How to Start a 3D Printing Business

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Quick Reference

3D printing is a growing industry.  Whether you have experience with 3D printing or not, a 3D printing business could be an opportunity for you to cash in on a market that is booming.   You could start your business for a relatively low cost and make a living as your own boss.

Business Overview

A 3D printing business (also referred to as additive manufacturing) creates physical prints of 3D images to make product prototypes, toys, custom prosthetics, jewelry, gifts, promotional products, and more.  Different materials such as plastic and metals can be used.

Industry Summary

According to Statista, the global 3D printing industry was $12.6 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow 17% annually through 2023 and reach $37.2 billion by 2028.

Industry Trends

Prototyping is the largest segment of the industry for industries such as healthcare, automotive, aerospace, and defense.  Prototyping using 3D printing technologies for manufacturers reduces their production costs.

Target Market

Your target market will depend on what type of printing you plan to specialize in.  If you decide to specialize in prototyping, since you are starting small, you could target entrepreneurs who are in the prototype stage or small businesses.

Skills, Experience, and Education Useful in Running a 3D Printing Business

There are several specific skills that you will need to open a 3D printing business.

  • Experience.  Experience doing 3D printing is valuable.
  • Education.  You will need to educate yourself about the materials, software, and processes involved.
  • Business knowledge and experience.  You will need to have at least some basic knowledge of marketing, finance/accounting, and human resources.
  • People skills. You’ll need to be able to build rapport with your customers so that you retain them as customers and keep them coming back.

Costs to Start a 3D Printing Company

The cost will vary greatly, depending on the niche you plan to go into. The equipment needed to print prototypes for manufacturers is going to be very different from smaller novelty items. That said, here are some typical costs when starting a 3D printing business.

  • 3D printer $1,000 – $50,000
  • Design software – $0 – $5,000
  • Desktop or laptop computer – $1,500 – $5,000
  • Replacement parts like nozzles, build plates, etc.
  • Materials such as filaments $500 – $1500
  • Initial marketing such as Facebook ads or search engine optimization for your website $500 -$1,000

Steps to Starting a 3D Printing Business

Step 1: Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your 3D printing business should be to write a business plan.  The business plan will make you focus on some important aspects of the business, such as who your customers are, how you plan to reach them, projecting sales and expenses, your value proposition to use for marketing, and more. You’ll also need to do some research to calculate exactly what your startup expenses will be, and what your ongoing expenses will be.

Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan if you need financing, but multiple studies have shown that having a good business plan increases the odds of starting a successful business. Writing the plan helps you to think through all the aspects of the business, and then serves as a guide as you begin.

Related:
How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2: Name the Business

Finding the perfect 3D printing business name can be challenging. Not only does the name have to reflect what you do and be appealing to customers, it also has to be available to use. You can check your state’s website to see if the name is available and register your name.  Your name should make you stand out, reflect your brand, and tell potential customers exactly what you do.

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC).  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

RelatedComparison of Business Entities

Step 4: Select your Location

Some 3D printing companies meet with clients at their location, however many operate from their home. If operating from your home, be sure to check with your local unit of government to determine whether a home occupancy permit is required.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

You may need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located. Check with your state for specific license and permit requirements for your 3D printing business.  Some other common local, state and federal registrations an 3D printing business may need include a sales tax permit and an Employer Identification Number.  

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing but getting the funding to start a 3D printing business is another.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the income and expenses of the business.

Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

A 3D printing business will need to set aside a budget to cover marketing costs on a continuous basis. Common marketing techniques for a 3D printing business include social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, along with online advertising.

A website is a must, but depending on the products you are creating, listing your products on marketplaces such as Etsy, Amazon, and Ebay may be excellent places to get more people to notice your items.

If you are creating Your biggest source of business will be from making direct calls to businesses if you choose prototyping or promotional products.   You could also contact local business incubators to reach entrepreneurs.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 9: Get Insurance

A 3D printing business needs several types of insurance for full coverage:

General liability insurance can help protect you from third-party claims of bodily injury and property damage.

Professional liability insurance protects you from claims of professional errors or negligence that result in a financial loss.

Worker’s compensation insurance covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees that a business might face if an employee were ever hurt while working.

Insurance policies will vary. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider not only the premiums but also how the plan exclusions, coverage limitations, and deductibles compare.

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 10: Hiring Employees

You may need employees to help you run your 3D printing business.  Make sure that you select people with appropriate experience and training.

In addition to salary costs, your budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses. Workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off are common expenses that a business will need to cover when hiring staff.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your 3D printing business is critical to the long-term success of your business.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government, but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up accounting for your business

How Much Can You Potentially Make Owning a 3D Printing Business?

The prices you charge will vary depending on the complexity of what you are producing.  There is no limit to how much you can make if you are successful.

Things to Consider Before Starting a 3D Printing Business

Running a 3D printing business, or any business, will have its challenges.  You need to be prepared, and make sure that you know what you’re getting into.

Marketing and acquiring customers will be your biggest challenge and an ongoing expense. Your best bet will be to start calling businesses directly and trying to reach entrepreneurs.

You will face competition, so you need to make sure that you are doing quality work.

If the cost of equipment is too high, you could start off providing 3D 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.

Talk to other business owners for tips on starting a business and do your homework to determine costs.  Research other 3D printing businesses to see what they offer and what prices they cha

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