How commercial printers can market and sell 3D Printing services

Matt Belo.
Matt Belo.

Here, Matt Belo, Brand Manager and Prosumer Solutions at Objex Unlimited 3D Printing Studio in Toronto, presents some basic guidelines if you’re going to market and sell 3D Printing services as part of your current commercial printing business. Regardless of what kind of printer you are – small quick-print shop, digital or offset printer, packaging printer, mailing & fulfillment house, print finishing specialist – you might want to consider what he has to say.

 3D marketing 101

The challenge with 3D technologies is that they’re “cutting edge.” Only a few firms so far have been true pioneers in using 3D to enhance their brand while communicating the benefits in a concise and value-added way. As a result, many of your customers won’t completely understand the advantages of your new 3D services, so you’ll need to engage them with examples specific to their needs.

3D Printed Samples.
3D Printed Samples.

The power of hands-on samples

Engage your customers with impressive, diverse samples to show them what’s possible using today’s 3D printers and scanners. There are still many misconceptions out there in the world of 3D, so customers can’t be expected to do all the research themselves. It’s your job to show them what’s possible via samples that cater to their needs and particular industry. Don’t explain why 3D Printing can help them – show them! For example, if your customer is in tool and die making, 3D print a jig or a fixture. If your client is an automotive designer, show how they can design and build inexpensive 3D-printed car parts from a 3D scan. Show display companies a 3D-printed booth mock-up. If they’re willing to give you an STL or CAD file for test printing, that’s even better! Make sure the materials you use in your samples are also diverse – wax, rubber, polymers, nylon, carbon fibre, metal, etc. – as well as full-colour options and a variety of plastics and resins. The amount of printable 3D materials is constantly expanding, so the more materials you can show, the more likely one of them will impress a current or potential customer.

Who should you go after?

The variety of industries using 3D technology may shock you. For example, ever heard of Invisalign? Invisalign uses 3D printers to produce clear, custom orthodontic braces. I recently learned of a detailed, 3D printed prototype of a new sports stadium done for a fraction of its traditional cost of $500,000 – and in less time. One shoe company wanted prototypes of different designs and used 3D Printing to get samples faster and cheaper. Then there was a tool manufacturer that needed 3D samples to ensure that its products fitted comfortably in the hand and that its switches were easily accessible. Get the picture? So what companies should you approach? The answer is just about any business – especially ones in your immediate geographic area.  I’d also investigate tradeshows (booth design), display companies (indoor/outdoor, POP), ad agencies (2D artists), industrial and commercial prototyping, packaging, marketing firms, premiums and incentives, etc. There are literally thousands of possible applications that today include aerospace, automotive, consumer products, healthcare, governments, industrial/business machines, education, research, arts, architecture, engineering and so on.

How to demonstrate the value of 3D technologies

While 3D printing is new and exciting, its advantages are the tried-and-true benefits that most businesses want – namely better quality, reduced material and labour costs, much faster time to market, maximum flexibility in design and mass customization. Even complex 3D components are generally lighter and, depending on technology and material, stronger and more robust. And the best news of all – you can offer unprecedented cost savings to your clients while still marking up your 3D products substantially. If you’ve purchased a 3D printer, conduct on-site demonstrations or have an open house – and have an expert on hand to explain how the machine works. Alternatively, get an expert from the company you’re partnering with to perform demonstrations if you haven’t purchased the equipment yet. People feel more at ease purchasing when they understand the process.

What do you need to compete as a 3D print service provider?

Anyone can purchase a consumer-level 3D Plastic Printer and claim to offer “3D Print Services.” For a $2,000 investment, you’ll have a box that can jet plastic and produce small, monochrome objects with extremely simple shapes, but not a lot of durability. But if instead you choose to work with an experienced 3D studio, not only will you get access to high-end machines that can print complex geometries, functional parts and full-colour models, you’ll also gain valuable knowledge on how to properly operate the equipment to achieve the best possible results. Finally, it seems to me that with an experienced 3D printing studio as a partner, you’re limited only by your imagination. Good luck!


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.