Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.
David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.
Published on January 27, 2022 Updated on November 17, 2023
$7,050 - $16,100
$130,000 - $650,000 p.a.
Time to build
1 – 3 months
$100,000 - $200,000 p.a.
3D printing is taking off! But you can still get in on the ground floor and ride this elevator to the top. It’s a $14 billion global market that’s expected to grow four-fold by 2026.
Most startups can’t afford their own 3D printer, and many turn to a 3D printing service to produce their initial prototypes. Toys and home décor are also popular 3D printing products. Opening a 3D printing business, which you can do in your home, is an incredible opportunity to join a booming industry and make good money.
You can’t, however, simply make a 3D print of a 3D printing business and hit the ground running. You need to understand the nitty-gritty, which is what you will find in this step-by-step guide that is loaded with tips and insights to help you begin your entrepreneurial adventure.
Looking to register your business? A limited liability company (LLC) is the best legal structure for new businesses because it is fast and simple.
Advancing technology is opening doors for many new 3D printing applications, fueling the growth of the industry. The most common use of a 3D printer remains the making of prototypes, but other applications include toys and home decor.
New types of 3D printing material are emerging, including polymers and metals, contributing to the advance of the industry. New products that can be 3D printed include tool components, and even finished auto parts.
Challenges in the 3D printing industry also exist, which include:
3D printing may threaten intellectual property rights since printers can potentially duplicate patented products. This may lead to increased regulation in 3D printing.
Advancing technologies can make current 3D printers obsolete, creating a need for printing businesses to regularly upgrade their equipment.
How much does it cost to start a 3D printing business?
Startup costs for a 3D printing business range from $7,000 to $16,000. The highest costs are the printer itself and 3D design software. The high end reflects purchasing a more expensive printer with better functionality. Other than those items, you just need printing materials such as plastic or metal, in addition to enough space to create a small studio.
You could also take an online course through a site like Udemy for less than $30. Courses are self study and can be completed in 4 to 8 hours.
Setting up a business name and corporation
$150 - $200
Business licenses and permits
$100 - $300
Business cards and brochures
$200 - $300
$1,000 - $3,000
$3,000 - $7,000
$2,000 - $4,000
Materials for printing
$500 - $1,000
$7,050 - $16,100
How much can you earn from a 3D printing business?
Prices for 3D prints vary greatly depending on the complexity, but can range from $30 to $1,000 or more. If you specialize in prototypes, designs are likely to be complex, so these calculations will assume an average price of $500. Your profit margin after the cost of materials should be around 80%.
In your first year or two, you could work from home and sell 5 prints a week, bringing in $130,000 in annual revenue. This would mean over $100,000 in profit, assuming that 80% margin. As your brand gains recognition, sales could climb to 25 prints a week. At this stage, you’d rent a commercial space and hire staff, reducing your margin to 30%. With expected annual revenue of $650,000, you’d make nearly $200,000.
What barriers to entry are there?
There are a few barriers to entry for a 3D printing business. Beyond mastering the 3D printing process, your biggest challenges will be:
Funding the costs of starting the business
Facing massive competition from online 3D printing companies
Related Business Ideas
If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
Now that you know what’s involved in starting a 3D printing business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.
Why? Identify an opportunity
Research 3D printing businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a 3D prototype printing business.
You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as 3D printed toys.
This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your products or services
Your services will depend on the capabilities of your 3D printer. If you have advanced capabilities, prototypes will be your highest-priced services. However, you should probably offer a wide range of services to maximize revenue.
There are several ways to make money with 3D printing, including:
Selling 3D printed products: You can design and print your own products or use existing designs to create items that you can sell on online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay. Popular 3D printed items include jewelry, phone cases, toys, and home decor.
Providing 3D printing services: You can offer 3D printing services to individuals or businesses that need custom parts or prototypes. This can include creating one-off prints or producing small runs of products.
Creating and selling 3D printing designs: You can design and sell your own 3D printing designs on platforms like Thingiverse or MyMiniFactory. This can be a good way to earn passive income once your designs become popular.
Teaching 3D printing classes: You can offer classes or workshops on 3D printing to teach others how to use the technology. This can be a great way to earn income while sharing your expertise with others.
Repairing and maintaining 3D printers: As 3D printing becomes more popular, there is a growing need for technicians who can repair and maintain 3D printers. You can offer these services to individuals or businesses that need help keeping their printers in good working order.
Overall, there are many opportunities to make money with 3D printing, and the field is constantly evolving. By staying up to date on new technologies and trends, building a strong reputation for quality and reliability, and finding a niche in the market, you can create a successful 3D printing business.
How much should you charge for 3D prints?
Prices will vary based on the complexity of the print and the materials used. Complex items may cost $1,000 or more. You’ll price products on a case-by-case basis. When you’re working by yourself from home you should aim for a profit margin of about 80%.
Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your markup (use our Markup Calculator) and final price point. Remember, the price you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
If you do mostly prototypes, your target market will be entrepreneurs. You can find them on sites like LinkedIn. You could also partner with local business incubators and small business development centers to get referrals.
Where? Choose your business premises
In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out a production facility. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
Central location accessible via public transport
Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Step 3: Brainstorm a 3D Printing Business Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
Including keywords, such as “3D printer” or “3D printing”, boosts SEO
Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “The 3D Hub” over “3D Automotive Parts Makers”
Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
Discover over 370 unique 3D printing business name ideas here. If you want your business name to include specific keywords, you can also use our 3D printing business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that set your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.
Step 4: Create a 3D Printing Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
Executive Summary: A brief overview of your 3D printing business plan, summarizing its key points and goals.
Business Overview: An introduction to your 3D printing business, including its mission, vision, and the problem it aims to solve.
Product and Services: Description of the 3D printing products and services you offer, highlighting their unique features and benefits.
Market Analysis: An examination of the 3D printing market, including target demographics, industry trends, and potential growth opportunities.
Competitive Analysis: An evaluation of your 3D printing business’s competition, identifying key competitors and their strengths and weaknesses.
Sales and Marketing: Strategies for promoting and selling your 3D printing products and services, encompassing pricing, distribution, and marketing tactics.
Management Team: Profiles of the individuals leading your 3D printing business, emphasizing their relevant skills and experience.
Operations Plan: Details on the day-to-day operations of your 3D printing business, covering production, supply chain, and quality control.
Financial Plan: Financial projections and funding requirements for your 3D printing business, including income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow forecasts.
Appendix: Supplementary information, such as additional research, charts, and supporting documents to provide further context and details for your business plan.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to 3D printing businesses.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your 3D printing business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
Sole Proprietorship– The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
GeneralPartnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just needs to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
Bank and SBA loans are probably the best options, other than friends and family, for funding a 3D printing business. You might also try crowdfunding since 3D printing is such a booming industry.
It’s important to note that several states are considering a ban on the 3D printing of firearms. New Jersey already has such a ban in place. Be aware that additional regulations may be on the horizon.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as, health license and permit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your 3D printing business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
As the opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.
You can use industry-specific software, such as MakerOS, 3DPrinterOS, or All3DP, to manage your workflows, machines, quotes, and invoicing.
If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
Develop your website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.
You can create your own website using website builders. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.
A 3D printing business stands on the frontier of modern technology and innovation. Marketing strategies should reflect this cutting-edge position, employing both digital and physical tactics to highlight the transformative nature of 3D printing services.
Digital Marketing Essentials
Targeted Social Media Campaigns: Utilize social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram for targeted advertising campaigns that speak directly to potential clients in specific demographics.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimize your website with SEO best practices to rank higher in search results and capture the attention of those seeking 3D printing solutions.
Local Listings: Ensure your business is listed on Google My Business and Yelp to attract local clients and enhance your online presence.
Content Creation and Engagement
Instructional Video Content: Produce video content that educates viewers on the benefits and processes of 3D printing, potentially increasing shareability and client engagement.
Blogging and Thought Leadership: Establish your business as a thought leader by starting a blog with regular posts on industry advancements, case studies, and creative uses of 3D printing.
Webinars and Workshops: Host webinars and workshops to showcase your expertise and the potential of 3D printing technology to prospective customers.
Physical Marketing and Outreach
Creative Signage: Design innovative, 3D-printed signage for your store and events to showcase your capabilities.
Local Flyering: Distribute flyers with eye-catching 3D designs at local tech hubs, universities, and industry events to generate interest.
Live Demos at Events: Offer live demonstrations of your 3D printing services at business expos and incubators, providing a tactile experience to potential clients.
Brand Building and Community Involvement
Event Sponsorship: Sponsor local and industry-relevant events to build brand recognition and connect with potential customers.
Referral Programs: Implement a referral program with incentives to encourage current customers to refer new clients.
Advertising and Strategic Alliances
Paid Digital Advertising: Invest in paid advertising on platforms aligned with your target market for precise audience targeting.
Collaborations with Designers: Partner with designers and artists who can use your services to bring their concepts to life, showcasing the versatility of 3D printing.
Innovative and Interactive Marketing
Augmented Reality Ads: Use augmented reality in your advertising to give potential clients an interactive preview of their designs through 3D printing.
Social Media Challenges: Start a challenge or contest on social media encouraging followers to design their own 3D printables, promoting user engagement.
Customer Experience Optimization
Customization Options: Provide an online platform for clients to customize and visualize their 3D printing orders, enhancing user experience and satisfaction.
Client Success Stories: Share success stories and testimonials from satisfied clients to demonstrate the impact of your services.
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that set it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your 3D printing meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your 3D printing business could be:
Custom 3D toys for your child only!
Custom 3D-printed home décor – the design is yours!
Prototype printing to help launch your business
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a 3D printing business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been in 3D printing for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in 3D printing. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business.
Step 12: Build Your Team
If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a 3D printing business would include:
Printers – make the 3D prints, customer service
General Manager – staff management, ordering, accounting
Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media, other marketing
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Run 3D Printing Business – Start Making Money!
If you want to get into an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds, look no further. 3D printing is the market for you, expected to more than quadruple in size in the next few years.
Considering the potential money that you could make, startup costs are a relatively small investment. It’s also a business that has virtually unlimited growth potential, so your small at-home business could become something huge. Now that you understand what’s involved in 3D printing from a business perspective, get ready to launch your new business and start building a 3D printing empire.
3D Printing Business FAQs
How profitable can a 3D printing business be?
Even with a small 3D printing operation at home, you could make six figures. 3D printing prices are customized based on the complexity of the print and can run upwards of $1,000 for complex designs.
How much does a 3d printer cost?
The cost of a 3D printer can vary widely depending on various factors, including the type of printer, the size and capabilities of the printer, and the brand and supplier. Here are some general guidelines for the cost of different types of 3D printers:
Entry-level 3D printers: These printers are often designed for hobbyists and beginners and can cost anywhere from $200 to $600.
Mid-range 3D printers: These printers are often more durable and versatile than entry-level printers and can cost between $600 and $2000.
High-end 3D printers: These printers are often used for industrial or professional applications and can cost anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 or more.
What materials are used in 3d printing?
The most common materials used in 3D printing are plastic, metal, resin, wood , composites and ceramics.
How much does 3d printing material cost?
Here are some approximate prices for common 3D printing materials:
PLA (polylactic acid): $20 to $50 per kilogram
ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene): $20 to $50 per kilogram
PET (polyethylene terephthalate): $30 to $60 per kilogram
Nylon: $40 to $100 per kilogram
Resin: $50 to $150 per liter
Can 3D printing be a side hustle?
Yes, 3D printing can be a side hustle for individuals who are interested in making some extra income outside of their regular job.
How to Start a 3D Printing Business
Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Hone Your Idea
Brainstorm a 3D Printing Business Name
Create a 3D Printing Business Plan
Register Your Business
Register for Taxes
Fund your Business
Apply for Licenses and Permits
Open a Business Bank Account
Get Business Insurance
Prepare to Launch
Build Your Team
Run 3D Printing Business - Start Making Money!
3D Printing Business FAQs
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