3D Printing for Profit

So today I got into a conversation regarding some rather unethical 3D printing topics and thought, that would be a good idea for an article. So I’m assuming you either already have at least one 3D printer or you are wanting to get on because you’ve heard how people make bank with them.

Now let’s get a couple of things out in the open before we even begin on the money making part of owning a 3D printer.

  1. Copyright Laws – Yes, they still apply to you and everyone else. Just because you find a free file of Mickey Mouse on the internet and can download and print it… does not mean it’s legal. Disney is not in the practice of making Mickey Mouse STL files and distributing them for free all over the web for people to have. That is the intellectual property of Disney and your use of it for whatever reason is illegal. Plain and simply put it’s illegal, there’s no grey area there. You did not pay Disney for the right to use Mickey Mouse, you didn’t pay them royalties, the creator of the file most assuredly did not or they would not be offering it for free because licenses for anything with the likeness of that beloved mouse comes at a premium and they will need to recoup that money somehow. Even if you go with “Well it’s for personal use.” it’s still illegal.
  2. “I made over X% changes to the original so it’s mine” – Nice try but no. Just because you take someone else’s work and alter it by X% does not necessarily give you rights or ownership to do what you want with the resulting creation. This is where not only copyright laws enter, but also the creative commons as well as the DMCA. Let’s pick on Mickey Mouse some more and say you download a file of Mickey standing on his right hand and through the magic of 3D editing software you turn him over and make him saluting instead of doing a handstand. Now you have created something new and different because you have made some significant changes to the overall model BUT… we go back to Disney owns Mickey Mouse, did you check and see what permissions the original file creator has for the Creative Commons license? Are you even allowed to make changes to the file ( which is all moot because of the fact this is Mickey we’re talking about and Disney supersedes it all ). Now provided you disregard copyright laws and the creative commons, here’s the DMCA which is a fancy name for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that covers intangible assets like pictures, music, and wait for it…. STL files and other 3D model formats.

Now you’re probably thinking “Well shit, there’s goes my ideas right out the window!”. If that is the case, post your 3D printer(s) up on Craigslist or eBay and just walkaway now. If you were wanting one to 3D print baby Yoda’s or Groots, do yourself a favor and spend your money on something else because 3D Printing isn’t something you should get into. And yes, I just said that, don’t like? Sorry, but there are a good many of us that work on our 3D models only to have them pirated and sold, traded, transferred, etc. without our permission. I wish I had a portion of the skill some of these modellers have so I can only imaging how much it pains them to see their hard work stolen and sold out from them.

With all that said, and if you’re still reading this in hopes of making some money with your 3D printer, there’s a wide world out there that’s ripe for the picking, you just have to more or less follow the rules and laws to be able to safely make a profit and avoid problems. So what can you do?

By far the easiest way to turn a profit is to make your own original 3D models. Come up with your own characters, create your own universe and make your own spaceships and aliens and monsters to populate it. Create your own line of miniatures to fit into existing games such as Warhammer 40k.

But wait, doesn’t Games Workshop own Warhammer 40k? Yes they do and they can be VERY brutal in regards to their intellectual property rights. However, so long as you are making something like your own Orks or Marines in a totally different armor that look like they could fit into the 40k universe, you’re fine. They don’t really care much about proxies like that but as I understand it, they do have rules against proxies in official tournaments. So for something like that you could make your own figures for the game, and if you wanted even come up with a cool name and market them somehow that doesn’t infringe on the name but lets people know that “Hey, you can use these with 40k”. So that’s one example.

https://www.ragingheroes.com/collections <— this is a great example of miniatures that can be used with Warhammer or other such games. I REALLY dig their version of the Sisters of Battle:

Another example is to create historical models of things like tanks or planes and if you’re skilled enough or willing to learn, infantry troops. This has never really been an issue to my knowledge unless you make something with a specific name brand such as a Land Rover… then there’s room for someone to step in and jump on your parade.

NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS…. there are several, I don’t know what to call them, groups that allow some wiggle room with their property rights. One good example as far as I know is Disney in regards to the Star Wars universe. Doctor Who seems to be another one. So long as you are making something from a show or movie that is currently NOT in production for retail sale, it seems generally acceptable to make things and sell them. There is one small hitch to this, they can change this at any time and yank the plug on all of that so if you’re working in one of those areas you should keep yourself well versed in the company’s news. Do the research and keep yourself safe and follow the rules they let you work with. I know one big thing make is stuff like custom lightsabers.

Okay, so it’s not so bleak as it first seemed, there’s some hope right? Hell yeah there is!

Let’s forget all about Mickey Mouse, Star Wars, and copyrighted stuff and assume we’re working on something totally unique or something we know is safe like a tank. I like tanks so let’s go with a project I’m working on now, the Merkava Mk. II.

I want to use this for Team Yankee so I need at least 11 of them but can have up to 33. 3D printing them is a good solution. By creating my own model based on technical drawings, schematics, and pictures, I’m making a model that I own the rights to and can sell. One of the great things about most 3D models is that you can scale them to other sizes relatively easily.

Well that’s fine Stephen, but you still haven’t told us how to make money…

Hush you, I’m just about to get to that.

If you have something like this model and play a miniatures based game like Team Yankee, Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, or anything else that you can use miniatures for… there’s your money. All you have to do is make a model people want. Make a bard doing something different or wearing something different. Scantily clad women are always a good seller. Basic troops for various games are a good place to start as well.

For me, I’ve made an agreement with a local game store owner to make the more obscure things that aren’t exactly in the games we’re playing but should be and we can easily make rules for. One prim example of this would be my Soviet VDV troops. I made the models for the infantry themselves, both male and female as well as a couple of K9’s and a BMD-1 for them to all chillax and tool around the battlefield on. These aren’t presently in the game but I did find someone else who had made some data cards for them, all I needed to do was make them.

So there’s some pics of them, I’m still working on getting them all painted but I’ve already sold a few platoons simply because the data cards already existed for them, and people are REALLY wanting them. It really can be that easy if you have an avenue like a game store.

Now you’re in no way limited to making miniatures or terrain. Head on over to a site like http://www.thingiverse.com and take a look at some of the things there. There’s gadgets, tools, toys, miniatures, models, statues, etc.. From there you can either track done some models that allow you to sell prints ( I’ll do another article on Creative Commons licensing later on ).

Something as simple as a Taco Holder, printed and cleaned up could be made for less than fifty cents and sold for $4.00 or more. AND PEOPLE WILL BUY THEM !!! I know they buy them because I’ve sold a few as well.

So while this is not the end all article on how to make money with your 3D printer, it’s a start, and I will endeavor to help you get off on the right foot and avoid any legal problems. I can’t be responsible if you get stupid and start selling Baby Groots and Baby Yoda’s and get busted… I did warn you.

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2014307 <— check this out and scroll down on the page some, you’ll see the word “LICENSE” and under it is the creative commons symbology… the important one is the dollar sign with the cross bar over it meaning you can’t sell it and it’s non-commercial.

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