and others I’ve written are only ever based on experience, facts and real life case studies.
What we’re talking about here is in effect creating your own ecommerce business. Not a consultancy or a service based business (as these are fast being commoditised).
What we’re talking about here is you finding a product niche that ideally you’re enthusiastic about that you can provide products for sale that a specific group of customers want.
There are many benefits, and little downsides to starting a business this way. If you already have a 3D printer – you’re already half way there.
This article is going to cover 13 ways you can set up your own business selling 3d prints, with different product ideas in different niches. Any one of these products can be used right now to create a profitable 3d printing based business, and hopefully they’ll spark your imagination for thinking of other product ideas and niches.
It’s never been easier to start an ecommerce business:
With a plethora of Marketplace channels to sell your 3d prints on and low cost ways to create your own ecommerce website. What’s more, often the most problematic issue in ecommerce is product sourcing – but you already have that sorted, sitting on your work bench.
A 3D printer is the perfect micro-factory for many reasons. You can update your designs and print new revisions of your product near-instantly, keeping your inventory up to date in real time. In fact, you don’t even need to hold a physical inventory.
Let’s say you get your first order at 5:30pm on a Weds night? Set the printer on an overnight batch, pick, prepare and ship by Thursday morning. The customer get’s their order (hopefully) on Friday, and you’ll be getting great feedback by the weekend.
OK, so that’s a little over simplified. Business is never that simple, and let’s face it – 3D printing isn’t always either. But this does illustrate the potential once you’ve smoothed out your processes.
What we’re not talking about here though is printing custom items for people, like you may with sites such as 3D Hubs. The margins are two low, because so many people do it. You can’t really brand a commodity like that. We’re also not going to choose items that sell simply because of the novelty that they’re 3D printed – like useless cheap trinkets.
The “Ohh wow, that’s 3D printed?!” reaction at your friend’s dinner parties wears thin pretty quickly...
No, we’re talking about creating quality products, that frankly the customer couldn’t care if they were 3D printed or not. They just care that they fill a need, or want that they have and the quality of the product and your service is something they can rave about. See the difference?
All the examples I’m going to list through below are taken from existing businesses that are actually doing this, right now. Many of them are currently our customers. People are doing this stuff right now, on standard £500-£4000 FDM printers.
There are many varieties of complexity, from simply ‘print & send’ easy to make prints to high-end prints that need a bit of finishing. It might help to choose something in your range of complexity. Let’s dive in to what could potentially be your next ecommerce business!
Nerf Gun Accessories
This looks a bit obvious (and yes, I briefly covered Nerf mods in another article) but I wanted to kick things off with something that perfectly encapsulates what I’m trying to get across here. There’s a growing following around Nerf guns, they’ve grown from a childs toy in just a few years to a necessary component of office warfare (here at rigid.ink you’ll be lucky if you go a few hours without being hit firmly between the eyes by a stray foam dart).
Just doing a quick search on eBay for “3d printed nerf” lists a host of cool aftermarket mods. From the picture above, you can see that most of them are really very simple prints. That silencer that sells for $34 US? It likely only uses about 50g of filament (at most). That means you could print 20 from a 1KG spool costing around £30. That means those silencers would cost you about £1.50-£2.00 to print each one.
That’s a pretty incredible profit margin! http://3dprintedsolid.com/ have even gone as far to release their own custom fully modded Nerf guns costing up to $300!
Pros: This business would be very easy to set up. I imagine a lot of the designs for mods are already available free on Thingiverse and the prints are very simple. Prints are fast with no to little post print processing.
Cons: Easy to replicate and potentially lots of competitors could set up quickly (but then again, which business doesn’t?). But you could stay ahead by creating your own unique designs as the demand grew.
Customized Shoes (Flip Flops)
This sounds a lot more high-tech than it needs to be. This is one of the better ideas here, that hasn’t actually been done yet – but I think it would have fantastic potential. I don’t like sharing my best ideas normally, but I’ve got my hands full at the moment. Besides, execution is everything, anyway (meaning ideas on their own, are worth zilch).
But we’re not talking complex multiple-material shoes like the big companies are working on. But yes, this is part of the mass-customization revolution. The problem I personally find with flip flops is that they’re most comfortable when they’re fully worn in. But flip flops typically aren’t made all that well, certainly not to last (even the more expensive ones).
The paradox is that if you made them out of a material hard wearing enough to last a long time, they’d never wear in properly. Thus never being optimally comfortable.
So why not create 3d printed flip flops, designed to the exact contours of the wearer’s feet? The high grade of flexible materials to print them (such as our new TPU filament) with would ensure they last a long time and as they were perfectly created for the wearer, they’d feel like they were worn-in from day one.
You might be thinking “I don’t wear flip flops, so who cares?” – well, a lot of people do wear them. And you might be surprised how much people will pay for them. Remember the Crocs fad? They were hideous, and cheaply made, and they sold for a lot of money.
You can also get apps for mobiles now that can accurately scan simple objects – yes, like the bottoms of your feet. You could sell the flip flops for £50-£100 a pair (and yes, people would pay that for the most comfortable shoes they’ve ever owned, and that are stylish and that could last them 10 years+).
Pros: New idea, could easily get PR from uniqueness. Simple to print, wouldn’t take too long to print each one if using a larger nozzle size. High margin
Cons: Need a reliable way of scanning feet (existing apps around?) and need larger print bed to cover all sizes.
Now this could be set up as a service business, or an ecommerce business depending on which way you look at it. As a service business, you could offer bespoke quotes for architects to show projects in a physical 3D form and print out all the props custom.
As an ecommerce business, you could offer a huge range of buildings of various sizes and props for Architects wanting to show a project as custom, but on a much tighter budget. Naturally the building in question would need to be custom printed (perfect up-sell opportunity here) but the surrounding buildings and ‘setting’ can be from more generic stock buildings. The most profitable way here might be to run the ecommerce side and service sides of the business in parallel.
There are many off-shoots you could cover here, like dioramas for model railways, Warhammers etc.
Here’s a picture of one of our customers on Twitter, showing off some work they’ve done. It should give you a better idea of the things that are possible.
Pros: Rapidly expanding area, with high levels of repeat trade from business customers.
Cons: Some level of design skill required, or to know someone who can do it cheaply to make it more viable.
This could be really high-ticket. Extremely realistic props are very sought after by hard-core fans. You’d have to check the legalities of selling items like these though depending on what Game or Film you were basing them on. But private collectors would pay good money for their own Iron Man suit, or a massive gun from a famous game for example.
Pros: High ticket, big sale price items – high virality aspect on social media. People who have their own iron man suit, complete with lights etc. tend to get a bit of attention.
Cons: Large amount of work, but you could make systems to speed up repeat orders (i.e printing small batches of same components, painting them all at once etc.). Potential issues with copyrights.
Jewellery & Ornaments
High precision print using a our clear PLA with a 0.1mm Nozzle size on a Mass Portal 3D Printer
With the extreme high resolution, and the increasing affordability of photopolymer based resin 3d printers, bespoke “one off” jewellery can be crafter from lost wax casting.
Essentially this is where you design a ring, for example, and print it with a UV light curing photopolymer wax. The wax can then be used to create a cast mold, and will burn away when filling with molten metal.
Naturally this takes a little bit of skill to learn the craft properly, but if you’re extremely creative – retailing your own line of exclusive, high end jewelry could be a popular business, especially if you make a name for yourself.
The key to this type of business is finding a nice targeted niche, and then specialize in materials and designs that lend themselves to that target audience.
It’s also possible to get extremely accurate FDM printers now, printing with just 0.1mm nozzle diameters. You could get wax filament to print lost wax designs for the casts.
Pros: Again, potentially high ticket and unusual. Lot of potential to be featured by niche publications and blogs. Very big influencers could be persuaded to promote your designs if they get behind them.
Cons: An element of skill and creativity required. Also potentially higher setup costs due to rare metals, and using a resin printer.
One of our customers, JJ Robots create fantastically innovative Robotic Kits from repurposed 3D printer parts. The Robots range from self balancing RC style, to internet controlled Whiteboards and Airhockey bots.
These are a fantastic educational guide for children to learn from, and there are many sub niches you could target for ‘robots’., but does require skill and creativity to set up.
Pros: This is a high ticket product, and huge potential for innovation on a range of areas. Especially as InternetOfThings gains in adoption – Wifi Controlled Kettle anyone? Set up costs should also be fairly low.
Cons: Of course this does require some technical skill to design, and implement.
Your Own Designer Range of Vases
I said vases, but this could be with any high-end designer in-the-home product. Like coasters, clocks, toothbrush holders. You get the idea.
The key here is that you don’t rely on the fact these items are 3D printed to be the reason people love them. Think high end, luxury, beautiful looking items. Are you starting to see a trend here?
I’ve mentioned ‘MeshCloud’ before, but they do this high-end luxury homeware business to a T – they’re a perfect example of how to do this business model right. They have a large range with a variety of prices for unique designs. Etsy, Amazon and NotOnTheHighStreet.com make perfect platforms to retail these kinds of items.
Pros: Very easy to setup and build a range. Low skill required to produce, although you’ll need some creativity for the designs. Would be a great business to build further product lines onto (like those mentioned above).
Cons: Competitors could easily copy your designs, so it would be important to build close brand loyalty with customers and innovate new designs or ranges often.
Bespoke PC Cases
The ‘Vesper’ by Makirole (Left) and the Star Wars Destroyer by Sander van der Velden (Right)
OK, so this is very high end stuff. But some people will pay serious money for one-off (or very limited run) custom cases. These examples are at the extreme end of quality, but you could easily make more repeatable designs that look almost as good, but a lot easier to create and design.
Pros: They’d get a lot of attention on social media. People love geeking out over insane gaming rigs, and these case designs are the cherry on top.
Cons: Can be very time consuming to make, so ensure you charge accordingly. Choose between more mass appeal, more reasonable cases that you can make faster and more easily, or one-off cases that are truly exceptional.
A company “3D Babies” tried these a few years ago, and they were an epic fail. The Indiegogo campaign didn’t do very well (I’m not selling this much, am I?).
However, there’s a reason for this – they were trying to charge up to $450 for 1 x 3D print of your unborn fetus. As 3D printers have come on leaps and bounds since then though, you could now print better quality baby figurines on a more affordable printer and therefore offer them at a more competitive price point.
Regardless of the controversial or ethical view points, I would be confident that there would be a percentage of expectant parents that would go for this product, at the right price.
And if you’re wondering how you get the 3D file data, you can actually pull the model from a 3D baby scans that are becoming more commonplace. It’s interesting the amount of people who will pay £70+ to see their baby in 3D on screen. Would they think much more about paying an additional £100 or so to have their baby 3D printed in physical form? For many, maybe not.
The way this could be handled like and ecommerce business is to offer the various sized figurines available online, and the customer places the order.
Pros: Easy to access, mostly complete 3D files. Unique product, and service.
Cons: Seen as strange concept, but this could work to your advantage with publicity.
Customized Ear Buds
OwnPhones have created a really slick product here - but it's pricey
Everyone’s ear is different. If you wear stock earphones, it’s likely they’re not as comfortable or sound insulated as they could be.
There are a small handful of companies offering this service already – which proves there’s a market for it. Using a phone 3D scan app, the customer ‘scans’ the inside of their ear, for the app to create a 3D file. You can then custom print the earbuds which fit inside the customer’s’ ear to the perfect size.
The actual earphone part of the product could be bought off-the-shelf, and you package the custom bud as part of the product. This would allow you to retail a high-end sound quality item, with the custom size benefit.
The unit costs would be extremely small as the material used would be next to nothing. So once you’ve paid setup expenses for a high resolution printer, your margins would be good.
You could later build out the range with different colours and styles. As far as print-on-demand ecommerce businesses go, this has a lot going for it.
With the small size of each earphone, it may even be worth getting these outsourced to a 3DHubs or similar for each order. This would keep fixed setup costs to an absolute minimum in the early days. An SLA printer might only charge £20-£30 for something that you could sell for £100 or more.
As a way to get started, here's a fantastic guide to printing your first set of custom earphones.
Pros: High margin and it’s a big niche – so plenty of potential customers, especially if you can create an efficient system to keep price sensible.
Cons: Precision printing and sizing is a must, so make sure you get the correct equipment. Don’t skim on the audio quality of the earphones – or it’ll cheapen your whole product offering.
Retro Raspberry PI Cases
This is a Gameboy styled case by ACMEglow on eBay.com
This is a favourite of mine, because it appeals to a specific group of people that love electronics and programming, and therefore are probably pretty nostalgic about the now retro games consoles they used as kids.
This way of tapping into people’s nostalgia speaks volumes and is a powerful combination. You don’t need to stop at retro themed cases either, you could launch into a realm of new designs. And remember, you only need to print one of each out for photographs – you don’t need to hold inventory of all of these. So why not build the range out?
Pros: Fun to do, range of ideas already available. Most competitors aren’t currently marketing their businesses very well, so you’ve got potential to grow easily. Low setup costs.
Cons: Potentially low sale price compared with other 3d printing business ideas here, but plenty of opportunity to scale relatively easily.
Every now and then, a craze sweeps the world and everyone gets excited about something. Sure these are often a flash in the pan, relatively speaking – and nearly everyone is too slow to react to make a business from them. But things are changing…
With 3D printing, if you have an idea, you can create it something overnight. It allows you the luxury of speed. This is great, because with a good idea and the speed to do it with, you can launch new exciting products and gain fast press publicity off of the back of the trend.
In the past I explained the HODOR door-stop reference (only really makes sense if you’re a Game Of Thrones fan I’m afraid) – and since then we’ve had the Pokémon Go craze. You may or may not be aware of the ins and outs, but essentially it involved everyone in the world, mindlessly chasing invisible Pokémon everywhere.
And to catch them, you needed to have a steady finger. Except a of people don’t seem to have one of those, so Pokémon ‘aimers’ were devised. There were different designs for different phones.
This sort of thing works fantastically well on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter – you can then list for sale on Marketplace websites during and after the main Kickstarter campaign to mop up excess sales and squeeze the craze for each last drop.
Pros: If you can be first, the potential is huge. The HODOR door stop raised over $12,000 US on Kickstarter in about a week.
Cons: Short lived, so you have to be fasts and able to jump on what’s trending. Twitter Trends might be a great thing to keep an eye on.
Own Range of Drones, RC Planes & Accessories
This is really exciting. Why? For two reasons; a) drones are becoming really popular, because they’re getting faster, more powerful and can fly for increasingly longer (and of course, they’re really fun). b) the materials available to those who 3d print are becoming more impressive, so you can now print stronger, lighter and more durable stuff.
For example, we’re soon to launch a hybrid of Carbonfiber and Nylon – making a low density, hard and durable material, ideal for small aircraft that undergo significant stresses and high impact crashes. Sure you can use regular PLA, but it’s very dense, and not as hard. With new materials like this, you can create ever higher performing machines.
Another bonus is that when you're flying a drone or 3d printed RC plane at 70pmh+ into a tree, no matter how strong the parts are, you'll get some breakages. Leading to repeat business.
This is a Spitfire printed by our customer Laurent Muchacho in our PLA - Weighs about 500g
Pros: Rapidly expanding niche, open source designs - low tech 3D printer required. Good margins.
Cons: Some knowledge required to really gain the best understanding of drones and how to improve them.
Hopefully all those product suggestions have given you an idea to start your own product based 3d printing ecommerce business. The barriers to entry are so low, if you have a 3D printer and wanted to start your own business – can you think of a good enough reason not to? Stay tuned as we’ll update this blog regularly with further tips to sell your prints, and build your new business venture.
A word of caution though, think about your idea carefully and research the market to make sure there’s a demand for your product (but then again, if there isn’t – just don’t print it and start with the next idea?) – and it’s wise to stay away from a few key niches.
Personally I would feel it too risky to go into niches related to very young Kids toys (in case your designs have a weak point and the kid chokes!) or food prep gadgets. And just because the filament you use could be FDA approved, doesn’t mean your actual manufacturing process is, so you could be liable.
If this article was useful to you in any way, please comment below.
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Posted by Ed Tyson on
Looking for a 3D printer? Not sure which one to pick?
Then you’ve come to the right place. This guide explains everything you need to know about the best 3D printers for small businesses. We’ve compiled this extensive 3D printer comparison to help you learn exactly which printer you should choose for your business.
How to choose a 3D printer for your business
First and foremost, ask yourself: why do I need a 3D printer and what do I want to print?
Every 3D printer has its own perks and disadvantages. You need to figure out what material, software, size, and resolution you need and prefer to understand which printer fits your needs.
Your specific budget depends on your needs. If you’re just starting out, and you’re learning the ropes, a cheaper 3D printer might be the right choice for now. Once you’re on a more advanced level and your prints start paying for themselves, you should upgrade your printer and get one that’s faster and more reliable. Extra features like resolution are only important for some projects, so what you plan to print determines if they are priorities for you or not.
Here’s what most small businesses value:
- Reliability. Time is important to you, and it’s essential that you choose a 3D printer for your business that is reliable. You don’t want to get stuck fine adjusting things every time you print.
- Ease of use. You don’t need lots of settings. Quite the opposite; the simpler, the better. A 3D printer that is easy to use saves you time and effort.
- Speed. When you print on a deadline, you’ll want a fast printer.
- Quality. A quality printer can help you overcome plenty of hassle and stress. When buying your 3D printer, make sure you have a big enough budget to buy one that meets your expectations.
Top 21 3D printers for small businesses
DeltaWASP is something of a luxury 3D printer. Thanks to its design and Delta style robot system, this 3D printer is fast, reliable and the result is a beautiful print with smooth curves. The printer can be used for several materials; even experimental materials, such as porcelain and clay. The only negative side is that DeltaWASP is a bit loud, so you might want to keep it in a separate room.
Price: $3999/c. £3092
Pros: Reliability, speed, quality
Materials: PLA, ABS, exotics
LulzBot TAZ 6 is a flexible and advanced printer with a large build area. It’s perfect for experimenting with different materials. The printer prints ABS, HIPS, PVA, and PLA, as well as other materials such as copper, wood, bronze, and polyester. Plus, you can print two types of materials at the same time. Unfortunately, this printer isn’t the easiest to handle, and it’s more suitable for more advanced users. So, if you have technical knowledge, you’ll be able to use it properly.
Price: $2500/c. £1934
Cons: Ease of use
Materials: PLA, ABS, exotics
LulzBot Mini is easy to use and an excellent choice for beginners. Features include a self-cleaning nozzle, open source software and hardware and a big online community ready to help in case you experience any issues with your printer. LulzBot Mini is relatively cheap, and maintenance costs are low. The downside is that it’s noisy.
Price: $1250/c. £967
Pros: Ease of use, reliability
Materials: PLA, ABS, exotics
Ultimaker 2+ is a popular choice because of its price and quality ratio. The printer is fast and reliable with high resolution, a large build area and a swappable nozzle, which makes prints detailed. The feeder is easy to operate, so it’s easy to swap filament. There’s an active community that can help you with most questions. However, the printer lacks dual extruder support and better software.
Pros: Ease of use, speed, quality
Cons: Lack of dual extruder, software
Materials: PLA, ABS, exotics
FlashForge Finder is a low-priced 3D printer that delivers quality prints. The build area isn’t very big, which can be a downside depending on your printing needs. Plus, it isn’t the easiest to set up, which is good to keep in mind if you’re completely new to 3D printing.
Price: $499/c. £386
Pros: Quality, price, reliability
Cons: Ease of use
Rostock MAX is a sleek and reliable printer with fast printing speed, positioning accuracy and one of the largest build volumes. The printer, which started as an Indiegogo project, can easily be upgraded and expanded. Customer support and an active community are there to help you if you experience issues. Rostock MAX is bigger than most other printers, which is good to take into consideration if you don’t have a lot of space. Plus, the noise level is on the higher end.
Price: $999/c. £773
Pros: Speed, reliability, quality, price
Cons: Ease of use, noise
Materials: PLA, ABS
Up! Mini is a huge bang for the buck. It’s a reliable printer that delivers quality prints. Just keep in mind that if you’re looking for customization, this is not the printer for you as Up! Mini is closed source. At the same time, it can be an excellent choice for beginners and users who don’t require any customization. The downside is that the printer has a small build volume.
Price: $599/c. £463
Pros: Ease of use, reliability, price, quality
Cons: Small build volume, flexibility
Materials: PLA, ABS
FlashForge Creator Pro is a relatively inexpensive 3D printer that delivers quality prints. The printer is reliable and consistently delivers prints with good precision. However, it’s software isn’t the easiest to use, which means that FlashForge Creator Pro might be overwhelming for beginners.
Dual extruders also means more potential for complicated of colourful prints - but could cause twice the amount of trouble if they're unnecessary for your prints.
Price: $899/c. £695
Pros: Reliability, quality, price
Cons: Noise, ease of use
Materials: ABS, PLA, exotics
Zortrax M200 started as a Kickstarter project in 2013. The printer is a great choice for anyone looking for a printer that requires little setup, delivers quality prints, is extremely reliable and overall, offers a lot of value. Zortrax is optimal for you if you primarily use ABS. Unfortunately, the printer isn’t open source and lacks of temperature control. This means that normally it doesn’t enable lots of experimenting and shouldn’t be used with low-cost materials.
You can however get aftermarket mods to manually control the temperature of the extruder - making it an idea printer to reliably print various materials, such as PLA and PLA Plus and flexible materials.
We use one the M200 to test our new materials on.
Price: $1990/c. £1540
Pros: Quality, ease of use, reliability
Materials: ABS, HIPS, ULTRAT
Deezmaker Bukito is a portable printer that produces quality prints. It’s easy to use, reliable and perfect for businesses that need a flexible printer they can take with them on the go. However, the build volume is rather small, and it’s not the most precise printer.
Price: $849/c. £657
Pros: Quality, ease of use, reliability, size
Cons: Build volume, precision
Materials: PLA, PET
Witbox 2 is a secure choice. This printer is reliable, has a large build volume and delivers quality prints. It’s easy to use, PLA compatible and it can be customized with open source software. Last but not least, the customer service is top notch. Of course, Witbox 2 does have some drawbacks. It can be noisy to use, and its community is on the smaller side. But if these issues aren’t priorities, Witbox 2 offers lots of value.
Price: c. $1975/£1529
Pros: Reliability, quality, flexibility
Cons: Noise, lack of community
Airwolf AW3D HD is a flexible and fast 3D printer with a large build volume. The printer delivers quality prints, and it’s all in all a reliable printer. The community is rather small, and as the printer is somewhat difficult to use, this could be a problem if you end up having problems with your prints.
Price: $3995/c. 3092
Pros: Speed, build volume, flexibility, reliability
Cons: Ease of use
Materials: ABS, PLA, nylon
Thanks to its build volume, Type A Series 1 is an excellent choice if you need to print larger objects. The printer is fast, reliable, relatively easy to use and its prints are qualitative. There aren’t that many drawbacks, which is to be expected at this price point. However, it does lack a bigger community.
Pros: Quality, reliability, ease of use, build volume, speed
Materials: PLA, ABS
BCN3D SIGMA is a 3D printer with a large build volume and high resolution. The prints are qualitative and considering that this is a 3D printer with dual extruders, it’s extremely easy to use. BCN3D SIGMA is not the quietest printer out there, and it’s rather big, which means that you might want to find a separate room for it.
Price: c. $2556/c. £1984
Pros: Quality, ease of use, build volume
Cons: Noise, size
Materials: PLA, ABS, HIPS, PVA
PowerSpec 3D Pro produces qualitative prints. It’s reliable and fast, but it isn’t that user-friendly. There’s not a sizable community, and it’s not known for its excellent customer service, which means that you might have problems figuring out issues if they arise. That’s why this printer works best for intermediary 3D printer users.
Price: $1199/c. £928
Pros: Speed, quality, reliability
Cons: Ease of use, flexibility
Materials: PLA, ABS, PVA
M3D Micro is one of the most successful 3D printers on Kickstarter. The build volume is tiny, so this printer is better suited for businesses looking to print smaller objects. It’s cheap and easy to maintain and overall, the prints are qualitative.
Price: $349/c. £270
Pros: Ease of use, noise, quality
Cons: Build volume, flexibility
Materials: PLA, ABS
CEL Robox is one of the best choices for you if you’re primarily looking for a printer that’s easy to use. The printer was initially a Kickstarter project, and it was eventually developed into a 3D printer that’s known for its excellent customer service. CEL Robox isn’t open source, which doesn’t make much of a difference if you’re not looking to experiment with your 3D printer. However, the printer doesn’t support tall prints, so make sure you take this into consideration.
Price: $1499/c. £1160
Pros: Ease of use
Materials: ABS, PLA, exotics
MakerGear M2, a third-generation printer, is known for being a durable and high-quality printer. Its prints are top notch, and the printing speed is fast. One of the main downsides is that it’s not the easiest printer to use, and you should have some 3D printing experience in order to use it properly. Also, the printer can be noisy at times. MakerGear M2 is open source, so you can use whatever software you prefer.
Price: $1825/c. £1412
Pros: Reliability, quality, speed, flexibility
Cons: Ease of use, noise
Materials: PLA, ABS
MakerBot Replicator delivers quality prints, and it’s easy to use. If needed, the printer can be customized. This is a good choice if you’re looking for a reliable and flexible 3D printer. The printer’s main shortcoming is that the prints aren’t very tall (up to 5.9 inches). However, if you’re mainly looking to print smaller objects, this might be a good option for you.
Price: $1999/c. £1547
Pros: Quality, ease of use, reliability
Cons: Noise, print height
XYZprinting da Vinci Jr. 1.0 is a printer that’s easy to use and simple. But, the quality is not the best, the printer has a small build volume, and the software crashes easily. This printer works for small businesses that don’t print that often. For example, if you need smaller prototypes from time to time, da Vinci might be worth checking out.
It's worth noting though that they use the Gillette shaver business model. The price of the printer is cheap, but the running costs (filament) are really expensive. Each cartridge has a chip in, preventing you from using better or cheaper filament from other sources.
Price: $349.95/c. £271
Pros: Ease of use, price
Cons: Quality, software crashes easily, small build volume, locked into their filament
Printrbot is a successful Kickstarter project and one of the first desktop 3D printers. Printrbot Plus is an updated version with a large print volume. It produces quality prints, but this printer is on the slower side and a bit noisy.
Price: $1199/c. £928
Pros: Quality, build volume
Cons: Speed, noise
Materials: PLA, ABS
Hopefully that's cast a little more light on helping you choose what's best for your new small business. As a startup business ourselves that prints a lot (which probably doesn’t come as a surprise, considering that we specialize in filaments), we hope we’ve helped you pick the perfect printer for you.
Just one more thing you should know before you buy your 3D printer:
While a quality printer is important, there something else you need to produce good prints: filament. Quality filament is a must-have for businesses. Ultimately, it helps you save time and money because you don’t have to spend work hours and material on reprinting failed prints.
Have questions about printers or filament? Get in touch with us- we’re happy to help you find the right printer.
Last but not least, I would love to know:What 3D printer are you using for your business and why do you like it? Alternatively, why doesn’t it work for your business? Leave a comment below and let me know!
Posted by Ed Tyson on
Starting a 3d printing business can be really fun, once you’ve found out your idea, figured out how to make it (duh!) and now you have something you think people will want to buy.
But, how do you get it out there?
This article is the first in a series where we take a look at the real ways to market your new (or existing) business and drive significant attention and sales to your brand.
First, you need to stop thinking of it as a 3d print business.
Why? Because now you’re running an ecommerce business, that just happens to use 3d printers. You’ll likely be marketing to people who aren’t all that interested in the industry – so although boasting the products are 3d printed will add novelty value now, in the not-too-distant future this won’t be as fascinating anymore.
Due to the industry over-hype, it's not enough to just sell products that are 3d printed. They have to be really good, too.
You need to think about where your customers are going to be, and make yourself available there. To kick the series off, I wanted to address the ‘low hanging fruit’ – where do most people do their online shopping? Well Amazon of course!
It just so happens one of my specialties before setting up a 3d filament company was growing businesses over Amazon. (no seriously, I wrote the book).
This isn't to brag - you don't need to buy my book, it's just so that you know I know what I'm talking about when it comes to Amazon.
Now there are other scalable marketplaces available to you, but the biggest is Amazon. I’d recommend starting there, it is astronomically huge – depending on your niche, you will have a torrent of potential customers waiting ready to buy your product. It's easily the best place to sell 3d models, at least initially.
These kind of marketplaces are also really easy to get setup on, you can have products listed and selling in less than an hour on your very own Amazon 3D printing store.
You can then utilize the two other big ones (NotOnTheHighStreet.com and Esty) which we’ll cover in a future post. Once you’re set up and running there, you can then launch your own website. This of course costs a little bit more money (although doesn’t have to cost a lot) so I’d recommend making sure you’re actually getting business before investing money there.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention eBay, it’s because as a seller marketplace this is essentially a jumble sale. It’s hard to form a strategy for growth, although could be worth being on for some of you, but compared with the other marketplaces mentioned above it won’t be anywhere near as fruitful to sell 3d printed objects.
This guide will give you the blueprint necessary to launch your business on Amazon, but as there’s enough content to fill a book about the topic, I can’t cover everything. I’ll condense a lot of the key information in here though for you to get started. You can learn the higher level stuff to maximize sales later down the line.
I’m not going to cover a click by click guide to setting up your account etc. though, there are plenty of walkthroughs online that do that in enough detail already.
If you don’t already have an idea of what your business is going to sell, head to this article for some ideas. Failing that, read this one. Remember to really do your research. Ask yourself who else is selling similar things to you, are they direct competition – what prices are they charging and what seems to be the sentiment of the customer’s buying them?
Research the demand for your product first, and it’ll save you time later bringing your products to market and realizing there isn’t the demand for it you expected. At least with the beauty of 3D printing is even if this is the case, it’s not like you’ve spent thousands buying stock from China, you can just print something else that will sell. It’s virtually risk-free.
Personally, I think we’re on the verge of a revolution of micro manufacture ecommerce.
Why? Because you have the potential to literally create hundreds or even eventually, 1000's of really niche products (sky's the limit!) for people looking to buy 3d printed objects. You can retail products that before 3D printing could never have been brought to market. An adjustable mount for a GoPro HERO camera on a Nerf gun? Sounds pretty limited, perhaps not worth investing many thousands in an injection mold setup.
But with a 3D printer, they only cost you the price of the filament and a little time. If they only weigh 10g (likely less depending on infill), you can print 100 with a 1KG spool of filament meaning they only cost you £0.30 each.
You might only sell 10 or 20 of these a week, but bring 50 super-niche products to market, each selling 10-20 a week and you're shifting 500+ 3d printed products a week. Make five pounds profit on each - now you're making £2500 a week - with virtually no fixed overheads apart from your printer's maintenance.
Unlimited possibilities, with virtually no setup costs or other barriers to entry? That's why I think we're on the verge of a micro-manufacture revolution. I expect you'll want to get in on the ground floor then...
Before we continue it should go without saying that the quality of the products you’re going to promote should be excellent. You can’t build a great business on a poor, or average quality product. Make sure you're really selling the best 3d printed objects.
It’s really important you’ve taken the time to produce something that’s brilliant, that customer’s will be thrilled to use. It really makes the steps further down the line growing your business much easier.
Notice only the 4 star reviews in the Nerf mount above? Read them and you'll see people love the idea, but that it's just too tight to easily fit onto the Nerf gun. This is easily remedied, the creator just needs to make it a fraction larger in the splicer and now they have a 5 star product. Remember to listen to what your customer's (or competitors customer's) are saying.
So to summarize this section:
- Research your market, what’s the competition like, and where are your customers likely to be shopping around?
- Go super niche. Play to the strengths of 3D printing. Don't start competing with main-stream products that can be made better and cheaper with existing manufacturing methods. Think "mass customization".
- Choose where to spend your time efficiently, which 3d printing marketplaces to launch on first, or a website? Hint; 9 times out of 10 I'd strongly recommend starting with Amazon.
- Make sure the product you’re selling is the best quality you can make it. Try to source some nice packaging and make sure it’s in-line with your customer’s needs and wants. Read reviews or competitors product reviews, research and learn what the customer does and doesn't like about their products and improve yours accordingly.
Now let’s look how to get selling:
If you’ve not already created your Amazon account, head to Amazon.co.uk, or Amazon.com and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click the “Start selling on Amazon” link and follow the instructions to set up your account. I’d choose the cheaper account to start with, while sales are slow to start off with – you can always upgrade later.
Choose a ‘brand’ name for your business if you’re not already trading. Ideally something concise, that hints at what you do. Something people can remember, not something generic like “3dprintedvases.com” – and while you’re at it, try find something that fits into a good URL. Ahem, like ours: www.rigid.ink.
There are lots of new alternative domains available beyond the regular “.com” or “.co.uk” now.
To list products on Amazon, you need a UPC or EAN barcode number. This is because Amazon likes to keep each listing unique, so one listing for each product. Unless you’re looking at multi-listings where you might have several products in one listing (like various sizes of a t-shirt in the main parent listing). You can buy these numbers from lots of places, personally I use: www.nationwidebarcode.com – remember you’ll need 1 number for each colour/size variant of each product you want to sell.
For people to buy your stuff, they have to be confident what they’re expecting is exactly what’s going to be delivered. Later that will be proven in the most part by the customer reviews that you’ll gain over time, but to start off with customer’s will have to take your word for it.
Luckily a picture tells 1000 words, so to back up your description you’re basically going to need really nice, professional looking high quality images.
I recommend splashing out and paying a professional with a photo studio to take the product photography. It’s really worth the extra money to set the bar of your images high. Customers naturally make the assumption that excellent quality images will also make for an excellent quality product.
You can usually skimp on a lot of other areas, but product photography when you want to sell 3d printed items just isn’t worth it.
Now you could get a cheap light tent and photography lights off eBay for around $100 and take the photos off of your camera phone if it’s good enough quality. If you absolutely don’t have much money to get started, then this will have to do. As soon as you make enough sales to afford a professional (you can do a 2 hour shoot for around $250-$350) you should.
When we’re spending a day at the shoot, it’s a manic, blisteringly fast long day of product shooting. We really get our money’s worth out of the time we the photographer.
Unless the product you’re shooting is white or very light coloured, I’d recommend you just go for white background shots. And try get enough angles, with close-ups on higher detail areas. Amazon loves really big, high quality images that customers can zoom in on.
Top tip: Don’t have any props in your photos for your Amazon thumbnail image either, Amazon don’t allow that. Just keep it clean, the focus on the quality.
Here's a seller who are doing a lot right, although they've left plenty of room to improve. Foremost is the images, unfortunately they look a bit amateur. This seller could have invested on some much better images (with a grey background to show the lighter colours better).
I'd also have recommended including some example shots of the barrels and crates painted to give an idea of how good they'd look.
This in essence is how to sell 3d prints:
While you’re waiting for your images to be edited to visual perfection, or close enough – you’ll want to write a compelling title for your product listing. Try not to go for too long of a title, it’s bad practice to cram all the keywords you can into a title and make it barely readable for a human.
Amazon allows you place keywords separately, so you don’t need to cram them in the title. Still however have your top 1 or 2 most searched for keywords in your title.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, keywords are the words or phrases a potential customer uses to search for your product. We sell filament on Amazon, so as an example a keyword for us would naturally be “3d printer filament” and variations of this.
Next, you’ll need a write a great description and bullet points. For this, you really need to ask yourself who is likely to be buying your stuff. You need to properly understand your customer before you can speak to them directly, in their language.
What do they want, or need? What are their expectations? For this you need a build up an idea of who they are. Do they want to buy 3d printed objects, is this a fun novelty factor or do they not care how they're made?
Are they fashion conscious, or tech nerds, are they mostly women, men – what’s the approximate age group? For example in my last article, making sure your 3d printing business is creating a brand, not a commodity – I used the example of a company that print’s retro gaming styled cases for raspberry pi.
Do you think their target audience is 16yr old girl guides? Unlikely, far more probable is the 30-45 year old male age group who love tinkering with electronics projects yet reminisce of the now retro games consoles they used as teenagers.
If your product is simple, you can keep your description brief, as long as you answer the main customer’s questions while they read it. The bullet points are a great opportunity to explain the main benefits of your product for those that like to skim over before investing more time reading in detail.
Depending on what you’re selling, Amazon asks you to fill out other information such as weight, and warranty terms etc. Once you’ve chosen which category your 3d printed stuff will be displayed in, it’s time to save and enable your product on Amazon and start selling!
- Choose a great unique brand name for your business, ideally register a domain name for later when you have a website.
- Buy some barcodes for each product you want to sell on Amazon
- Get some incredibly good photos shot. This is the one area you really don't want to skimp on.
- Research your target market and make the title and description speak clearly and directly to them.
- Fill out the rest of your Amazon listing and sell your 3d models.
Now sit, back & relax. The sales will come rolling in.
Sorry, unless you’re selling a completely revolutionary product that changes everyone’s lives, that just happens to be picked up by every major news outlet – you’re going to need to do some work to generate sales. Without stimulating your product you might get a sale or two a week to start with. For me, this is much too slow.
This is where the fun starts.
While Amazon is arguably the best place to sell your 3d prints, you still need to promote your product first, because you’ll likely not have any reviews on it. You’ll need to work hard to generate those first 20-50 sales. Once you’re getting those initial sales though, the (hopefully brilliant) reviews will come rolling in.
Then when you’ve got some traction with some sales and some reviews, it’s then easier to generate more (of both) which helps build your ranking in Amazon.
You need to start doing two things now your 3d prints are available for sale. First, you need to prepare yourself for those first orders, because they might come in sooner than you first expect and catch you off guard. The last thing you want is to not be prepared and your first orders are dispatched late because you’ve either not made them yet or you’ve not thought about how you’ll package them sufficiently and then your first feedback and reviews are negative.
Make sure you’ve produced enough of your products in advance to buy you some time, and have sufficient packaging materials on hand to ensure you can get them to your customers in perfect condition quickly.
Send your orders quickly and offer great customer service. Sounds obvious, right? But a lot don’t prioritize this. You’ve got to make sure you do everything in your power to truly delight your customers, surprise them and they’ll come back and recommend others.
Disappoint them (and they can be unforgiving) and they’ll rightly suffocate your business with bad feedback.
Now you’re prepared for those initial orders – let’s look at what you can do to increase them. You’ve got to be careful when promoting your business. There are so many efforts that can just be a complete waste of time, you have to focus down on a couple of areas that will work for your business and produce results in a respectable time frame.
Unfortunately there are no quick fixes. You’re going to need put the effort into getting your brand known and out there.
One of the most effective ways to quickly gain traction with a new ecommerce business is to find people that are likely to be interested in what you’re selling and that have a following. These can be any influential people on Youtube, Twitter or any other social media channel where people have a following.
Are you 3d printing customized egg timers? Then find people who run food blogs or similar niche cooking interest social media accounts. Anyone with a following where people are are actually engaging with them.
A good word or review from one of these influencers can bring much needed attention and even sales to your brand.
Gary V (social media marketing legend) is convinced that leveraging micro-influencers is the future of product marketing.
Treat contacting each influencer like applying for a job. This is not a numbers game – don’t spam these people with a generic email. You want to spend some time looking at each one, learning what they like and what they don’t. Do they have pain points you can sympathize and connect with? Perhaps your product addresses these pain points?
This is your angle. Once you know a little about them, send them a very short email or message introducing yourself.
Don’t ask too early – build a little bit of rapport first. Even though you’re sending them something for free, you’re still asking them to do something for you. So be courteous and offer value first.
These people get needy requests all the time. Show them you’re different.
Do this enough and within a few weeks you’ll be building traffic up to your listings, you’ll be gaining some initial reviews and that will get the ball rolling. Don’t forget to wow each customer, so when you ask them nicely for a review (once you know they’re happy) they’ll oblige.
It’s better to do one or two things really well, than 20 things and not scratch the surface. So although it’s tempting to do everything everyone tells you with marketing your business, I would strongly suggest working on one or two main strategy’s to start with. Once you’ve nailed the technique and you’re getting results, you can build on this to new forms. We’ll cover this in more depth in future articles.
Once you start seeing success with your first product, repeat the process with new products. Ideally you want to create a theme for your business. All your products are linked, at least in part by a specific theme or super-niche. That way customers that are interested in one of your products are likely interested in others you do too.
Competitors are never far behind - I see it all the time where someone gets great success with their business initially, then 12 months later they're complaining they're getting overtaken. You've got to innovate to stay ahead. Relying on one product line just won't cut it for the long term.
So to summarize:
- Prepare for your first sales, and give the best customer service you possibly can.
- Research influencers in your industry and provide value first. Then ask them nicely to review your products.
- Ask customers for reviews if they're pleased with your product. If they're not, make sure you listen and improve it.
- Repeat the process with a new product line. The more super-niche products you can create, the more likely you are to release a line that really resonates with customers. Refine your products using your customer's feedback and over deliver.
In a future article I’ll be revealing why if you’re not using Shopify to run your ecommerce site, then you’re really missing out.
As always, if you have any feedback or questions for this article please comment below. I need to hear if this information is useful to you – and your questions will help me to improve and know what guides to write next.
Posted by Ed Tyson on
Not long after I wrote the article “23 3D Printing Business Ideas you can use today” I received emails from some of our customers, which I always love reading. They explained that they were having difficulty starting and growing their 3D printing businesses, it was challenging and that they hadn’t had much success. Well, they were right – it is.
Starting, and perhaps more importantly growing a business in any niche is challenging. I think with 3D printing though, there are too many of us that didn’t identify a need, a place for the business and simply got into their 3D business simply because they liked to 3D print stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, the No.1 concern when choosing your business idea should be that it’s in line with what you enjoy doing. I back this 100% - if you’re in a business you don’t enjoy, it will slowly eat away at you and eventually destroy you.
What I do see, is so many ‘me too’ businesses. Before I continue and before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite, let’s address the elephant in the room – yes I’m the founder of a filament company. There are A LOT of them around, and they all say “we do mediocre filament too! Buy ours!”. Now you know us; we’re not like the other filament companies, we care – we make the best of the best and we don’t rip you off for it. But there’s a ton of noise in the market, and we needed to break through that.
Looking for 3D Printing services in London? You're spoilt for choice...
Be a different 3D Printing business:
But just what exactly what is a 3D printing ‘me too’ business, and why are they so hard to grow? 3D Hubs is a perfect example. Imagine you’ve got a 3D printer, you love it and you love printing stuff. One day, you learn you can market your printing services on a site like 3D Hubs, and print stuff for people and businesses. This is great, it means that the printer that cost you a packet, can now make some money. But is it really a business?
The problem is, that a lot of other people do this – so it’s really hard to build and scale this type of business. You are essentially providing a commodity. A customer can get a prototype computer mouse design mocked up by any one of 20-30 hubs in their local area, all for pretty similar price. With printer qualities now getting very similar between models, practically the only differentiator you offer could be the quality of filament you use (meaning finished part strength and usability) and turnaround time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discrediting your business if you operate on 3D Hubs or similar – it is a business and you do provide a much needed service. What I am saying, is that you will find it hard to grow and scale. If you want to run a 3D printing business that you can really grow, you need to look at things a little differently.
If we take the printing side out of the equation and just look at a regular commerce business for a moment; which has more potential. A) setting up a business selling other people’s brands, or B) setting up your own business selling your own brand? Sure the second one is harder, but you’ll have a lot less direct competition because you can differentiate yourself. Buy a specific TV from Amazon and you might see 15 different sellers for that product, offering it all at pretty much the same price. You know the service will be good from their ratings, so you may as well just pick the cheapest seller for that specific model of TV.
These sellers are offering a branded product, with a commodity service. And this is a very hard market to compete in. None of the sellers are really doing anything different.
In addition, when you want to go back and buy a second TV, or a sound system – you might look for the same brand of tech, because you were impressed with the quality of the TV, but will you remember the seller? Will you actually care who ships it to you, just as long as the price is great and you’re not left waiting, and returns are easy enough if things go wrong? I know I don’t. The seller doesn’t even benefit from the economies of scale of repeat business, all their work was for nothing if the customer they worked hard to earn just opts for another seller on their other purchases.
This is all great for the customer, it enables them to get a great product at the lowest price. But it doesn’t work so well for the sellers, they’re all competing shouting ‘me too!’ in a sea of marketing noise. And that is what trying to grow a 3d printing related business is like on a service site like hubs. A lot of peddling upstream, and your hard work is unlikely to lead to scalability in the long run. You’re not building a go-to or recognised brand.
So what should you do?
Let’s get back to basics. What are 3d printers best at? What advantages do 3d printers have that make them so ground breaking? The great thing with these machines is that you can create almost anything, in a relatively short space of time (I’m talking a day to print as opposed to months and investing thousands sculpting an injection moulding a prototype).
It sounds cheesy, but the possibilities are quite literally endless. I’ll let that sink in. You have a factory sat on your desk that can create your own product, while you sleep and then you can sell them to people all over the world (also, while you sleep).
The advantage here is that you can create something that is your design. Something that’s exclusive to you. And if you’re not a dab hand at 3D design for the digital model, you can always hire a designer by the hour to whip up your napkin sketches into water-tight, print-ready STL files for you. You can create an entire range of products that are exclusive to you. You can create your own brand.
To shed more light on this, we’ll take a look a little more closely at two avenues you can take to start your own, essentially customized ecommerce business. Something that’s scalable, where you can really ad value.
The first is to retail your own ‘designer’ range of objects. This could be some unique lampshades, innovative items that serve a niche or plant pots for example. The key is to make a range of items that are excellent, regardless of whether or not they’re 3D printed. The “oooh, it’s 3d printed” isn’t a novelty that’s going to last that long. So it’s important the stuff is made and looks nice, and if it’s unique enough you can charge a premium for it.
Examples of successful 3D Printing Ecommerce businesses:
A brilliant example is a company on Etsy, called MeshCloud. Look how their shop is represented, it looks very professional. They 3d print premium, unique planters that really catch your eye. You can see from the prices that due to their unique product line, they’re able to charge a premium. And because of their individual styling, people buy from them repeatedly once they see the quality and how the planters bring a different sense of style to their home.
They only appear to be on esty though, so their reach is limited. You could really scale this up by expanding sideways and listing them on NotOnTheHighStreet.com, Amazon Handmade (even Amazon’s main marketplace) and other niche marketplaces. Eventually once you’ve proved you have sufficient demand for the plant pots, you could invest just $100 and open up your own Shopify store with your own domain name.
It’s a great idea, but hugely underutilised. It’s frustrating because it looks like they’ve done all the hard work, but aren’t looking to expand. Or I could be wrong; they could just get all the business they need from Etsy alone.
Rule No.1: create something people want. Rule No.2: sell it where your customers are actually looking to buy it.
A fantastic benefit to a 3D printing ecommerce business is that you can start small, and work your way up. Don’t have thousands to invest in inventory? Just make one item first to photograph, and then just print more as you sell them. “Just-in-time manufacturing” is now commonplace in big manufacturing plants – so it’s definitely a winning plan.
Another shop I love on Etsy is Fynsya, they make retro styled cases for the open-source micro-computer Raspberry PI. This ‘hackers dream toy’ has a huge following, and Pierluigi Cerutti has created a range of nostalgic cases loosely based on the first generation Atari, NES, Commodore and PS1 games consoles. Don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia; people grew up skipping schoolwork playing these machines. They retail for £13-£15 each (about $20 US) and only use a small amount of filament to make.
Again Pierluigi could expand this business on other marketplaces, including his own site. Furthermore though, he’d benefit from making it look a little bit more professional. A better looking store front, with high-res professional images would do wonders. He could also expand the range to cater for other micro-computers, such as the Arduino and the new Microbit. I’m sure there’s a ton of bloggers and YouTube stars out there that would love to review these innovative cases and bring more attention to his business.
It’s important to remember when setting up your own business, that thanks to the internet you almost cannot go too niche. Sometimes, the more specific and specialised, the better. Also, with your 3D printer and a little time – there are almost no setup costs. The sales will pay for the materials (and hopefully eventually additional 3d printers!) to expand as you grow.
The $12,000 door stop:
The second kind of ecommerce business is quite exciting, and great for fast thinkers and creatives. Before 3D printers, this type of business would be very hard to do – but now you can go from no idea, to product often within 24 hours, speed really is your super power.
I’m talking about reacting to latest news, events or trends happening in the world as they happen. This is potentially a very explosive combination. If something’s trending and you have an idea to bring it to market in a very short space of time, you can ride that wave and it can be carried on social media. Emotion + timing + social media = powerful business.
A perfectly executed example was spawned from a recent Game of Thrones episode *Spoiler alert* where a character called Hodor died holding a door closed protecting his friends from a torrent of Whitewalkers (zombies). It was a pretty dramatic and emotional scene. But an enterprising man called Todd Blatt immediately created a very simple door stop with ‘Hodor’ written on it. Within a day of the episode going live, he’d thrown together a ‘how it’s made’ video and posted the project on Kickstarter.
The Kickstarter was clearly done in a hurry, the video was quickly filmed and pictures were taken – and it went live. It’s not the most polished Kickstarter, but that’s not the point – he got it done quickly. While talk of the recent episode tore through social media, Todd’s innovation rode the wave and exploded over social media as people shared it in their thousands and news sites covered the innovative design.
Now for those of you with a keen eye, you’ll notice the door stop is actually made from wood – but if it had been 3d printed I expect it would have had an equally good reaction. This design on Thingiverse appeared shortly after. It looks as though the campaign surpassed Todd’s expectations as he’s had to list more rewards as each batch sold out within days. Selling them for $19 apiece, he’s managed to raise $12,000 over the course of just 7 days. Potentially this could have raised even more had it been subject to an aggressive media launch plan.
This is a perfect example of the sort of business that can be built with a 3D printer and some creativity. For those of you thinking this wouldn’t be a long lasting enterprise – that’s right, it may not be on its own. But once you’d trained yourself to look out for opportunities like this, you could react to other events quickly too, creating other rapid-growth businesses. Alternatively Todd now has a customer base of GoT fans he can create more clever gadgets for, opening the window for repeat business.
Admittedly this second approach would be harder to get right in a short time frame, let alone do it repeatedly, but if you’re tuned in to the potential you could be more likely to pounce on an opportunity that arises.
The first approach; creating a scalable niche ecommerce business and launching on various marketplaces is going to be your easiest to start, and have the most potential. So stop doing what you’ve known about already, and put yourself out there. Look for an idea, ideally something you’re interested in, and market it well. It won’t cost you much, as the barriers to entry are so low – and within a few months you could have a very scalable ecommerce business that not only sounds intriguing at cocktail parties, but could well replace your day job.
I’ll be following up this article with more guides to starting and growing 3D printing businesses over the coming weeks and months, so subscribe to our newsletter to get more great tips to build your business. Next time we’ll cover how to launch and the strategies to grow on the various marketplaces like Etsy, NOTHS.com, Amazon and others. If you 3D print for business, or plan to, this advice will make you money. Please comment below, I read all comments – and who knows, your question could inspire the next blog post.
Posted by Ed Tyson on
Just a couple of years ago, 3D printing felt like something we might have seen on “Back to the Future”.
But so much has happened in the industry in just a few short years. Today, you can build a thriving business with your 3D printer. In fact, lots of people are doing just that. And no wonder: 3D printing could become a $20 billion industry by 2019 (that’s in less than 3 years!).
According to a McKinsey report, 3D printing will transform the way we do business. Think about it… prosthetic legs, space shuttle parts, and food right out of your printer? Yes, please! We're on a dawn of mass customization, and although this article will barely scratch the surface of the limitless opportunities this technology will allow - we hope to fill your head with potentially very profitable 3d printer business ideas.
Want to tap into this opportunity that’s rapidly changing business as we know it? We’ve listed the 23 best 3D printing business ideas that you can use for your own business.
Printing on demand
Do you already own a 3D printer? This is the easiest way to make money from 3d printing. The business model is simple: you offer to print someone else’s 3D file. The only problem with this 3d printing business plan is that it’s already getting quite competitive, and your service is easily seen as a commodity. Fortunately, the business ideas for 3d printing listed here will help you stand.
- Establish yourself in a niche market
Instead of trying to please everyone, you need to find a tribe of loyal customers who see you as their trusted vendor. To find your ideal niche, do some market research by Googling your market, checking sites like Quora and Reddit and reading blog posts.
Start on a marketplace (like 3D Hubs) and then expand beyond it when you have some experience and know which customers you want to attract.
Need inspiration? Check out MyEasy3D, which is a B2B and B2C 3D printing service that produces e-commerce prints.
- Offer your service to B2B customers
Alternatively, you can offer your services directly to B2B customers. Typically, these customers tend to have deeper pockets, a more consistent need for 3D printing services, and they tend to place larger orders.
Start on 3D Hubs or Shapeways and as you grow, transition to your own brand or site. A successful business that uses this business model is Stratasys, a company that’s active in the engineering, manufacturing, production, and prototyping industries.
Again you'll want to establish a niche, I see far too many home based 3d printing businesses try to appeal to everyone doing everything just to make money 3d printing. To really get penetration in the market in a sea of 'me too' businesses and franchises -you've got to target, accurately.
Set up a 3D printing and design service center
Want to take it a step further and set up a shop that takes care of the entire process? With this business plan, your customers come in and talk about what they want you to print. Then, you design the product and print it.
Because the whole process can be quite expensive, you probably scale faster if you target B2B customers or those looking to get started with a new prototype.
Shapeways is one of the biggest marketplaces. It matches buyers with service providers. Here's some great
- Create prototypes for companies
Companies need prototypes, and they can be very expensive. That’s why 3D printed prototypes are such a great alternative; they’re easier to produce, and they’re cheaper. For example, check out Printotype and 3D Print UK. Both of them started small creating prototypes for their customers. They're now setting standards for how to run with their hobbies and start a 3d printing business.
2. Design and print products for e-commerce stores
E-commerce companies need to find reliable factories overseas because it’s too expensive to manufacture products locally. As the factory is far away from where the company is based, there might be a range of problems; long production times, varying factory standards and long and costly delivery times.
Many times, e-commerce companies have to source more stock than they need to avoid running out of products. With your services, you can offer a flexible and affordable solution to these problems. By designing and printing products for e-commerce shops, you tap into a major pain point in the industry.
It's important (and with any of the other business ideas listed here) that you don't just see this as a way to profit from 3d printing. When starting a business like this, you want to make sure you're really passionate about the quality or products and the service levels you want to deliver. Otherwise, it will show.
Think about what types of aspects matter most to the types of companies that would want your services and tailor your business plan to address these concerns. Creating small batch production items for an ecommerce company will require a slightly different service than perhaps just creating initial one-off prototypes for new startups.
- Create promotional goods
You know, promotional goods can be really powerful for a company’s marketing strategy. The only problem is that it’s expensive and difficult to find creative promotional goods if the company wants to go with something else than t-shirts. 3D printing doesn’t have the same restrictions, and that’s why your 3D printing service can solve this problem. Besides targeting the end user (companies), you might want to offer your services to ad agencies. Here are some examples of how this idea can be used.
- Repair and maintenance
As the 3D printing industry grows, there will be a growing demand for reliable repair and maintenance services. Set up your own repair and maintenance shop and repair and maintain 3D printers and prints. Check out GoPrint3D and Fargo3DPrinting if you want some inspiration.
Design 3D printing files
Love design? Then designing 3D files and selling those designs might be the business idea you’re looking for. The setup is simple: create and sell designs that your customers can print with their own 3D printers.
- Create designs for a niche market
Become the go-to person in a niche and sell designs on marketplaces. For example, you could provide designs in the home furnishing niche that companies can buy and use to sell their own prints.
- Create prototypes for companies
Another idea is to create prototype designs and sell them to companies. You’re not printing the designs, which means that you can scale faster.
It’s important to start in a specific niche. For example, say a medical company needs 3D prototypes. If you’re a 3D printing company specializing in medical prototype designs, it’s much more likely that you’ll land them as a client than if you produce generic designs.
- Create designs for museums, architects and interior designers
Typically, museums, architects, and interior designers need a lot of prototypes and other models. For example, History.com uses 3D printed Viking models in its Vikings project and architects need building models.
- Set up your own online store
If you don’t want to sell your designs on marketplaces, you can open a store with a service like Shopify. Sell designs that people can buy right away to use for their own businesses.
Launch an e-commerce shop
3D printing is already disrupting the manufacturing industry. That’s why now is the time to set up an e-commerce shop where you sell products that you design and print. 3D printing makes the whole process flexible and cheap. If you're wanting to know how to make money with a 3d printer, this is one of our favorite 3d printing startup ideas.
Before actually going all in starting a 3d printer business, you could validate your idea by using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. You can sell your products by building a shop on Shopify and on Amazon, NotOnTheHighStreet.com and Etsy.
- Jewelry, home furnishing, decorations and fashion
The design industry is the perfect industry if you want to open an e-commerce shop. There are lots of options here; jewelry, home furnishing, decorations and fashion. If you want to start small, Etsy is the perfect platform, because its customers crave individualized design. NomaniFOLD sells 3D printed jewelry and is a pioneer in this industry.
- Monthly subscription box
Monthly subscription boxes are insanely popular. Some of them are something of a trend, but others are a convenient way for people to get products delivered to them. MakerBox is a subscription box for 3D enthusiasts. But what if you could use this idea to 3D print monthly items that people need and want as a recurring service? For example, deliver toys or pet or baby products on a monthly basis. We've just released our own called The rigid.ink Club - check it out here.
The event industry is massive. There’s everything from weddings, birthdays, graduation parties to company events and conferences. Tap into this market by printing event decorations and other products. For example, Collected Edition is a company that sells wedding accessories and decorations.
- Other products
With the ideas above, we’re just scratching the surface. There are so many 3d printing business opportunities you can explore! For example, some successful e-commerce stores are NightHawks headphones and DrinkMates. Both started out on crowdfunding sites and from there, they’ve grown to important players in the industry.
We'll be covering more on how to build your own ecommerce based business in later articles. Here's a very helpful article on how to make money with a 3d printer selling your prints on Amazon.
[Source: Open Bionics]
3D printing is changing the way we do business. No wonder; one of the main advantages of 3D printing is that it enables us to mass-customize products. Why not start a shop that’s all about customization? The possibilities for making money with 3d printing are endless and this is an area with significant growth potential.
Use Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Etsy, Amazon, Ebay and Shopify to sell items.
- Customized products
There are no limitations here… mobile cases and covers, special parts that enable you to use items in different ways (e.g. toys), jewelry and so forth. For example, check out Lantos Technologies, a company that prints customized in-ear products.
- Customized collectibles and figures
Fans LOVE customized collectibles and figures of their favorite athletes, artists and gamer avatars. Just make sure to check all licenses if you want to use this for your business. On the other hand, there’s a market for customized figures of people themselves, e.g. a figure of someone posing in his or her sports gear or their own gamer avatar.
Selling small items like this could be much easier if you're wanting to setup a home based 3d printing business. Lower storage and shipping costs for your home-factory business.
Prosthetics are expensive and difficult to manufacture. 3D printing is solving several problems in this industry. It makes prosthetics better, more customized and more affordable. Additionally, 3D printing is making it easier to manufacture wheelchairs and other support tools. Some companies that are producing prosthetics and support tools are e-Nable and Open Bionics.
- Customized clothes
Typically, clothes are a mass market product. When you walk down the street, you’ll probably meet someone wearing the same item from the same chain. But thanks to 3D printing, it doesn’t have to be this way. 3D printing makes it easy to customize clothing. For example, a popular item that could be 3D printed and mass-customized are clog like foam shoes. One of the advantages of these shoes is that the foam forms itself to your feet. 3D printing enables you to improve this product.
Want to check out some successful companies in this space? Kinematics dress and Continuum Fashion are some of the companies that are already selling customized clothes and fashion related accessories.
- Customized sports and hobby products
People spend a lot of money on sports and hobbies, and this is the perfect market for customized items. For example, you could sell customized tennis racket covers to teams or customized fishing and golfing gear.
- Customized gifts
The best gifts are personal. The problem is that most customized gifts are expensive because they cost so much to manufacture. That’s why 3D printed customized gifts are the best choice; 3D printed customized gifts are affordable and flexible to print.
- 3D printed photographs
People love storing memories of their loved ones. A great idea for a 3D printing business is to create 3D printed family photographs. Many would love the possibility to store a model of their child, grandparent, pet or even a model of their house.
- Customized baby products
Naturally, most parents want the best for their babies and babies need different tools that fit them. By starting a business that customizes baby products, you tap into this lucrative market. Some of the companies that have noticed this are Spuni, a company that prints spoons, and Technologia Humana 3D, a company that prints 3D models of fetuses.
- Customized B2B products
Not all customized products are in the B2C space. Businesses want to stand out from their competition. You could 3D print customized furniture, signature decoration or other products and sell them to companies.
Over to you
We’ve now looked at 23 different business ideas for 3D printing. As you’ve learned, there are several excellent ways to make money with a 3D printer.
To recap, you can start a business in the B2B or B2B space and you can offer services or products (or both). Other than that, the ideas above are just that- ideas! It might sound cheesy, but if you have a 3D printer and/or the skill to create designs, the only thing standing between you and your business is your imagination.
Before you start, make sure you've done your market research. Check there's a demand for what you want to create, and spend time ensuring your 3d printing business model is a good fit for customer needs and wants.
The beauty of this all is that traditionally for a startup to change what they do would take considerable investment. If you create a business that people don't have a need for, just change it and create something else - because you haven't invested tens of thousands in a 40' shipping container of stock from China, you can just change your designs and you have an entirely new business plan for your 3d printer.
There are limitless opportunities with a business like this.
Do you have your own ideas? I love to hear new, creative ideas, so let me know in the comments below!
Alternatively, you might be already starting a 3d printing business. We would love to do a case study on you, so get in touch with us!