What is a 3D Printing Pen and How Does it work

How a 3D Printing Pen actually works

3D printing technology first came to light in the 1980’s. The idea started to significantly take off in the year of 2012, when developers had perfected the advanced digital layering process derived from Computer Aided Designs (CADs). In late February of 2013, the company 3Doodler announced a prototype to Engadget, trying to encourage funding for their new project of a 3D printing pen. The company ended up receiving funding for over 2.3 million, and a short-while later, they released the world’s first 3D printing pen.

3D printing pens use almost identical technology as traditional 3D printers do, they’re just more compact and convenient. Even miniature 3D printers generally weigh in at around 25 lbs, and with 3D printing pens being just under 5 inches, the drastic size difference makes them much easier to maneuver. However, the compact size of 3D printing pens do contribute to their trivial differences from traditional 3D printers. 3D printing pens are only compatible with two different materials, and their design potential is a bit more minimal, but still very intriguing.

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How Does a 3D Printing Pen Work?

a 3d printing penAll 3D printing pens come equipped with a power cord, and most come with international outlet options to conform to the households of consumers all over the world. Once the device is powered up and running, the thermoplastic material has to be inserted into the correct compartment. 3D printing pens often use two common thermoplastics as drawing material: Polylactic Acid (PLA) or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). These specific thermoplastics are often used in mainstream 3D printing as well. PLA is said to be more adaptable when it comes to retaining color, while ABS tends to result in a more secure and sealed design. Both thermoplastics are fairly eco-friendly due to PLA deriving from natural components, and ABS being so easy to recycle.

Once the stick of PLA or ABS has been inserted into the 3D printing pen’s cartridge, the heating process will begin. The heating process generally takes anywhere from 55 seconds to 2 minutes. Right after you have fed the entire stick into the compartment, you can press the extrusion button or foot pedal in order to initiate the drawing process. Foot pedals are recommended for more controlled speeds and extensive time periods, but the extrusion button works just fine as well. It may take a few seconds for the material to start to appear, but the heating and preparation process is a seemingly quick one overall. It is recommended to start the drawing process shortly after the pen has reached the necessary temperature, because once the pen has been idle for a minute or two, it begins to automatically cool down. This of course, slows down the process, so it’s better to start sooner rather than later.

Drawing with a 3D printing pen almost resembles using a glue gun. From the installation of the cartridges, to the actual drawing process, many have said that the two are exceedingly similar. Just like with glue guns, various nozzles are available for consumers to accommodate the lines to their desired thickness or texture. The nozzles are available in different shapes as well, enabling artists to create ribbon-like designs or triangular strokes. 3D printing pens also come with various speeds, usually just slow and fast, in order to cater to specific designs and skill-levels. Those first starting out may want to stick with a slower speed, as well as those who are looking to create more intricate designs. Faster speeds are great for artists who are more advanced, or want to create something quick and abstract.

One important aspect to note, is that while one of the main selling points of 3D printing pens is the ability to create a design in mid-air, a base is always needed. In order to successfully draw an air-bound design, it is required that a solid base is built, so that it can be used to reinforce and stabilize the design. Without a solid support system, the design will just fall flat, so an adequate base is essential. Once a solid foundation is created, the artist can additionally build to it as they please, creating a design that seems to be completely built in the air.

Once the liquified material hits the air, it solidifies rapidly in order to hold the creation in place. Fortunately, the thermoplastic comes out at a tolerable temperature, so artists do not have to worry about injuring themselves if they accidentally come in contact with the material. However, the nozzles can retain high temperatures shortly after coming in contact with the thermoplastic, so it is wise to be cautious of the pen’s tip. After the material is cooled and solidified, it should result in a sturdy and lively recreation of the imagined design!

What is the Cost of a 3D Printing Pen?

Since most 3D Printers are often sold for upwards of $1,000 USD, many are amazed at how inexpensive most 3D printing pens are. 3Doodler, the first ever to come out with a 3D printing pen, offers their product for just $99.  For a product equipped with such advanced technology, it is a pleasant surprise to know that companies are offering them at such affordable prices. The pens can also be found at common retailers such as Brookstone and eBay, which just adds to their appeal of convenience even more.

Due to the idea of 3D printing pens only being shy of 2 years old, different prototypes and beta-versions are constantly being developed and improved. New variations are currently being funded as we speak, as well as updated versions of popular brands pending to be released. While the process is not perfected by any means, the advancements in traditional 3D printing technology serve as an optimistic comparison as to how much 3D printing pens could improve in due time. Hopefully upcoming developments will provide consumers with more versatile material options, as well as a battery-operated option to add a sense of portability to the devices. The growth in 3D printing technology has been so substantial in the past 30+ years, that it will be fascinating to see what the future has in store for 3D printing pens and accessories.