As 3D printing technology becomes more widely available, more affordable printers are hitting the market. With that said, the hobby can still be pricey—users still need to purchase filaments, and energy costs should also be considered. Fortunately, users can offset these costs by printing objects that would otherwise be pricey if purchased elsewhere.
Some of the expensive things you can 3D print for cheap include:
- Custom-fitted hearing aids
- Specialized toys and figurines
- Specific-need or customized parts
- Cosplay accessories
- Working musical instruments
Throughout this article, we’ll go through a list of typically expensive items if purchased outright or custom-ordered but which you can print using a 3D printer at a fraction of the cost. Read on to gather some ideas for your future 3D printing projects.
Custom-Fitted Hearing Aids
According to 3D printing consultant Joris Peels, while the value of retail objects you can print on a 3D printer depends on how you define value, one of the biggest markets for 3D printing is in-the-ear hearing aids. He said in 2015 that in the United States, this market is worth around $8 million in parts alone, with the final hearing aid exceeding this value.
Fortune Business Insights reports that the U.S. hearing aids market reached $2.53 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow to $4.48 billion in 2028.
But is printing a hearing aid cheap? NewScientist says you can produce a 3D-printed hearing aid for less than a dollar, using cheap electronic components that you can get off-the-shelf and a 3D-printed casing. This design, however, is based on the first hearing aids, which were developed in the early 50s.
This means that improving the design to suit today’s standards and adding customized fittings and the technology could set you back a few more dollars. But considering the ratio of printing cost and retail value of a custom-fit hearing aid, this item will surely fit the bill. After all, the price of a hearing device can range anywhere from $1000 to over $6,000, depending on its technology level.
Other Custom-Designed Medical Devices
James H. Kelly, who writes software for 3D printing, said that the single most expensive object produced through 3D printing could be a one-off custom medical device, like special splints and vascular systems. These items are always customized per patient. According to him, clear plastic teeth braces also make up one of the largest markets for 3D printed objects.
Peels also mentioned hip implants, which can be incredibly costly too.
Specialized Toys and Figurines
In 3D printing, “expensive” can be subjective and hard to define. After all, a 3D printer can’t print a diamond ring or a Hermes bag. “Expensive,” therefore, is attached to value.
Some specialized toys and figurines have a high value. You can print the likeness of certain classic, limited-edition, hard-to-find, or vintage toys, figurines, and characters. They’re likely to have some demand, especially if the show, movie, or book the characters come from is no longer in production.
While they’re not original, some people would still be happy to buy them for a good amount of money. We are talking about people who love toys and character figures in general and people who find old toys nostalgic and would either want a reminder of their childhood or want to give such toys to somebody else as a sentimental present.
Even after factoring in the cost of production, including the filament, part of the printer, energy costs, design, labor, and other materials like paint, that could still mean a high-profit margin for you.
Specific-Need or Customized Parts
3D printers aren’t practical for mass-producing things or making items you can purchase for less at the store. Instead, they’re best to print single objects that you can’t easily buy or purchase somewhere else. For example, specific parts for motorbikes, cars, boats, big toys, appliances, and equipment are challenging to find. This is especially true for old, discontinued models of anything.
So, if you have a way to get a 3D design for such parts with accurate measurements and then print them, you can make a hefty profit. People would be willing to pay so much more for these parts if their gear or equipment needs these parts to work.
Some semi-custom motorcycle parts, for example, can sell at a much higher price when their product cost is only a couple of dollars.
If you are into cosplay, you would know how hard it is to get good-fitting costumes, wigs, and accessories for certain characters you want to portray, especially the complex-looking ones.
You can simply get a tailor or dressmaker to sew an outfit for some video game and anime characters. But for other characters, you would need more than just a tailored dress or suit; you’d need accessories that you can either craft yourself, ask somebody else to craft for you, or just 3D print for that more polished and professional look.
Printing accessories won’t cost a lot, but these items can be expensive when sold to cosplayers who really need them. After all, cosplayers really do take their art seriously, and they spend quite a bit of money on it.
Working Musical Instruments
Some musical instruments can be pricey, so if you want to learn how to play one but can’t afford to make that investment yet, 3D printing it would be a good alternative. We are talking about 3D-printed instruments that can actually play music.
One good example would be a 3D-printed acoustic guitar. You don’t necessarily need a massive printer with a huge build area to print the entire plastic guitar. You can 3D print your guitar piece by piece, assemble these pieces together, and add the needed metal parts.
Avid guitarists would surely love a 3D-printed guitar to add to their collection because it would be unique and unlike the store-bought ones.
Check out this video showing how an acoustic guitar is 3D printed and assembled:
You can also 3D-print and assemble a fully working violin, such as this:
Another instrument you can print yourself is a flute, recorder, or fife. You can even go for cultural flutes that are difficult to find in music shops. We’re talking about flutes like the Japanese Shakuhachi flute.
While some instruments are affordable and are readily available in music shops, 3D-printed ones are unique and interesting. You also won’t think twice about personalizing their exterior. Designs for these 3D prints are available online.