Over the last several years of 3D printing as a hobby I have had my fair share of people approach me with an idea, an easy project, or something random they found on the internet they wanted printed for them. In general my typical response has been, “absolutely no problem” and taken the mantle of the challenge as a new way to challenge myself in 3D printing. However some of these “easy projects” were of course the most difficult tasks I’ve ever encountered in the hobby. General rule of thumb, just because there is an object file or STL in existence and someone has found it does not necessarily mean that model is actually printable, but I am getting ahead of myself… let’s start at the beginning of one of these “easy projects”.
In July 2022 I was commissioned to print the LARGEST 3D and most time consuming project I have ever attempted. This project was the Sentienel Light Cruiser by the Skies of Sordane kickstarter in March 2020 which raised over $280K CA or $208K USD on kickstarter. The reason why I say how much it has raised is that there are very few 3D printing stl crowdfunding projects to have ever gone over the 200K mark let alone this early in the 3D hobby printing revolution.
I remember vividly this project releasing and the waves it has made in the community. I even have a ship or two in my own STL collection that have been given to me as cross-promotions over the years even though I never backed the main project. So being asked to print the largest of the medium class ships from the core bundle of this kickstarter, I immediately felt it was safe enough to agree to the project with such a wide community backing it, instantaneous name recognition, and enough time has passed since it’s initial launch that surely there is strong documentation of the project and troubleshooting.
So using this project as an example I thought I’d share the lessons I’ve learned with you.
Since completing the project, I have completely changed my view and approach on commission 3D printing through trial and error. Here are my top 10 lessons/rules and takeaways from the project if you are considering 3D printing for commission.
#1 Know your Value
One of the largest things I struggle with personally is making sure I receive payment for my services and time investment. I’m the type of person who significantly undervalues myself with the goal of bringing things and being as accessible as possible to others. I typically only charge printing cost in materials and file cost in almost all of my prints with an expectation of people tip what they are able to. Letting them pay for the print in what they value it as or can afford. This of course breaks down as you need to do much more in order to make the model print.As a result i’ve had to set a value per hour or minimum service fee for a product i’ll be printing. If a file requires work before or after printing put it in your service fee. Be transparent of your cost breakdown and expectations up front. Your time should not be for free.
Make sure you have a point in the clause where cost could change if you over estimate or under estimate project.
#2 Know the Terms of Service
I am not a 3D printing studio or have a merchant license to print and am merely a printer as a service for people that do not have a printer but find files they are strongly interested in. My first rule is that the person asking for a file to be printed is always either 1) buying the STL and send it to me to print with proof of purchase or 2) I purchase the file and add the STL cost to the final cost breakdown at the end. This ensures that the original creator always gets paid for their work and its single use print and purchase. Always make sure you are reading the terms of service for your files before printing them to verify nothing you are doing is breaking terms, General rule of thumb, I only print something once per purchase of a file for personal use.
#3 Determine the Scale, Commitment and Cost of the Project
In some cases this is incredibly hard to estimate without seeing the files beforehand and diving deep into the project but here are the
5 primary cost factors in a print commission.
1) Digital Model cost
Discussed in the previous bullet but if you are buying the file for the client then make sure you add it to your total.
2) Material Cost
Most of the time you will need to put the file into your software to get an estimate of total materials used in the print job so this can be difficult to blindly estimate unless doing something similar in scale and scope frequently. Oftentimes keeping track of slicing estimates or using software like Octoprint for filament printing can help give estimates but only after you have gotten the files in your hands and are deeper in the project. I have also found that you should never be cheap on the materials you purchase. You’d end up paying more for it in the end. Use materials and quality of products that you would be happy with. In which case I am always a perfectionist.
3) Print time & Printer maintenance
Some individuals and print shops charge per hour their printers are running as business. Often if the print commission is a singular print that takes an hour or two I consider this negligible. But in the case of this project I estimated over 31 Days of non-stop continuous printing. Perhaps including costs for new nozzles, print beds, etc should also be factored into the equation.
4) Tip for service
Most often when buying 3D printed models from sites like Etsy tips are not often considered. But when working on one off projects such as these and their customization in nature it is strongly encouraged that you ask for a tip for your time. If you are not comfortable asking for a tip think the question of “what is the minimum amount you will do this project for.” Add that value to your print cost.
I often use tips as a method of which I can gauge the satisfaction of my client on the project. These I consider as icing on the cake and a bonus and not part of my rate.
Shipping can be an extremely tricky factor when working on 3D prints as well as keeping your print safe and secure. I have come to depend on USPS priority mail system and their free flat rate box. They come with a default insurance value of $100 a tracking number, arrive in a decent amount of time, boxes are free, and are the most affordable shipping options. Their prices are also transparent:
|Small Flat Rate||$10.20||8 5/8″ x 5 3/8″ x 1 5/8″|
|Medium Flat Rate||$17.10||13 5/8″ X 11 7/8″ x 3 3/8″ |
11″ x 8 1/2″ x 5 1/5″
|Large Flat Rate||$22.80||12 1/4″ x 12″ x 6″|
#4 Agree upon Deadline
One thing you will hear commonly regardless of type of commission is that they can commonly hang over your head as something you “need to do” and detracts from other aspects of your life or even your own hobby time. Setting a deadline can help eliminate the “when will it be done” questions and force you to focus on getting the project out the door and no longer hanging over your head while also building consumer transparency.
#5 Set Expectations of Product Quality
One of the hardest things about printing commissions from files others have found on the internet is the simple statement that all files are not created equal. Not all files SHOULD or CAN be printed. A render for a file could be absolutely breathtaking but it doesn’t mean that the considerations of 3D printing the model are taken into account and could make your job extraordinarily more difficult. That on top of expectations. How much post processing are you expected to do? If printing in PLA do they understand that layer lines are going to be visible? How much support scaring is acceptable? Is the model going to have to be assembled on your own time? These things should be asked or you determine as a result of your product if you open your own store. Often times it might take more than one print to optimize the quality of a print due to the design of the model itself or your print settings. Proper calibration as well as familiarity with the company helps tremendously.
#6 Keep Track the Project as you Go
There is nothing worse than finishing a large project and then having to go back and calculate the time commitment and cost breakdown for final billings. Make sure you are breaking down what you did and why as you go. If you had to manipulate a file on your own, presupport a file, any reprints etc. Trying to remember what you did months ago can be incredibly challenging. If the scope is extremely large.
#7 Don’t be Afraid to Say No
If this is not your primary form of income and it is merely for fun on the side. Don’t hesitate to turn down projects that you don’t want to do or necessarily have the time to do. Sometimes these things can massively take away time from your own projects and hobby time. People can find others to print projects or wait until you are ready.
#8 Maintain Communication of progress and project Status
As a way to help build confidence, keep everyone honest and on track. I commonly find that sharing work in progress pics is fantastic to maintain positive energy on the project. Their excitement helps keep you motivated while also making sure that they are still invested in the project.
#9 Account for time variance for printer repairs and real life situations
Not every project goes as expected. There are times when you will have to spend days repairing, troubleshooting, replacing parts on your printers which can be incredibly frustrating. Account for taking time off. The printers do not have to run 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
#10 Make sure the process is still fun
In the end of it all this is most commonly your hobby and enjoyable past time. Don’t focus so heavily on making a profit from it and become a professional hobbyist. This is for fun and not a job. If it isn’t fun don’t do it.
Every project you undertake you can learn a lot about yourself as well as your hobby. Do you print professionally? Do you buy printed projects? What takeaways have you made?
As always Happy Hobbying,
- Total Filament usage: 6.348 kg
- Resin usage: 247.38g
- Filament length 2,094.87 meters or 1.30 miles
- Print time: 748.66 hr or 31.2 Days
- Total number of pieces: 98
- Estimated post processing time: 30 hr