Do you want to make money with a 3D printer?
Whether you’re looking to build a 3D printing side hustle or just offset the costs of your 3D printing hobby, you’re in the right place.
Even though specialized 3D printers can be expensive, the good news is there are lots of ways to turn them into money makers.
Here are our top ways to make money in the fast-growing 3D printing economy.
1. Sell 3D Printer Designs
You can sell 3D printer design files online to other 3D printer owners. They’re looking for cool stuff to print, and are often willing to pay for it.
What kind of designs are people buying? The most popular categories are:
- miniatures / models
- game pieces
- cosplay items
- spare parts
If you have some design skills and enjoy perfecting new projects, this could be a great way to make extra money from the work you’re already doing. Some of the most popular marketplaces are:
- Cults3D – Set your own prices and earn 80% of the sales price whenever your designs sell.
- CGtrader – Claims to be the world’s largest 3D model marketplace, and designers earn 70-80% royalties on their work.
- Pinshape – You set your desired price for each design, and Pinshape adds 30% to the end customer.
- MyMiniFactory – Charges $24.99 a month to create a storefront. After that, you keep 92% of all sales.
- Turbosquid – Earn 40-60% royalties at this long-running 3D model marketplace.
When using other people’s designs, just make sure you have the necessary copyright licenses in place. That way you don’t infringe on anyone’s intellectual property rights.
In most cases, this side hustle involves:
- uploading an STL, OBJ, or other 3D printing file type
- creating your listing description
- setting your price
- and (hopefully) collecting royalties
Selling 3D-printer designs is an interesting passive income idea, in that you can create a design once and sell it over and over again.
2. Sell 3D-Printed Models
Many customers don’t yet have a 3D printer at home, but may still like to buy 3D-printed products.
For example, Marion Russek sells dollhouse miniatures through her Shapeways shop. Most items are priced between $8 and $40, and my guess is her average order is pretty high.
(If you’re furnishing your dollhouse, you’re probably not just buying one item at a time!)
3. Create Product Prototypes
Scott Tarcy, a longtime member of the Side Hustle Nation community, runs a 3D printing and design shop.
Inventors and early-stage product entrepreneurs hire him to help bring their ideas to life. In many cases, one of the first steps is creating a simple prototype. CAD design and 3D printing can be an affordable way to get a sample in their hands.
When we spoke, Scott was charging $50 an hour for his expertise.
Could you start a similar service?
4. Provide 3D Printing Services
Local businesses and product developers may not have in-house access to a 3D printer. If they need a quick model to show at a meeting or test the sizing of a part, they may reach out for your help.
In that case, it makes sense to have a Google My Business profile that describes your services, along with a simple website.
I was surprised to see even certain UPS Stores have started to offer this service!
5. Resell Used or Refurbished 3D Printers
There may come a day when 3D printers are a standard household appliance, like a dishwasher or microwave. But for now, only approximately a million homes have 3D printers.
As the devices become more common, there will be a growing opportunity to resell used printers. If you have an eye for a deal, it could be a profitable flipping niche on eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
In fact, hobby products are often some of the best items to flip for a profit, because people may lose interest and just want to reclaim the space in their house.
6. Rent Out Your 3D Printer
Another option is to rent out your 3D printer when you’re not using it; this can be an excellent way to earn extra income.
Peer-to-peer rental marketplaces like FatLlama and Loanables can help you connect with potential customers. There weren’t many listings when I checked, but rates ranged from $25-40 a day.
7. Become a 3D Printer Content Creator
If you have a passion for 3D printing and enjoy writing or creating videos about it, this is one of my absolute favorite side hustles.
Why? Because it scales so nicely!
It takes the same amount of effort to create a video that 10 people watch, or that 10 million people watch!
For example, Uncle Jessy is a popular creator in the 3D printing niche. His YouTube channel has around 400,000 subscribers (at press time), which likely earns a healthy 6-figure income.
My advice to new content creators is to pick two primary channels to focus on. The first should be your website as your home-base. The second can be any social channel like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, etc.
What kind of content could you create?
An easy way to get started is to create tutorials — especially if you’re good at building models and know how to use CAD software.
8. Sell Custom 3D-Printed Jewelry
3D printing can be used to make a variety of different types of jewelry. The most common way to sell 3D-printed jewelry is by customizing pieces with logos or other designs.
For example, some Etsy sellers are making a killing with their creative custom designs:
You may even be able to start with a template or pattern that already exists, and add your own unique twist or marketing to it.
Another way to sell 3D-printed jewelry is by mass-producing it with a Mass Portal 3D printer. This process requires skill and creativity, but the potential rewards are high.
9. Write a 3D Printing Book
Thanks to self-publishing, anyone with some level of expertise on a topic can write a book and put it up for sale on Amazon.
I still remember my first author royalty earnings — it was less than $50 — but still thrilling!
Since then I’ve earned money from my book sales every single month. It’s a fun way to share your ideas and experience with the world, and get paid over and over again from work you do once.
Feel free to dive into some of the self-publishing resources we have on Side Hustle Nation to learn more.
Another potential idea that involves less work upfront would be to create a 3D printing project logbook. It could be a simple notebook where people could log their various projects, print times, and outcomes.
Check out this full podcast episode to learn more about this type of “low content” publishing.
10. Teach a 3D Printing Course or Workshop
You can make money from a 3D printing course in a few different ways. For example, your course could focus on a particular software or design tool, or it could focus on the type of projects you most like to print.
Online platforms like Skillshare and Udemy make it easy to reach a wide audience of potential students. If you already have an online audience, you can make even more selling it directly.
For example, my friend Nikko Mendoza teaches people how to start their own 3D printed toy business at 3DPrintedProfits.com.
Alternatively, you could host a local workshop through your city, library, community college, or other organization. If you get 10 people to show up at $50 apiece, you just earned $500 for the evening.
11. 3D Printing Consulting
Another way to monetize your 3D printing expertise is as a consultant. You could create listings on Clarity.fm or JustAnswer and earn $60-200 an hour to answer questions.
You may also offer your guidance in Facebook groups for inventors or product designers to build up a helpful reputation. Some friends of mine have done this for services like:
- Podcast editing
- Facebook ads
- WordPress support
- Sleep consulting
- Virtual assistance
They’ve all built great businesses!
12. 3D Printer Repair and Maintenance Service
Finally, you may be able to put your 3D printing skills to use by helping other printer owners troubleshoot and repair their machines.
One of my favorite examples of this (in a slightly different niche) is Matt Bochnak, a mechanical engineer in Chicago. His original side hustle was repairing motorcycles in his garage. But what Matt did that was really cool was he started filming himself doing the repairs.
Even though he wasn’t getting paid to do it, he started posting those videos on YouTube. As his channel grew, he started selling full engine rebuild tutorials as digital downloads. Sponsors started to reach out. He formed affiliate partnerships. He started earning advertising revenue from YouTube. Then he designed a physical product of his own and started selling that.
And it all started with helping people fix their bikes. Could you follow a similar path in 3D printer repair?
Final Thoughts on Making Money with a 3D Printer
3D printing can be used to generate income through a variety of methods. The best path for you depends on your unique personality, interests, skills, and goals.
I’m drawn to the more “passive income” business models, where I can create designs or products and sell them on autopilot. The drawback is those can take a lot of time to create and may never end up taking off.
Others prefer the personal interaction of coaching, training, or consulting.
I can’t pick for you, but hopefully this post has given you some actionable ideas on how to start making money with your 3D printer.
Big thanks to Nick Patrocky for his help in researching and drafting this article. Nick is a UX/UI designer, app reviewer, software reviewer, and blogger who has worked with over 150 clients from countries all around the globe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Make Money with a 3D Printer?
There are many ways to generate income with a 3D printer. Perhaps the most popular way is to sell prints on sites like Etsy or Shapeways.
You can also offer designs for printing through these sites and other marketplaces.
Do You Need a Degree in 3D Printing?
To work as a 3D printing technician, most employers require that applicants have at least a degree in engineering or software development. Because 3D printing is a manufacturing technology, it generally requires studying topics such as computer-aided design (CAD) and additive manufacturing processes.
Can a 3D Printer Pay for Itself?
Yes, a 3D printer can pay for itself if you use it to produce items that are in high demand and which can be made cheaply.
However, if your 3D printer is used to produce items that are not in high demand or which can be costly, it may not pay for itself within a short period.
How Much Money Can You Make With a 3D Printer?
A single hit 3D printing design can make thousands of dollars, while 3D printing and CAD consultants often charge $50-200 an hour for their expertise. With creativity and perseverance, anyone can find ways to monetize their 3D printer.
What Skills are Needed for 3D Printing?
To get started with 3D printing, you need to be familiar with the printer and the software that works with it. Familiarity with licensing laws is also essential.
Will 3D Printing Take Away Jobs?
3D printing is a rapidly evolving technology that is beginning to penetrate many industries around the world. This technology is likely to significantly impact careers in the future as more and more jobs are being advertised for engineers with 3D printing skills.
You may be in luck if you have skills in software development, biomedical technology, animation design, engineering, or another field that uses 3D printing technology.
How Long Does it Take to Learn 3D Printing?
It can take some time to learn how to use a 3D printer, but with some practice, it is straightforward. Beginner users need to be familiar with CAD software and have some technical know-how to start quickly. With time and practice, anyone can learn how to use a 3D printer.
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
- 3D printers can range in price from around $200 to $10,000+.
- There are several options for renting a 3D printer or accessing them at local maker spaces.
Is 3D Printing Useless?
3D printing technology has been found to provide real value to different production applications. This means that the technology is not useless or overhyped, as some may believe.
3D printing can create prototypes, produce small batches of parts, and even create customized products. Technology is constantly evolving and becoming more accessible, making it an increasingly attractive option for businesses and individuals.
Is 3D Printing Legal?
You can legally sell 3D prints of models you create if you follow the copyright license. The designer’s license overrides if a model contains copyrighted or trademarked content. Always check whether the objects you 3D print are copyrighted or not.