This article is an excerpt from How To Make Money With 3D Printing: Passive Profits, Hacking The 3D Printing Ecosystem And Becoming A World-Class 3D Designer by Jeffrey Ito.
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.” – Carl Jung
Of course, 3D printing means turning files into physical objects. Animators and digital artists have been creating three-dimensional models for years. Once you procure your 3D design either by designing it yourself, downloading from a digital marketplace, 3D scanning or outsourcing the work, then it is time to print!
A painless way to print is with a home-based 3D printer. If you don’t have a 3D printer, never fret. This is an easy problem to solve. There are many options online to outsource 3D printing.
The Best 3D Printing Services Available Today
Shapeways is the premier online 3D printing service in the world. The New York City based behemoth boasts a diverse selection of 22 materials, the largest of any service on this list, ranging from plastics and ceramics to gold and platinum. Uploading & viewing your design, choosing material and printing is a breeze. Having already 3D printed millions of things Shapeways continues to see massive growth. Customer service for technical issues is responsive, and I even receive personal emails from the staff offering assistance with my model and business. The 3D printing service is incredibly easy to use and recommended for all skill levels.
i.Materialise is a Belgian 3D printing service that offers a selection of over 17 materials including precious metals and ceramics. Their creation corner comes in handy for those with a design in mind but want to learn more about how to make it. With over 70 combinations of materials and finishes for both individual and personal applications, i.Materialise is a high-quality 3D print service with over 20 years of experience. i.Materialise offers a wonderful experience in terms of uploading, adjusting and purchasing your models. If you can overlook the higher shipping cost and the extended shipping time, i.Materialise is a high-quality 3D printing option.
Sculpteo is a France based 3D printing service that serves makers in both North America and Europe. The service is fast, affordable and high quality. There is a wide selection of materials offered with in-depth documentation for each. Business owners should look into Sculpteo’s Cloud Engine for the possibility of adding a business factory in the cloud powered by their 3D printing resources. Sculpteo is an excellent 3D printing service provider with a wide variety of materials and a stupendous choice for printing and incorporating design apps.
Cubify is the consumer division of 3D systems which sells home 3D printers and also offers a print-on-demand service. To access the 3D printing service, users must navigate to the MyCubify section and register. The overall site looks slick, however, the materials selection, quality and pricing indicates that the Cubify 3D printing service is still in its early stages of development. With 3D Systems behind the development, the service is sure to become a 3D printing service staple. Cubify has already started offering their line of 3D printed toys, clothes and technology, including watches, so it is only a matter of time until 3D Systems has a high-quality 3D printing service.
Ponoko is a New Zealand based 3D printing service and one of the first manufacturers to use distributed manufacturing and on-demand manufacturing as a business model. They offer laser-cutting, 3D printing and CNC cutting. Ponoko has access to fabrication machines all over the world and uses distributed manufacturing to supply their customers quickly with prints. In this respect, makers are not limited to just 3D printing but have a wide breadth of machines to help shape and form their projects.
If none of these 3D printing services sound appealing to you due to their lengthy delivery times (a couple days to a few weeks), then 3D Hubs may be the answer. With 3D Hubs, the maker gets to choose amongst their local selection of 3D printers to print their creations. In my case, I used local MakerBots for prototyping small toys. I was also able to create high quality, fully castable wax molds for jewelry from a local SolidScape T76 printer. For an iPhone case side project, I’ve used a sandstone 3D printer from a local Maker Shop. Your mileage with 3D Hubs will vary depending on what city you are in and the distance of the nearest 3D printers. Either way, even if you are not interesting in using someone else printer, 3D Hubs is a wonderful community of makers that encourages a worldwide network of 3D printing.
The Long Tail of The Internet
“3D Printing Will Disrupt Every Field It Touches”, The Economist
For the greater part of the last century, the selection in stores had always been limited by shelf space. This means inventory was filtered primarily by popularity and location. Hardly a convenience when the last copy of the book you have been looking for is in Brooklyn, New York and you are in Kissimmee, Florida. The products on store shelves are influenced by economic demands and large corporations rather than consumers true needs.
Luckily the Internet has a limitless shelf space. The saturation of websites over the years has organically created and identified true niche demand, while the searches people make on Google and Amazon are direct representations of customer interest. The time of the blockbuster monopoly is gone. Huge corporate advertising campaigns and word of mouth no longer tell us what is “in”. Collectively, we can easily discuss and decide trending content for ourselves on social media instead of depending on critics. Distribution of media – movies, music and games – has turned digital. We are entering the age of digital distribution where everyone can create, share and find what they want, and it is only a matter of time until physical goods follow suit.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” – Viktor Frankl
So now you know where you can 3D print digital models. Many will use 3D printers for creative reasons, but those who want to make money by printing objects should focus on niche items. Why should you pick a niche? I’ll explain. Creating demand is difficult, but filling it is easy. Instead of making products first and hoping they sell later, find a market with high demand and low supply and create the product they are looking for. I use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to find search volume and explore similar keywords with comparable search traffic. The keyword tool will tell you the amount of competition present online and the amount of global searches a month for a given phrase. Filling demand is easier done with niche products even if it is searched only a few thousand times a month. If you are the only provider of that niche then chances are those few thousand will find you!
Remember that 3D printers only print one at a time. The markets with the best potential to be disrupted by 3D printing are the small-run, high quality, customized markets. Limited or high quality personalized items tend to have larger profit margins anyways. By utilizing the advantages of 3D printing, makers can also create less work for themselves. Instead of envisioning creating an economy of scale with 3D printing, seek to fill the holes of niches that an economy of scale creates.
“It is a good time to think about how something that is as old as the fashion industry can be redefined with new technologies.” –Huang
Here are a two specialized 3D printing services to consider when printing your creation:
Makemark (formerly JewelDistrict) is an online marketplace for designers to create and share jewelry designs and have them realized with 3D printing. The service is ideal for jewelry making and stone setting. From Amethyst to Emerald to Sapphire, there is an essential collection of gemstones for your jewelry design.
Matter.io lets you start with a series of photos (or sketches) and their team of specialists will help you finish your 3D print. Matter.io prints in all of the basic metals and even offers plating options. With a relatively short 5-day turnaround time, Matter.io is a great solution if you are creating metal works with 3D printing.
License: The text of "How To Make Money With 3D Printed Products" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.