Business Overview


A 3D printing business is usually affiliated with a larger business such as Shapeways. The benefit to this is that you focus on creating 3D designs and taking orders while Shapeways prints the actual objects. The eventual profits are then split between yourself and Shapeways.

Who is this business right for?

This business is great for artists, particularly those who have created physical works (such as statues and carvings) before. Arguably, the most important part of this job is being able to take a good idea and use a combination of software and artistic skill to make it into a reality.

What happens during a typical day at a 3D Printing Design Business?

Your most prominent daily activities will be designing 3D objects and focusing on ways of selling them to consumers. If you are not relying on a third party such as Shapeways, then a generous portion of your time will be taken up by printing objects. Beyond this, your time will often be spent working on new ways to advertise your services online.

What is the target market?

This is one business where your preferred clients may vary greatly depending on your area and if you choose to specialize in printing certain things. One group that may become your favorite is hobbyists. From collectors wanting to replace parts for their model trains to gamers wanting you to print objects for their roleplaying campaign, hobbyists are that rare group that has very niche interests and the disposable income to accommodate those interests.

How does a 3D Printing Design Business make money?

A 3D printing business makes money by printing and delivering 3D versions of shapes and objects to customers. You may also make money by taking design requests from customers who cannot find the shapes they want printed anywhere else.

What is the growth potential for a 3D Printing Design Business?

The growth potential for this business is quite large. The research company Canalys believes that the market for 3D printed goods will actually grow by 500% between 2014 and 2019.

Getting Started


What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful 3D Printing Design Business?

To make your 3D designs, you will need special software (such as Blender) and experience using it. Similarly, if you are doing the 3D printing yourself, then you will need to be very familiar with using and troubleshooting your 3D printer. Finally, you should become very familiar with the 3D printing market—as it grows, it may become more of a challenge to make your own business stand out in the crowd.

What are the costs involved in opening a 3D Printing Design Business?

The costs involved in opening such a business are minimal. Most shops start out of someone's home, so there is no expensive lease or utilities to pay every month, nor any staff salaries to pay. If you will be working with Shapeways, you do not have to have a 3D printer: you simply upload designs to them, sell the products through your own website, and split profits with Shapeways. If you are buying your own 3D printer, you can typically find a commercial model you need for $6,000 or less, though there are models available in a variety of price points. Otherwise, your primary cost will be creating a professional website (typically about $500) and advertising your services (most advertising will be done online, so your starting advertising budget may be $2,000 or less).

What are the steps to start a 3D Printing Design Business?

Once you're ready to start your 3D Printing Design Business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your 3D Printing Design Business is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your 3D Printing Design Business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a 3D Printing Design Business?

As mentioned earlier, it's important to find a niche in order to maximize profits. When brainstorming, start by thinking of customer needs: one successful shop came about when the owner realized that a 3D printer would be able to create perfectly custom bras for women. Finally, consider every print a learning process: try to improve the appearance and sturdiness of what you create until it is perfect.

Growing Your Business


How to promote & market a 3D Printing Design Business

As mentioned earlier, it's important to advertise via your own professional website. You should also use social media (especially Instagram) to show off high-quality photos of your creations. You can also pay for professional advertisements through social media such as Facebook, which helps target your advertisements towards the most receptive audiences.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

In addition to the ideas above, look for ways to show off and sell your products in the real world, too. Local hobby shops may allow you to put up advertisements for your services, including examples of your work. Local sci-fi and fantasy conventions offer a chance to rent a vendor booth and sell custom geeky jewelry and other items that fans cannot find anywhere else. The goal of both of these is to hand out business cards and get an eventual stream of regular customers on top of the impulse buyers you'll get.

How and when to build a team

In most cases, a 3D printing business is a one-person operation. However, because all of the work is typically done from home, it is very easy for you to create a small network of designers in order to maximize the amount of shapes you are able to sell.

Legal Considerations


State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a 3D printing design business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Trademark & Copyright Protection

If you are developing a unique product, concept, brand, or design, it is prudent to protect your rights by registering for the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.

Learn more about trademark and copyright protection

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential


How much can you charge customers?

The price for your items will vary greatly according to their size, complexity, and the materials used. For instance, in the tabletop gaming niche, you might charge four dollars for a small item like a miniature shopping cart. Conversely, you might charge upwards of two hundred dollars for large, complex terrain to be used in a tabletop war game. If you are printing through Shapeways, then they will help determine the price of the item using those same factors. The more niche your item, the more you can effectively charge, as customers have nowhere else to obtain that item.

What are the ongoing expenses for a 3D Printing Design Business?

Part of the beauty of this job is that there are very few ongoing expenses. As a home-based job, your only guaranteed costs will be to pay to host your professional website (typically less than one hundred dollars a year); you may opt to continue paying for advertising, which will typically be five hundred dollars or less per month. Other than that, though, you only need to re-stock materials (assuming you are printing the items yourself) when you get orders, and you will price items to take materials into account. If you are printing through Shapeways, then you will price items to compensate for the fee that they will take (you set a markup for each item sold, and this is the money you make, minus a 3.5% transaction fee).

How much profit can a 3D Printing Design Business make?

The exact amount of profit you can make is difficult to determine. One research company estimates that 3D artists make an average of $53,000 a year, but that is counting those who do such work for corporations rather than themselves. Regardless, your actual profit is like that of any other specialty shop: if you find the right combination of diverse products, niche markets, and relevant advertising, and the sky is the limit on your profit.

How can you make your business more profitable?

All of the ways to make your business more profitable come down to making your business more visible. Try writing guest blogs for websites that your audience reads in order to get noticed. Offer to print things your community may need (such as prosthetics) in order to build good relationships and gain publicity. Finally, give 3D printed gifts to family and friends. This is a great way to generate good buzz and solid word of mouth.

Next Steps

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