While it’s true that 3D printing has been around for quite some time, this business model is not mainstream yet. This means right now is the right time to start your 3D printing business.
With less competition, you are bound to have better opportunities to set up your brand in this industry. But, the big question is: how do you actually make money with a 3D printer?
The answer is, there are various ways to do so; though there are particular skills you’ll need to be able to handle a 3D printer. The good news is that with a few online courses and some expert help, you can easily acquire those skills.
Before we look at the different ways to earn money with a 3D printer, let’s first look at some of the pro and cons of 3D printing.
Advantages of 3D Printing
3D printing presents many significant advantages compared to traditional forms of manufacturing. Here are some of the advantages.
Rapid Prototyping is among the biggest advantages of the 3D printing technology. Rapid prototyping refers to the ability to sketch, manufacture, and even test a customized piece in as less time as possible. If need be, you can also modify the design without negatively affecting he rate of the manufacturing process.
In traditional manufacturing, a prototype would take up to weeks to manufacture. And, every time there was a change, there was need for another few weeks. With shipping times included, full product development (from start to end) could easily take a full year. 3D printing is therefore, the best option in terms of speed, for prototyping and small productions runs.
3D printing is the most economical manufacturing process when it comes to small production tasks and applications. Conventional prototyping techniques such as injection molding and CNC machining require a lot of expensive machines. Their labor costs are also much higher as they require expert machine technicians and operators to run them.
With 3D printing, you only need one to two machines and fewer contractors, depending on the particular system.
Another greatest advantage of a 3D printer is that it can design almost anything as long as it adjusts within its build volume.
In conventional manufacturing, each new bit or change in part outline requires a new tool, jig, die, or mold to be manufactured in order to design the new part.
3D printing makes it easy to create and manufacture geometries impossible with traditional methods. Such geometries include parts within parts and arched cavities within solid parts.
Unlike traditional printing methods, 3D printing allows the incorporation of several materials into one object, enabling you to mix and match a host of mechanical properties, textures, and colors.
Conventional manufacturing techniques sometimes result in poor designs, which lead to poor quality prototypes. It’s like baking a cake, where you combine and mix all the ingredients together, then put in the oven. If it happens that the ingredients were not blended well, the cake would have air bubbles or turn out badly. The same thing can happen with subtractive or injection techniques; quality is not assured.
Since 3D printing enables the step-by-step assemblage of the product/ part, you are able to enhance the design and produce better quality parts/ products.
When using 3D printing, you’ll need to outsource very few parts for the manufacturing process. This means less environmental impact since fewer things will be shipped across the world, and there is no operating and maintaining an energy-consuming factory. What’s more, materials utilized in 3D printing are generally recyclable.
Disadvantages of 3D Printing
Just like everything else, 3D printing has its cons as outlined below.
Unfortunately, 3D printing lacks the versatility to use most of the available materials. Generally, 3D printing designs parts using a limited collection of plastics of differing mechanical properties. Yes, some 3D printers may work with metal, but, even that is limited in selection since not all metals or plastics can be temperature-controlled enough for printing.
Small Build Volume
Most 3D printers, including the industrial grade ones, have small build chambers, compared to injection mold presses and mills. If you want to manufacture any part larger than the printer’s build chamber, you’ll have to divide it into sections and glue together during post processing. This takes longer and may require some manual labor, which will in turn lead to increased costs.
Not Good for Large Volumes
3D printing is not the ideal production process in instances where a large quantity of parts is needed. Injection Molding may be the most cost-effective production method if you are seeking to manufacture large volumes. The initial expense for the injection molding technique may be much higher compared to that of 3D printing, but the cost per unit is significantly cheaper when doing large productions.
How to Make Money with 3D Printing
There are several ways you can use to make money with 3D printing. Let’s look at some of them.
Sell your 3D Designs
You don’t really need a 3D printer to start making money with 3D printing. You can sell your 3D-printer designs to someone who owns a printer or has access to a printer.
For starters, you can secure a 3D printer shop at Shapeways and put your designs and models up for sale. Since its print-on-demand, you won’t be making anything until it is ordered. This website has all the tools needed to run an online store. It also offers a tool known as CustomMaker, which you can use to customize your designs and offer your clients more personal items.
Sell your 3D Prints
Do you already have 3D-printed items? Well, you can go ahead and sell them yourself, whether it’s on Facebook or on a dedicated shop like Etsy or eBay. Shopify also works perfect for small businesses.
You can also advertise your 3D prints widely and let your customers know that you can work on their orders as they come. Then, when someone makes their order, you can make the 3D print at home and have it delivered or have your designs printed at Shapeways or any other 3D printing service.
Make 3D Prototypes
While big firms and businesses are already using 3D printing method to build prototypes, small businesses are still backward and could be an excellent target for making your 3D business thrive.
This is an excellent idea if you are perfect at 3D printing and designing since you won’t have to stress about the printing yourself. Simply design for them the products and let them work on the printing.
Train Others on 3D Printing
While you might not find lots of people who are fascinated about 3D printing, you can always provoke interest by spreading awareness. Advertising on job offer platforms and social media sites is a good way to start.
You can teach students at a fee and offer to help them launch and use their 3D printers.
Another way to make money teaching 3D printing is to make a course and tutorial and sell them on trending learning platforms like Udemy. This can make you really cool money as you can get up to 3000 enrollments per single course. Multiply that by the price of one pop, and the result will be a nice pay. You could also make the 3d printing handbook and sell.
Print for Other People
Platforms such as MakeXYZ and 3D Hubs are growing at a very high rate and offer an almost instant way to jumpstart your 3D printing business. You simply list your printer on the platform, and potential clients, normally local, will be able to find you and ask for 3D printed products to be done for them.
Busy engineers at large corporations, business owners, and even consumers are usually in need of 3D printing services, and you can be the one person who will provide that service, whether locally or online.
Set Up an E-Commerce Website
Apart from the various online channels mentioned above, you can also start an e-commerce website to sell your designs and prints. You don’t have to start mass-printing from the word go; you can start with a few pieces and grow as the demand rises.
Though you may face a little competition from other sellers, you can strive to gain an advantage by creating unique designs and quality products. Use social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook to advertise your products.
Blogging is also an awesome way to attract customers. Regularly publish interesting posts to provoke people to comment on your pieces. And, if your work is good, your unique and refreshing content is going to escalate to more people. And, since you’ll have your own website, you can venture into affiliate marketing and sell other people’s products for a commission.
How Much do 3D Modelers Make a Year?
3D products can either be made physically using 3D printing devices or through modeling using a specialized software.
When it comes to how much a 3D modeler makes per year, then we can say that it depends with the location and the current rank of the employee.
However, on average, a 3D modeler makes about $58,051 a year in the United States. Another great influence on the salary is the employer, so it’s advisable for modelers to keep looking for the highest-paying jobs.
You can also decide to be a freelancer and sell your won models, either to local or online customers.
How Long Does it Take to 3D Print
To 3-D print a part, you will take anywhere between 30 minutes- 7 days or even more. There are a number of factors that determine the duration it takes to 3D print. Let’s look at some of them.
Volume: This is the first indicator of how long it will take you to 3D print a piece. As a rule of thumb, the larger the piece, the more time you’ll take to print. Small parts (around 1 cubic inch) can take about 5 minutes to print, while very big parts (100+ cubic inches) may take up to 200 inches.
Part Geometry: Another important factor that determines how long you’ll take to 3D print is the complexity of the part’s geometry. The more complimented the part, the more complicated the layers and the more time the print head will take to replicate them.
Footprint (XY): The footprint of the part, or the area it fills on the build surface, determines the time it will take to 3D print. A large footprint means the print head will have to travel farther from its home location to complete each layer.
Height (Z): This is no-doubt the most important dimension when it comes to determining how long you’ll take to 3D print. Typically, a part measuring 4x4x8” will take you longer to 3D print compared to one measuring 5x5x5” despite them being the same volume. This is because the top part has more layers and therefore, the print head will have to make more streams to create them.
3D Printing Tools: Even after acquiring the best 3D printer for your 3D printing business, you’ll still need some tools to be completely ready. To get you started on your 3D printing career, we have outlined some of the most essential 3D printing tools that you’ll need to make your job easier.
Masking Tape: This is the most basic and widely used surface top for print beds. A masking tape helps the 3D printed pieces to adhere better. Also, the tape makes removing the finished product easier and protects the print bed from scratches.
The blue painters tape is the most commonly used kind of masking tape. When buying your tape, always ensure you choose one with a width of not less 50 mm (2 inches). With a wider tape, you’ll require fewer strips to shield your print bed, and this is a good thing, especially if you will need to regularly resurface your print bed.
Glue Stick: The adhesion of the build plate is important if you want to create great 3D prints. And, glue sticks are perfect for getting your print to stick. To instantly improve the adhesion of your 3D prints, cover the print bed in soluble glue stick.
Some people prefer to use hair spray instead, but it’s advisable to stick to glue, as you are able to be more precise with your application. Also, the risk of unintentionally spraying the moving parts or gantry is reduced when using glue.
Palette Knives/ Spatula: During those times when your 3D print gets really stuck to your plate, you’ll need a palette knife or spatula to solve the problem. Simply ease either of the two under the print and slowly lift it up.
Digital Caliper: A caliper has many applications when it comes to 3D printing. It can be used to check the exactness of the prints, and also to dimension parts to duplicate in CAD software.
These tools also come in handy when you want to check filament measurements—as 3D filaments aren’t always manufactured to precise measurements. Here, you’ll use the caliper to measure the filament at different angles, average the readings, and if need be adjust the diameter of the filament in your slicing software.
A Set of Tweezers: It’s always great to have your tweezers handy whenever you’re 3D printing. They are necessary for extracting gushing filament from the extruder nozzle shortly before the printer begins to print (meaning there will be no more burning of fingers).
Tweezers can also be used to clean up a 3D print. It’s advisable to buy a set of tweezers with varying sizes and shapes, to ensure you are prepared for every eventuality.
Deburring Tool/ Knife and Cutting Mat: A deburring tool comes in handy when you want to clean up modeled holes, and also remove small bits of plastic from printed parts, particularly brim.
You’ll also require knives to clean up your prints, since they rarely turn out completely perfect. A knife with varying exchangeable blades, like an X-Acto knife, will work really well. And, while at it, don’t forget to grab a cutting mat, too.
Pliers: Whether it’s fixing your 3D printer or removing hard sticking prints, a set of pliers has numerous uses in your 3D printing business. Look for good quality with rubberized anti-slip grips.
You’re likely to require more than one type, but the must-have ones are wire cutting pliers and needle nose pliers. The wire cutting ones are especially useful when it comes to snipping away the support material or trimming the filament.
Sandpaper: A good collection of sandpaper in different grits comes in handy during post processing. Have a selection from crude 220 grit to fine 1000 grit, and invest in popular brands like 3M, as their products are likely to serve you longer compared to cheaper, inferior types.
Screwdrivers / hex key screwdrivers: You probably already own quite a number of screwdrivers and hex keys. But, if you don’t, it’s a good idea to get some, as you’ll need them from time to time to re-tighten the gantry and stepper motors screws of your 3D printer.
You’ll also need hex key wrenches and screwdrivers so it’s a good idea to get some.
Adhesion sheets: Adhesion sheets work with most materials, and enhance adhesion to your build plate. You can use them in place of the glue stick, as they can be removed easily and can also be used multiple times.
One more advantage—they’ve been specially made to survive high temperatures. However, it’s important that you confirm that the sheets are applied correctly, as air bubbles may deter you from having a flat printing surface.
Doing 3D Printing Large Objects
So, you are ready to start your 3D printing business but wondering how you are going to print life-sized pieces in one go. Although this is impossible for almost all 3D printers, there are simple techniques such as cutting up the models, splitting them, or editing them right into a 3D modeling software.
However, if you really want to be perfect at your project, you can opt for a 3D printing service, most of which provide large-format printing and professional operation.
Getting Readily-Split Files
When you are browsing the internet for your preferred scale model, try to get a readily-split model. Many3D designers upload these alternative versions, since they are aware that most 3D printers are not big enough.
A split copy is a set of STLs available to be printed piece by piece instead of all-in-one-go. Most of these copies fit together perfectly when joined, and you can find some that are cut into pieces since it helps with printability. Split files will save you a lot of time since you won’t be splitting the files yourself.
Separating Multipart STLs
Some of the STLs uploaded online are designed as multipart STLs. These kinds of files come in handy during multi-material or multicolor printing, but, they are also useful in printing large objects. You can use a slicing platform or Slic3r which has the capability to separate multipart STL files into individual parts.
Another tool that you can utilize to separate multipart STLs is the Autodesk Meshmixer. Simply utilize the “Separate Shells” command.
Split Files with Plane Cut
In case the design you want to print can’t be accessed in different parts, you can actually break the STL file yourself, using a common feature known as plane cut, which can be found in most common CAD programs. Let’s see how you can do it in some well-known software.
Slic3r: This software has a quick cutting tool, though it only works alongside to the XY plane. By selecting the “Cut” request, you’ll be allowed to haul the cutting plane across the Z-axis.
Autodesk Meshmixer: To use Meshmixer to make a plane cut, import the STL folder and click the “Edit” button. A menu will be displayed showing a number of commands. Select “Plane Cut” and then click and drag the arches next to the arrows to readjust the angle of the cutting plane.
How to Create Keys and Joints
Most popular CAD software enables you to utilize simple shapes to work 3D models. For easier assembly, you could make holes and pegs in your pieces, to make them fit together and align correctly when the time comes.
You can also join your parts by making a strategically-put 2mm hole in the parts, and then installing a short piece of filament to make them aligned before gluing them together. However, if you’re going to make a stronger part, then be prepared to use traditional keys and joints like those used in woodworking.
Modify Using 3D Modeling or CAD Software
If you can access the raw files of the design and not just its STL, you can use a variety of 3D modeling and CAD programs to edit the design.
Some designers always make the original files accessible to the community, though these are common for customizable designs.
You can also check out some free CAD file download sites an abundant variety of original design files. Unfortunately, not all programs can edit all file types. So, try finding an IGS or STEP file of the design you want, since these can be retrieved with most CAD programs.
This guide should help you get started in your 3D printing business. Remember, you can also buy the best high resolution 3D scanner to help you create high-quality digital copies of prints instead of using different design programs to draw them from scratch. This will save you a lot of money, time, and effort, and make the whole process of 3D printing easy, fun, and fast.
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