Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Used by businesses and hobbyists alike, 3D printing is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a digital 3D model. The allure of 3D printers is that you can create nearly any item with minimal material used and minimal effort-- therefore reducing costs substantially. Engineers and designers have pushed the limits of this technology in recent years. Now anything from car parts to actual human body parts can be generated. 3D printing can be used to make money in many ways depending on the type of service you'd like to offer. This includes selling 3D objects, selling designs to make 3D objects and simply leasing out your 3D printer. Let's dig in, shall we?
First Off... Owning a 3D Printer
If creating high in demand 3D objects from the comfort of your own home sounds like fun, then investing in a 3D printer can end up being very profitable. However, 3D printers can also be costly. While basic 3D printers can cost around $300, the more elaborate printers can easily cost more than $2000.
These cheaper printers are usually more compact, which limits the size of the objects you can print. Also, the quality of the object may suffer. Therefore, if you are serious about making income with a 3D printer, it would be advisable to invest in a more advanced printer capable of rendering items at higher quality.
Keep in mind, like all technology, prices are always coming down. It was just a few years ago that a 3D printer costing less than $1000 was completely unheard of. Either way, with the ongoing, high demand for quickly printed items, you can achieve high returns on your initial expenses within just a year or two.
Printing 3D Objects to Make Passive Income
There is a ton of demand for objects that can be easily generated using your 3D printer. For example, during the beginning days of the pandemic, hospitals were in dire need of face masks and face shields. One man who owned a 3D printer decided to help out, printing face shields with ease. You can read more about him here.
Why not sell 3D printed objects online? You can sell them through:
1) Full service marketplace platforms like Shapeways.com that will handle printing and shipping for you.
3) You can also create your own online shop where people can buy the products directly from you.
Full service websites like Shapeways provide you with the opportunity to design and print objects on the site, while also developing a niche in the 3D printing community. In regards to what to print, the lighter and more compact the item, the better. Smaller items are simply easier to handle and far less costly to ship to customers. However, there is definitely a market for large bulky items if the customer is willing to pay a premium for it.
Besides high-in-demand practical items like face shields and eyeglass frames, you can also print 3D models. You can generate and sell 3D models of dogs, planes, buildings or even complex busts of famous people. Or why not replacement parts for things like remote control cars and other toys? If your scanner is advanced enough, the possibilities are endless.
There is little expense associated with printing a 3D model, which is ideal when it comes to making passive income. You only need the raw materials and 3D modeling software. If you wanted to start a print-on-demand website or online store then there would be some startup costs.
Sell 3D Designs on Print-On-Demand Websites
There are many ways to sell your 3D designs online, the main ways being using print-on-demand platforms or through your own website or social media. Print-on-demand websites are marketplaces for 3D printable designs. You're basically selling 3D files through these websites, while they take care of the actual printing, packing and shipping. The obvious benefit of using such a third-party service is that it makes your responsibilites a lot more passive. In fact, your only job would be to create a design, then sell it to customers for as long as it is in demand.
Some examples include creating sizable 3D models of furniture and objects that wouldn't fit in your home. Or how about offering local engineering companies assistance with printing prototypes. You can even upload these designs to a print-on-demand website where it can be printed and shipped. A few popular print-on-demand websites include Printify and Ponoko.
Rent Out Your 3D Printer
Anyone with access to a 3d printer can make money using their machine by renting it out to others. Renting out a 3d printer is easy. Set up an account at a site like Maker Share or 3D Hubs. You should also post ads on Facebook, Twitter or Craigslist. When setting these up, make sure you provide adequate contact info for when people contact you about possible rentals. Take a look at other ads offering 3D printer rentals to get an idea of the going rate for your model. Price yours accordingly.
Risks of 3D Printing
Like most of the investments we've mentioned, starting up a 3D printing business does carry some unique risks. Among the well documented risks, they include copyright infringement, supply chain issues and exposure to harmful particles.
1) Copyright Infringement. When you create unique designs that are coveted by customers, it's in your interest to protect it from copyright infringement. There's been plenty of cases where files were created that infringed on patents and design rights. The piracy of digital design files are almost as rampant as movie piracy, but even harder to regulate.
2) Supply Chain Issues. If you are producing parts as part of a supply chain, there are other factors you'll need to consider. If you generate defective or unsafe 3-D-printed components, you may be held liable for the resulting damage.
3) Exposure to Harmful Particles. During the process of 3D printing, printers use a variety of materials including metals and concrete. But they also use materials that could prove hazardous if the printer doesn't contain proper ventilation, including a thread like plastic filament. The two most common thermoplastics used, ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PLA (Polylactic Acid), have been found to release ultrafine particles (UFP) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Inhaling these particles can cause adverse health effects, including an increased risk of asthma, heart disease and stroke.