3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D model. The term “3D printing” can refer to a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object, with material being added together (such as plastics, liquids or powder grains being fused together), typically layer by layer.
In the 1980s, 3D printing techniques were considered suitable only for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes, and a more appropriate term for it at the time was rapid prototyping. As of 2019, the precision, repeatability, and material range of 3D printing have increased to the point that some 3D printing processes are considered viable as an industrial-production technology, whereby the term additive manufacturing can be used synonymously with 3D printing. One of the key advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce very complex shapes or geometries that would be otherwise impossible to construct by hand, including hollow parts or parts with internal truss structures to reduce weight. Fused deposition modeling (FDM), which uses a continuous filament of a thermoplastic material, is the most common 3D printing process in use as of 2020.
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.
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:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
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.
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.
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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