Mar.8, 2012

Alex Hornstein and Bilal Ghalib made their way across the US with four DIY 3D printers in the trunk of their Prius. They started the Pocket Factory project aiming to start a business of designing, producing and selling products made with low-cost 3D printers. They design, test and produce something within a day or two, and then sell it at a relatively low cost.

It's now possible for anyone with an idea to create tangible items from 3D printers, from iPhone case, toys, jewelry to nearly anything. 3D printing is becoming affordable for individuals - engineers, innovators, designers, jewelers, artists, doctors - anyone who wants to get a new design out, 3D printing is the way to do it.

But how can you earn money and create small business using 3D Printing?

Andreas, an IT guy in Austria customizes Lego "minifigs", small plastic articulated figurines available as part of the construction toy Lego. Because Lego had stopped making a specific hat for Napoleonic figures, Andeas designed a new hat and had it 3D printed at Shapeways. He opened his shop on Shapeways and his products were so popular that he has sold 5000 items up to now.

Andreas is one of many designers who are using Shapeways, ponoko and Sculpteo etc online 3D printing service companies to produce their designs and sell them online.

About 10% of the 2,000 designers selling through Shapeways are making "decent money" - with the most popular bringing in excess of thousands of dollars a month, says Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen.

On Shapeways, 2,500 shops were opened in 2011 alone, and there are now over 4,400 shops on Shapeways. Shapeways shop owners earned over $270,000 in revenue in 2011, compared to $100,000 from their launch in 2008 through April 2011. Several designers are making a living selling 3D printed products such as Bathsheba Grossman. Bathsheba Grossman opened her store on Shapeways in 2007 selling geometric-inspired jewelry and sculptures. Today her stores earns $200 to $300 a month in profit.

If you ever played Dungeons & Dragon's board game then you will love the Thorn Dice Set. Chuck Stover designed the Thorn Dice and sold on his Shapeways store in various materials and colors. Priced at an affordable $25 in plastic and $105 in metal, Stover earns averages $1,800 a month in profit.

Using 3D printing one can design and make his own products and upload and sell on various sites such as Ebay and, the online market places. In 2004, the RepRap project set out to produce a low cost design for a 3D printer capable of printing half of its own parts. Since 2004 the RepRap ownership is increasing exponentially. The RepRap family tree shows the gradual evolution of the design. When you own a Reprap the first project you can do is to create parts for Reprap family and sell them on ebay. This is an easy way to make quick cash because there are always people who don't want to spend a lot of time to create all the parts.

What you can sell on ebay or etsy can be a set of reprapped Mendel parts or your own version 3D printers. Among all the hobbyist version of 3D printers, Makerbot is a good example of DIY printer done right in a business. In January of 2009, 3 guys founded Makerbot with a lasercutter and a big dream. With the initial $75k from their friend Jake Lodwick($50k) and Adrian Bowyer($25k), they developed the first prototype and put the first 20 MakerBot Cupcake CNCs into production. In August 2011, venture capital firm The Foundry Group invested $10 million in the company. More than 10,000 MakerBot 3D printers have been sold since 2009. MakerBot has gone from three tinkering guys to 50-plus employees and counting. Makerbot's successful story encourages more and more young people seeking business opportunities in making 3D printers for customers. So now we have Up!3DP, Ultimaker, Makergear, Felix, Fabbster, Cube and Printrbot etc in the market. Just recently, the Printrbot project blew past its $25,000 goal and reached more than $830,000 on funding platform Kickstarter.

3D printing has also fueled a boom in online 3D printing services, Shapeways, Ponoko and Sculpteo, etc, providing a new type of service that fills the gap between professional 3D printers and inexpensive models. Sarah Stocker and her business partner, Mark Danks, launched MyRobotNation last year. Anyone can create their own unique robot online and My Robot Nation will deliver it to the door. This is an another consumer-friendly 3D printing service company. They supply a set of simple web-based design tool so that anyone can create robots they want. A finished 3D printed robot ranges from 2-inch ($18) to 6-inch ($170).

Chris Yonge and Dave Britton founded MakersFactory in October 2011 and within weeks they are offering classes, with no ads but only word of mouth. MakersFactory is a new educational maker space in downtown Santa Cruz, CA, where people of all age could learn 3D printing, modeling and design prototype, manufacture a wide variety of items, from simple 3D objects to complex mechanical/electronic products. These sort of hackerspaces and fablabs are still expanding worldwide and they connect the emerging network of localized fabrication technologies with people who need stuff 3d printed, CNC'ed, or otherwise made. MakersFactory have expanded their business by helping some local businesses such as Mackenzies Chocolates with 3D printing and with special molds for the candy store that made new shapes for some new creamy delightful treats.

While 3D printing is getting popular, the software is becoming cheaper and easier to use. Some great free and/or open source software include Google's SketchUp, OpenSCAD, Blender and Wings3D. 3DTin, Tinkercad allows users to design directly in the browser. Tinkercad, the first to bring a browser based 3D printing CAD to the masses, has received one million dollars in seed funding in Nov, 2011.

Futurist Thomas Frey predicts that as many as 2 billion jobs could disappear by 2030. But thanks to 3D printing and the changing infrastructure new jobs will be created. 3D printing is already a $1 billion+ business, this is a huge opportunity. It gives anyone with an idea the means to be able to build products without investing in mass production. It turns an idea into a product, and then turn into a profit. There is no limit in 3D printing world, the only limit is someone's imagination.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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bleh2 wrote at 6/25/2015 11:10:43 PM:

bleh, if she makes 250 avg a month, and has spent 20 hours a week designing 3d stuff, it's alot less that you earn with an online boots shop. may as well give away designs then. meh. you can print very large stuff if it's stuck together. cupboards are never from one piece of oak, printers can do many sizes. mx3d for example.

Bleh wrote at 10/6/2014 4:32:27 AM:

Three things wrong with 3d printing currently: 1. There is a size limit. The bigger the printing size the more it will cost you. 2. Not all printers are the same they might use different fabricating processes to do the job. 3. A good 3D printer will set you back no less than $10k anything below it is just a toy.

McD wrote at 12/29/2013 4:16:50 AM:

These gun parts \/this guys talking about are not reliable what so ever. They break after 20 or so shots mostly. Except that guy in Austin which achieved 600 rds... But that part he had made on a 30+k machine.

imp wrote at 8/31/2013 12:46:48 AM:


impmuse wrote at 8/31/2013 12:43:37 AM:

Or maybe they will make gun parts. And bullets. Ten thousand patterns have already been sold. These guns work and require no permits or fingerprints. No wonder bilderberg wants to control 3 d printing. Print your gun today while you still can ....

Gary Liu wrote at 7/31/2013 10:29:26 AM:

I am interested in 3D printer and hope to make everything with it and share with everybody in the world. I think the technology is a large revolution for human being life in whole world. I wanna get one and change the world.

Mickman wrote at 5/29/2013 9:16:08 PM:

I envisage people taking 3D scans with smart phones of a product and hitting print.... that sends the data to your printer at home... By the time you get home the object is waiting for you.

dorothy wrote at 3/11/2013 5:47:04 PM:

The main comment everyone has about 3D printing taking over, is that when everyone has one, no one will need to buy 75% of the things that they do. I can only imagine sites like amazon that will let you buy something, and have an option for a direct print inside your house. The future is gonig to be glorious.

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