There are many ways to make money as a 3D-Artist. The question, though, should really be: How do you want to make money as a 3D Artist?
Shouldn’t we all be able to do what we like to do best, are passionate about, and especially what fulfills us and gives us purpose in life?
Do you adjust to the industry, look for jobs and create whatever a client wishes and wants to spend money on?
Shouldn’t it be the other way around, that you create what you are passionate about and the right customers and clients will come to you?
Creative jobs, especially in the 3D-Industry, that let you create entire worlds and stories digitally, sound like jobs that should be able to fulfill you to the core!
3D shouldn’t be just for paying the bills.
It is for telling stories, building audiences, and sharing a common vision.
The 3D Artist’s dilemma
Today, everyone wants to pay less, the value of your 3D skills seems to have plummeted and the global competition can be excruciating.
Learning to be a mediocre 3D-Artist can be fast, there’s no need for an expensive Film School, you can teach yourself.
Customers are satisfied with less than your best and settle for good-enough. So how can we, as 3D Artists, make a living and feel fulfilled in this kind of market?
Should 3D Artists take on multiple jobs?
Learn more or different skills?
Be crushed and burn out because of too much low-quality, tedious work, and a 3D-Artists salary, that is usually much too low?
Should we give up our former hopes of starting a career in a creative industry that had the potential of making our dreams come true?
Let’s get into this in-depth and start off with some questions to ask ourselves before looking at how to make money with 3D:
Why are you a 3D Artist?
We love 3D.
We love creating new worlds, characters, and stories from an empty viewport. We love to polish a rendering and try to get that leather material to look as realistic as possible.
We love making our Ideas come to life.
We want to make cars explode, dragons fly, heroes succeed, enemies surrender and render imagery adored by the world and never seen before.
Why are you a 3D Artist?
What is the Ultimate Goal of a 3D Artist?
We want to be remembered, be an authority in our field, be needed, liked, in an artistic or technical way, and also as a person.
We want to visualize our thoughts, our emotions, want to feel like we have reached our goals, have overcome our old self, and are progressing, growing beyond what we were able to do in the past.
We want to be fulfilled by what we are doing and find purpose in it.
We want to be unique and original and market our own vision and not others.
We want people to value what we do. There is no magic (“Pixar”) button that makes everything pretty and cool and stylish or produces a viral hit in seconds.
We know that, but do our potential clients and employers?
Make millions or be happy with enough?
What if you earned your first million.
Would you just stop working and do nothing for the rest of your life? Shouldn’t you care more for the person you have become while making that first million, than for the money itself?
Let me tell you this:
The person that could make that first million will not stop working hard on improving and learning for the rest of his or her life.
If you really needed that million right now and your life depended on it, you would go out and do hard work, no matter what it takes.
Maybe you’ll only really know you are in the right Industry and passionate about your projects after you are rich and still continue working on your 3d projects for yourself – just for the fun of it.
State of the 3D Industry
Globalization and Technology are transforming the 3D Industry.
Simple grunt work can be done for a fraction of the former costs, by outsourcing to Artists in low-wage countries.
Technology is allowing us to automate tasks such as 3D Scanning and Motion Capturing to make it cheaper for studios to produce certain types of shots.
In this globalized Industry, competition is at an all-time high, and bidding wars on freelance platforms, such as Upwork, are ridiculous.
Some have suggested, in order to be able to compete with low-wage countries, you should shift your focus to learning how to bring the right people together to do the job, instead of doing all the grunt work yourself.
This means learning the business aspect of the 3D Industry in addition to your creative skills.
Fresh out of school or senior 3D Artist
As a long-time employed 3D-Artist turned Freelance 3D-Artist myself, this article is somewhat biased.
I have seen people come and go, worked on hundreds of projects in several Studios, and am now aiming to help people in similar situations rediscover their passion.
If you are a recent graduate, let me just say, it is important to at least have worked in the actual 3D Industry for some time and learn valuable lessons, before diving into Freelance or other business-undertakings.
Let’s take a look at what common job types there are in the 3D Industry:
Common job types in the 3D Industry
OK, so let’s start with the obvious ones:
Full- or Part-Time Employed
You can work full- or part-time at a 3D Animation Studio, a VFX Shop, an Advertising Agency, etc. Depending on the size of the Company, it will prefer 3D Generalists or Specialists. Small shops prefer Generalists that can cover many different areas of a pipeline, large Studios want specialists.
You will have tasks assigned to you and will be managed by your superiors. You don’t usually have any client contact unless you are in a small Studio that will trust you enough to handle client relationships.
Over-time is common to meet project deadlines, but income is steady and you usually don’t have to worry about finding new Projects to work on, since this is the Studio’s job.
Freelancing, too, is very common. As a Freelancer, you usually use Hard- and Software of the Studio that is hiring you and you work on-site.
You have people managing you and you don’t get in touch with the client.
Being a Freelance Specialist is usually higher in demand, since Studios have their own 3D Generalists and bring in Specialists to get specific tasks done they can’t do themselves.
Being an on-site Freelancer is usually only possible in areas such as larger cities, with lots of relevant Companies that can book you. That way you’ll be able to work without having to worry about your next pay check.
As a Freelancer, you will have to go find work yourself and have good relationships with the businesses hiring you in order to have them book you multiple times and recommend you to others.
Business Owner / Solo-Preneur
Now, if you consider yourself a Freelancer but are working from home and not or seldom being managed by the company’s staff, then maybe you have to change your definition because it looks as though you are operating like a (one-man) business.
Of course, working for yourself is like working multiple jobs.
You will have to be the 3D Generalist, Animator, Director, Editor, Modeler and Sound-Designer all by yourself AND will have to market yourself, do the invoicing and accounting, go on sales calls, and keep all of your hard- & software running on your own. You are your own boss.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? 🙂
Automatic / Passive Income as a 3D Artist
So let me recap: We need money to work on our own projects. This is where automatic or passive income streams are great.
At least the Idea of it: You can work on your own passion projects while money is flowing in that pays the bills. Make your art work for you just like your money could when it generates interest in the bank.
The Top 9 ways to making money as a 3D Artist (Apart being employed at a studio)
1. Sell Tools and Plugins for 3d Software
Combine your skills. Being able to code in some of the Software scripting languages can greatly help you.
Not just by making yourself much more valuable to any potential employer or client but also by earning some money on the side.
Writing and selling plugins or scripts for 3D Software is something you can do when you have coding skills and know what artists are looking for to make their lives easier.
You’re a 3D-Artist yourself, right? You know what’s missing from your Software of choice.
Write scripts that optimize workflows, speed up repetitive tasks, enhance the software with additional features, or optimize accessibility.
This can be as easy as scripting a button into the user interface to make a command more accessible, which is usually hidden deep inside a menu.
You can code a plugin, that fixes missing texture paths at the click of a button, or automatically instantiates duplicate objects.
A Plugin that flips all normals before exporting to FBX, or a script that disables generators and subdivision surfaces to make the viewport faster.
The possibilities are endless.
People who know their way around 3D and know how 3D Artists work from their own experience can add tremendous value to any 3D Team not only in terms of pipeline optimization.
Chances are, you have already coded some little helpers to make your own work more efficient. Share these and make them donation ware or offer a trial.
If they are truly helpful you will be astonished at how grateful users are and what they are willing to pay.
Here are some pointers where you can start selling your Plugins and Scripts right now:
2. Make money with Material Packs
There are always artists in need of materials they can just drop onto their objects, or use as a starting point for tweaking until it looks perfect.
There are so many different render engines and 3D Packages out today, that the need for specialized materials will stay high in the foreseeable future.
New Render Engines pop up every year, so go convert some existing Materials to make them compatible and sell them in a pack.
3. Make money selling Courses on Udemy
Selling Tutorials and Courses on popular learning-platforms can be extremely lucrative. Just take a look at some of these people who have sold a multitude of courses. That particular course has over 10.000 enrollments, at 10$ a pop, that’s quite a sum.
As a 3D Artist, all you need is a Microphone and Camera, some screen recording software, and you’re all set.
Go do some market research to find areas people are interested in, make a plan, structure your tutorial and sign up as a content creator.
4. Make money with a 3D Printer
This is a big one. I am not talking about 3D printing your own money, but physical 3D Printed Products that solve problems, that people want and need.
Ever since 3D Printers have become affordable, the 3D Printing Industry has boomed. All you need are some 3D Modeling skills, a 3D Printing service, or an own 3D Printer, and you can print products, 3D Characters, a Nozzle for a Vacuum Cleaner, anything you can imagine, on your own.
You can basically found a startup, set up manufacturing from your home, launch an eCommerce Store and sell products that tackle other people’s major pain-points.
Making money from 3D Printing is as easy as never before.
5. Digital Prints and Posters
I am sure there is nothing you’d rather do than just render awesome Images all day long. So why not crank that resolution up a bit, make prints, and sell them online?
You could be making some money on the side right now, with all those renderings gathering dust on your hard-drive.
Start with topics that already have large audiences and interest, like 3D Renderings of Book Characters, TV Series Environments, Memes, Political Figures, anything that you can think of.
Make a Name for yourself. Beeple is a great example to use as an idol for this.
6. Make Money 3D Modeling and selling 3D Models
Weather you work as a Freelancer or at a Studio, your Time is just too valuable for some things. 3D Modeling is at the very top of that list, and you’ll find that you constantly buy Models and Assets online to make your work faster.
As long as the models can be somewhat generic, buying them is much cheaper than creating them yourself.
If a 3D-Artists hourly rate is 50$, and they should create an architectural Rendering that involves a background city & environment, the first thing you’ll do is buy that background environment on Turbosdquid, CGTrader or another 3D Model Asset Store.
It would take you weeks and thousands of dollars to model this all yourself, and buying it just sets you back ~100$ give or take.
Having a 3D Model as a basis then lets you tweak it to your client’s or boss’s wishes, and your time is much better spent working on the foreground hero building that has to adhere to very specific client requests.
If a studio needs a generic model, that doesn’t need a specific style, chances are very high, they will not think twice before investing a couple of hundred bucks into buying 3D models.
The need for 3D Models is very high, though the market is quite saturated.
You will have to top everyone by providing superior quality, some special software formats, or additional features such as materials ready for specific render-engines, rigs or animation to have a competing chance.
As a 3D Artist, you probably have some models lying around on your computer, so why not try this and upload them for selling online? It won’t cost you anything.
Places to sell 3D Models:
Is selling 3D Models profitable?
As discussed above, the 3D Model Market is quite saturated already, but there are still a lot of opportunities to be profitable.
Here’re some niches in the 3D Model Market that I have found to be lacking:
- Packs of everyday Items like tools, room decorations
- Low Poly Models that are unwrapped to a Color Palette Map
- Isometric Low Poly Models
- 3D Models that are set up to work with GPU Render Engines like Redshift or Octane are extremely scarce
7. Make Money Online by Starting a 3D Blog and Website
Give back to the community.
The 3D Industry is quite small and we have to care for one another. Share your knowledge and insight with the world and the favor will be returned sooner or later.
Start a blog on the side (like this one you’re reading now!) and write about what you have learned when working on your 3D Projects, what Problems you have encountered, and how you have overcome them.
Let us know how passionate you are about your projects and connect with the 3D Industry through social networks and Industry gatherings such as the NAB, FMX or Siggraph.
Take anything you have created in 3D, Materials, 3D Models, or Plugins and make them available on your site. Give away some for free and make people want to come back for more.
If you run a popular site you will be able to make money through affiliate marketing and ads.
A nice thing about starting a blog that you contribute to continually, is, that it is low risk, needs almost no funding, and scales progressively. The more time you put in, the more you will get from it.
You get continuous feedback from a blog, will know what topics work for your readers and which are better avoided.
Compare this to, say, a mobile game developer, that needs 2 years of development, and only in the end will know if it was the right choice to spend 2 years on.
8. Create a Children’s Series for YouTube
Have you seen what gets billion of views on YouTube lately? Children’s ABC nursery rhymes that run for a fair amount of time. Why? I can only imagine parents wanting some free time from their children and letting them sit in front of the TV to watch the same ABC children’s learning video over and over.
Now here’s the catch: I know you can do better. Given the quality of rendering, animation, even storytelling.
These YouTube series didn’t take long to produce not even a week or two for someone like you to create full-time.
There is no reason you shouldn’t get a piece of the pie. Go get a voice actor and create a series, the 3D Industry can actually be proud of.
9. Sell 3D Renderings on Stock-Image and Stock-Video Sites
Remember those Renderings you have lying around on your Hard-Drive gathering dust? Make them work for you!
Setting up an account and uploading your renderings and animations to Stock-Image or Stock-Video sites is something you can do in less than an hour.
Some market research and reading of the news to create great image combinations that are in high demand, will of course go a long way in increasing your income from these kinds of sites.
Shutterstock and Adobe Stock are a great place to start.
Bonus #10: Sell scanned 3D Models
This is fairly novel way of creating 3D Models.
You can use your camera or multiple cameras and photogrammetry software like Agisoft PhotoScan to create stunningly realistic looking models of real-world objects and sell them later-on.
TheCreativeCrops is a Website that sells 3D scanned Models of Food and has done this to perfection – be sure to check it out:
9 more ways of making money in the 3D Industry that didn’t make it on the Top List
- Sell T-Shirt Prints with your artwork
- Make an awesome Short Film and go get some Festival exposure or even Awards that might lead to a network picking up your work
- Research and wrap your head around making a viral hit with 3D animation
- Pitch a Project on Kickstarter and get funding
- Make awesome Art and get funded on Patreon
- Get funded by the government (I detest this, but it might be up your alley)
- Make an App/Game
- Render Product Packshots for Startups
- Make some 3D Clan-Logos and Advertise in the Gaming-Industry to get Customers
How to make money with 3D-Animation
After reading through this article you should have some idea of how you can put your 3D Animation skills to good use.
You can get hired as a 3D Animator at an animation Studio, you could go Freelance and have multiple clients, remote or on-site, or you can start your own business and tackle one of the options in the list above.
Create a series of fun Animations for children and launch them on YouTube. Take book covers and animate them in both 2D or 3D and sell them to Book publishers for their Advertising. The possibilities are endless.
How to make money with 3D-Modeling
If you’re great at creating stylized or realistic Character Models with top-notch polyflow, know what it takes to create low-poly game assets, or have a knack for model cleanup, unwrapping, and 3D-Scanning, you are in demand!
Sell models on popular asset stores from Unity3D, Turbosquid, or CGtrader or bundle them up and sell directly to an audience of users in 3D forums and subreddits. Going freelance, too, is a great way to find your market value and see which areas of your skills have the highest demand.
You can start at a studio as a 3D Modeling specialist as well, but the studio will have to be large enough to need specialized 3D Modelers. You can increase your worth by learning some extra skills in the 3D Pipeline, like Texturing, Rendering, or Animation.
A thought on Risk-Taking
You want to make money with your 3D Skills and want to have freedom as to when, what, and how you create it.
Let me say some words about effectively lowering the risk involved in failing at an advanced stage of your project:
Start small and fail often and as early as possible.
Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you know 3D and have some coding skills. You are ready to start developing a 3D Mobile game. You have big plans, are planning on launching a freemium game à la Clash Royale.
You have some money saved up, so now you can create your game for a year and then make the big bucks, right?
Well, after a year you have finished the game, good for you! But no one plays or downloads it, or even invests in any in-game purchases. Your savings are gone and you have an unsuccessful game.
You have worked an entire year and only now, that the game is finished, know that it has failed and that you should have done it differently.
The Solution: Work on Projects that scale and get market feedback as early and often as possible.
Let me give you an example: You are starting a blog about 3D Printing.
Setting up the site takes you 1 day. You publish an Article. This article took you 2 days to write.
You let Google Index the article and drive some traffic through outreach or sharing your article to your colleagues on social media. After just a couple of days, you will have your first visitors without spending an entire year’s worth of salary.
Sure it might not be worth as much as your failed game/app, but at least now you can analyze and adapt to market needs – and it only took a few days, some of your time, and almost no monetary investment!
After your next article, you might double your monthly visitors. And so on. You have immediate direct feedback that tells you if the project you are working on is going to be a success, or if you have to adjust some aspects or start a different project altogether.
On the road to ultimate creative freedom.
So what could you have done differently in that first example? Don’t work a year on a game/app that gets feedback for the first time after it’s finished. Instead, build 10 games/apps that are much smaller, get feedback, iterate and improve until you get it right. Fail often and fast – that’s where you learn and improve.
Many of the above Ideas are based on already established platforms that do the selling for you. Udemy, Turbosquid, CGTrader and others have the benefit exposing your Models, Courses, Prints to their already existing audience.
But, of course, they’ll take a junk of money from anything you sell on their platform.
The ultimate goal, therefore, should be to cut out the middle man, cut out the distribution channels, and sell yourself.
You want creative freedom, you want to manage your own time, be able to work from wherever you are, and create whatever your passion seeks.
You should market directly to your customers & fans and only create what really fulfills you.
People love what other people are passionate about.
The most fulfilling way of making money not only as a 3D Artist is to create something that you are passionate about and build a fanbase that loves what you are passionate about.
They will not demand a thing of you other than for you to live your passion and let them ride along.
Now go create and share!
How do you make money as a 3D Artist and are you fulfilled by it? Let me know in the comments.