The Key to Creating a 3D Printing Business for Designers

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So, you finally got that 3D printer, did a couple test prints and explored the possibilities of what can be printed. But now what?  Many hobbyists would continue printing for fun, but for the business minded designer 3D Printing can offer many opportunities.

Robert Vignone, a Northern California based 3D Artist and former Mold3d co-founder, recognized these opportunities and turned an idea into his own business called Clackeys.

Applying his artistic talents in ZBrush and using the Form 2 printer, Vignone started creating custom-made key caps that are retrofitted to replace keys of your typical mechanical gaming keyboard. Assuming these could sell well online, Robert began offering them via a personal Etsy storefront and found that they were well received by his customers.

The proof was in the pudding, and working entirely from home, Vignone found a way to use his skills to produce a product, sell it and make a solid profit in the process.

“A lot of this has all been trial and error, as many customers send in great ideas and questions...”
— Robert Vignone, Founder


Starting a 3D printing business takes more than owning a printer or artistic talent.

Especially challenging is the fact that Vignone had to take on the manufacturing process entirely on his own. Usually one would send the final design to be mass manufactured and not worry about dealing with problems that come with producing from home.

One solution was to streamline the production process as much as possible in order to help keep the focus on the designs.

For example, seemingly small details like limiting the material choices offered to his customers cuts down the time it takes to prototype each design.  Other factors like print orientation are also important. Key caps are oriented with the bottoms facing down which allow for quick inspections for defects or layer lines on the visible surfaces.

As with any business, the time commitment to a project can be quite daunting, but necessary to keep in mind. Trial and error will eventually pay off once you have a finished product.

A typical  keycap can take Vignone anywhere from 1-7 days, from concept to initial prototype, and even then, there could be 3-4 rounds of revisions. Even making test prints are necessary in making sure you are on the right track.

 Batch Production


Working out these technical challenges gives more time to devote to design.

Vignone has created his own market of original and inspired art that forms his current collection. Inspirations range from video game art to original designs.

Coming up with new ideas can be hard at first but having your own design process can help.

Vignone’s design process is simple yet works for him. “I try to always carry my notebook with me so I can scribble ideas when they come. When your brain starts thinking of what could be on top of a keycap, it can be a very 'down the rabbit hole' experience.”

However, this unlimited creative freedom can sometimes hinder progress, so keeping in mind the product's purpose is key. Robert recommends to "Spend no longer than 15-30 minutes in ZBrush trying to see if [an] idea will actually work, making sure that form follows function".


A question some might have is why 3D print each keycap when making silicon molds is much easier for creating duplicates?

With each keycap printed, Vignone has learned that 3D printing is actually more efficient. It gives the creator the freedom to make changes on the fly, it avoids the limitations and difficulty of casting a mold of a complicated design and frees up time to work on other things while the printer is busy printing.

Even the concept of 3D printing itself has significantly helped Vignone in marketing his brand.

The 3D printing community is out there and appreciate the level of detail that 3D printing can achieve vs. traditional casting methods.


In the end however, it  doesn't matter how you choose to create or manufacture a product. Robert believes the most important factor is investing in yourself. "Never stop getting better at modeling, sculpting and design. Those foundation skills will be there when you need them most for a project that demands it. I think with anything, combining what you’re good at doing with what you love to do can be a recipe for success."


Robert Vignone is a former instructor for Mold3D's 3D Printing for ZBrush Class that teaches students the same skills and techniques that Robert uses in his own successful 3D Printing business.

If you are interested in embarking on your own entrepreneurial journey, or simply want to learn how to create your own 3D Printed objects, our 3D Printing for ZBrush Artists is currently open for Registration*.

Sign up today!


Also, be sure to follow Clackey's on Instagram and Twitter for updates.



* Registration for the class closes on Sunday, April 30th