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.
Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Pros and cons
Starting a 3D printing business has pros and cons that you should consider before deciding if it’s right for you.
- Good Profit – Prices for 3D prints cost up to $1,000 or more
- Global Clientele – Work from home, take orders from anywhere
- Strong Retention – Happy customers tend to return
- Evolving Technology – 3D printers quickly become outdated
- Expensive – 3D printers don’t come cheap
3D printing industry trends
The 3D printer manufacturing industry in the US has strongly recovered from the pandemic slump. The opportunity is there for the bold entrepreneur to jump in and ride the wave.
Industry size and growth
- Industry size and past growth – The 3D printer manufacturing industry in the US has returned to a high growth path, reaching a revenue of $6.3 billion, the highest in the past 10 years. The industry has been growing by 14% per year since 2017.
- Growth forecast – The $14 billion global 3D printing market is expected to grow 30% yearly to reach $63 billion by 2026.
- Number of businesses – There are 131 3D printer manufacturers in the US.
- Number of people employed – The industry employs 5,000 people.
Trends and challenges
Trends in 3D printing include:
- 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.
What kind of people work in 3D printing?
- Gender – 84% of 3D designers are male, while 16% are female.
- Average level of education – 64% of 3D designers hold a bachelor’s degree.
- Average age – The average age of an employed 3D designer is 38 years old.
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.
|Start-up Costs||Ballpark Range||Average
|Setting up a business name and corporation||$150 - $200||$175
|Business licenses and permits||$100 - $300||$200
|Business cards and brochures||$200 - $300||$250
|Website setup||$1,000 - $3,000||$2,000
|3D Printer||$3,000 - $7,000||$5,000
|Design software||$2,000 - $4,000||$3,000
|Materials for printing||$500 - $1,000||$750
|Total||$7,050 - $16,100||$11,575
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.
Step 2: Hone Your Idea
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.
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.
How much should you charge for 3D printing?
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 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 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: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
- Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
- Use online tools like the Step by Step 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 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: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
- Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
- Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
- Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
- Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
- Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
- Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
- Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
- Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
- Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr 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.
- General Partnership – 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 ZenBusiness’s 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.
Step 6: Register for Taxes
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.
Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits
Starting a 3D printing business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.
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.
You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.
This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.
If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.
Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account
Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.
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.
Step 11: Prepare to Launch
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.
- Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
- 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.
Some of your business will come from online visitors, but still, you should invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness.
Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
- Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area.
- Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
- Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Order Now”. This can sharply increase purchases.
- Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
Take advantage of your website, social media presence, and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:
- Signage – Put up eye-catching signage at your store and website.
- Flyering – Distribute flyers in your neighborhood and at industry events.
- In-Person Sales – Offer your 3D printing services at business incubators.
- Sponsor events – You can pay to be a sponsor at events that are relevant to your target market
- Post a video – Post a video about your 3D printing. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!
- Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
- Seek out referrals – Offer incentives to generate customer referrals to new clients.
- Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
- Pay–per-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
- Do a webinar – Share your 3D printing expertise online with a video seminar.
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. 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.
You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. 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.
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: 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 much does it cost to start a 3D printing business?
You can start a 3D printing business for as little as $7,000, which is a small investment compared to the money you can bring in. Costs will depend on how advanced your printer is, but keep in mind that the more you spend, the more potential printing applications you’ll be able to offer.
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.
Do I need a license to start a 3D printing business?
There is no specific license required for a 3D printing business, but you may need business licenses and permits at the state and local levels. Check with your local governments for requirements or visit MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance page.
How much can I charge for 3D printing services?
Prices for 3D printing vary, and jobs are priced on a case-by-case basis. Prices depend on the complexity of the design and the materials used, and could be anywhere from $30 to $1,000 or more.