9 Fulfilling Ways to Make Money as a 3D Artist

CG Director Author Alex Glawion  by Alex Glawion   ⋮   ⋮   51 comments
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How do you want to make money as a 3D Artist? Shouldn’t we all be able to create what we can do best, are passionate about and especially what fulfills us and gives us purpose in life?

I used to have so much fun creating my own 3D projects in school or at home. Now that I am employed, it just seems like I have to adjust my work to where the money lies.

Do you adjust to the industry, look for jobs and create whatever a client wishes and wants to spend money for?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around, that you create what you are passionate about and the right customers 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 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 Artists dilemma

Today, everyone wants to pay less, the value of your 3D skills seems to have plummeted and the global competition can be excruciating.

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 environment?

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 (or Game Designers) 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 and characters from a blank computer screen. 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 an area or a specific topic, 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 button that makes everything pretty and cool and stylish or produces a viral hit in seconds.

We know that, but do our potential customers 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, then 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 make that million, 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.

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 Artists in countries with low living-costs.

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 are ridiculous.

Some have suggested, in order to be able to compete in high-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 senior 3D Generalist in 3D Advertising Studios 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 find their passion again.

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 Self-Employment or similar 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 and the like. Depending on the size of the Company, it will prefer 3D Generalists of Specialists. Small shops prefer Generalists, large Studios tend to want specialists more.

You will have tasks assigned to you and will be managed by your superiors. You usually don’t 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 Studios job.

Freelance

Freelance 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 a Freelancer usually is only possible in Areas, such as larger cities, with lots of relevant Companies that can book you, to 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 companies 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 companies Staff, then maybe you have to change your definition a bit because it looks as though you are a Business owner.

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 from working as an employee at a studio)

Many of these I am currently trying myself. Some have already started to succeed, but at very low rates. I will update this Article as soon as I can say more certain which of these turn out to be the most lucrative.

1. Sell Tools and Plugins for 3d Softwares

Combine your skills. Being able to code in some of the Softwares scripting languages can greatly help you in not only making yourself much more valuable to any potential employer but also in earning some money on the side.

Writing and selling plugins and 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.

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 on top of the user interface of a command, that 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.

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 on 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. 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

This is a no-brainer. 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 on a high in the foreseeable future.

A new render-engine is being developed for cinema 4d? Go convert or create some materials, so they can be used in this new render-engine.

3D Material Pack

Image-Source: Motionworks.net

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 3000 enrollments, at 10$ a pop, that’s quite a sum.

As a 3D Artist, all you need is a Microphone and Cam some screen recording software and you are 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.

Image-Source: udemy

4. Make money with a 3D Printer

Ok, this is a big one. I am not talking about 3D printing your own money, but physical 3D Printed Products that solve problems.

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, 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 peoples major pain-points.

Making money from 3D Printing is as easy as never before.

3d Printing Makerbot

Image-Source: makerbot.com

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.

6. Make Money 3D Modeling and selling 3D Models

If you had the chance to work at a studio, you will know that it is much cheaper for a studio to go buy some models off a 3D Model store, than to have employees spend lots of time modeling the models themselves.

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 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 to have a competing chance or pre-animated features.

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. Make Money with 3D Models on some of the following sites:

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 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, to name a few.

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.

Compare this to, say, a mobile game dev, that needs 2 years of development and only in the end will you 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 a Billion 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 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 high in demand, will of course go a long way in increasing your income from these kinds of sites.

Bonus #10: Sell scanned 3D Models

This is quite a new way of creating 3D Models. You can use your camera or multiple cameras and a photogrammetry software like Agisoft PhotoScan to create stunningly 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 perfectionbe sure to check it out:

3D Scanned Models - CreativeCrops

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
  • 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

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.

It is good you have some money saved up, so now you can create your game for a year and then make the big bucks.

Well after a year you have finished the game, good for you! But no one plays 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.

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 wait for the first visitors to come to your site. After 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, but at least now you can analyze and adapt to market needs!

After your next article, you might double your monthly visitors. And so on. You have immediate direct feedback 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.

Longing for ultimate creative freedom.

Conclusion

The ultimate goal 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.

I’ll just quote the Film LaLa Land here and say: “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 likes 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.

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Alex Glawion - post author

Hi, I’m Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist, Motion Designer and Compositor.

I’ve built a multitude of Computers, Workstations and Renderfarms and love to optimize them as much as possible.

Feel free to comment and ask for suggestions on your PC-Build or 3D-related Problem, I’ll do my best to help out!

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Alexander Prestrelski

Hey Alex,

Yet another Alex, here! I appreciate your article because it helped give me much needed perspective on the 3D industry. I think that there is a lot of passion in this industry and with creative work in general, which tends to translate to a lot of time spent intrinsically by the artist/designer. With all of that time, you want to receive more from that effort, like money and other opportunities to participate in meaningful projects. I think that the list you have laid out and ranked could be very useful.

I have been creating a lot of what I call “solitary artwork” for most of my life, meaning that it doesn’t contribute much to anything but my own stimulation. At the very least, I should have a blog and share my digital assets. Maybe even a YouTube Channel?

You’ve already shared so much, but I’m curious to hear more about adding value, getting connected to community and projects, and selling yourself. Do you have any personal anecdotes from your experience as a 3D Generalist? I’d like to quit my day job as a Validation Technician in the Silicon Industry making “okay” money and do something more fulfilling, but find that I need help adding value to the world.

Thank you for sharing,
Alexander

Priya

I’m a beginner to 3d world.I’m learning from online platforms like pluralsight. May you suggest me that how i can learn concepts of 3d.I just passed my high school and looking for my college. and I want to pursue my career as 3d-artist.But I don’t know much about .

Hey Priya,

Thanks for asking!

Learning from online platforms is a good way to start. Aside from Pluralsight, you might also want to check out sites like Udemy, Skillshare, and the like. There are also a lot of websites you can learn from. Even YouTube has a lot of videos that can help you hone your skills. However, what’s really important is that you have to have passion for 3D modelling. Combine that with a good computer and a good sense of spatial awareness, throw in the need and urge to learn and you should be good.

Cheers,
Alex

Houman

Finally!
An article that covers the right things!
Thank you

Golden Jaguar

I have learned modeling in 3ds max and became good at it then I say to my self why not starting modelling pro models and start selling them , I made 2 vehicles but then I stopped because for me it was a wast of time it took about 2 or 3 months of working , so yeah I quit because my sales was super sucks , but maybe I was wrong maybe It is not that simple like uploading on cgtrader or turbosquid and wait without doing anything, (I want to know how to find customers who realy needs 3D vehicles) . I need your help guys 🙁

And this is my latest project [Toyota Supra 2020](https://golden-jaguar.cgsociety.org/5q0l/the-all-new-toyota-s)

Joe Hamilton

It’s very true what you say about competition from artists in countries with lower living costs. With more websites appearing that facilitate sourcing work from abroad, I don’t see how those living in expensive countries stand a chance. It’s not a fair playing field when someone is able to offer their labour for far less just because their living costs are a fraction of ours.

Alex Glawion
Alex GlawionCGDIRECTOR

Hey Joe,

Very true, still there is the added benefit of
– having someone in the area that you can actually meet (and in your timezone)
– having someone that speaks your language well
– having someone that can take entire project from start to finish and not just work on small specialized tasks (external lower wage workers often don’t have the necessary project management skills and just specialize on a single task that they can easily market)
– having some you can trust and rely on without fear of projects not being finished before a deadline

I think the most important is trust & reliability. I too have tried to outsource jobs every now and then and always come back to giving it to local people that I have already worked with, met already, that I can trust. There certainly are tasks that I can offload to low-wage countries but they are usually extremely specialized and time-bound, meaning they don’t require high expertise but rather just lots of time to execute.

(_usually_ and in my experience, don’t want to generalize anything here)

Alex

Joe Hamilton

Optimism is precious stuff, and you seem to have a good supply of it.
If you find a way to somehow bottle and mass produce it let me know I’ll put in an order straight away!

AndyL

Hi Alex
I am a lot older than most people who design in 3D and have recently retired.
I now in my retirement create 3D model cars in Blender.
I also own a 3d printer and aim to print my creations as 1/10 scale radio controlled cars ie I aim to model cars with literally hundreds of parts, such as a real car
I have followed various Tutorials on Blender and to date have created A Wrangler Jeep a C7 Corvette and am working on a Mercedes G Wagon. I have still to print a car but have successfully printed some panels etc.
I want to sell my work either as 3d rendered files for games or to print.
I was interested in your article and wondered if you can see any drawbacks in my ideas
Thanks for reading

Andy

Alex Glawion
Alex GlawionCGDIRECTOR

Hey Andy,
You can definintely do this. Look at turbosquid or cgtrader for example, there you can sell your models. There is lots of competition though, so it might take a while until you have some success.

Cheers,

Alex

Kyaw Zin Latt

Hello Alex,
My name is Latt. I do architectural visualizations with Sketchup,3ds max,Vray. And do motion graphics with After effect,Premiere Pro and Cinema 4D(redshift renderer). Start Learning Houdini about 3 months ago. I do freelance and it’s still working for me with suitable projects. I’m working as 3d artist for almost 3 years. It’s pretty good for me and can make my living. Besides those things,some questions that i can’t understand in my head. I never know the international prices of architectural 3d modeling fees, rendering fees, motion graphic fees per minutes, 3d camera walk through animation fees per minutes, interior decoration rendering prices per image/scene, simulations fees (houdini smoke/ocean/pyro/rigid body simulations etc.) . So as you are such a freelance 3d artist too, May i know international prices/fees from you? also the international 3d employee’s salary too?
Thank you so much.
🙂

Alex Glawion
Alex GlawionCGDIRECTOR

Hey Kyaw,
It depends a lot on where you live and what your expertise is. If you live in a high wage country, people are more apt to give you a higher salary, than when a high wage country employee outsources to lower wage countries. So where you live plays a large role not just where your client lives. Then of course your expertise and portfolio has to back up your price.

If you’re fast at what you do you can have higher prices. A beginner that cost 10€ an hour but needs 10hours to complete something costs the same as a pro that just needs one hour to complete the project but might take 100€ an hour.

So you can’t really generalize a price. You’ll have to also see what budget the client has, then calculate what level of quality you can achieve for that price, and see if the customer is satisfied with that level of quality.

As always, try to talk to the client as much as possible and ask for references of how they want a project to look like in the end. That will tell you a lot about the level of quality they are expecting.

Cheers,
Alex

Kyaw Zin Latt

Hello Mr Alex,
Thank You for your Answer.

Nandang Duryat

I am a 3D artist generalist, I can also do basic programming. But I have not been able to find a point where I can turn my passion and hobbies into money. I think this article really helped me open the thoughts and ideas that I had to run. However, the problem is that I live in Indonesia where only a few people want to pay for 3D.obj, What should I do to get started? thanks.

Alex Glawion
Alex GlawionCGDIRECTOR

Hey Nandang,
With internet access, you basically have acces to all kinds of customers across the globe. Of course it’s nice to work on projects for agencies and clients that are in your area, but you can easily go onto freelancing platforms, such as upwork to advertise your skills.

If these kinds of online market places are not for you, you can also built a portfolio and add some of your work to behance and start advertising for keywords on google ads for example.

A nice book to read for starting with 3d and motion design freelancing is “The freelance manifesto”.

Cheers,
Alex

Anonymous

I’m quitting 3D, Sometimes I just feel like quitting life completely. It was s really good run tho, Being a blender user for almost 6 years made me learn a lot of new things.
Sadly, The magic is lost for me and I don’t see the world with the same eyes.

I wish luck to the new artists, Godspeed.

Alex Glawion
Alex GlawionCGDIRECTOR

Hey there! Did you do freelance 3D work or in an employment? What kind of projects did you work on?

Alex

Anonymous

Most of them were freelance work for Indie game companies, marketing agencies and independent movies.

Freelance jobs are getting really hard to find, the last one that I got was 2 months ago.
,Normal jobs? I don’t even know if they exist where I live.

I’ve seen some a really long time ago but they payed 230$ p/month.

I’m searching for construction jobs now, It’s the only thing I seem to find at the moment.

Alex Pintea

Hi! Here is another Alex and also a Blender user. What you wrote I knew after years of personal investigations. Please recommend a good book or tutorial about how to achieve a specific drawing style like: what makes a good cartoon style…etc. Thanks!