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 one of the better 3d printing business ideas 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 business opportunities 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. We hope this article has sparked your imagination and allows you to go forward and work on your business plan.
We're currently unable to advise on your specific business idea, but the next step is to thoroughly do your market research and test the waters with action. Wish you the best in your new venture!