Sat. May 18th, 2024

So, you’ve bought a 3D printer at a steep price to get into the hobby, but does that mean you have to eat the cost entirely? If you play your cards right, your 3D printer might pay for part or even all of its cost, leaving you to enjoy your hobby practically for free! Here are a few ideas on how your 3D printer could bring home a little bacon.

Sell Some Models

The most straightforward way to make a little money from your 3D printer is to sell some cool models. You can find models to print and sell on sites like Thingiverse, Cults, and Printables, to name a few. Just double and triple check that the models you intend to print and sell are licensed to allow for that.

If the models are licensed under Creative CommonsNoncommercial then you are not legally allowed to sell them. Likewise, many 3D printing model file marketplaces have their own licenses that separate models bought for personal use from those meant for commercial use. Sometimes, you need to get direct permission from the model’s owner for commercial rights, often through platforms like Patreon.

Once you’re sure you have permission to print and sell a model, you can put it up on sites like Etsy, sell it in-person at a local flea market or wherever else you can get the eyes of potential buyers on your stuff.

Sell Time on Your 3D Printer

Every minute your 3D printer is sitting idle is time it could be spending making money to pay off its own cost. You can do this privately, making your printer available to people who only need an occasional print, but can’t justify buying their own printer, or you can become part of a virtual print farm.

This is where individual 3D printer owners register with a platform that connects them with customers, and you’ll receive orders to print when the platform matches you with the right customer. Some of the early pioneers in this area, such as 3DHubs (now Protolabs Network) have pivoted away from this, but there are sites like Print a Thing that invite 3D printer owners to register and fulfill orders through them.

As always, before you sign up for anything make sure you read the terms and conditions thoroughly! You are responsible for any agreements you sign, so make sure you know what you’re getting into! Also, it’s a good idea to look to forums such as Reddit to see what other current and past suppliers have to say about a specific platform.

Prototype and Sell Your Own Designs

If you’re going to learn how to model your own designs instead of just printing other people’s work, you might as well make a little cash while doing it. After all, those cool designs that you buy online to print were designed by someone just like you. So fire up the CAD app of your choice, and create something cool.

Once you’ve designed, printed, tested, and iterated over and over again, you could have something that will sell like hot cakes on 3D design sites. Just remember to pick the right license when you offer your files for sale! While you can design stuff to sell without actually owning a 3D printer, no one is going to buy from someone who hasn’t verified that the design will work correctly, and you can bet people want to see photos of real prints, not 3D renders.

Create Content for Sites Like YouTube

3D printing is a vibrant and growing hobby, and whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro, there’s plenty of room in the content creator space for your voice and to share your experiences. Whether you want to make content about 3D printing itself or about the projects you want to do using 3D printing as part of the process, you might as well document it.

If course, YouTube isn’t exactly a guaranteed source of income, and getting monetized isn’t straightforward, but it’s one avenue that could pay off quite well down the line if the stars align for you.

There are lots of small things that break in and around our homes which could be replaced with a cheap 3D print. Toilet roll holders, shelf brackets, gadget holders, light switch plates, the list goes on. My wife was looking at buying some acrylic paint palettes the other day and these cheap plastic objects sell for as much as $10 when I could print one for a buck. It’s not a huge flow of money, but all those dimes you save over the course of the printer’s life can add up!

Create Small-run Custom Merchandise

The great thing about 3D printing is that you can modify and customize prints for specific individual uses. So one way to make some money is by selling custom one-off prints as merchandise for small businesses, bands, and other similar groups. Maybe business card holders with a company name integrated into them, or key chains. The sky’s the limit.

Make Toys Instead of Buying Toys

Have you seen what plastic toys cost these days? Sure, kids might be all about video games now, but there’s still a big chunk of their childhood where plastic toys are going to be popular. With a 3D printer you could cut down, if perhaps not eliminate, the amount of money you spend on toys.

This is especially true for prints of 3D puzzles, or models that you can build or paint. There are many wonderful “flexy” or mechanized print-in-place models out there too.

It’s amazing that you now own a little desktop factory, but it’s even more amazing that you can make money from what it produces, so why not get a small side-hustle to pay for all that exotic filament it turns out you can’t use?

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By John P.

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