3D printing is an innovation that's earned quite a bit of buzz over the last couple of years. The media has portrayed the technology as a revolutionary force with the potential to disrupt major industries (global manufacturing), or an ominous danger to our way of life or safety (widely-available 3D printed guns). But there's plenty of room for personal uses of 3D printing that might not be earth-shattering but still are pretty cool.
3D pens fit the bill well. Instead of using ink like a normal pen, they use plastic that melts at a high temperature. After heating up to the melting point, the plastic is forced through the tip, creating a situation in which you can "draw," either on a surface or up in the air, to make 3D objects that solidify and harden when the plastic cools, which occurs very quickly. A 3D pen, then, is a great tool for kids who like to tinker and adults can also get in on the fun.
Wait, What Exactly Is the Difference Between a 3D Pen and a 3D Printer?
Just about anyone can easily tell the difference between a pen and a printer, but when we're talking about the 3D varieties the question gets a little more complex because the technology is actually very similar. The two share many of the basics such as the type of heating element and extruder. But the big difference comes in their operation: 3d printers are guided by motors and software while the pen (not surprisingly) is controlled by your own hand.
What Can You Do with a 3D Pen?
With the basics down, the question still remains of what types of objects you can make with one of these 3d pen devices. The applications are potentially endless, but some popular uses include decor for the home, various arts and crafts, school projects, and gifts for all occasions. For more concrete ideas, you can get inspiration from the wider community on Pinterest and YouTube where many 3d printing pen enthusiasts post their creations for the world to see (and "like"). These creations range widely from things like flowers and shoe decorations to works depicting a ferris wheel and an order of sushi rolls. In other words, the sky's the limit!
There are several different brands of 3d printing pens out there and a wide variety of models, so let's now take a look at which are the best ones currently on the market.
Top 3D Pens for 2016
3Doodler is considered by many to be the industry standard of 3D pens, as it was the first major brand to be released and has been the best-selling ever since. There have been several design iterations over that period of time and this is the latest one yet, with an improved drive system for improved operation and simplified controls. It also boasts changeable nozzles and numerous accessories to personalize your drawing experience.
Soyan, a firm hailing from Shenzhen, China, is a good example of the crop of lower-cost manufacturers of 3D pens that have popped up to challenge the larger brands. It’s light and fairly easy to control and can be used by children and adults alike. The pen has to be plugged in, though, and the cord that comes with it isn’t very long, so that could be an issue depending on your regular work space. This is a good choice for prospective hobbyists who just want to start dabbling in the area of 3d printing, without spending much of their money.
This pen from YaYA3D, another Chinese company, is another lower priced option that gives you good performance. It works with two types of plastics, ABS and PLA, to give you some flexibility (with purchase you'll get 2.2oz ABS 1.75mm filament to get you started). It’s also easy to get ready for use without any complicated set up. The copper nozzle measures in at 0.7mm.
Scribbler is another of the more mainstream brand names in the 3D pen space, and is a very lightweight pen at only 2.3 oz. It is a good choice for kids as it’s easy to control; just be careful that children avoid hurting themselves on the hot tip. The filament extrudes smoothly and overall leads to a comfortable drawing experience.