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.
A German company called BigRep GmbH is making an interesting 3D FDM printer that offers a massive 1.3 m3 volume (1100 x 1067 x 1097mm) giving you the ability to 3D print really big things. The printer is called BigRep ONE and is essentially an FDM (Fused deposition modeling) 3D printer that extrudes thermoplastic just like the smaller and more affordable devices are. While having up to 27 times the volume of a large desktop 3D printer, the BigRep ONE.2 costs only about 5 times as much as the biggest desktop machine available from other manufacturers. Do note that the information available on the official website could be a bit confusing and contradicting as apparently it has not been updated to correctly reflect the updated specifications of the new BigRep ONE.2 everywhere (apparently a version 2 of the device).
The resolution that the printer supports is from 100 micron (0.1 mm) to 1 mm, equipped with dual nozzle extruder, heated build platform and designed to print using PLA, CoPolymere, Laywood and Laybrick filament, though it can also print with various other materials, but support for them is considered experimental. The suggested retail price of the device is €36000 EURO and the transport would add some extra along with setup and installation fee should you need assistance with that. Do note that the BigRep ONE.2 3D printer itself if quite big which is expected for a device with such a large build volume. It is surely an interesting products that shows the possibilities of larger scale 3D printing for businesses that are not able to invest hundreds of thousands for hardware.
When we have decided that we wanted to get a 3D Printer to test and experiment with we were faced with the hard task of choosing the make and model and believe us this is not an easy thing do to with so many available options. There are already quite a lot of cheap Chinese made 3D printers available, however looking for support and information as well as replacement or upgrade parts could be a problem with these and many users are often reporting reliability problems. Then there are of course some very expensive printers as well as there are a few different types of technologies available for 3D printing, though the most accessible and easy to use is the fused deposition modeling (FDM) where the 3D printed part is produced by extruding heated thermoplastic filament material which hardens immediately to form layers. The thermoplastic materials used as filament for 3D printers can vary, but they are all a type of plastic which becomes moldable when heated to a specific temperature and then returns to a solid state when cooled down. Such thermoplastic materials used by 3D printers that rely on the FDM principle are for example ABS, PLA and others.
When we were choosing our first 3D printer we had a few important requirements – reliable hardware, larger user base, support for more common filament types, wider software support and not too high price. Obviously the low price was not among the most important things we wanted, we preferred to go for a more expensive and proven to be reliable hardware, but not too expensive as this was our first 3D printer and we did not want to invest too much in hardware that we might end up not very happy with. We did not want to go for a just released new model of 3D Printer as although these can be quite attractive specifications wise, you usually cannot find a lot of user feedback about them and they could have various issues that need to be fixed before they are really working well. So after reading various user opinions and checking around the most recommended models we have settled to go for a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer as being available already for quite some time. It is one of the most recommended choices for a first 3D printer, though it might still need some extra work and is far from perfect, but being often recommended as a good choice and it pretty much covered our requirements, so we’ve settled for the Replicator 2. After using it for a while already and trying and learning a lot of things on the go while printing various things we still consider it as a good option for a first 3D printer, even though MakerBot already has some new more advanced models available, the Replicator 2 is still a good starting point.
So do have that in mind when you are considering what 3D Printer to go for, though there are other alternatives that you may want to check as well that may be more interesting for your needs like the Ultimaker 2 3D printer or the 3D Systems Cube series of 3D printers or the Leapfrog Creatr. Do note that probably not only the Replicator 2 3D Printer has its drawbacks, the same could probably be said for the others mentioned models as well, though we are already very familiar with what you can expect from the MakerBot product and we are going to be talking sharing a lot of information along with tips about it, so stay tuned for more…