For the past two years, I've used print-on-demand technology to create and sell products in my e-commerce store. Though it's been fun selling mugs and tee-shirts, it's also a very saturated market. I've recently began exploring selling other types of print-on-demand products and 3-D printing caught my eye.
Many creators turn to printing on demand (POD) to get their products into customers' hands quickly and affordably. The technology, which prints and ships products only after a sale is made, keeps your products from piling up in warehouses waiting to be sold, which eliminates waste and extra costs.
When you think of POD you might think of screen-printing images on flat surfaces, like books, mugs, and towels. 3D printing on demand (3D POD) is now opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for efficient and scalable manufacturing.
But first, what new benefits does 3D POD bring to the table?
Why Is 3D printing great for printing on demand?
Being able to print 3D products on demand dramatically increases the range of products you're able to create. You can now create a digital design for practically anything you can imagine and easily print it out in different materials and colors.
According to Jonathan Schwartz, founder of 3D POD platform Voodoo, it allows creators to easily test ideas without losing money. He explains: "Traditional supply chains require sellers to plan far in advance in terms of what products they'll want to sell, how many they plan to sell, and where they plan to sell them." On the other hand, 3D POD allows you to create unique, functional products that are only produced after the sale is made.
Plus, this method of manufacturing slashes the cost of development. As Schwartz explains, "All it takes to make a new product is a digital file, as opposed to a mold or any special tooling."
Because of the time and money you save during development, you can offer your products at a more affordable price than traditional manufacturers. And since the printer will always follow the same digital file, you can rest assured that all products will meet the same standard of quality. All that adds up to more profit for you, the creator.
Rosalin Siv, Marketing Director at Doob 3D, goes so far as to compare this change in technology to a revolution: "It's leading a new type of industrial revolution that is transforming art, product development, engineering, and design."
So how can you capitalize on this potentially lucrative new opportunity?
Here's how to get started.
Everything starts with a digital file, specifically a 3D CAD (computer-aided design) model.
Maybe you're aren't exactly Michelangelo when it comes to digital design. That's okay - me either! You can learn 3D modeling through online courses, or you can export your sketches to a design service or contractor who will convert it for you. To create my first 3D design, I turned to UpWork to find a savvy contractor who could help turn my idea to reality.
3D printing allows you put your mark on products in a way that's never traditionally been possible for smaller brands. Schwartz says, "Whether it's a succulent planter, wine stopper, cookie cutter, or any other product you can dream up, it's easy to apply your own unique branding or style to these products via 3D modeling."
What if you don't know what to make?
The best first step is to take a look at the huge community that's already seeing substantial return with 3D printing. Says Siv, "My advice is to research the different types of printers that are available, the range of products that are being created, and what is doing well in the marketplace that overlaps with the seller's own interests."
Once you have a great idea and produced the 3D rendering, it's as easy as uploading the design to online platforms that print and dropship the products for you.
Voodoo allows you to upload a custom design and start selling it on Etsy, Shopify, or other popular platforms. One Voodoo customer sells uniquely-shaped cookie cutters, while another produces custom pieces for the popular board game Settlers of Catan.
What currently non-existing products do you want to make a reality?
Is it difficult to be successful?
When researching this article, I wondered if there were any significant barriers to entry when creating 3D products. Schwartz and Siv both emphasized that the creation process is very simple. It really is simply a matter of creating a digital file and connecting it to an online marketplace.
They also agreed that there is one issue to selling 3D products, which is the same issue for every seller: that is, making the product actually sell.
Even if you create a great lineup of affordable, high-quality 3D-printed products, they're not going to sell without some good old-fashioned marketing. Schwartz explains, "Once you've got your first few products loaded onto your store, you'll need to figure out how to drive traffic and, in turn, sales." He recommends "word-of-mouth, press, social, blog content, and paid advertising."
Siv agrees: "The novelty of the material and process alone isn't enough to fully engage the average customer."
So ask yourself: Is the product interesting to your customers? Does it solve a problem or fulfill a desire? Why should they choose your product over other alternatives?
These are important questions for any seller to answer before creating an ecommerce business. But once you've got your strategy down, it's really just click-and-go, and watching the profits roll in.
"Most sellers don't become overnight successes," says Schwartz, "but with hard work and iteration it's possible to grow your POD business into a sustainable if not highly profitable endeavor."