How to Start a 3D Printing Business (2023)

While it’s still the case that entrepreneurs enlist factories to handle the production process of their new products, it’s no longer a necessity. Thanks to the advent of 3D printing, some inventors and designers now manufacture consumer goods in their own homes or offices.

Some entrepreneurs have opted not to produce their own physical goods, but produce items for a roster of corporate clients. These small business owners function like boutique factories, as they turn customer designs into physical products. Here’s an overview of how to start a 3D printing business of your own.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process of creating three-dimensional objects from a digital design by using different materials, including plastic, ceramic, and metal. Though 3D printing takes its name from traditional printers that set ink onto paper, 3D printers create three-dimensional objects by adding material layer by layer.

You can 3D print at home using a relatively small apparatus that melts and then reconstitutes plastic. Similar technology is also used in large industries such as health care, automotive, fashion, architecture, aerospace, and others that involve mass manufacturing.

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What are the steps in 3D printing?

  1. Designing
  2. Slicing
  3. Printing
  4. Layer bonding
  5. Post-processing

The 3D printing process can speed up product development and involves five fundamental steps:

1. Designing

A designer creates a 3D model of the desired object using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Alternatively, they can copy the structure of an existing product by scanning it with a 3D scanner. This digital design serves as a blueprint for the 3D printer.

2. Slicing

Special software “slices” the 3D model into thin horizontal layers that are stacked on top of each other. The model is then converted into a set of instructions that guide the 3D printer on how to create each layer.

3. Printing

The 3D printer begins making the physical product. It does this by depositing printing material such as plastic, metal, or ceramic in precise layers according to the instructions from the slicing software.

4. Layer Bonding

As each layer is added, the material fuses or bonds with the previous layer. This additive process continues until the entire object has been printed.

5. Post-Processing

Once the printing is complete, the object may undergo additional post-processing steps such as cleaning, curing, sanding, painting, and assembly to achieve its ultimate appearance and functionality.

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

The startup costs associated with a 3D printing business may start at around $5,000 and quickly scale up from there. Some expenses, such as getting a business license and buying business insurance, are standard for any new business. Other costs are related specifically to additive manufacturing technology. New business owners can expect the following expenses:

3D printers

A printer will be the hub of your 3D printing business. It may also be the most expensive item you purchase. 3D printers range from a few hundred dollars for entry-level desktop models to several hundred thousand dollars for industrial-grade machines. Consider budgeting around $2,000 to $10,000 for one or more mid-range 3D printers.

Printing materials

3D printing materials are comparable to the ink you put in a traditional paper printer. These printing materials take the form of filaments, resins, or powders. The cost of your initial batch will vary depending on what you make, but a spool of filament can range from around $20 for common PLA (polylactic acid) plastic to hundreds of dollars for a specialty filament.


Your 3D printer runs on 3D modeling and slicing software. Some software options—like Blender, FreeCAD, and OpenSCAD—are free. However, some free programs may not be able to handle complex designs. More expensive options include Autodesk Fusion 360, which requires an annual license, and Simplify3D. These programs and others like them can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars.

Post-processing equipment

Some 3D-printed items require additional equipment for post-processing before they can reach their final form. This equipment includes sanding and filing tools, curing chambers, and cleaning stations. This equipment may run from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on your industry.

Real estate and utilities

Your 3D printing operation requires physical space. You might be able to work out of your own home if you run a small startup that only serves the local market. If you have bigger ambitions, you’ll likely need to rent a larger workspace or even a warehouse. You’ll also need to pay for utilities like electricity and internet. Real estate rates will vary depending on your location.

Hired labor

If you plan to hire employees or contract workers, you’ll need to budget for salaries, benefits, and training. The price of labor varies widely.

Insurance and legal fees

A small business owner can expect to pay for business insurance. Contact insurance brokers directly for rate quotes. Many will also pay for legal services for business registration, contracts, and licensing. Lawyers typically charge several hundred dollars per hour, but you can save money on some document preparation by using an online legal services company like LegalZoom or ZenBusiness.

Marketing expenses

You’ll need a marketing budget to promote your own business within your target market. This includes developing a business website and running paid ads, along with pursuing search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, email marketing, and more. Some small business owners pay for this with their own sweat equity, creating most of the marketing materials themselves. Others hire a marketing specialist.

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How to start a 3D printing business

  1. Conduct market research
  2. Develop 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 staff, as needed
  9. Build an online presence
  10. Market your business

Starting a successful business requires careful planning and discipline, whether you’re in 3D printing or a different industry altogether. Here are the key steps to starting a 3D printing business of your own:

1. Conduct market research

Before you embark on a business venture, take stock of the current marketplace through market research. Study local demand and assess your competition. Identify potential niches and markets for your 3D printing business.

2. Develop a business plan

Create a comprehensive business plan outlining your business goals, target market, services offered, price points, financial projections, and marketing plan. Also, choose a legal business name (you can get help from a free name generator). Your business plan should align with the findings of your market research because you want your service offerings to address the pain points and needs of your potential customers.

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3. Legally establish your business

Legally organize your 3D printing operation under a formal business structure like an LLC, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship. You may also need a business license and business insurance to operate in your state or municipality. Shopify has guides for starting up that can help you learn the requirements for your specific region.

4. Obtain financing

Set up a business bank account and obtain financing. This could come from investor capital or bank loans, or by bootstrapping and using your own personal savings. You can call upon public resources like the Small Business Administration (SBA) or private resources like Shopify Capital to obtain the funding you need.

5. Research and choose a 3D printing technology

Decide on the type of 3D printing technology you want to operate. Research fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), and selective laser sintering (SLS), all of which create 3D printed objects layer by layer. Determine which materials you’ll work with and the specific services you’ll offer, including prototyping, production, custom items, and more.

6. Lease space and purchase equipment

If you’re just starting out, you can probably run your 3D printing business from your home. As your company grows, you may need a larger space. Regardless, create a dedicated workspace with proper ventilation, lighting, and electrical outlets. You’ll also need the appropriate 3D printers and raw materials for your chosen manufacturing niche. Research and compare different printer brands and models based on your budget and business plan.

7. Choose a sales platform

If you plan to sell your 3D printed goods directly to consumers, an ecommerce platform like Shopify can handle everything from financial transactions to customer relationship management (CRM). If you plan to operate under a business-to-business (B2B) model, however, you may not need a front-facing sales platform. Accounting software is necessary to help you track revenue and expenses.

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8. Hire staff, as needed

If you choose to start your 3D printing ecommerce business as a solo operation, this step may come later. Or, you can have a team of workers on hand before you start accepting customer orders for fulfillment. For instance, you could hire a specialist who handles the actual 3D printing. You could also learn how to 3D print on your own, and instead hire a team to help you with administrative work like accounting and marketing.

9. Build an online presence

Many of your potential clients will find your business by searching the internet. This means you’ll need a business website and social media profiles for your company. Your online presence should highlight your specialties and the services you offer. If you choose an all-in-one ecommerce platform like Shopify, you can get a business website builder included in your subscription.

10. Market your business

You can market your 3D printing business through a mixture of web ads, SEO content writing, email campaigns, social media marketing, partnerships, and word-of-mouth campaigns. All of these outlets can bring new customers to your business and retain past customers.

How to start a 3D printing business FAQ

Can I 3D print anything and sell it?

You can 3D print anything that can be built using additive manufacturing technology—from simple toys to specialized mechanical parts. You can legally sell anything, provided that you’re in compliance with federal, state, and local laws. These laws may pertain to safety, consumer rights, intellectual property rights, and tax compliance, among other categories.

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

It takes technical expertise to operate a 3D printer, but you can teach yourself these skills via manuals, online videos, and training courses. 3D printing is powered by advanced software, and much of the training process involves mastering this software. You can also start a business and hire a team to operate the printers.

What are the key factors to consider when pricing my 3D printing products?

When pricing your products, consider the cost of materials and equipment, market demand, and competitor prices.

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

You can ensure the quality of 3D printed products by using high-quality materials (plastics, metals, resins, etc.) and commercial-grade manufacturing equipment. It’s also important to make sure your employees and you have 3D printing expertise.

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