We Are Learning 3D Printing Through Our Personal Experience…
The 3D Printing pens are essentially a new category of devices that has appeared due to the big interest in consumer-oriented low cost 3D printers in the last few years. These devices are essentially a very simplified version of a 3D printer in a hand-held format or a more complex version of a glue gun. With a 3D printing pen you essentially get an extruder that you hold in your hand and move around to print stuff similar to how the extruder is being moved in a 3D printer by the precise mechanism. Obviously with a hand-held extruder and hand movements you cannot achieve any precision that is even remotely close to what a 3D printer can achieve, but that is not the goal here anyway. You can view 3D printing pens as more of an art oriented devices where it is not about achieving a high level of detail or much of a precision, but being able to let your imagination free and literally start drawing three-dimensional physical objects.
The device that has created the whole market and interest in this new set of products is the 3Doodler considered to be the world’s first 3D printing pen, or at least the first such product that went mainstream. This all happened last year when the Kickstarter project for the 3Doodler turned out to be a very successful crowd funding campaign generating huge user interest and a lot of support. Since then the makers of the very affordable and creative “alternative” to traditional 3D printers have announced that they have shipped more than 100000 3Doodler 3D printing pens. So it is no wonder that after the huge success of the 3Doodler a lot of similar products have appeared on the market and a lot more 3D printing pens will probably become available soon if the interest in these devices continues to grow. We already have a Chinese company making an alternative to 3Doodler, the YAYA 3D Printing Pen that appears to be also available under different brand names as the company also operates as OEM and ODM supplier aside from having the product available under their own brand name. Other similar alternatives are the 3D Air Pen also available for sale, the 3D Printer Pen or the upcoming 3D Simo and probably many other similar devices.
What all of the above mentioned 3D printing pens have in common is that they are quite big in size and not very pen-like in terms of size, so you will need some time to get to use to work with them. There however is another interesting project in the works, the LIX pen – a project for a really compact 3D printing pen that will us FDM (or FFF) technology for extruding thermoplastic materials such as PLA or ABS that are used by many 3D printers. The LIX pen also had a successful Kickstarter crowd funding campaign and there is a lot of interest in this device as it really brings the size down providing a 3D printing pen that is not much larger than a traditional ink pen. If you are considering to get a 3D printing pen and are not in a hurry then this one may be worth waiting a big more for them to start taking orders and get one, we are waiting for just that to happen to get one LIX pen to experiment and play with, hopefully the wait will be worth it.
The 3Doodler and all of the other mentioned above 3D printing pen alternatives, already available or soon to be available, as well as some others that we did not mention or maybe even don’t know that exists are all designed to melt thermoplastic material such as ABS or PLA and extrude it with the person using the pen moving it to either draw flat on a piece of paper or in three dimensions with the extruder material. There is however an alternative option available, or to be more precise more like soon to be available, that does not use FDM or FFF technology for printing using thermoplastic filaments such as ABS or PLA, these devices instead will utilize SLA (Stereolithography) technology. This means that instead of melting thermoplastic the 3D printing pens using this alternative technology will use a special cold photopolymer resin that will be extruded and quickly solidified using UV light. Products that will use SLA technology are apparently soon going to be available like for example Polyes Q1 or Creo Pop both of which do look very promising and we may also see other similar products getting announced soon. Using photo sensitive resin that is more like liquid can provide another interesting creative alternative to 3D printing pens melting plastic materials, not to mention that it may also allow for some interesting alternative uses depending what you mix with the filament.
Let us get back to the important question however and it is if the 3D printing pens, regardless of their form or the technology used are really worth it? You should be well aware that a 3D printing pen is not an alternative to a 3D printer, it is a similar in functionality device, however the target users and uses are different. 3D printers are designed to replicate virtual objects with high precision and accuracy and 3D printing pens are more like for the creative or artistic bunch that does care more about the freedom and creativity that these devices give to their users. The fact that 3D printing pens are generally much more attractive in terms of price as compared to even the cheapest 3D printers makes them interesting for a much broader audience, including a lot of people that just like cool gadgets, but have no idea what they will use a 3D printing pen for. The fact that 3D printing pens do not require any special software, knowledge or skills to be used makes them cool gadgets for everyone, however having some skills and knowledge and at least an idea what and why you may be using such a device for will definitely help. Otherwise there is high probability that you will get one cool 3D printing pen, try it out and not get satisfied with the result you get and just put it a drawer and forget about it. Companies saying that you do not need any experience or knowledge to use a 3D printing pen may be misleading people a bit, you may not need it, but you still need to spend some time in order to get used with the product and to be able to make good use of it, but even then if you suck at drawing things in 2D, then you most likely will be disappointed in what you can do with the device in 2D or in 3D. So even if 3D printing pens are very affordable and seem easy to be used they are simply not for everyone, the same as with 3D printers, although the people making and selling these products may claim otherwise. You should be well aware of the fact that with both, even if you lack the needed knowledge or skills to use them and take full advantage of a 3D printing pen or a 3D printer you can quire them by learning… you just need to want to learn.