Table of Contents:
- 3Doodler Create ($79.99)
- Scribbler V3 ($99.00)
- AIO Robotics 3D Pen ($69.99)
- TIPEYE 3D Pen ($39.99)
- Lix 3D Pen ($99.00)
What is a 3D Pen?
Whether you are a casual design enthusiast or a full-time engineer, chances are that you’ve heard of 3D pens. If you’re looking to learn more about them or just want to know which one to buy, keep reading because this article is for you! A 3D pen is a device which fits in the human hand and extrudes a material as the user drags it forward, backward, left, right, and yes, even up and down. This is the main revolution of the 3D pen, and what makes them noteworthy. Unlike every other writing device in history, 3D pens can draw in three dimensions, no longer restricted to the two dimensions of a surface plane. Check out the video below to see it in action:
As you could imagine, this technology has amazing possibilities, and the best part is that people from various disciplines will all see different possibilities and use the 3D pen differently. A product designer might see the pen as a great portable prototyping tool, which could be used to create quick 3D sketches of an idea anywhere that they happen to be. An artist might use the 3D pen to create beautiful sculptures, such as the ones in the pictures below. A teacher might bring the 3D pen into the classroom to let their students explore design concepts in a physical and real-time way. A fashion designer might even use the 3D pen to make new and innovative designs for clothing (also pictured below)
How Does a 3D Pen Work?
A 3D pen works by heating and then extruding a material from the point of the pen onto a surface or onto itself. It only works with certain materials, which are sold in spools or rods. The pen pushes the filament through the pen using mechanized rollers and then heats the material to an optimal temperature in order to very temporarily liquify it for extrusion. The idea is to heat the filament for just enough time to make it malleable for use, but not so long that the drawing process is slow, or that the structures the user makes will collapse because the filament cannot solidify. Ideally, the 3D pen will heat the filament for only a few seconds. This process will vary from pen to pen and filament to filament, but the basic principle is the same.
3D Pen Filaments
The most popular materials are ABS and PLA. ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a widely-used thermoplastic. It is made from oil and emits a chemical odor when used. It is, however, stronger than PLA and extrudes a bit thicker. PLA is plant-based, and is therefore biodegradable. It emits a sweet smell and does not require ventilation. There are also plastics which imitate wood or metal, and even have these integrated into the material!
What makes a good 3D pen?
So you think this whole 3D pen thing might be a good idea, but what should you look for in a 3D pen? Which attributes do you value as a consumer? These are the ones which we have found to be the most critical:
One of the most important attributes of a good 3D pen is the speed at which the pen extrudes the material, which determines the maximum drawing speed. This is because the user can only move the pen at such a rate so that the thread of filament is not too thin and does not break. Most 3D pens have a few different speed settings.
2. Strength and Retraction
Another component of 3D pen quality is the strength of the structures which it can build. This is largely determined by the filament, which is independent of the pen. However, each pen has a different nozzle and heating mechanism, which does contribute to the strength and sturdiness of the drawings. Retraction is where the pen sucks back a little bit of the filament at the end of an extrusion. This is often desirable and an intentional feature. It makes for tighter and less stringy lines. Not every pen has this feature so be sure to check that out before you buy.
Every 3D pen is unique and will have different features which you may or may not desire. One feature common to most of them is the speed function. Some 3D pens might have only two settings: fast and slow. Other pens might have five or six. It will be somewhat subjective to the user to determine how many speed options they want. Some users might want the simplicity of only two settings and would find the extra ones unnecessary. Other users, however, might need their pen to make more precise drawings and therefore will want the extra speed options. Another feature that some of the more advanced pens have is the ability to control the temperature of the extruder head. This allows the user to adjust the time at which the filament will harden. An additional feature to consider is the power source. You may prefer a battery powered pen so you can draw anywhere and not have to deal with the power cable in the way of your drawings. On the other hand, you may want it wired so that you don’t have to worry about charging it.
As with any tool you use, you are going to want the device to be comfortable and ergonomic, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time with your 3D pen in your hand. If you can, the best thing to do before you buy a 3D pen is to try out a couple different ones and see which one feels the most comfortable.
Lastly, price is the attribute which might have to most impact on a user’s choice of 3D pen. For the most part, you get what you pay for. There are decent pens in the $50 range and there are great pens for $100 or more. Choosing how much money to lay down for a 3D pen mostly comes down to what you want out of it. If you want precision, lots of speed, and extra features, you’re going to have to spend more for them. If those attributes are less important to you, there’s no sense in overspending.
Best 3D Pens on the Market Right Now
3Doodler Create ($79.99)
3Doodler made the first 3D pen prototype in 2012 and still stands today as a flagship 3D pen producer. They currently make three types of pens: Start, Create+, and the Pro, which are designed for kids, general consumers, and professionals, respectively. Their mid-range model, the Create+ is especially popular and praised for its quality prints, ease of use, and reasonable price.
- Slim design
- PLA and ABS heat settings
- Comes with wide variety of colors
- Great customer service
- Filaments could get jammed
- There have been reported cases when the pen stops working after a couple of minutes or days
Scribbler V3 ($99.00)
Next up is the Scribbler V3. The Scribbler is a great option for a quality pen and lots of features. It fits comfortably in the hand and the design, as well as the performance are an improvement on their previous models. The main advantage the Scribbler has over the 3Doodler is the extra features and adjustability. The Scribbler allows you to adjust the temperature and has six discrete speeds, as opposed to two on the 3Doodler. It also comes with an OLED display which gives you real-time information about the pen. This pen is not as simple as other pens, but if you’re looking for lots of control, definitely look into the Scribbler.
- Adjustable temperature and speed
- OLED screen
- Works with many different filaments
- Lots of control
- Controls could be confusing
AIO Robotics 3D Pen ($69.99)
The 3D pen from AIO Robotics is another great option for a comprehensive 3D pen with a lot of control. The AIO is comparable to the Scribbler, but is different in important ways. It has a nice weight to it and a sleeker design. However, there are some filaments which the Scribbler can use, but not the AIO pen. It is also cheaper so I recommend this pen over the Scribbler if you are not working with exotic filaments.
- Sleek design
- OLCD screen
- Adjustable temperature and speed
- 1 year warranty
- Limited number of compatible filaments
- Could break if non-AIO filaments are used
TIPEYE 3D Pen ($39.99)
The 3D pen from TIPEYE is a great pen, especially for kids or someone on a budget. This pen is a bit simpler than the others and a bit lower in quality. However, it makes up for that in price, being about half the cost of the other pens on this list. It is also great for kids because it is safe, easy to use, and compatible with many different filaments.
- Great for kids
- Works with PLA and ABS
- No temperature control
- Lower quality product
Lix 3D Pen ($99.00)
Advertised as the “smallest circular 3D pen in the world,” this is the Rolls-Royce of 3D pens. Its design is extremely stylish and clean. It also extrudes beautifully and makes consistently great drawings. It is a very simple pen, with only two buttons for adjusting the speed. If you’re looking for a simplified, high quality 3D pen, this is your best bet.
- Stylish design
- High quality drawings
- No extra features
- Gets a little warm to the touch