Mastering the trick of making money out of 3D printing

    Mastering the trick of making money out of 3D printing
    Image: keepitsurreal (Creative Commons)
    19th March 2012
    It may be one of the coolest printing innovations to hit the industry for decades but few people have mastered the trick of making money out of 3D printing. Until now. Pioneering print enthusiasts Bilal Ghalib and Alex Hornstein, otherwise known as the 'Pocket Factory', are currently driving across the US with two 3D printers in the trunk of their Prius.

    On their coast to coast journey from San Francisco to New York, the duo are stopping off in various towns and cities to sell a variety of different products to punters. The Pocket Factory founders have two main goals for the trip: to create a sustainable business selling things made on the 3D printers and to generate more "printrepreneurship" in the growing maker community.

    So far the trip has been an enlightening experience. "We've sold customizable designs, printed 3D portraits on the spot, thrown together software to create neat objects, and designed our own products from scratch," Hornstein writes on the Pocket Factory's blog. "We've printed everywhere from bars to train stations to street corners and flea markets. We've had varying degrees of success, and we're starting to figure out what works and what doesn't without printers."

    That last point is crucial to the duo's future plans for a sustainable 3D printing business once their journey ends. Based on their interaction with consumers they've realised it's a mistake to sell the "world of possibilities" that 3D printers provide, and that rather than allow potential punters to order a vast array of different products that are customised and printed on demand their best sales performances were always achieved when they sold specific products, like 3D portraits for $10, rather than open-ended ideas.

    "Like everything, 3D printing is a world full of possibilities, of distractions and promises and excitement," writes Hornstein. "The more we print and the more people we talk to, the closer we get to the juicy nuggets of truth in 3D printing; the intersection of printers and people. The better we get at using our tools to make things that people love. The more we understand that, the more we believe in a future where other designers are no longer constrained by money or connections or resources–a future where the only thing standing between a great idea and an impact in people's lives is a little white button labelled 'print'."

    To follow the Pocket Factory's adventure visit www.pocketfactory.org

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