How To Start a 3D Printing Business (2024)

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If you’re an entrepreneur with a product idea, you might have considered looking for a factory to handle production. But thanks to 3D printing, that’s no longer necessary. 

3D printing lets you turn digital designs into physical products, without bringing in a third party. You can create items for retail or business-to-business sales using a 3D printer and some basic skills. Here’s a quick guide on starting your own 3D printing business.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is a method of making three-dimensional objects from a digital design using various materials like metal, ceramic, and plastic. While traditional printers put ink on paper, 3D printers build objects by adding material, layer by layer.

You can 3D print at home with a small device that melts and reshapes plastic. This technology is also widely used in large industries, like automotive, health care, construction, architecture, electronics, and other areas that require mass manufacturing.

What are the steps in 3D printing?

The 3D printing process is made up of five main steps:

1. Designing

A designer makes a 3D model using CAD software, by scanning an existing item to copy its shape. This digital file tells the 3D printer what to create.

2. Slicing

Proprietary software cuts the 3D model into thin horizontal layers. These layers are stacked on top of each other in the 3D printer. The software then converts them into instructions for the 3D printer to follow.

3. Printing

Based on the instructions, the 3D printer starts creating the item. It precisely layers materials like metal, plastic, or ceramic, as directed by the slicing software.

4. Layer bonding

With each layer added, the material bonds to the one before it. This additive process goes on until the whole object comes into shape.

5. Post-processing

After printing finishes, the object might need extra steps like cleaning, curing, sanding, painting, and assembly to get its final look and function.

How to start a 3D printing business

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

Starting a 3D printing business can cost between $4,000 and $6,000, initially. You’ll need to cover some standard expenses like a business license and business insurance. Other costs are specific to additive manufacturing technology. New 3D printing business owners can expect the following expenses:

Printing materials

Think of 3D printing materials like the ink for a paper printer. They come as filaments, resins, or powders. The cost depends on what you’re making. A spool of filament might cost $20 for basic PLA plastic, but specialty filaments can go for hundreds.


Your 3D printer needs modeling and slicing software to work. Free options include FreeCAD and Blender, but they might not handle complex designs. Paid software like Simplify3D and Autodesk Fusion 360 can cost from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars annually.

Post-processing equipment

For certain 3D-printed items, you’ll need additional equipment for post-processing. This equipment typically includes tools that can help the item reach its final form, such as cleaning stations and sanding and filling tools. Costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on your industry.

Real estate and utilities

Your 3D printing setup requires physical space. A small home-based startup might work if you’re serving a local market. For bigger production runs, you’ll probably need to rent a larger workspace or even a warehouse. Don’t forget to factor in the costs of utilities like internet and electricity. Costs will vary depending on where you’re located.

Marketing costs

You’ll need a budget for promoting your business. This includes creating a business website, designing a newsletter, pursuing social media marketing, and implementing SEO. Some businesses invest in hiring marketing experts, while others manage it themselves to save costs.

Hired labor

Planning to hire employees? You’ll need to budget for salaries, training, and benefits. The cost of personnel can vary widely.

Insurance and legal fees

Small business owners can expect to pay for business insurance. Many will also incur costs for legal services related to licensing, registration, and contracts. Getting these through a lawyer typically costs several hundred dollars per hour. To save money on some of these services, look into online legal options like LegalZoom or ZenBusiness. These solutions are often more affordable than traditional legal fees.

How to start a 3D printing business

Starting a 3D printing business requires careful planning and discipline. Just like any other industry, you’ll need to be organized and focused. Here are the main steps to launching your own 3D printing business:

1. Do market research

2. Create a business plan

3. Legally establish your business

4. Obtain financing

5. Research and choose a 3D printing technology

6. Lease space and purchase equipment

7. Choose a sales platform

8. Hire employees, as required

9. Build an online presence

10. Market your 3D printing business

1. Do market research

Before trying your hand at 3D printing, evaluate the business model through market research. Assess your competitors and examine the industry. Identify market gaps and potential niches for your 3D printing venture.

2. Create a business plan

Create a detailed business plan outlining your objectives, target market, services, marketing plan, and financial projections. Make sure it aligns with the findings of your market research because you want to offer services that address the needs and pain points of your target audience. Additionally, choose a legal business name (you can brainstorm or use a free name generator for ideas).

3. Legally establish your business

To operate your 3D printing business legally, you’ll need to set up a formal business structure like a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation. You may also need to register for sales tax, depending on your location and state regulations.

4. Obtain financing

Open a business bank account and get financing. You could seek investor capital or bank loans or bootstrap with your own savings. Entrepreneurs can also tap into private resources like Shopify Capital or public ones like the Small Business Administration (SBA) to obtain the funding they need.

5. Research and choose a 3D printing technology

Select the 3D printing technology you want to use. Look into options like stereolithography (SLA), fused deposition modeling (FDM), and selective laser sintering (SLS), which all build objects layer by layer. Determine the materials you’ll use and the specific services you’ll offer, such as production, custom items, prototyping, and more.

6. Lease space and purchase equipment

You might begin your 3D printing business from home. But when it grows, you’ll probably need a dedicated workspace with proper lighting, ventilation, and electrical sockets. Additionally, you’ll require the right 3D printers and raw materials for the items you manufacture. Research different models and brands and invest according to your financial capacity.

7. Choose a sales platform

There are several channels you can use to sell your 3D-printed goods to consumers. For instance, you can create your own online store via Shopify to manage everything from transactions to customer relationships. Other businesses, such as those operating under a business-to-business (B2B) model, may not need a front-facing sales platform. These companies can use accounting software to track revenue and expenses.

8. Hire employees, as required

You can choose to start your 3D printing business solo. Alternatively, you can have a team ready before you start fulfilling orders. You could also learn how to 3D print yourself and hire freelance help for administrative tasks like marketing and bookkeeping.

9. Build an online presence

With most people using the internet to find service providers these days, you’ll need a website and social media presence to get noticed. Create an online profile that showcases your expertise and services. You can use an all-in-one commerce platform like Shopify for this purpose—it includes hosting, a website builder, and more in its package.

10. Market your 3D printing business

You can market your 3D printing business using several strategies:

  • SEO content: Write helpful guides and articles related to 3D printing, and use relevant keywords to boost search engine rankings.
  • Social media marketing: Share engaging posts, customer testimonials, and behind-the-scenes looks on Instagram and Facebook to build a loyal following.
  • Online ads: Use Google Ads or Facebook Ads to target specific demographics interested in 3D printing services and products.
  • Word-of-mouth campaigns: Offer referral discounts to existing customers who bring in new clients.
  • Influencer collaborations: Partner with industry influencers to showcase your products in their content and reach a wider audience.
All of these approaches can help attract new customers and encourage existing ones to stick around.

    Ready to start your own 3D printing business?

    3D printing might still be new technology, but it’s quickly becoming accessible. Entrepreneurs can use the steps above to create their own 3D products and grow their businesses. With the right approach, you can carve out your niche and succeed.

    How to start a 3D printing business FAQ

    Can I 3D print anything and sell it?

    You can 3D print any item that can be built using additive manufacturing technology. From custom jewelry to specialized electronic components, you can legally create and sell anything as long as you comply with local, state, and federal laws. These may pertain to intellectual property, consumer rights, tax compliance, and safety, among other categories.

    Do I need to have technical expertise in 3D printing to start a business?

    Operating a 3D printer does require technical know-how, but you can learn through manuals, online tutorials, and training courses. The process involves mastering advanced software used in 3D printing. Alternatively, you can hire people with expertise in 3D printing to oversee this aspect of your business.

    How do I ensure the quality of my 3D-printed products?

    You can ensure quality by using top-grade materials such as high-quality resins, metals, and plastics. You should also invest in commercial-grade manufacturing equipment. Make sure you and your team are familiar with the complexities of the 3D production process to consistently produce high-quality products.

    What factors should I keep in mind when pricing my 3D printing products?

    When pricing your products, you should consider the following:

    • Market demand: How popular is the product among potential buyers?
    • Cost of materials and equipment: What are the expenses for high-quality plastics, metals, and resins?
    • Competitor prices: How much are your competitors charging for similar 3D-printed items?

    Want to learn more?