3D printing is the latest service available to web entrepreneurs looking for a way to earn money online and to sell something that they have created. The concept is simple – and really rather amazing – allowing you to simply upload the file for a 3D model that you made in a piece of 3D modelling software and then to have your object printed from a single material whether that be plastic, glass, china, steel or anything else. The great thing for a web entrepreneur is that most of these services such as Shapeways, Ponoko or Sculteo, all allow you to open your own online store to the public so that people can then buy your products online. There’s no investment necessary on your behalf because the orders are printed out as they are needed, and the overheads are minimum (of course the companies take a cut, and you pay for printing and materials, but all of this happens at source so you don’t need to worry about it). While this won’t be appropriate for every online business, it’s certainly something that many people could add to their online offerings in order to bring in some extra revenue.
But the question is, what do you sell? There are limitations in what you can accomplish with 3D printing, owing largely to the fact that you can only sell unpainted items that are made from a single piece of material. That means no hinges, no drawers and no other moving parts. If you want those things then you can make them yourself by ordering the parts you want and then assembling them personally, but that’s not a great way to sell something from your site.
What you can make then are ornaments, cases, crockery, jewellery and other such items. Here we will look at some ideas that you might consider selling from your own website to make a little extra cash while promoting and strengthening your brand.
Stands and Cases: If you have a technology site of some kind, then being able to sell cases and stands for phones, for laptops or for tablets is a great idea. Find something that will make your case desirable (I once saw an iPhone case that also displayed a business card for instance) and target a device that lots of people own and then include your branding to help build awareness. You could even make stands and protective sleeves for other more unusual items (giving you a stronger USP) – such as a stand for a book or a music stand, or a protective sleeve for a notepad with a built in pen holder. Use your imagination, look around you now, and ask what could be better organized/displayed.
Sculptures: There are some incredible sculptures available already on Shapeways and these include things like mascots, characters and ornaments. No matter how complex your sculpture is it’s no different to the 3D printer, so you can really go to town and design something cool/beautiful.
Containers: There are many useful containers you can design with 3D modelling software from boxes to mugs to bowls. Any of these will serve a useful purpose and can often be tied in with the theme of your website – it’s not a box, it’s a receipt holder! Or for an arts and crafts website why not make a picture frame? Or for a technology site it could be a container for your spare wires. Use your imagination and a simple box can be sold in many ways.
Corporate Gifts: There are lots of things that companies give away to help strengthen their brands which typically include things like mugs or pens. You can make mugs easily with modelling software and print your brand on them, and while you can’t make pens you can
Jewellery: Pendants, rings and bracelets are all very simple to make with modelling software and if they are attractive and unique they can stand out among the more commercial options. Of course jewellery is something that can be harder to tie in with an existing website, but makes a great income stream in its own right.
Charles Franklin is an internet marketer with great technical expertise in the field of online printing. He thinks 3D printing is going to be one of the most talked about technology in the year 2012 (and 2013).