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How to Start a 3D Figurine Printing Business

Do you want to start a 3D figurine printing business? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a 3D figurine printing business with NO money and no experience.

3D printed figurines are photo realistic miniature versions of a person made with a 3D printer. They’re basically a 3D printed replica of a subject who must first be captured in 3D by a 3D full body scanner, usually a 3D scanning booth. 3D figurines go by many different names: 3D selfie, 3D portrait, mini-me or 3D photo.

If you are not relying on a third party, then a generous portion of your time will be taken up by printing objects. Beyond this, your time will often be spent working on new ways to advertise your services online. To successfully make your 3D figurines, you will need special software (such as Blender) and an experience using it.

A 3D printing figurine business generates revenue by printing and delivering 3D versions of shapes and objects to customers.

The exact amount of profit you can make is difficult to determine. According to reports, it is estimated that 3D artists make an average of $53,000 a year, but that is counting those who do such work for corporations rather than themselves.

Steps to Starting a 3D Figurine Printing Business

1. Understand the Industry

According to industry reports, the global 3D printing market size was valued at $4,164.2 million in 2014, and is expected to reach $44,393.1 million by 2025, with a CAGR of 21.8% from 2019 to 2025.

North America holds the Fort as the highest contributor to the global 3D printing market, with $1,728.1 million in 2014, and is projected to reach $16,838.3 million by 2025, with a CAGR of 20.8% during the forecast period.

3D printing, also known as desktop fabrication or additive printing technology, allows manufacturers to develop objects using a digital file and various printing materials. The materials used in 3D printing include several types of polymers, metals, and ceramics.

3D printing offers methodologies that can make manufacturing of complex designs an apparent reality. According to reports, the factors driving the 3D printing market are reduction of errors, decrease in development cost and time, and the ability to build customized products.

Also, increase in applications in healthcare and various other industries is expected to create lucrative growth opportunities for 3D printing market. On the contrary, high cost of 3D printing, and scarcity of skilled labour hampers the growth of the market.

The 3D printing market based on region has been segmented into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific (APAC), and Rest of the World (RoW). North America is expected to hold the largest share of the 3D printing industry, while the market in APAC is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period.

The expiry of 3D printing technology patents of Stratasys (US) and 3D Systems (US) for their fused deposition modelling (FDM) and stereo lithography (SLA) technologies, respectively, has opened several opportunities for emerging companies, as new entrants can easily get access to AM technology and make modifications based on their unique requirements.

The 3D printing market is mainly driven by the extensive research and development activities directed toward the introduction of new and improved technologies as well as fresh print materials.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

This is one business where your preferred clients may vary greatly depending on your area and if you choose to specialize in printing certain things. Meanwhile, one group that may become your favourite is hobbyists. F

rom collectors wanting to replace parts for their model trains to gamers wanting you to print objects for their role playing campaign, hobbyists are that rare group that has very niche interests and the disposable income to accommodate those interests. Aside them, outlined below is the list of possible markets for your figurine business.

  • Aerospace & Defence
  • Engineering
  • Healthcare
  • Consumer Products
  • Automotive
  • Jewellery
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Printed Electronics
  • Food and Culinary

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

It’s important that you come up with a niche or a product that sells because it is innovative. It might not be enough to sell an object ‘only’ because it is 3D printed – it also needs to give customers added value that traditional manufacturing cannot provide.

3D printers can create things that are impossible to create with traditional manufacturing. It also enables you to produce mass customization products.

One of the great things about 3D printing is that you don’t have to order 10,000 units of an item to make it affordable for customers and put it on the market. You can start producing and selling a single print. So, turn this to your advantage and offer a product that matches your customer’s needs. Come up with an idea that is unique, customizable and fits demand perfectly!

Maybe you want to create a browser-based 3D design tool that allows other users to create 3D printable items or maybe you want to create an app that lets your users tweak and customize their products. Personalize jewellery, perfectly fitting glasses frames, 3D selfies – this great technology offers unlimited possibilities and lets you start an interactive dialogue between customers and production.

The Level of Competition in the Industry

Though there is a decrease in the cost of 3D printers, the price associated with 3D printing is still high. There are numerous factors that lead to higher cost of the 3D printing devices. To name a few, the energy taken by 3D printing to produce items is enormous.

For example, the energy released by some of the 3D printing processes utilizes up to 50-100 times more electricity as compared to the injection moulding machines. It is arguable that 3D printing products can manufacture low carbon fibre parts.

Meanwhile, manufacturing of these low carbon fibber parts is limited only to the material production stage and not the energy production stage. Also, the software required to run the 3D printers is expensive. There is a need to change the rendering software with change in application areas. There is a need to update the software periodically to keep it efficient and effective.

In addition, 3D printing cannot be adopted by all the industries owing to high production, and entry cost of 3D printing goods. These factors limit the 3D printing market growth and create intense competition to stay afloat in the industry.

The expiry of 3D printing technology patents of Stratasys (US) and 3D Systems (US) for their fused deposition modelling (FDM) and stereo lithography (SLA) technologies, respectively, has opened several opportunities for emerging companies, as new entrants can easily get access to AM technology and make modifications based on their unique requirements, thereby growing industry competition.

The 3D printing market is mainly driven by the extensive research and development activities directed toward the introduction of new and improved technologies as well as fresh print materials.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

  • 3D Systems
  • Arcam AB
  • Autodesk, Inc.
  • Stratasys Ltd
  • The ExOne Company
  • Hoganas AB
  • Optomec, Inc.
  • Organovo Holdings, Inc.
  • Ponoko Limited
  • Voxeljet AG
Economic Analysis

Currently, the trend in the 3D figurine applications is shifting from prototyping to functional part manufacturing in various verticals, such as automotive, medical, aerospace, and consumer goods. The prototyping application held the largest 3D printing market share in 2017, and the trend is expected to be the same during the forecast period.

The market for the prototyping application is driven by the steady demand for these applications in several industries. 3D printing or AM helps produce prototypes and models from 3D computer-aided design (CAD).

Note that this helps several companies to reduce wastage during prototype transitions in traditional manufacturing and also helps them to bring down their operational costs. 3D printing also enables the quick production of cost-efficient prototypes based on the customers’ requirements regarding the geometry of the structure, accuracy, and well-defined smoothness of the products used in any industry.

In recent years, 3D printing market has significantly penetrated the automotive industry. With the help of 3D figurine, the manufacturing of lightweight vehicle components is possible for reducing the weight of vehicles, improving car performance, and increasing fuel economy.

Moreover, higher efficiency can be gained in manufacturing tools for injection moulding using 3D printing technology. The vehicle plastic parts manufactured using conventional methods take time for cooling, and then, installed in vehicles.

However, 3D printing can limit the production time, enhance the quality of tools, and minimize the maintenance costs by incorporating internal cooling channels to the injection moulding method.

3D printing helps deliver customized products as per their requirement. However, it may not replace common assembly line methods. Consumers can develop products as per their requirements such as customized toys, shoes, decorative items, jewellery, and more, thus, giving the freedom of producing items as per the specification.

In addition, manufacturing complex designs using conventional technique is a difficult task as compared to 3D printing. The healthcare industry is increasingly using 3D printing technology for producing complex bio printing and personalized prosthetics, which is affordable than conventional techniques.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

Starting a 3D figurine business might just be the right thing for you. As a 3D printing entrepreneur looking to launch a 3D figurines service, you basically have two options;

  • Starting from the Scratch

If you intend to start from the scratch, then you have to buy all the equipment to launch your 3D photo studio, you would need to purchase: a 3D body scanner (either a 3D scanning booth or a handheld 3D scanner), a professional full-colour 3D printer, and the 3D software to operate the equipment and run the business.

  • Full control on the process with in-house 3D printing
  • No fees per figurine or a monthly subscription
  • Budget: significant initial investment
  • Technical expertise is required to build your own body scanner and process the scans using a 3D software to make them 3D printable as figurines
  • No support: no access to a dedicated 3D figurine software or online platform to manage orders
Buying a Franchise

Typically, you’d be purchasing a 3D scanning booth and the 3D software specifically designed to run a 3D selfie business. The 3D printing part is outsourced to specialized vendors (usually a global network of 3D printing services).

  • Reduced initial investment
  • 3D scanning booth specifically designed to capture people/pets for 3D figurines
  • Access to online platform for 3D figurine business management and dedicated 3D scanning software
  • Global network of vendors equipped for full-colour 3D printing
  • Monthly subscription fee for software and cloud platform + fee per 3D printed figurine
  • Lower control on the 3D printing process (outsourced to vendors)

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

One of the major challenges when starting this business is hoping you can make any kind of material or object with a 3D printer. Also, a lot of new entrants in the industry often suffer from limited funds to purchase equipment and all necessary incentives.

Some prospective 3D entrepreneurs also make the mistake of buying startup package without knowing the learning curve involved with the 3D business. Most of these startup kits are acquired with the promise of being able to raise extra income from home during spare time.

Although, some 3D entrepreneurs started this way, yet most of those startup kits end up lying dormant in storage without being remembered. This is why it’s strongly advisable that you take your time to learn from a professional in the industry. Never be in a hurry to start this business, you need to take your time to analyse your market and resources.

7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

Note that you have just two viable legal structures when starting a 3D Figurine business- sole proprietorship and the LLC. Don’t forget that the legal structure you choose out of the two should be based on the size and scale of the business.

Since your business is all about the income and interest of your clients, the LLC is the best legal entity for your business be it small, medium or large. It’s important to state that the advantage of creating an LLC typically outweigh any perceived disadvantages. They include;

  • Protected assets
  • Heightened credibility
  • Limited compliance requirements
  • Flexible management structure
  • Few restrictions

8. Choose a Catchy Business Name

  • Proper Design
  • 3D First
  • Core Iron
  • System Design
  • Mason 3D Figurine
  • Figures Concept
  • Fire and Design
  • Perfect Hands

9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

3D entrepreneurs enjoy being creative while also fulfilling their customers needs with creative ideas and samples. Whether your shop does custom work on a contract basis or your sell figurine supplies to customers, you have many details to keep track of.

Note that it’s your duty as an independent entrepreneur to guide your shop, supplies, customers and employees by making sure you have the best business insurance to fit your particular business needs. Insurance your will be needing may include;

  • General Liability Insurance
  • Property insurance
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance
  • Commercial auto insurance
  • Umbrella insurance
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Crime insurance

10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

It’s necessary you consider acquiring intellectual property protection to be able to protect your business designs and intellectual property. Filing for intellectual property protection for your 3D Figurine business  goes beyond protecting your company’s logo and other documents, but also protecting your investments, ideas, style, and of course the name of your company.

If you want to file for intellectual property protection and also register your trademark in the united states, you have to start by filing an application with the USPTO. The final approval of your trademark is subjected to the review of attorneys as required by USPTO.

11. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

  • Articles of Organization
  • LLC operating agreement
  • Business license
  • Business plan
  • Tax

We advise that you register yourself as a small business, and check with your Secretary of State about any licenses or registrations you need to have. The regulations are different in every state.

12. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

To start your 3D printing business, there are two important things to keep in mind: find funding and keep your costs low.

Luckily, everybody is talking about 3D printing today – and so there are lots of funding programs out there for your 3D printing start-up. In addition to securing funding, one of your most important financial challenges is to keep costs as low as possible.

However, running and maintaining a printing facility requires a lot of seed capital, which might be a risky investment when you don’t yet know how your product will sell. And that’s where it makes sense to think about outsourcing production to minimize costs and risks. Ways of financing your 3D Figurine business may include

  • Personal savings
  • Pitching
  • angel investor
  • Partnership
  • Bank overdraft
  • Venture Capital
  • Loans forms family and friends
  • Loans and grants
  • Alternative funding source like Crowdfunding

13. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

If you have done your feasibility study and research, you must have noted other similar businesses in your area. This is because It is hard to come across a business district that does not have a 3D printing business. That is why you should ask yourself: why do they choose these locations?

Note that most 3D Figurine businesses choose their locations using population density, average adjusted gross income (AGI) in that surrounding area, and proximity to their target market. You should consider leveraging the same factors when choosing locations for your 3D Figurine business.

It also advisable that you know the specific area you are considering very well. At least having or understanding how many people have access to that location, what income level they belong to, demographic and psychographic, and likely competition.

14. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

The costs involved in opening such a business are minimal. Most 3D entrepreneurs started out of their homes, so there is no expensive lease or utilities to pay every month, nor any staff salaries to pay. If you are buying your own 3D printer, you can typically find a commercial model you need for $6,000 or less, though there are models available in a variety of price points.

Otherwise, your primary cost will be creating a professional website (typically about $500) and advertising your services (most advertising will be done online, so your starting advertising budget may be $2,000 or less). Part of the beauty of this job is that there are very few ongoing expenses. A

s a home-based job, you’re only guaranteed costs will be to pay to host your professional website (typically less than one hundred dollars a year); you may opt to continue paying for advertising, which will typically be five hundred dollars or less per month.

Aside that, though, you only need to re-stock materials (assuming you are printing the items yourself) when you get orders, and you will price items to take materials into account. To make your 3D designs, you will need special software (such as Blender) and experience using it.

Similarly, if you are doing the 3D printing yourself, then you will need to be very familiar with using and troubleshooting your 3D printer. Finally, you should become very familiar with the 3D printing market—as it grows; it may become more of a challenge to make your own business stand out in the crowd.

There are only a few 3D printers capable of printing photo realistic figurines in full-colour. The industry’s reference is the Project 660 by 3D Systems. This model is used by most 3D figurines business, either directly or via the network of 3D printing services which they use to take care of 3D printing of the figurines.

If you plan to start a 3D figurines business, investing in a full-colour 3D printer might not always be a good choice. These machines are quite expensive (starting around $80k), require advanced expertise to operate, maintenance and consumables. That’s why most 3D printing business resort to external 3D printing services for fulfilment of their orders.

This approach allows 3D figurine business owners to focus on the 3D capture part using a 3D scanning booth (on location in malls or events, or in a 3D photo studio for example). The 3D model obtained is then send to an external vendor, equipped with the right 3D printers for figurines, to produce high-quality mini-me figurines and ship them directly to the final customers.

Also, in most cases, a 3D printing business is a one-person operation. However, because all of the work is typically done from home, it is very easy for you to create a small network of designers in order to maximize the amount of shapes you are able to sell.

The Services Delivery Process of the Business

One of the most overlooked items when people set up their 3D figurine business is how much time and effort it takes to turn a raw 3D scan into a product their end customer is happy with. Expect it to take multiple hours of manual digital post-processing to turn the raw data produced by your full body 3D scanner into something that will turn out well when printed on a full colour 3D printer.

This is almost the complete opposite of regular photography where we are used to being able to instantly print beautiful looking photographs when only spending a few minutes in Adobe Photoshop to touch them up. Here is the list of everything you need to do when making 3D figurines from raw 3D scans:

  • Process raw 3D scan data at “print-level” quality

While not all 3D figurine companies do this, it is becoming more and more common. Instead of just sending a 3D scan off to a 3D artist right away, some companies will reprocess the 3D scans with more robust algorithms.

The reprocessing can sometimes automatically remove problems from the 3D scan such as texture misalignment, inaccurate geometry, etc. While the reprocessing can take a significant amount of computing resources it is often still cheaper than paying for the equivalent adjustments in the 3D model in 3D artist time.

  • Send raw 3D scan to 3D artist

After you must have reprocessed your raw 3D scan, you would send it off to a 3D artist. A 3D artist will use 3D software programs (such as Zbrush, Maya, 3DS Max, etc) to fix any remaining issues with the file.

Because of the variance in 3D scan data quality, 3D artists will normally spend an average of 1-6 hours fixing a single 3D scan. If you are taking your 3D scanner to events or setting up in malls and doing hundreds of scans per day, this can become a major bottle neck.

  • Scale touched up 3D scan (5 minutes of person time)

When all of the 3D digital edits have been made to the 3D scan, the file needs to be scaled appropriately. Most 3D printers take their measurements in millimetres so you will want to make sure you set the units correctly and then scale the model to the appropriate height.

  • Load touched-up and scaled 3D scans into the 3D printer’s software and start the 3D print (5 minutes of person time)

Loading the file into the 3D print software is pretty straightforward. You will want to make sure everything is oriented in the print bed properly and take note of the estimated finish time.

  • Run full colour 3D printer (3 to 20 hours of printer time)

Immediately you start the full colour 3D printer, you must wait until your files are done printing. Depending on how many full colour 3D prints you put in the printer at once, this can take anywhere from 3 to 20 hours. Every couple of hours it is a good idea to check on the full colour 3D printer to make sure it is still running successfully, as the printer may error out during the process.

  • Remove the 3D print(s) from the 3D printer (15 minutes of person time)

Once the printer finishes you will want to let the parts dry in the 3D print bed for 2-3 hours. After drying, you will want to carefully remove the prints and inspect them for breakage, colour shift, build lines etc. (all print quality issues). Normally 1 in 3 prints will need to be reprinted because of a defect. It’s really important you factor in reprints when calculating your cost of goods for producing the 3D prints in-house.

  • Post process the 3D prints that were deemed acceptable quality (20 minutes of person time)

After removing the 3D prints from the 3D printer and inspecting quality, it is time to dip the prints in super glue to lock in the colours and give them strength. Once dipped in the super glue, the prints need to dry for 2 to 3 hours before they’re ready to be packed and shipped to customers.

  • Pack and ship the 3D prints (5 minutes of person time)

When the prints are dry from the super glue, you’re ready to pack and ship your 3D printed figurines off to customers. You will want to make sure you pack the prints carefully to minimize breakage that can happen in shipping.

15. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

Aside creating unique samples and products and laying a good business foundation for your 3D Figurine business, you will need to market your business. There are many ways to do this and they may include;

  • Leverage marketing materials

Make use of inexpensive marketing materials such as business cards and postcards. We advise you drop these off with Ventures and businesses around you.

  • Referrals

Another step in marketing your business is to get referrals from family and friends. We believe that they would create the initial buzz for your business and provide the bulk of the testimonials on your website

  • Use customers testimonies

We advise that you collect testimonials from people who have done a job or two with you. That way people who visit your site can see that your services work and are motivated to patronize you.

  • Establish a website

In your website, you can explain your services and your rates, and give potential customers information about you and your professional background. It will also give you the opportunity to share relevant information that individuals might find interesting and helpful.

  • Partnering with corporate organizations

Have it in mind that almost all these organisations are eager to boost their brand awareness and coming to them first might be the kick they need.

16. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win

The general 3D industry is filled with fierce competitions. Consider taking a 3D extension courses and familiarize yourself with the field. Also note that as much as the 3D Figurine industry is becoming competitive, you as an outstanding entrepreneur should also deduce a means of outshining your competitors. These means may include…

  • Choose a specific niche
  • Researching and identify your competitors
  • Join professional organizations
  • Keep your customers happy and satisfied
  • Work with a graphic designer to create a website

17. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

In addition to the ideas above, look for ways to show off and sell your products in the real world, too. Local hobby shops may allow you to put up advertisements for your services, including examples of your work. Local sci-fi and fantasy conventions offer a chance to rent a vendor booth and sell custom geeky jewellery and other items that fans cannot find anywhere else.

The goal of both of these is to hand out business cards and get an eventual stream of regular customers on top of the impulse buyers you’ll get. So to retain your customers in the 3D Figurine business, you have to…

  • Call your customers by name
  • Keep your work simple
  • Create a customer service culture
  • Stay connected after the job
  • Be who you are

18. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to advertise via your own professional website. You should also use social media (especially Instagram) to show off high-quality photos of your creations. You can also pay for professional advertisements through social media such as Facebook, which helps target your advertisements towards the most receptive audiences. Other methods include.

  • Choose a resounding name
  • Optimize your website
  • Take over the Internet
  • Personalization
  • Referrals
  • Outshine your competitors
  • Tag your works
  • Biddable media