How to Start a 3D Printing Business

By Andreas Rivera
Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: November 9, 2017
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Profit from your expertise in 3D printing and start your career in this growing industry.

3D printing is a technology and industry that's still finding its footing within the fields of tech, design, manufacturing and countless others. Plenty of entrepreneurs who see the potential of 3D printing are already building business ideas around the technology. There's already demand in several industries for employees with knowledge of 3D printing, but if you're one of the forward-thinking individuals who want to build their own business around the tech, there are a few avenues both big and small to pursue. In most cases of starting a 3D printing business, it should go without saying that you should not only be an enthusiast but an expert in the technology.

Many businesses have established themselves as 3D printing service bureaus. Plenty of people are excited by the prospect of printing 3D objects they designed themselves or found blueprints for on the internet. However, 3D printers are expensive and require intricate training to use. It's never as simple as clicking the print button on your computer. 3D printers require calibration and fine-tuning, with certain designs in need of multiple prints for trial-and-error refinement. Low-end printers, while relatively affordable, may not produce the quality you were expecting.

Service bureaus are like print/copy shops for 3D printing. Email or bring along your 3D design on an external drive to their location, and they do the printing for you. If you're interested in running a 3D printing service bureau, you'll need plenty of expertise and capital to get started.

Editor's note: Considering a 3D printer? We can help you choose the one that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

 

 

As a service bureau, you can gear yourself for consumer printing, B2B or both. You also don't necessarily need a physical storefront and can be an online-only service that remotely receives designs and ships the finished product to the client.

Imagine That 3D is a 3D printing business in Salt Lake City, Utah, that is both a service bureau and a desktop printer retailer. Owner Zach Hagen said the business started in 2010 when he and his partners were fresh out of college. They developed their own machines for 3D printing and put them to work for the business. Since starting out with a big push for services, both for consumer and business, the company has expanded to selling home printers and performing repairs and maintenance. It also pushes education initiatives for local schools and college curriculums. Education on 3D printing will hopefully spur more interest and business.

The company offers unique services such as prototyping for startup companies. It even helps startups craft a Kickstarter campaign, complete with 3D-printed prototypes of their proposed product. You can also hire Imagine That 3D to make your 3D designs based on your concepts.  

Services such as these fill a gap in other businesses that don't have high-quality 3D printers and the personnel to make designs and work the machines. Whether it's for a prototype product, replacement parts for other machines or simple office supplies, businesses are starting to see the usefulness of 3D printing, but don't necessarily want to invest the funds for an in-house solution when outsourcing is readily available. If you have the equipment and the knowledge, then you don't have to open a whole business – you do this on a freelance basis.

On websites like Freelancer or PeoplePerHour, you can post your credentials and specialties with 3D design and printing to find temporary work. Jobs can lead to long-lasting relationships and repeated work. Promote your work online and field the needs of your local area.

As 3D printing grows, these service-based fields also grow more competitive. Hagen said if you're planning on going into the 3D printing business, whether as a service bureau or on a freelance basis, you need to be sure it's something you really want to do, because it won't be easy. To stand out among your peers, you should fill a certain niche that others don't. 3D printing allows for so many diverse designs, sizes, complexities, materials, etc. that you can specialize in certain types of prints and tout to potential clients that you do those specific prints better than anyone else. For example, market your expertise in printing with metal or your ability to design high-quality machinery pieces with CAD.

3D printing is an outlet for creativity, so you can profit from your skills and creativity by selling your homemade, 3D-printed crafts online. Like any small online business, you can set up your website with an ecommerce platform such as Squarespace or Shopify. You can even sell your products on Etsy. Make things that only you can make, such as jewelry, figurines and other crafts. Since you can make them to order, you can customize and personalize them for your customers.

A successful 3D printing business will take tenacity, creativity and solid knowledge to get off the ground. The key is finding that niche in the industry, whether it's a demand in your local area, a type of printing or a business model. Start small and don't be afraid to experiment, since the industry is still in its infancy. Finding your unique place in it as a business may pay off big.

 

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