There are many ways to make money with your 3D printers. You basically have a miniature factory in your hands, and you control every single process from the material to the small details in the final product.
To this day, print-and-sell businesses remain lucrative. But with so many things to make, one could not help but wonder which would be the most profitable?
Which would sell like hotcakes?
I have here a list of 12 things you can make and sell that will get your business going.
The models on this list were selected based on their potential demand growth in the near future.
Some of the best things you can 3D print and sell include miniatures, movie figures, jewelry, home décor, cosplay parts, and souvenirs.
The Requirement to Start a Print and Sell Business
Starting a 3D printing business can be tricky. If you want to start selling your 3D prints, there are a couple of things you need to know.
It pays to start small, though it can be difficult to remain patient when you see business booming around you. This is especially true if this is your first time as a business owner.
Why go slow? To learn at a comfortable pace.
Most importantly, this helps you focus on product quality over quantity.
This is important because competing against other businesses in price is a race to the bottom. You will quickly lose money.
Instead, offer something different in the form of quality. Offer good value.
So, start small and focus on a small group of people.
It is good if you try to cater to a certain group of people whose needs you are already familiar with. It is even better if you share their enthusiasm and experience in the field.
For instance, if you are into D&D or Warhammer 40k, consider printing and selling miniatures.
You can describe the product in a level of detail that you otherwise cannot if you are not familiar with them.
This tells the customer that you are knowledgeable in the field and understand their needs, increasing the likelihood of them buying from you.
In short, identify your target audience so that you can make effective product listings and ads to attract sales.
At the end of the day, you are running a business, not a charity.
That means, you need to consider the cost and revenue. You want to turn a profit, after all.
So, think how much you would spend on printing the product, putting it up, and other costs.
Then, check your competitors to get an idea of how much you should sell. Ideally, your revenue should exceed your expenses.
Again, consider offering value in your products instead of competing on price.
This may drive up the cost of manufacturing, but you will have a higher-quality product. Then, quality will be your selling point.
Suffice it to say, the quality of your 3D printer will affect the quality of the final product.
But it is not as simple as buying the most expensive one on the market, either.
You need to carefully consider what kind of products you are going to print. Each type of printer is good for a different project.
If you are new to the industry, then you should start with either FDM or Resin.
Both are incredibly popular because they are accessible and have a small footprint on your desk.
Which to pick?
FDM printers use filaments as raw material and SLA printers use liquid resin.
Both have their own set of benefits and drawbacks, but are equally solid options for you.
FDM printers are cheap to operate, and the final products usually do not require more polishing or any work after the fact. But they are slower and can be tricky to troubleshoot and maintain because they have a lot of moving parts.
I recommend using FDM printers if you plan on selling mechanical objects, bigger and stronger models.
Resin printers are faster and can create details on the final product in ways that FDM printers can never match.
The downside is that the printing process is quite messy since you do have to handle toxic liquid resin.
You need to do a fair bit of post-processing work and dispose of resin-contaminated objects.
In short, go for FDM printers if you plan on selling functional items that do not require intricate details.
If you are after aesthetics, Resin printers are the better option.
The materials will dictate the quality and properties of the final product.
So, make sure you understand exactly what you plan to sell and then pick the appropriate material.
The material you choose depends, of course, on the printer type and on the purpose of the final product, since every material has its own set of unique properties.
We have created a chart of the most common FDM materials and their properties to help you navigate. You can find the table here.
For resin (or SLA) printers, I would suggest you read the material guide from formlabs, which will help you understand the properties of each.
Whichever material you use depends on the purpose of the final product, since every material has its own set of unique properties.
Picking the right material guarantees the best results.
You have two options here.
You can either buy 3D models online or make them yourself.
Buying 3D Models: Buying means less work, but also less customization and potential copyright issues. There are a ton of models you can download and use for free, but some may come with copyright protection. So, you need the author’s permission. Make sure you check the copyright protection before using it.
Copyright also extends to making custom 3D designs yourself. If they happen to closely resemble protected IPs, you could be in trouble.
Making them for personal use is fine and dandy, but the problem arises when you try to sell them. So, take your time and understand the fair use of copyrighted material in your area before you start.
If you are unsure whether you can use the model and cannot reach the author, err on the side of caution and assume that you do not and. move on.
Designing your own 3D Models: Designing your own models gives you more freedom and will help you differentiate from other competitors. But you need to learn 3D modeling with the software of your choice. There are many CAD tools you can choose from. Some are free, the others are paid.
As you can see from other posts, we love Fusion 360 for 3D printing. It is just an incredible tool with complete workflow. But, it costs.
As a free alternative, you can try TinkerCAD, which has its limitations against the paid tools. But, is good software to start and experience what 3D modeling is about.
Finally, let’s talk about your storefront.
Where to set up? You can always create a website, but many beginners leverage the massive audience on online platforms to build a reputation.
You have many options here:
- Etsy: All about DIY products and many 3D printing shops do well here. It costs $0.20 per item every 4 months or until it sells and you relist it again. They also take a cut out of your revenue when an item sells.
- Amazon: The biggest eCommerce in the world with third-party integration for their warehouse. In other words, you can let them handle the logistics.
- eBay: The oldest platform in our list that still somewhat keeps up with Amazon. Though it is not as popular or versatile, you should still have a storefront here to supplement other stores.
Most Profitable Things to 3D Print and Sell
With all that in mind, what sells well in this industry?
Here are some ideas.
There is always a demand for these, and I believe they are only going to be even more so in the future.
1. Spare Parts
Things break down eventually, but that does not mean you have to spend a fortune on buying spare parts.
You can print replacement parts for an appliance, vehicle, device, or even for another printer.
Of course, you can’t just print a few nuts and bolts and expect to make bank.
The money comes in when you are making parts that are expensive, difficult to acquire, or no longer available from retailers.
Things such as a plastic knob of an old car that the manufacturer no longer makes.
The trick here is to anticipate what parts people need, but quick market research on online marketplaces should give you an idea of where to start.
I’m not talking about wire cutters and hammers, of course.
Such tools require weight or resilience that filaments may not provide.
But this does not mean that you cannot sell 3D-printed tools.
You just need to get a bit creative. For instance, you can make a wire stripper from a 3D printer but add a slot for a razor blade to get that cutting power.
Another example is a larger handle for a hex key.
As you can see, you just combine your 3D-printed parts with other hardware. Even then, this is not the limit.
There are a ton of other tools you can make with your 3D printer.
Everybody loves gifts, and the best part is that you are going for aesthetics than durability.
There are a ton of ideas out there. Some people like little toys they can fiddle with at work, and others want a miniature Eiffel Tower on their desk.
The trick is to identify which one to make. This is difficult if you do not have a target audience in mind.
There is always a demand for tabletop miniatures.
Again, games such as D&D and Warhammer 40k come to mind here.
The challenge here is that they need to be small but also detailed. If you can nail the small details, you are well on your way to making money.
Miniatures are also very customizable. The buyer can and will often paint these small figures themselves.
For you, that means less work.
Your goal here is to position yourself as a good supplier of miniatures that traditional manufacturers cannot supply.
When you become popular enough, someone may come to you asking for special, original miniatures for their stories or campaigns.
If you know your way around 3D modeling, it is a great way to earn extra cash.
There is an entire industry that centers on allowing people to live the characters they love – cosplay.
For the cosplayer, they get to step into the shoes of their favorite characters.
Fans of these characters also get a chance to see their lifelike representation.
That aside, any cosplayer will tell you that putting together any costumes from scratch is a tedious and expensive process. One of them is masks.
A lot of characters wear them, and designing one from scratch is extremely difficult. It is not that difficult for a 3D printer, however.
So, you can position yourself as a supplier there.
Halloween will also increase the need for spooky masks. Though seasonal, consider capitalizing on this opportunity.
It is not just masks though.
Some cosplayers pay a premium to get their hands on unique parts of their costume. It takes a bit more time, but it is well worth the effort.
6. Home Décor
The value here comes in the form of aesthetics than mechanical.
Considering that the whole work-from-home thing is starting to take off, people are finding ways to customize their desks.
There is a lot of freedom for creativity here because the value lies in how the final product looks. You do not have to worry too much about precise dimensions or durability.
Fine details and complex geometry are nice to look at, so focus on those instead.
7. Movie Figures
Similar to miniatures, except your products are for collectors and not tabletop games.
Avid fans of video games and movies will pay good money to get their hands on a lifelike representation of their favorite characters.
The challenge here is acquiring the license to produce and sell the likeness of these characters, which can be expensive. Even then, this also presents itself as an opportunity.
The barrier of entry may be too high for a lot of people, so competition in this space is relatively weak.
Even then, it can be tricky to mimic fine details like flowing clothing or facial features.
Basically pieces of art that you can wear, the jewelry market can provide a good opportunity to make money.
The only problem is that everybody else has the same idea, and the market is full of hobbyists and artisans. So, you need to make yourself stand out.
The pieces are small, so printing time and cost will be short.
Instead, you need to put in a lot of work after the fact to get the right look that sells. With the right designs and advertisements, you stand a good chance of making a name for yourself in this field.
9. Home Accessories
Home accessories add the finishing touches to make your home truly yours.
Just like home décor, there are a ton of options out there as there is a lot of room for creativity.
Similar to other aesthetic products, both the demand and competition are high, so you need to make your business stand out by offering uniqueness and value in your product.
Clever marketing will go a long way and understanding your target audience will really help.
Bonus: Legendary Car Models
You will be focusing on a very niche audience, but this is worth it if you play your cards right.
Enthusiasts will pay good money for high-quality models of their favorite cars.
The challenge is to present yourself as a reliable vendor and produce high-quality prints with an excellent finish.
Bonus: Christmas Decorations
Similar to how Halloween temporarily increases the need for masks, Christmas brings about a whole host of opportunities.
The best thing about the holiday is that you have a ton of options when it comes to decorations. So much so that you may feel a bit lost.
3D-printed Christmas ornaments are becoming incredibly popular for many reasons.
For one, they are fairly inexpensive so it is easy to acquire a lot of them to get the festive spirit going.
There are also a lot of options. Some Star Wars fans may enjoy seeing the Death Star bauble hanging from their pine tree. Others may recall the good old days of Minecraft when they look at the Creeper bauble.
Most importantly, these ornaments are more durable than what you usually get at the shop.
People who have pets at home can rest easy putting up your 3D-printed ornaments on their tree without worrying about their cats or dogs.
Your main focus should be on baubles because there are a lot of designs to choose from.
Another good option is the tree topper.
Bonus: Famous Airplanes
Similar to printing and selling legendary car models, you can also try your hands on printing airplanes.
Though miniature, both can have significant historical significance for the buyer.
They may be willing to pay good money for a high-quality model.
Starting a 3D printing business can be an intimidating prospect, considering the logistics and potential legal challenges that you may face.
This is why there are not nearly as many people in this industry.
That aside, this also means that this could be a very profitable side hustle if you play your card rights. All you need is the right tools for the job and a good understanding of IP laws.
Read the fine print and err on the side of caution, and you will be well on your way to making money in this industry!