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Every once in a while, there’s a Kickstarter project that puts us all on our feet. It happened with the Pebble (which we reviewed), the OUYA (which we reviewed) and the Oculus Rift (which we also reviewed); and to some extent, it also happened with the 3Doodler — a 3D pen that shoots actual plastic instead of ink.
While the 3Doodler didn’t raise $10 million on Kickstarter like the Pebble, it did surpass its initial $30,000 goal by a huge margin, ending up with over $2 million in pledges. Not only that, but the 3Doodler creators managed to ship the pens relatively on time, avoiding colossal PR failures in the form of endless delays or the release of a the product on Best Buy before shipping it to backers.
The last batch of 3Doodlers are still being sent to Kickstarter backers, but you can pre-order it now for $99 and expect to receive it around March. For $99, you will also receive 50 strands of colorful plastic to feed into the 3Doodler pen. But if this seems like too much to pay for an artsy toy, there’s another option: win it for free from MakeUseOf! So keep on reading to find out more about the mysterious 3Doodler, what it can do, and how you can win it.
What Is The 3Doodler?
Know how 3D printers work with plastic to create 3D models? Know how glue guns turn solid glue sticks to liquid glue? Know how pens spout ink to create drawings on paper? Well, the 3Doodler combines all these technologies into one. It’s a pen that draws in 3D plastic. Meaning, you’re not limited to drawing on paper — you can also draw in the air.
What can you do with such a thing? It’s mostly up to your talent and imagination. You can use it to create small 3D models, draw with plastic on paper and then lift your drawing out, fix things around the house, and more.
To get a better idea of things you can do with the 3Doodler, you can visit the official 3Doodler Pinterest page. Don’t expect to see any extravagant examples in this post, as it turns out I sorely lack any sort of talent, so my endeavors with the 3Doodler were pretty limited. I also didn’t want to waste too much of our winner’s plastic!
The 3Doodler is an original project, and there aren’t many competitors out there at the moment. Nevertheless, a few calls have been made for the crown. The 3Dsimo is another 3D pen funded on IndieGoGo. It seems to support more types of plastic than the 3Doodler (more on types of plastic later), and sports a completely different design from the 3Doodler, complete with a small LCD screen.
The full 3Dsimo set went for $85 on IndieGoGo to be delivered on March 2014, but I’m not sure where the project stands now, or if there’s any way to pre-order it at the moment.
Another similar product is the SwissPen, which is very similar in design to the 3Doodler, and at around $100, costs about the same. It’s the only option I found that’s available to order right now, but shipping is estimated at around 4 weeks, which brings it to a date not very different from the 3Doodler.
Getting To Know The 3Doodler
The 3Doodler looks sort of like an ordinary pen, except for the size, the built-in fan, the electrical plug, and the fact that you load it with plastic filaments. The box contains the pen itself, the power supply, and some plastic.
Taking a closer look, there are several elements to note in the pen’s body. We’ll look at these from top to bottom.
The back of the pen is where you load the plastic. The filaments fit into the hole at the back, and go all the way to the tip, where they come out melted. The back of the pen is also where the power socket can be found.
A small fan is located at the top of the pen. As mentioned before, the 3Doodler is sort of like a glue gun that shoots plastic, so it’s very hot when turned on. The fan runs whenever you’re using the 3Doodler to prevent it from overheating.
On the side of the pen, you’ll find the power switch. This is not a simple on/off button, but a plastic selector. The button is in the middle position when the pen is off. When you turn it on, you need to choose whether you’re going to be using ABS or PLA. The 3Doodler’s temperature changes according to the type of plastic you’re using, so it’s important to choose the right one.
Moving on to the bottom of the pen, you’ll find the speed controllers. When the pen is on and ready, these are the buttons you use to make the plastic flow. There’s one button for fast and one button for slow, but these are not marked in any way. You need to remember which is which, but it’s pretty intuitive when actually using it (down is fast, up is slow).
On the other side of the pen from these controllers, you’ll find the 3Doodler’s mount. This can be used to mount the 3Doodler to a CNC arm, a LEGO Mindstorm, or anything else you can come up with. If you’re creative, you can use the mount to turn the 3Doodler into much more than a simple 3D pen.
Which brings us to the tip itself. This comes with a removable rubber protector, and is the heart and soul of the 3Doodler. This is where plastic comes out of when using the 3Doodler. Accordingly, it gets very hot when the pen is on, and the pen’s documentation as well as the pen itself are full of precautions regarding touching the tip when it’s hot.
ABS or PLA? Plastic Questions
I already mentioned ABS and PLA several times in this post, but it’s time for details. ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PLA (Polylactic Acid) are two types of common plastic, and are the only types the 3Doodler supports at the moment. When ordering a 3Doodler, you can choose which type of plastic you want to get with it. But what’s the difference? And how do you choose?
Luckily, 3Doodler made a really useful infographic helping you choose which type of plastic is best for you. To sum it up shortly, this is why you’d want to choose PLA:
- It sticks well to surfaces, great for drawing on windows, metal and such.
- It comes in translucent colors.
- It’s a plant-based, bio-plastic, which means it biodegrades (albeit slowly).
- It smells better.
And this is why you’d want to choose ABS:
- It’s better for beginner 3Doodlers.
- It’s sturdier and more flexible, doesn’t break easily.
- You can use it to draw upwards
- You can use it to draw on paper and then peel it.
Although PLA did appeal to me for several reason, being a beginner 3Doodler, I ended up choosing ABS. No matter which plastic you go for, there are lots of colors to choose from, and several kinds of mixed packs.
Plug It In, Hope For The Best
Now that you know everything about the 3Doodler, you’re still not ready to use it. Before you get started, I recommend that you read the short instruction booklet carefully, and make sure you follow the instructions exactly. Even then, things don’t always work out as planned.
This is what happened the first time I plugged in my 3Doodler and turned it on. I did everything right, but the pen was wrong. It started smoking, and an acrid melted plastic smell spread around the house. At first I thought this was normal for first-time use, but then I noticed the pen itself was melting. Not good. This was not supposed to happen.
After contacting 3Doodler, I was informed that the pen I had is probably faulty, and was sent a new one. The customer support was quick and efficient, but I did make it clear that I work for MakeUseOf. I can only hope it works just the same for anyone else who receives a faulty pen.
The second pen I received worked as promised, and I was finally able to start 3Doodling.
Using The 3Doodler
Perhaps its because of my melting experience, but every time I used the 3Doodler I was a little apprehensive. Is it going to work? Is it going to burn? Did I do everything right? The fact of the matter is that the 3Doodler is not hard to use, but there is a sequence of steps you need to remember.
First thing’s first: plug the 3Doodler in and set it to the type of plastic you’re going to use. As mentioned above, it’s very important to select the right type of plastic, as the two melt in different temperatures. The pen will show a red light when heating up.
When set to ABS, the light will turn blue when the pen is ready. When using PLA, the light will turn green.
When the 3Doodler is heated up, it’s time to load the plastic. Choose a filament and insert it through the hole at the back of the 3Doodler. You can now start doodling by pressing the fast or slow buttons.
The 3Doodler is pretty noisy. What with the fan and the plastic feeding mechanism, you’re looking at something that sounds a bit like an electric razor. Once the plastic catches and loads (may take a few seconds), you can start drawing with the plastic that comes out of the tip.
The 3Doodler is not hard to use, but it’s not so easy either. It takes time to master the technique of drawing upward, and even then it’s hard to make things that look like anything. At least if you’re as untalented as I am. It also takes a while to get how to draw flat shapes without gaps in the plastic. It’s important to not move the pen too quickly, and to make sure the plastic flow is fast enough for what you’re trying to do. Otherwise, you may end up with several pieces instead of one cohesive plastic drawing.
One of the benefits of using ABS is the ability to draw flat creations and peel them out when you’re done. This does work pretty well, although it’s best to wait a few seconds before attempting to touch what you’ve just made. You may also experience a slight amount of sticking, especially when drawing on paper, but mostly it’s not a big problem. Another downside of ABS is the smell. While it’s not as bad as it could be, there’s still a bit of an unpleasant melting plastic aroma in the air while using the 3Doodler.
Once you draw something upwards and it cools off a bit, you can keep adding more plastic to the same structure to make it more sturdy. The plastic sticks well to other plastic filaments, making it possible to gradually build little structures.There are many techniques you can try, and the 3Doodler website and social networks are full of ideas and suggestions. But don’t expect miraculous things to happen as soon as you start using the 3Doodler. It’s actually not as easy as it looks.
Living With The 3Doodler
The 3Doodler is a fun little toy. The plastic is colorful, the pen is enjoyable to use (despite being a bit scary at times), and if you have the patience, you can probably create some pretty awesome things. There are some caveats, though.
First, there is that matter of patience. You will need a certain amount of it to create anything beyond heart-shaped plastic. You will also need to have some sort of talent for this (can be developed to some extent while using the 3Doodler). If you don’t see yourself sitting with this thing plugged in and buzzing for hours, it might not be for you. Although it’s essentially a toy, it’s not really suitable for young kids. It’s a bit hard to use, and the super hot tip can get pretty dangerous.
Even if you can find useful and fun things to do with the 3Doodler, I can’t see that it would stay fun and useful for very long. It’s hard to predict, of course, but my guess is that in most homes, the 3Doodler will be used frequently for a month or two tops, and then stored in the drawer until you feel like showing it off to someone. Even then, the process of getting the surface ready, plugging it in, waiting for it to heat up and loading it with plastic can be a deterrent for the more lazy among us (like myself).
It can, however, be very useful for those who are actually able to sit and create things with it. Just make sure you’re one of them before buying it.
All in all, I can’t say anything really negative about the 3Doodler. It’s fun to use, it delivers what it promises (although it really isn’t as easy at it looks), and while it’s not the most convenient thing in the world to use, it’s really good enough. It’s also much more affordable than a 3D printer (although it can’t produce the same things), and definitely more enjoyable than a glue gun.
Should You Buy The 3Doodler?
If you can see yourself actually using it, the 3Doodler is a nice buy. But think carefully, will you really use it? Can you really make the best of it? Do you really want to spend $100 on something that for most people is basically a gimmick?
MakeUseOf recommends: For artists, crafters and people with the aptitude and ability to make the most of it. Otherwise, skip it.
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