How to Start a 3D Printing Business from Home
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Starting a 3D business from home now is a great way to position yourself for success in the “new normal.” You can do almost all of your marketing, customer relations, printing, and shipping from home. This is true whether you are a novice interested in buying one printer to produce small on-demand orders, or if you are planning a 3D printer farm. Either way, if you want to succeed, you’ll need to plan for success.
Below, we’ve done the legwork for you to provide a free guide to starting a home-based 3D printing business today.
Not interested in starting a 3D printing business? Visit our generic Start A Business Guide.
What Does a 3D Printing Business Do?
A home based 3D printing business capitalizes on this emerging technology’s ability to efficiently and affordably create three dimensional objects from graphic models. Many project this will be a technology in everyone’s home someday, but for now it is not, so if you own a 3D printer, you can use it as a profit center.
You can make money with your printer either by making it available to the designs of others or by designing printing, marketing, and selling your own product online. Whichever path you choose, if you are ambitious, you can easily scale 3D printing into a full-time business.
Steps to Starting a 3D Printing Business
Create a Business Plan for Your 3D Printing Business
Before you get started, you’ll need an idea of what resources you’ll need—and how to monetize your business in a practical way. We’ve answered the biggest questions about clients, costs, and profits below.
How does a 3D printing business make money?
There are a few common paths 3D printing businesses take to make money:
- List your printer as a service on 3D Hubs, i.materilise or Shapeways and take orders.
- Support rapid prototyping. Market to architects, designers, engineers, and construction firms to create instant prototypes of designs and plans. Using 3D printing for prototyping makes it cheap, allows for more room for error, and also allows for multiple stages of prototypes.
- Create personalized crafts and components.Here, the sky is the limit. You could come up with any idiosyncratic component. For example, one company made money printing out of producing rail links for a specific model train track. Other successful ideas have included personalized jewelry, ear buds, and hard-to-replace faux antique home décor.
How do I get clients?
How you get clients depends on whether you plan to 3D print other people’s products or your own.
Print on demand
Many blogs tout leasing your printer to sites like 3D Hubs or i.materilise as an easy process. The idea is that these sites send printing projects to your printer and pay you for the service. But it isn’t necessarily that easy. Most of these sites have a strict vetting process and do not allow desktop printers. Also, the only high profit margins are in metal printing, which is prohibitively expensive for most home based businesses. This approach is actually perhaps best reserved for operations of scale.
That doesn’t mean you can’t offer the use of your printer to others through other means. There are lots of people who might have a one-time need for a 3D printer. Perhaps the most interesting and highest margin niche will be here. It will involve you also offering your design services. Here, a customer has a conception or drawing of an idea, and you work with them to create a graphic model and then print them a final product. You can market your 3D printing services to these customers through hobby and craft pages on social media. You’ll want to become familiar with how specifically Facebook is capable of targeting their ads to these groups. You’ll also want to create an excellent business website, which Facebook can send these customers to.
Print your own products
Of course, you can also design, print, and sell your own product. Many have found success through this idea by conceiving of a niche product and making it available on Amazon or eBay. These are great strategies for finding buyers. You just need those few people to enter a search for your product and then you’ve got them. The key to finding clients here is wording your product name in away that maximizes its discoverability through searches.
The downside to using these sites is they are costly, and they prevent you from up-selling, cross-selling, or establishing a repeat customer base. For this reason, you may want to create and market your own website. The two best ways for you to direct traffic to your own website are through SEO ranking and social media advertising. Ranking high in Google’s search results through SEO management can bring your business significant traffic. SEO rankings can be improved organically by doing some search term (keyword) research.
How much money will it take to get started?
The biggest expense is, of course, the printer. You’ll also need to invest in software and the time it takes to master that software. Below is a list of basic supplies you’ll need to start a small-scale 3D printing business.
- AstroPrint (a cloud-based operating system for 3D printers): $10/month
- Thermoplastic filament spools: $50 ea
- software, (Adobe Illustrator or Autodesk)- $250-$500
- 3D printer: $1500-$6,000
How much do 3D printing businesses make each year?
3D printing is a technology that relies on economies of scale. The margins for printing are low. But ultimately your profits will come from eithera farm of printers you build to scale or through the marketing of your skill set as a graphic modeler. As this is a new industry, there is little data about the income of specific 3D printing businesses.
How much should I charge?
Consider charging for your time. At least at first. If you are helping clients to design, model, and print a product, you’ll want to be compensated for that time and expertise. $75-$150/ hr is not unreasonable, especially if you are marketing to other businesses like architecture or engineering firms. If you are printing and selling small, inexpensive components and selling them online, you won’t be taking that into consideration, and you’ll have to compensate for it through scale. Eventually.
Select a Name for Your 3D Printing Business
Have a great name idea? Before you start marketing and branding your business, you’ll need to ensure your name is available. Most states prohibit or restrict businesses from adopting names that are already in use. Even if it’s legally allowed, a copycat name puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.
See if your business name is available in your state with our Free Business Name Search.
Trademarks and Domain Names
Plan to trademark your business name? You can see if the trademark is available on a website like Trademarkia. It’s also a good idea to see if the domain name is available, which you can do on websites like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Even if you don’t plan on putting together a website right away, you can buy the domain name to make sure no one takes it in the meantime.
Choose a Business Structure
Should you form an LLC? A sole proprietorship? Your choice of business structure will affect many aspects of your business, from liability to taxes.
Sole Proprietorships & General Partnerships
If you don’t file any paperwork to legally form a different kind of business—you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Essentially, these are “default” business structures. A sole proprietorship has one owner, and a partnership has multiple owners.
These structures have a few initial benefits. They’re easy, fast and cheap to start and maintain. However, the limitations and risks of these business structures quickly become more apparent as your business grows. In both of these business types, you are your business, legally speaking. Your company’s legal business name is YOUR name—so you’ll need a DBA to operate under any other name. Any business debt is YOUR personal debt. If anyone sues your business, they are suing YOU personally.
LLCs & Corporations
Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations are business entities formed at the state level. The entity is legally separate from its owners, meaning the owners are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. As a separate entity, the business also has multiple tax election options. For example, both LLCs and corporations can choose to be taxed as S-corps if they meet the requirements.
LLCs and corporations are not quite as simple and inexpensive as default structures. LLCs and corporations come with formal requirements like state reports. They also have more fees than default structures, such as formation and annual report fees. However, the benefits of an LLC or corporation—especially liability protection and tax flexibility—are significant.
Legally Form Your 3D Printing Business
If you opt for a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there’s no formal paperwork to file to legally create your entity—you just start selling your product or service. However, you will not have any liability protections or tax flexibility.
LLCs and corporations are formed by filing paperwork with a state agency, typically the Secretary of State. To start an LLC, you file articles of organization. To start a corporation, you file articles of incorporation. In most states, you can file these forms online or download a paper form from the state’s website.
Whether you’re forming an LLC or corporation, your articles will require certain basic information about your business, such as your company’s:
- business address
- registered agent and office
- business purpose
- members/managers or directors/officers’ names and addresses
- number and type of authorized shares (for stock corporations)
You’ll also need the signature of someone authorized to sign on behalf of the business, along with the state’s filing fee. Fees vary by state but are typically between $100 and $200. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC or corporation, we complete and submit your formation paperwork on your behalf for just $100 plus state fees.
Create Internal Policies and Procedures
It’s important to put your company’s internal policies and procedures in a written document, especially if you’re starting your business with others. Partnerships have partnership agreements. LLCs have operating agreements. Corporations have bylaws.
These documents look a bit different for each kind of business, but they serve the same general purpose. They ensure there’s a clear path forward for any major issue that may arise, from changes in ownership to closing the business. LLCs and corporations also typically need an operating agreement or bylaws in order to open a bank account.
Get an EIN and Register for Taxes
Nearly all LLCs and corporations will need to request a federal employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. If you file corporate income taxes, have employees, or file certain franchise taxes, you must have an EIN. An EIN is also a common requirement for opening a business bank account. Most businesses can request an EIN by filling out the IRS’s online form.
Your EIN is for federal taxes—but you’ll likely have state and local tax obligations as well. You will most likely need to set up an account with the state’s Department of Revenue, and you may need to apply for a state tax ID or a sales tax license as well.
Learn more about how to Get an EIN for your business.
Open a Bank Account
A business bank account keeps your personal finances separate from your business finances. For LLCs and corporations, keeping separate finances is essential for maintaining liability protection. To open an account, LLCs and corporations typically need to bring to the bank a copy of their articles, their operating agreement or bylaws, and their EIN.
Obtain Required Licenses and Permits
Many businesses will need a business license to operate. Licensing information—as well as any zoning requirements or other permits—can usually be found on the city or county website.
If your home is part of a homeowner’s association, you’ll also be subject to any of their restrictions for home-based businesses. Some areas may also require home-based businesses to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (a document certifying the property owner has given the business permission to operate).
Next Steps for Your 3D Printing Business
After your business is up and running, there are a few additional steps you may want to take as you grow:
- Get online: With your domain name, you can create a business website. You can hire a professional or use a website-builder like Wix or WordPress. You may also want to invest in online ads through a program like Google Ads.
- Hire employees: Hiring employees requires quite a few steps. You’ll need to collect W-4s and I-9s from employees, report the new hires to the state, set up withholding, pay for unemployment insurance, distribute any required documents and notices to employees, and display wage and safety info in the workplace. Employer.gov is a good place to start, followed by your state’s tax or labor office.
- Get business insurance: While LLCs and corporations protect you from personal liability, you don’t want your business to go bankrupt in the face of an accident, injury or other disaster. At minimum, it’s a good idea to look into general liability insurance. Home-based businesses can sometimes add insurance onto their homeowner’s policy.
How Do I Know if a 3D Printing Business is for Me?
What’s it really like to work in a 3D printing business?
You may be interested in this field because you enjoy modeling designs and working with the printer. It is satisfying to see a completed, real-world object that you conceived of on a computer screen. These are great reasons to consider starting a 3D printing business. But keep in mind, a great deal of your day-to-day work will be marketing and talking to clients, ensuring they have a great customer experience. If that part sounds horrid to you, you may want to consider looking elsewhere.
What does it take to succeed in the world of 3D printing?
3D printing is a new and exciting industry. To succeed you will need to have an eye on growth and efficiency. You will also need to keep a keen eye on the constant changes taking place in the industry as a whole. As the field grows, unpredictable changes to the technology and the way the technology is used are bound to take place, and you will need to be out in front of it. If this sounds like the type of thing you would be excited about, this could be the market for you!
Ready to Form an LLC or Corporation?
Northwest Registered Agent is here to help with all your small business ideas and needs. Answer a few simple questions about your business, and we’ll prepare and submit your formation paperwork to the state. We also provide your new business registered agent service, free business forms and guides, and much more.