When a 3D printer is printing an object, it uses an extruder that heats up a plastic filament and extrudes it through a small nozzle. This extruder assembly is connected to a carriage that can be precisely moved in three dimensions; either with X-Y-Z axis (usually referred to as Cartesian coordinates) used on most consumer printers or with more complex movement systems such as delta, five, and six axis. A 3D pen removes this control system and quite literally places the extruder assembly in the hand of the user.
3D pens are relatively low-powered, hand-held extruder assemblies that print with PLA or ABS. A 3D pen is essentially the additive manufacturing equivalent of a router from a CNC router machine: the tool removed from the machine. They allow the user to create free form models using their imagination and a steady hand.
The Top 4 Recommend 3D Pens for Christmas 2017
Click here to see reviews and prices for the best 3D Pens on Amazon.com
What Can the Best 3D Pens be used for?
3D pens are mostly marketed as artistic devices, as they offer a unique medium for 3D sculptors to work in. However, 3D pens can also be used for decorative or repair purposes, or in conjunction with 3d printers to weld smaller parts together into larger models.
For artistic uses, 3D pens create thin strands of plastic exactly like those that come out of 3D printers when a print fails and the plastic stops adhering to the surface it was supposed to. Since the pen stays as close to the melting temperature of the plastic as possible, the plastic re-hardens almost as soon as it leaves the pen, allowing the user to “print” these strands in thin air.
Printers do this when they make parts with overhang, or areas that don’t touch the build plate. This makes it rather difficult to use a 3D pen; move your hand too fast and the strand won’t form where you want it to, too slow and it will bunch up on itself or droop. Using a pen takes patience and a steady hand, so make no mistake that the learning curve is steep for these tools.
Decorations is another use
A pen can also be used for decorative purposes; such as adding one’s name to the side of a plastic part in a handwritten style or adding decorative designs onto a part. A user can make these designs “pop” by layering the plastic on itself, as well as add texture.
Helpful tool partnered with a 3D Printer
3D pens can also be used in a utilitarian manner as welding tools for 3D prints. Think of it as hot-gluing parts together, only with the same material that the parts are made of. This technique can also be used to repair printed parts, like if an arm falls of a figurine or one layer in a print came out weaker than the others and is causing the print to separate. Once again this requires a steady hand and practice, so expect first attempts to look a bit messy and areas around the weld to look melted.
Why Use a Pen Instead of a Printer?
So why use a 3D pen instead of a printer? Where a printer is rigid and precise, excellent for prototyping parts, a pen is fluid and creative. Printers require a fully modelled 3D file to even start making anything, where as a user with a pen can start drafting a shape with only a little imagination.
What is the Best 3D Pen?
There are dozens of pens on the market, here are some of the leading models:
The 3Doodler Review
The 3Doodler is the first 3D pen that hit the market and is the standard for the technology; much like the Makerbot Replicator is for 3D printers. The first generation of this crowd-funded pen was a huge hit, but it has its flaws. The plastic would occasionally get clogged in the pen; and the pen has issues maintaining temperature, pausing extrusion to heat back up every so often.
The second generation of the 3Doodler, which came out earlier this year, seems to have fixed many of the issues that plagued its predecessor. It is much slimmer, roughly the size of a whiteboard marker, and it has a continuous flow mode when you double tap the feed button. The 3Doodler has extra nozzles available to produce different size and profile shaped strands, as well as a few peripherals like a battery pack that can last up to three hours.
- 2nd generation is a huge leap forward from the first, fixes many of its issues
- Simple, easy to use controls
- Double tap feed button for continuous flow
- Hot end tip is delicate and can break if tightened too much
- Can be prone to jamming
- 1st generation has temperature control issues
Samto 3D Stereoscopic Printing Pen Review
The Samto 3D pen is the top return on Amazon. It is slimmer than the first generation 3Doodler and quieter. It also comes in colors other than black. The Samto pen comes with three small spools of 1.75mm ABS filament to use (the 3Doodler uses 3mm filament).
It has a speed control for fast and slow extrusion, as well as temperature controls similar to the 3Doodler. The Samto pen coes with instructions but many users find them unhelpful; which is not ideal for a product that naturally has such a steep learning curve. When it does work or the user gets the hang of it, the pen works admirably.
- Automatically goes into standby after 5 minutes idle
- Slender and quiet
- Filament jamming detection
- Unpredictable performance, will either work great or not at all
- Comes with poor instructions, steep learning curve
Scribbler 3D Pen Review
The Scribbler 3D pen is an ergonomic and stylish 3D pen and is one of the highest rated on amazon. It has a large LED screen that displays the pen’s temperature and speed settings. The pen uses 1.75 mm filament, and the temperature settings allow both PLA and ABS. It also boasts six speed settings to best match the user’s personal ability.
- Ergonomic and stylish
- Large LED status display
- Simple, easy controls
- Six speed settings
7Tech 3D Printing Pen Review
The 7Tech 3D pen is the better twin to Samto’s pen. It has a similar shape and design with a few tweaks, such as the LCD display used to display temperature and speed settings and alert the user to a jam. This pen is also slim and quiet, and appears to be more reliable according to customer reviews.
Its list price is also much cheaper than Samto’s list price, although sales currently make the Samto pen cheaper. 7Tech’s pen also uses 1.75 mm filament and comes with a few ABS spools. It is also durable, lightweight and as easy to use as other pens; the only real drawback of this pen appears to be the poor instructions that come with it.
- Durable construction
- LCD screen, easy controls
- Auto Standby after 5 minutes at idle
- Jam detection
MYNT3D 3D Pen Review
It is good to see a new pen enter the market in 2017. The MYNT3D bring new features to enhance the experience. Compared to the other pens reviewed above, this one includes an OLED display. The OLED display helps in monitoring the heat, which can be adjusted from 130 celsius to 240 celsius with small increments. That is great amount of control on the thickness of the filament output.
Many customers have stated that is extremely light compared to its competitors. Especially for kids, this is easy to use and does not get them tired! In addition, it has a “double tap” feature so that if you are do not want to keep holding the output button, you can just do that. That way you can continuously draw.
- Easy to control and grip
- OLED screen
- Some people experienced filament jams