Making a business from your 3D Printer

Building a 3D printer has proven to have been a money well spent adventure. I have learnt so much, and am still learning, how to make the most of my machine.

Now that it is printing quickly and accurately I have started to take commissions from friends and family. So far they have only been on the smaller side, (under 4 hours) having printed cookie cutters, car parts, cosplay items and small models. There is one major thing that prevents me from turning it into a full-fledged business at the moment, print time.

Today I would like to talk briefly about my experience and hopefully help others out there thinking of creating a 3D printing business.

There are two main aspects that need to be taken into consideration, time and quality.

First of all you need good quality. Whilst we come to appreciate the layered look, others not so well known with the technology see it as a defect. Always try to print with the lowest layer height possible. Other key things to try are retraction options, enable ‘wipe’ and ‘lift’ on retract in slic3r, I have found them to help significantly in reducing blobs around the prints. Also make sure that your parts are not warping. There is nothing worse than printing two mulit-hour prints to find that they won’t join together because the corners have warped. The key with corner warping is keeping in that residual heat, heatbeds are the way to go, or maybe even try to make an insulative box to house the printer in.

Commonly when increasing quality you also increase time. When looking at a standard business model you will charge an hourly rate to complete a job. So keeping your printer printing quick means you can keep your prices low and competitive. Key things to try when increasing your printing speeds are changing the Acceleration and Jerk settings in Marlin. I have found that by decreasing the Acceleration to 500 and Jerk to 1, the machine is still able to keep the speed up whilst reducing vibrations (and hence ripples on the print) throughout the machine. It does this by slowing down the head when coming to corners or curves and then speeding back up for the straights.

After you have ticked the prior boxes you need to work out your business costs. Run the part through slic3r, open the Gcode, scroll to the bottom and see how much filament is being used. You can then use a Printer Part Calculator to determine how much the part cost you in raw material. On top of this you will need to add your running costs (electricity for example. 120W is a good figure, so less than 10c per hour is a rough estimation). Once you know exactly how much it costs you, you need to work out your hourly rate. This is completely up to you, charge however much you think you should. A good way I’ve found of working this out is to copy a real world object, model it and print it. Work out what hourly rate you would have to charge in order to bring the cost to the real world objects cost.

Do not take my word as law. This is just what I have learnt in my experience. Go out there and try, fail even. Learn by your failures and make your business better. Remember to look after yourself, protect your designs, protect your identity and most importantly, have fun.