One more easy option that is now starting to take advantage of modern technology is 3D printing. 3D printing is basically like any other kind of printing, except that instead of printing onto paper, you’re now printing actual 3D objects!
These objects can be made from plastic, metal, wood, china and more and all you need is the raw material (which will often come in the shape of a thin tube) and a 3D file called a CAD file (computer aided design). The file provides the 3D printer with the detailed instructions for how to produce the item and the printer then goes about melting the material and drawing it one layer at a time. As it does this, it slowly builds the solid object up from the ground.
What this means is that as long as your product is relatively simple, you can ‘print’ it from nothing with no need for any complex manufacturing or assembly. There are websites you can do this from, such as Shapeways (www.shapeways.com) for example. To use Shapeways, you simply need to send your CAD file away and then choose your material. This way you can make anything you can imagine. And of course, if your product has more than one part, or if it uses more than one material, then you can just attach those two materials or two colors yourself by hand as the last stage of production.
Shapeways, in particular, has come on a long way. Today it has more options such as drone parts and even allows you to open your store right there on the site to begin selling. You can also browse what other people have made.
The other good news? It’s possible to buy personal 3D printers. These aren’t particularly cheap, and the amount you’ll spend depends on what it is you want. The products range from things like Formlabs Form 2 (for several K) to CHINA A8 for just over $100-$200. If you’re going to be making tiny, plastic toys then these cheap desktop 3D printers are probably enough. If you want to run a full business, then investing in a larger printer becomes necessary.
If you’re looking for a selection of 3D printers, then perhaps the best place to start is with Makerbot. This is a brand that makes a broad range of printers, all of which get great reviews and should be more than up to whatever challenges you throw at them.
Once again, with a simple tool like this and perhaps an e-commerce store on your website, you can then start selling simple 3D products from your site. That might mean things like phone cases, tablet stands, keyrings, toys/figurines, desk caddies and more. You can then print out each order as it comes in and sends it off for a considerable profit.
The phone case business model is, in fact, a very popular one and one that a lot of people use profitably.
How to Get Started With 3D Modeling: Rhinoceros 3D
Before this can be a viable business model for you, though, you’re first going to need to learn how to create those 3D CAD files. This just means using a piece of software, just as you would use Photoshop to create a professional image.
The good news? There is plenty of free software to use out there and lots of cheap software as well. One great option is Rhinoceros or ‘Rhino 3D’, and another is ‘Blender’ . Let’s take a look at how you would get started with Rhino 3D and what you learn here should be relatively easy to apply to your CAD software of choice. What you’re left with will be a file that you can then either send to Shapeways for printing or print out at a 3D printer at home.
You’re going to need these skills later on too – when it comes to prototyping and even manufacturing. So even if your business model isn’t going to be selling 3D printed products, I highly recommend that you give this a go. And there’s a real thrill that comes from creating a model and then receiving the finished article in the post.
When You Load Up
When you load up Rhinoceros 3D, you will be greeted first by the option to select a template which will allow you to pick the rough scale you want to use. Decide on whether the item you're going to be designing would be served better by being measured in centimeters or millimeters and then choose appropriately. Note however that once you begin, you can go to View > Grid Options to change this specifically and to set the distance between squares on your grid. This is very useful if you are prototyping because it lets you create images of a particular size accurately and conveniently.
Now you will be greeted by four panels which give you your top view, front view, right view and 'perspective view.' The first three are schematic views allowing you to precisely measure the shape of images, while the top right one allows you to rotate your image around in 3D. If you want to see what it would look like as a solid object, select this view and then click 'render' or 'shade' for a preview. By clicking on a layer, you can edit the materials and the colors that your object use even set textures to make your item look like a real 3D object rather than a block of dough.
Now to get started, select the preferred view. You can double click the title of any view to expanding it to fill the whole screen and click again to switch to the four plane view.
Now you will begin to draw onto the grid, and you can do this by drawing individual lines, shapes or 3D objects by selecting the tool from the left toolbars or from along the top. Drawing individual lines gives you the most control. To use this method, you select 'near' (a checkbox down the bottom of the screen) so that the lines start and finish in the same place. Be sure to hold 'shift' while dragging if you want your line to be completely straight.
Going 3D . . .
Draw yourself a box or a triangle or whatever to start with and now you will want to make that a 3-Dimensional object. To do this, you have several objects. First select all the lines and click 'combine' down the left (it looks like a jigsaw piece) and that will become a flat outline. Now to pull that outline upwards to create a box or a sheathe click 'extrude planar surface' and then click on your new shape to drag it up or down along the Y-axis. This object will be hollow, so to close it off click 'cap planar holes' to turn it into a box or pyramid.
Another option is to change views and draw the other sides going up and along the top manually. Be sure to connect them so you can choose this combination again. Next, select Surface > Curve Network to turn those lines into another box or pyramid – but remember to use cap again as well.
Finally, if you want to use one of Rhino's fancier abilities, try selecting your shape and then typing 'revolve' into the command box (you can learn a lot of functions by playing around in here). Now draw the line along which you want to revolve your object and then choose the degrees. Type 360 degrees and you will make a tube out of your shape – which is how you make things like vases, cups, and cylinders.
Play around and make a few shapes, and then drag them to overlap (making sure they are solid shapes and not just outlines) because selecting 'The Boolean Union' to combine those two shapes into one shape. And with just this basic knowledge you can pretty much get started...