Article

How to make money from 3d printing

  • Nimish Sany
  • 17 January , 2016

Imagine how cool it would be, to turn the ideas your dirty little mind has to offer into useful, tangible objects. And better yet, make money out of it! Sound a little too good to be true?

 Well, it is the human race. We do things that might sound a little too good to be true.

 

Designs are liberated from papers and computer screens. Designs are made real by the push of a button. Designs become objects while you are having your coffee break. Thanks to 3D printing!

The basics

 Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break’em like an artist”- Picasso

Most of you guys are not going to make a 3D printer by yourself to start working. So let’s have a look at how this thing actually works.

You will need

In addition to a peaceful mind, you need two things to make a 3D design real.

  1. A CAD software
  2. And well of course, a 3D printer!

The CAD (Computer Aided Designing) software is the canvas for your designs. It helps you design a 3D model of the object you are designing according to the specifications (dimensions, angles, etc) you give. Now be careful, as this stage decides the shape and size of your object. You don’t want your coffee mug to end up a bong.

You can buy a CAD software easily from the internet. It’s a pretty good thing to spend for, if you’re going to be in the 3D printing business. Some popular CAD softwares include AUTOCAD, 3D Studio Max, Catia, etc. A good practice is to try those softwares available to you and choose from them. Look for factors like:

  • User interface- An artist’s tool needs to speak to him. Does the software flirt with you? Does it brings out the U in you?
  • Cost- How much are you willing to spend? Match the cost of the software with your budget.
  • Complexity – B’coz the last thing you need is to feel designing like its rocket science.
  • Updates- No use planting a seed that doesn’t grow. Look for scope of updates in the future.
  • Customer support- After sales support is much needed for fixation of errors, if any. Choose wise.

The next step after choosing the software is to learn to get your way around it. If you’re buying from the internet, you’ll receive the tutorial as a PDF file. Or, you could just google the tutorial for your software. You can also join for online 3D designing courses similar to the one provided by IronCAD here.

Also, YouTube provides a good collection of tutorials for almost anything. Check out this tutorial for Blender on jewelry designing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e16c8uaCwzY

                                                                                                   Video courtesy: Mikhail Rachinskiy

   These softwares decide to an extent, the quality of your product. Choose a 3D designing software which aims exclusively at your product.

Now as with the printer, the very equipment which decides the quality of your products, I suggest you put some time and dime on it. Here are some factors worth considering while choosing one.

  • Cost – When it comes to 3D printers, you could either buy a kit and assemble one like the RepRap 3d printer or buy an assembled one. While the former costs about $200- $400, the latter can climb upto $20000.
  • Ease of use- This include convenience features like speed of print, quality, thickness, reduced noise and an effective console.
  • Consistency in quality- The quality of the print shouldn’t degrade after considerable usage.
  • Features- There are lot of printers out there which offers some extra features for some extra bucks. Choose only what you need because you don’t want to pay for some feature you might never use.
  • Support- 3D printers have a complex machine design and you could possibly end up messing it. So either for replacement or repair, after sales support is crucial.
  • Upgrades- Upgrades and add-ons help the makers to achieve better and improved replications. Keep your tech updated.

 

 

How it works

  1. Once you’ve fixed your design, start doodling it on the CAD software. These softwares could be a bit hard to pick up in the beginning. But as you practice, it will turn out to be fun.

 

  1. Now, once you’re finished with modeling, export these files to the firmware you got while buying you printer. The exported files have standard 3D printable formats, so you don’t need to convert.

 

  1. The firmware now converts this 3D model into a “mesh” and slices file into hundreds of digital cross-sections or layers.

 

  1. Each slice or cross section is printed one above the other continuously till we get our product.

 

Check out this video here about 3D printing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aghzpO_UZE

                                                                                                                                                        Video courtesy-National geographic

 

What they won’t tell you

“Ignorance is not always bliss.”

Let me state some facts before we go any further.

3D printing is a pinnacle of technology. But let’s face it, it’s a bit expensive. Check this article here by The Guardian about things that are being printed nowadays. Most of these are made by corporates willing to spend millions. NASA started making laser-sintered rocket nozzles. Just imagine how much those nickel chromium cartridges will cost. But that’s just NASA.

All the printers available on the market for beginners use cartridges that contains water-based adhesive that solidifies the powder, which is the ink of a 3D printer. Now, the objects you replicate are going to be made of this powder. The availability and cost of these powders could b a problem. For instance, to print a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm cube of titanium, you’ll need about $1000 to $2000 worth of titanium powder. In terms of economy, this won’t do much help to beginners. Initially, therefore choose available, economic powders to replicate your designs.

 

Making money out of it

“Chase down you passion like it’s the last bus of the night”- Terri Guillemets

With the help of 3D printers, you can always work out your passion. You can do what you’ve always wanted to, either as a hobby or as a means to make money. If you’re dedicated and diligent, you can easily work your way up, and have fun in the process. Here are a few ways you can kickoff with.

Sell designs & ideas

Know what’s more tempting than to buy something extraordinary? To make it. Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student from the University of Texas, designed, printed and successfully fired the world’s first ever 3D printed gun. The stl (extension) files of the design which he posted on the internet for free went viral. More than the temptation to shoot up things, it showed the people’s demand for a creative and brand new design. Attempt something that has never been attempted before. The biggest pro is you don’t need a 3D printer to sell your designs.

DEFCAD is a search engine for 3D printable models, where you can upload your designs and/or download the stl files of your choice.

Softwares used: Varies with product.

Sell sculptures

Turn your drawings and designs into sculptures. With the help of 3D printers, you are now able to open a new world of digital sculpturing. You won’t be a Bernini or Michelangelo, but times and methods are changing. You could earn a name and good money if you build a good reputation through your sculptures. Be careful to choose printing powders offering good visual properties.

Check out this website of Joshua Harker, one of the prominent 3D sculptors of the U.S. who came up with sculptures of impossible seeming tangles.

Softwares used: Mudbox, Sculptris, etc.

Make toys

The toy industry is an evergreen field since toddlers always seem interested in them. Most toddlers have their own favorite toy. Build miniature or normal sized toys according to the orders you receive. You can build customized Lego toys, etc. You can also make contracts with play schools to provide them with a bulk order of toys on a discount. Be careful to use baby friendly design & baby friendly powder while printing.

                                                                                    

Check out this website where you can sell your 3D printed toys: Shapeways.com

Softwares used: K-3D, SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool, Zmodeler

Open up a store in eBay

To open an eBay store makes sense rather than opening up a retail store. You can sell your products and replicas with a worldwide exposure for a little subscription fee. You can also promote you store by some simple methods. Be specific about your products and give descriptions and images.

Have your own exhibitions

Conduct you own exhibitions to showcase your designs and ideas. If you have an idea to make an existing design better, replicate your idea and exhibit. You can also take part in the exhibitions conducted by 3DPrintshow. A worthy design or invention might even bring you a fortune. Stay away from plagiarism.

Here’s a snippet of the Tokyo Printing Museum exhibition 2014.

Do project based goodies

Start a 3D printing store, and send proposals to make 3D printed goods on project basis. In industries, there is always a demand for equipments, sometimes due to lack of availability or to replace the equipment under repair. Try industrial equipments which always need a spare.

Softwares used: Autodesk Inventor, etc.

Start a website for your products

Once you’ve started your own 3D printing business, you need to grab attention towards your products and designs. What better way than to start a website! Better yet, start a facebook page for your products. Facebook also provides an option to promote your page. Update your website or page frequently with your latest designing ventures and descriptions.

Here’s the website of Brendan Dawes, a british 3D printing artist: brendandawes.com/

Integrative production

If you are ready to invest some extra capital, then this just might flourish. Choose your product, for instance, a wheel chair. Make a workplace. Buy printers and different powders required (metal, rubber & leather for a wheel chair). Print one part on each printer on a mass scale. Assemble them. Once you’re finished with it, your product is ready to hit the market. The advantage with this type of production is, you can sell the parts too as spares.

Jewelry

To make jewelry is a tedious task. You need skills and gentle hands. But thanks to 3D printing, you don’t need to flex that stiff hand of yours. If you’ve got a passion for accessory designing, this could be your thing. You can choose the powder (gold, platinum, etc) as per the orders you receive. It’s important to earn a reputation in this field. So keep up with the latest trends and keep polishing your skills.

 

Shapeways.com provides a viable platform for beginners in this field.

Softwares used: Maya, Gemvision Matrix (tool for gem designing), 3 Design, etc.

Modeling plans for buildings 

While designing building and structures, it’s always a relief for architects if they could show the clients their designs in real. It helps them get a much better feedback. The perks with this task are that, the design is provided by the architect. So basically, you only need to push the “print” button. Also, you can be liberal about choosing the powder as it’s not a factor.

Softwares used: EDrawings, SweetHome 3D, 3DVIA Shape, etc.

Make fabrics

Have you ever wanted to design clothes, t- shirts with your favorite captions and colors? Most of you have, and that’s why this field is highly competitive. You could take classes on fashion wear or garment designing according to your tastes. It will help you work your way up. You could also try something for yourself. Remember, versatility is the key here.

Here’s the first ever 3D printed bikini

 

Softwares used: MarvelousDesigner, etc.

Interior designing

Interior designing always need ornamentation. If you are an interior designer, then you would know how handy a 3D printer can be. You can design pendant lights, other suspenders, bearings and columns according to your needs and exactly as per your visualizations. You can also assist other designers by printing for them. Remember to design your objects to blend in with the interiors.

Softwares used: Varies with the product.

Personalization

This is a field you can explore and will never run out of demand. People always customize stuff like machines, utensils to their needs. Physically challenged people customize general products to their conveniences. You can either pitch in with your smart ideas or print the products according to the clients’ specifications. User friendly designs and constant customer support are factors to look out for.

Softwares used: Varies with the product.

Film production

Film production is a field where 3D printers are already in use. Especially in science fiction movies, 3D printing the special costumes and props makes much sense than depending on their availability and rent. Complex physical objects in movies, such as the exo-skeleton armor worn by superhero Iron Man, are increasingly produced by 3-D printing. It was also used to create certain props in The Wolverine, such as the armor for the Silver Samurai character. You need to be inducted to a reputed studio to get projects like those. But you can always start off by printing for short films and low budget movies. Perfect your design to the visualization of the director. You could easily climb up if you are part of a successful project.

Art directors like Michael Turner and SFX supervisors Lloyd Finnemore  have been using 3D printed props in their films.

Softwares used: Autodesk, etc.

 

“… and miles to go before I sleep” - Frost

 

As much as 3D printing gives you the freedom to replicate whatever you design, like in any other job, 3D printing won’t make you any quick bucks. You need to spend your time improving your designing skills to near perfect, because, with a boom in 3D printing, a lot of designers are out there competing with you. Be optimistic, there’s a first time for everything. Keep learning n’ keep printing. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Author

Nimish Sany: I bleed my thoughts on paper. And if I cant find a paper, blogs serve the purpose just fine.

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