by Mike Sill

From Eleanor: Mike Sill is a 3D prop designer, modeler and pinball enthusiast living in Pittsburgh who is a member of Shapeways Crew. His Shapeways shop is Mad Hat Studio

Own Your Business!

Take the mindset that you now own a business. You are in charge of all aspects of your shop, from presentation to sales. Look professional, act professional, be professional.

Find Your Market!

Find a specific, unique niche for your shop on Shapeways, or create a print that is different enough to get noticed. Don’t copy and paste from other models. This might get you a sale, but the stream of sales from that model will dry up quickly as the market becomes oversaturated. Find a target audience that is interested in what you want to sell on Shapeways, and theme your shop around attracting that audience.

Stay Busy!

Brainstorm a quick and dirty list of potential models you would like to make. Then motivate yourself by creating on a regular schedule.

Stay Smart!

Find the balance between selling at a markup that is affordable for your target audience yet high enough for you to make a decent wage.


Talk! Be it online or in person, your best chance of making a sale is to get people talking about 3D printing. There are countless people who want something to be 3D printed, but have no idea where to go or what to do. That’s where you come in!

Financial relief is something that is not easy to come by these days. Thankfully with the services provided here at Shapeways, I and many others have found a way to provide a little help from the burden of struggling to stay in the black. This entry will cover some tips that may help you, and other members of the Shapeways community, maintain your store for the potential of a steady stream of supplemental income.

I’m currently pursuing a career as a 3D prop artist for the game industry. So naturally, I saw Shapeways as a means to keeping up my modeling skills as well as making a little extra cash on the side. When I first set up my Shapeways Shop, I opened it with the mindset that I was going to make a print for myself, and if someone else were to buy one that it would be an added bonus. Now I find myself devoting my 3D printing time towards creating models for commissions or niche markets. I’m taking the mindset of whether or not I think an item will sell, does it fall within the interests of my target audience, and is it affordable.
A way to generate interest, exposure, and sales is to generate a constant stream of new items, or a constant series of themed 3D models. One of the best things an artist or designer can do is to make a list of tasks, or in this case models to create (see example here!). This, more than anything, has helped me stay productive and motivated. Even when I grow tired of working on one model, I’ll consult the inventory list I’ve made and begin on another. After doing this, I’ll set a priority value to each model relative to my interest in creating it, time sensitivity (e.g. is this a meme with a two week shelf life?), and potential value. Ask yourself, is it something that I really want to get out of my head and into my hands? If you’re infatuated with the concept of 3D printing, the answer will always be yes.

Once you have an inventory list to create and schedule to stick by, it is time to decide the particulars. You should have functionality and a material in mind before creating. Also, decide on your target audience and how much you would pay for your model. This will make the choice of scale and cost (excluding markup) easy for you. For example, my last project was to create the first through third place medals for 3 different video game tournaments to be held at a local charity called Chachi Play for Kids. The client wanted a trophy/medal resembling the charity logo. Knowing this was a non-profit with a small budget, I leaned towards designing with the constraints of the Strong White and Flexible material. To further reduce cost of printing, we settled on a print area of 2” x 2”. These choices reduced the cost of each medal to around $7, excluding markup, which was perfect for this project.

Now, getting paid is a delicate subject when it comes to deciding your markup. The designer has invested time and effort in gaining the skills necessary in creating a model for their store, and that alone is worth a lot. However, if the designer chooses a markup that is too high, then the amount of customers ordering their model will be few. It is crucial to find a balance between making a decent profit and selling a high quantity of individual products without sacrificing quality.  If you are just starting out as a shop owner, starting with a basic low cost print, such as a pendant or ring, and selling a high quantity will greatly help spread your online presence and bring in a greater amount of potential customers. Then you can design more ornate and larger pieces, giving you more liberty to demand a markup that could pay a bill or two.

Generating supplemental income and maintaining your Shapeways Shop should almost be treated as an extra full-time position. Make your shop look as professional as possible. Create a professional banner and avatar. Maintain your social networking presence by announcing a new model on every social network of which you are an active member. Take the time to appropriately tag your models so the community and customers can see you! Organize your store by sections so customers don’t have to scroll through prints that are not themed together! Get out there and network with local meetup groups! You would be amazed at how many people are interested in having custom prints made, but don’t actively seek out 3d printing websites.
So, in review to set up your store for the potential to generate supplemental income, I would suggest the following: find a demographic or market where you can succeed, create a list of prints to make and things to do, decide on details before beginning the production process, maintain networking via online and in person, make sure your store is presentable and can be found, and finally, have fun. For some this is a hobby, and for others it’s a potential job. Working for that extra dollar should take effort, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be enjoyable.