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How To Start A 3D Printing Business

How To Start A 3D Printing Business

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How To Start A 3D Printing Business

How to Start a 3D Printing Business

In a world where customization is king, 3D printing offers the chance to produce unique, on-demand products. The advent of 3D printing technology has revolutionized various industries and opened up opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs.

Starting a 3D printing business requires more than technical skills; it also demands an understanding of the market, a clear business strategy, and a passion for innovation. But don’t fret – our guide is here to help you navigate through the startup process. Every successful business starts with a single step and with this information at hand, you’re well-equipped to take that first step towards establishing your own 3D printing business.

3D Printing Industry Overview

Starting a 3D printing business (also referred to as additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping) can be an exciting venture with significant potential for growth. This type of business involves creating three-dimensional objects from a digital file using a 3D printer. The breadth of products you can create is vast – from product prototypes and parts for manufacturing to gifts, promotional products, art, jewelry, and even medical devices. Different materials, such as plastic and metals, can be used.

The 3D printing industry has seen substantial growth. Over the last five years, annual growth has increased by 17.2% each year to $3.6 billion in sales. The technology has become more accessible and affordable, leading to its increased use in various sectors like automotive, aerospace, healthcare, and consumer goods. As such, the demand for 3D printed products and services is expected to continue to rise.

One of the key trends in the 3D printing industry is customization. Consumers and businesses alike are seeking custom solutions, and 3D printing offers the flexibility to meet these needs.

Additionally, there’s a growing trend towards eco-friendly materials in 3D printing, reflecting the broader societal shift towards sustainability. Moreover, advancements in technology are resulting in faster, more efficient 3D printers, which can produce more complex designs.

Target Market

The target market for a 3D printing business can be quite diverse, depending on the focus and scale of the operation. Here’s a breakdown that might resonate with your specific business plan:

  • Individual consumers: This includes hobbyists, artists, and DIY enthusiasts who are looking for customized products or components for personal projects.
  • Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs): Many SMBs utilize 3D printing for prototyping or small batch production. It allows them to innovate without the massive costs associated with traditional manufacturing.
  • Healthcare industry: Medical professionals and institutions are adopting 3D printing for creating custom prosthetics, implants, and even human tissue.
  • Educational institutions: Schools, colleges, and universities are utilizing 3D printing in their curriculums to enhance learning in subjects like engineering, architecture, and design.
  • Manufacturing sector: Large manufacturers are increasingly using 3D printing for producing parts, tools, and prototypes. It allows them to accelerate design cycles and reduce costs.
  • Architectural firms: 3D printing helps architects create detailed models of buildings and landscapes, aiding in both design and client presentations.
  • Automotive and aerospace industries: These sectors are employing 3D printing for creating complex parts, enhancing both efficiency and flexibility in production.
  • Entertainment industry: 3D printing is used in making props, costumes, and even sets in movies, television, and theater.

Understanding your specific target market is essential in shaping your business strategy. It affects everything from the technology and materials you’ll need to your marketing and sales approach. By identifying and focusing on the right market segment, you can align your 3D printing business with the needs and interests of your potential customers, ensuring a stronger position in this innovative field.

Checklist To Start A 3D Printing Business

If you’re thinking about starting a 3D printing business, it’s important to do your research first. Here is a checklist to help you get started.

Step 1: Choose a Niche

Choosing the right niche is a critical step in starting any business, including 3D. Without the proper research, you risk entering a market that’s too small, too competitive, or not interested in your offerings.

With a wide range of applications, from medical devices to architectural models, focusing on a specific area can help differentiate your business in a competitive market. Consider factors like your expertise, customer demand, and market saturation when selecting a niche.

Here’s some tips on how to identify and select a niche:

Identify opportunities: Look for gaps in the market or areas where you have unique knowledge or insights. Maybe there’s a particular industry, like medicine or architecture, where you can specialize.

Evaluate competition: Researching your competition can provide insights into what works well and what gaps might exist in the market that your business could fill.

Consider passion and skills: Aligning your niche with what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at can lead to a more fulfilling and successful business.

Understand industry trends: Keeping up-to-date with industry trends can help you adapt your business to meet changing customer demands and stay competitive.

Step 2: Write a Business Plan

A business plan for a 3D printing business serves as a strategic guide, helping to clarify your business concept, identify potential challenges, and set goals. It’s like a navigational chart for a ship; without it, you risk drifting off course or running aground.

While writing a business plan is often thought of as something only done to attract funding, the business plan can also help solidify your ideas and strategies. Some sections of a business plan that are particularly significant for a 3D printing business include:

Market analysis: This section details your understanding of the market landscape, including industry trends, target audience, and competition.

Product line and services: Here, you detail what you’re selling. For a 3D printing business, this could include the types of products you’ll be producing, the technology you’ll be using, and any related services you’ll offer, such as design consulting or post-production finishing.

Sales and marketing strategy: This outlines how you plan to attract and retain customers. Given the specialized nature of 3D printing, you’ll need to demonstrate a clear strategy for reaching your target market and convincing them of the value of your offerings.

Financial projections: Here, you create a forecast of the revenues and expenses for your business. This section can help you determine whether your idea is feasible.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 3: Register the Business

Registering a 3D printing business involves several steps, and while the process may vary slightly from state to state, some general guidelines apply.

Choose a business structure: The first thing you’ll need to decide is what business structure is best for your business. This could be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a Limited Liability Company (LLC), or a corporation. Each of these structures has different implications for liability, taxes, and administrative complexity. The sole proprietorship and LLC are popular choices for a 3D printing business. The sole proprietorship because it is easy and inexpensive to form and the LLC because it provides personal liability protection.

Related: Comparison of business structures

Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.

During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.

Related: Finding a domain name for your business

Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Related: State guides for general business licensing

Step 4: Purchase Equipment & Supplies

Securing the right equipment and supplies is a key step in starting a 3D printing business. This phase can be both thrilling and challenging, as you’ll be turning your business plan into a tangible operation. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to go about purchasing equipment and supplies for a 3D printing business.

Here are some steps to guide you through this process:

Identify your needs: Based on your business plan and the niche you’ve chosen, identify the types of 3D printers, materials, and other equipment you’ll need. For example, if you plan to specialize in prototyping for industrial design, you might need a high-resolution 3D printer capable of using a variety of materials.

Selecting 3D printers: There are various 3D printing technologies, including FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), SLA (Stereolithography), and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering). Your choice will depend on the products you plan to print.
FDM Printers: Great for prototypes and functional parts.
– SLA Printers: Best for high-detail and smooth finish.
– SLS Printers: Suitable for complex geometries and industrial parts.

Trade shows, expos, and networking events can provide direct access to suppliers and allow you to see products in person.

Research suppliers: In addition to 3D printers, you’ll need to purchase supplies like printing materials (e.g., PLA, ABS, resin), cleaning supplies, and spare parts. Start with online research to find well-known suppliers in the 3D printing industry. Look for reviews, ratings, and testimonials.

Step 5: Set Up a Workspace

A new 3D printing business can often be set up in a spare room, but be sure to consider efficiency, safety, and creativity when setting up the space.

First, you’ll want to choose a space with enough room for your printers, computers, and materials. Ensure proper ventilation, as some printing processes may release fumes. Also, climate control is key too, as temperature and humidity can affect print quality.

Organize your workspace with designated areas for printing, assembling, post-processing, and storage. Investing in ergonomic furniture and quality lighting will create a comfortable and productive environment.

Don’t overlook electrical requirements; ensure the space has adequate outlets for all your equipment. Safety measures such as fire extinguishers and first aid kits should also be easily accessible.

Step 6: Build an Online Presence

Building an online presence for a 3D printing business is an essential step in reaching your target market and expanding your reach. Depending on the specific market you’re targeting, your online strategy may vary.

Here are some ways to create a robust online presence:

Identifying your target market: Understand who you’re targeting: individual consumers, businesses, artists, engineers, or a mix of these. Your online strategy should speak directly to their needs and interests.

Creating a professional website: Regardless of your target market, a professional website serves as your online business card. Include a portfolio, services offered, pricing, and contact information. Tools like WordPress and Shopify can make this easier.

Utilizing social media: Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest can be effective tools for showcasing your work, engaging with customers, and attracting potential clients. Regular posts about your projects, behind-the-scenes processes, and industry-related content can help build your brand’s reputation and visibility.

Selling on online marketplaces: Consider selling your products on online platforms suited for your target market:
Etsy: Perfect for artistic and custom prints.
– Amazon or eBay: For general consumer products.
– Alibaba: If targeting businesses and bulk orders.

Building an online presence for a 3D printing business isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires a tailored strategy that resonates with your target market. Whether focusing on consumer products, custom artwork, industrial parts, or educational tools, aligning your online channels, content, and sales platforms with your audience’s needs and interests will position your business for success.

Step 7: Prepare to Launch!

As you finalize preparations for your 3D printing business, there are several key steps to consider. While these are common steps that most will need to consider, the precise needs for your 3D printing business might differ.

First is securing business insurance. This could include general liability insurance, property insurance, and product liability insurance. These protect against potential liabilities associated with operating a business, damage to your property, or issues with the products you create.

We recommend getting at least three insurance quotes, including local insurance agents and online providers like Coverwallet or Hiscox to get the best coverage and price.

Next, setting up a proper bookkeeping system will help manage business finances, which will make tax time easier. You can use software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks. It’s also advisable to open a separate bank account for your business to keep personal and business finances separate.

Depending on your business model, contracts may be important. For a 3D printing business, these might include service agreements (outlining what you will provide to a client), non-disclosure agreements (if you’re working with proprietary designs), and supplier contracts (for materials or hardware).

RocketLawyer and Law Depot have free and inexpensive templates that may be helpful.

Determining your pricing structure is another important step. Consider the cost of materials, time, electricity, and any post-processing when setting prices.

For accepting payments, be sure to set up credit card processing. Services like Square or Stripe are popular choices that offer simple setups and competitive rates.

This material is property of StartingYourBusiness.com

Greg’s Tip: When you’re in the 3D printing industry, it’s not uncommon to encounter designs and models that are protected by copyrights, patents, or trademarks. Using someone else’s protected work without permission can lead to financial and legal trouble.

Greg's Business Tip

Common Questions When Starting A 3D Printing Business

How much does it cost to start a 3D printing business?

Starting a 3D printing business can be an attractive opportunity, but it comes with its own set of financial considerations. The total cost to get started ranges from around $1,000 to $50,000, depending on various factors such as equipment quality, location, and the scope of your services.

Here’s a breakdown of the primary initial costs:

The costs involved in starting a 3D printing business are primarily made up of the cost of the printer itself and 3D design software. Equipment costs will vary greatly, depending on the niche you plan to go into as the equipment needed to print prototypes for manufacturers is going to be very different from smaller novelty items. Entry-level 3D printers can cost anywhere from $350 to $2,500, while mid-range 3D printers can range from $2,500 to $6,000, and high-end printers can reach $100,000. High-quality 3D design software can also considerably add to your upfront expenses.

Other equipment could include a 3D scanner.

If the cost of equipment is too high, you could start off by providing 3D model design services and then send the file to a printing service.  This is a lower-risk way to get started to see if you can get customers and like this business.

You’ll also need to account for the cost of materials, which can vary depending on what you’re planning to print. This might include various types of 3D printing material like filament or resin, each with its own cost.

Insurance is another cost to consider. While the exact amount will depend on factors like your location and the size of your business, it’s important to budget for this expense in your initial costs.

Marketing expenses for the initial launch of your business could also add to your startup costs. This may include website development, social media advertising, and other promotional activities.

Setting up a workspace or renting a location for your business will also factor into your startup costs. The cost for this can vary widely depending on your location and the size of the space you need.

Remember, these are just estimates, and the exact costs can vary based on a variety of factors. It’s always advisable to do thorough research and create a detailed business plan before starting a 3D printing business.

How profitable is a 3D printing business?

Here’s a detailed paragraph providing an informative insight into the profitability of a 3D printing business:

The profit potential of a 3D printing business varies based on several factors including the market demand, niche, location, business model, and the owner’s ability to control costs.

On average, a 3D printing business can charge between $30 to $150 per hour for printing services depending on complexity, materials, and machine time. So, let’s consider a scenario where the business generates revenue of $100 per hour and operates for 40 hours a week. That’s $4,000 per week or $16,000 per month.

Now, the expenses can include the cost of materials, rent, utilities, maintenance, marketing, and salaries, which may sum up to approximately $8,000 per month.

Using a simple formula of Revenue – Expenses, the calculation would be $16,000 (Revenue) – $8,000 (Expenses) = $8,000 (Profit) per month. Annually, this translates to a profit of $96,000.

Of course, these numbers can fluctuate, and individual results may vary widely. It’s essential to conduct detailed market research and craft a solid business plan tailored to the specific circumstances of your location and target market to get a more accurate assessment of potential profitability.

What skills are needed to run a 3D printing business?

Running a 3D printing business requires a blend of technical, managerial, and interpersonal skills. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need:

3D modeling and design: Understanding how to create and manipulate 3D models using various software tools is key. You’ll need to interpret and modify designs as per client requirements.

Printer operation and maintenance: Being familiar with the different types of 3D printers, their operation, calibration, and maintenance is crucial for producing quality prints.

Material knowledge: Knowing the properties and applications of various printing materials like PLA, ABS, or resin helps in selecting the right material for each project.

Strategic planning: Ability to develop a business plan, set goals, and make informed decisions that align with the business’s vision.

Financial management: You need to be adept at budgeting, forecasting, and managing finances to ensure profitability.

Communication: Clear and concise communication with clients, suppliers, and team members is essential.

Customer service: Providing excellent service to build strong relationships with customers and encourage repeat business.

Compliance: Knowledge of relevant regulations, intellectual property laws, and maintaining compliance with legal requirements.

What is the NAICS code for a 3D printing business?

The NAICS code for a 3D printing service is 323111, which is categorized under Commercial Printing.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code and how to find yours


  • Greg Bouhl

    With over two decades as an entrepreneur, educator, and business advisor, Greg Bouhl has worked with over 2,000 entrepreneurs to help them start and grow their businesses. Fed up with clients finding and acting on inaccurate and outdated information online, Greg launched StartUp101.com to be a trusted resource for people starting a business.

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How To Start A 3D Printing Business

How To Start A 3D Printing Business

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