The 3D printing revolution is upon us. But 3D printers are still fairly expensive. So, when I was offered this 3Doodler pen through the Vine programme for review, I was keen to see whether it could sort of give me a taste of what's possible, as well as letting my 10 year old daughter have a play around with it.
The packaging is pretty cool, and inside, you find the pen, a charger, an instruction manual and a book of ideas for projects. As well as 48 strands of plastic (6 of each of 8 colours - 4 sort of pastel and 4 bolder colours).
The pen is nicely designed, feels quality, and is easy to hold for grownups and children alike (although because the plastic is pretty hot when it comes out of the nozzle, it's recommended for 8 years+).
It's pretty simple - charge up the pen, switch it on, wait til it's hot enough (just about 15 seconds I think), drop a plastic rod into the hole and the top, wait til it sucks it in and warms it up. When you're ready to start 'drawing', just press the button and the plastic is fed out in a semi-molten flexible strand about 1.5mm thick. We've done it on a wooden table, on a plastic lid, and on paper, and once the plastic cools, it's only ever a slight pull to get it to come off its backing. Simple so far.
So what can you do with it? Well, yes, as the picture shows, it's easy to see that, with a bit of patience and a little bit of skill, an Eiffel Tower is certainly possible, and would look pretty cool. But it would also cost a few quid in plastic strands. We've made a little 'scooter' (like a kids one) about 2 inches long and the same height, and it looks pretty cool. My daughter loves to make dreamcatchers and flowers when she's playing with it too. The basic technique is that if you want to make something fairly substantial and 3D, you need to fabricate it in flat sections, drawn out on a flat surface, left to cool, then attached to the next bit with a bit more molten plastic. It takes maybe 10 seconds to cool until it's fairly hard, which also gives you the opportunity to curve things as they're cooling, after which they'll pretty much set the way you left them (again, there's a bit of a knack here - you need to slightly overflex because it will unflex itself a tiny bit, but you get the hang of it quickly.
If you go at the pen's natural speed, it's easy to do curves, but if you go too fast (or indeed, want to make a slightly thinner strand by stretching it as you draw), you can't easily make a curve, and have to resort to a sort of 'drag-blob-drag-blob' technique in straight lines, dabbing the pen on the surface to make a 'corner' before doing the next section.
Drawbacks? Well, the plastic rods ain't cheap to replace, at around £15 for another 48 rods, or £20 for 96, at the moment. Those 48 rods are certainly enough for smallish projects, but you would get through quite a few in a larger project. It's difficult to estimate exactly how much, because it depends how much 'fill in' to make a solid surface, whether you stretch it as you go, etc. but they say in other packs that you get about 10 times the length of a strand in 'printed' length, so about 5 ft of printing for a 6 inch strand.
The only other slightly irritating thing is that you can't change rods halfway through, so you have to snip them with pliers or snips, estimating how much you'll need, otherwise you waste quite a lot. I'm not sure if cutting a really short piece would cause any problems, but I've safely negotiated 2 inch pieces without problems.
All in all, it's pretty good fun, and a good introduction to 3D doodling. As the product, and the market, matures, the price of plastic will likely come down, but do be careful that if you try to buy other strands from different makers, you make sure they're the right diameter and compatible, because I've seen similar stuff on lightning deals that is not compatible with this model.
Decent value, though, and as a slightly extravagant toy, or with some justification if you're using it for projects, it's definitely worth buying.