You’ve done it — finally pulled the trigger and invested in a majestic new 3D printer.
It was a hefty buy, but it’s worth it because of all the creative freedom you now have. Instead of relying on expensive printing services, you can get things done from the comfort of your own home (or office, depending on your circumstances).
But after an early printing spree, you let a few days go by with it sitting there unused, and that cost starts to wear on you. You feel like someone who signed up for 10-year gym membership after an ice cream disaster without any thought of how often they’d actually want to go. With all the hype around 3D printing, this can definitely happen, and it isn’t great for anyone. This fascinating technology should be used, not left to gather dust.
Fortunately, the sheer scope of 3D printing means that there’s almost certainly something you could be doing with it on a daily basis. If you bought on hype and want some guidance, or purchased a 3D printer for work but feel that you could be doing more with it, this piece is for you. Here’s how you can get maximum value from your eye-wateringly costly 3D printer.
Print items with high market valuations
Not everything you can print with your 3D printer is going to be cost you less to make than it would for you to simply buy it from elsewhere, and then you need to factor in the inconvenience of the additional time required to wait for the printing to finish. Here’s the takeaway: don’t bother printing things that don’t work out cheaper that way. Just buy them as you normally would.
Instead, reserve your 3D printer for items that are much cheaper to print — ideally flexible items such as watch straps or shoe soles. Yes, the materials needed to print them will be more expensive, but given the price disparity between a homemade plastic watch strap and a purchased one, that doesn’t affect the value on offer.
You can find a lot of great free models through communities such as Thingiverse, so see what catches your eye. After you’ve printed them, you can keep them and save money that way, give them away, or even sell them (more on that next).
Sell whatever you don’t use
Since you were sufficiently interested in 3D printing to buy a 3D printer, you’re probably inclined to experiment with different designs, and even creating your own. That in itself is a good use, as those experiences are valuable to you, but you can get even more value by selling (or at least trying to sell) anything you don’t use.
Do you really need twenty blocky dinosaur models in your home? Assuming not, just offer them up to anyone who’ll take them. You don’t even have to charge much — you don’t need to completely offset the cost of the materials, just take the edge off. I wouldn’t recommend eBay or Etsy because the service and shipping costs would probably sap any profit you could make, but you could try local fairs and other bartering events in your area.
Here’s one idea that could pan out: print miniatures and offer them at a decent price to collectors who like to paint miniatures. They’d likely welcome some opportunities to practice their painting skills without worrying about ruining some very expensive custom models. And if you get them hooked on the idea, you could even fulfil some printing requests for them.
Offer printing services to friends and family members
The 3D printing hype doesn’t affect everyone to a major extent, but most people enjoy novelty, and you can run with that by offering up your 3D printing services to friends and acquaintances. Charge them a few dollars to take a look at the machine, watch it work, or print something of their choice. As with the sales, you’re just trying to take the edge off the material costs.
If you know anyone with teenage children, that’s a great market for you. Often tasked with building school projects, they might well find your assistance very helpful, allowing them to create more complicated constructions and impress their teachers. Soon enough, you’ll likely be able to offer a rudimentary repair service.
And if you don’t want to charge, then you don’t have to. You can barter instead. You’ll let someone use your 3D printer if they let you use their mower. Every time you barter for something you would have otherwise had to pay for, you’ll be recouping some of that initial hardware investment.
Sell your printing services online
If you want to get very in-depth with your selling, you can even register your printer on a site that lets you start taking requests from strangers. By arranging collection instead of doing any shipping, you can avoid having all your profit margins cut away and incentivize shoppers in your area to choose your printer in particular.
You can also create your own storefront and turn your 3D printer into the engine of an ecommerce store, just as 3D Universe did back in 2013. Build one from scratch, get some assistance, or buy an existing store and rebrand it as you see fit (Exchange is one way to find an online business for sale, but you can also check eBay, Empire Flippers, Flippa, etc.) — offer up a basic selection of priced-up models around a theme and see how you get on.
Start a YouTube channel
This might seem like an off-the-wall suggestion, particularly if you’re camera shy, but it might be worth starting a YouTube channel because 3D printing is a fascinating topic to follow and discuss. You could build a small community around it, taking suggestions of what to print, running giveaways, and creating tutorials.
You wouldn’t even need to be an expert, because there’s just as much mileage in the prospect of a 3D printing novice learning as they go and sharing the experience with the world. Through video monetization (or even Patreon support if you ever reached that level of popularity), you could certainly make some extra money to go towards your next project.
Try taking inspiration from these existing channels around 3D printing, but don’t feel intimidated. There’s more than enough room for everyone to get some YouTube attention, and it will mostly come down to your personal style. Find a tone that suits your character and roll with it.
Unless you get incredible results with each of these suggestions (or got a phenomenal discount on your 3D printer when you bought it), you’re not going to pay off your hardware investment in full for a couple of years or so — but you can definitely get some money back in your pocket, all while having some fun, learning some new things, and sharpening your entrepreneurial skills. Definitely worth a try!
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketin
g expert and freelance writer who’d quite like to give 3D printed shoes a try. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.