This relative of the 3D printer was first developed by 3 engineers in 2013 in the following context: after more than a day of 3D printing, they realized that the result missed a line. So they created the 3D pen that allowed them to ad this simple element manually instead of printing the whole thing all over again. The trio then casted their project on a crowdfunding platform which acquired 1,8 million Euro investment, 70 times more the budget requested!
Since then the competition exploded and if you look now to get one, you’re going to have a really hard time choosing. There’s also too much information and tons of reviews available online so I won’t get into that, what helps me however when choosing to get a device I have little knowledge over is a list of criteria.
What to look for when buying a 3d pen:
- How easy it is to use. Of course the demo videos present works of art and make it look like piece of cake and lots of fun, but in reality it takes a lot of practice and frustration until you get it going
- How it feels in your hand. They tend to be bulky and heavy, some incorporating even a small fan to cool it while in use. There’s a lot of engineering going on inside this gimmick so don’t be surprised if some models feel like you’re trying to write with a cucumber
- Type of material used. Currently you can choose between thermoplastics (ABS, which is the one LEGO uses, or PLA) and UV ink. Thermoplastics is by far the most popular and widely available method. The pen is loaded with colored plastic sticks which the pen melts and cools immediately to render a shape. The UV ink method uses a liquid basis that solidifies when exposes to UV light
- Adjustable flow. Some pens have an automatic rhythm of plastic/ink discharge, which forces the user to adapt. This might not come in as handy especially for beginners and those with not so steady hands, who need more time to achieve precision. Some models however enable the flow by pressing a button, that way the user has complete control over the outcome
- Ability to draw vertically. Of course it looks like a no brainer but some pens can only be used over flat surfaces, building layers over each other and them connecting them separately. Pretty much the same result but not as much fun as drawing in thin air
- Temperature adjustment. Most of the 3d pens available function with melted plastic. The melting point of ABS is 210° C while for the PLA it’s 160° – quite significant. The prolonged use make some pens overheat. Bear in mind that the device may cause burns if not used with care
- Digital screen. Handy to know the status of the temperature and see when you need to maybe take a break to cool down
- Power source. Some pens require being connected through a bulky adapter, some are more efficient using an USB cable
- Health hazard. Either method, whether it’s melted plastic or UV ink, comes short at this point. Aside from the potential burning risk, using plastic based pens produce toxic fumes, so the producers recommend always using the pens in a well ventilated area. The PLA emissions are lower than for ABS, however health wise both materials are far from being completely safe. When opting for a plastic based pen, bear in mind the fume exhaustion time (between the melting moment and until the plastic is completely cool) which varies between 10 and 30 minutes. The UV ink, although safe in terms of toxicity, requires strong light emission to solidify the material, which is similar to the one used at the dentist. The producers of UV ink pens recommend to not look directly at the light emission to protect the eyes, but that’s easier said than done
What the Angel from Quirk Heaven thinks about the 3d pen: I have yet to test one but after many hours of text and video documentation, including reading tons of reviews, I am not so sure what verdict to give it. What I consider to be a drawback is the fact that it’s not a health safe device. I definitely don’t consider it to be a suitable tool for children, especially younger than 12, even though lots of people recommend it for school projects. If you do consider getting one for your kid, at least make sure you’re in constant supervision.
What you can do with a 3d pen that has a place in Quirk Heaven:
- Work out a prototype to visualize your concept if you want to invent something (we at Quirk Heaven are all about quirks so drop us a line and we might be able to help you)
- Build a missing piece for a broken toy/house-ware and glue it on the spot. The quality of this pen is that you can work with liquid plastic that solidifies before your eyes, which makes a great tool for sticking stuff together
- Make art. No point of getting into details here, art can be anything and your imagination is the only limit. Check this board for some inspiration!