How to Start a 3D Printing Design Business

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.

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Learn how to start your own 3D Printing Design Business and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start a 3D Printing Design Business by following these 10 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your 3D Printing Design Business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

STEP 1: Plan your business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

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 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).

Who 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.

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.

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.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our 3D Printing Design Business Name Generator

If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.

When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:

  • Your state's business records
  • Federal and state trademark records
  • Social media platforms
  • Web domain availability.

It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your 3D Printing Design Business is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

Small Business Taxes

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Open net-30 accounts

When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.

Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.

Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.

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Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 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.

STEP 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.

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, read our article, 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

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your 3D Printing Design Business will cost.

Business Insurance for
3D Printing Design Business

STEP 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.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

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.

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.

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Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start A 3D Printing Design Business In Your State

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

Is this Business Right For You?

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.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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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 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 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.

Not sure if a 3D Printing Design Business is right for you? Try our free Business Idea Generator and find your perfect idea.

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Take the Next Step

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.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

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.

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.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Generator.

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