What Exactly Is A 3D Pen?

By Sidney H. Alexander

February 21, 2018

After the success of the Kickstarter campaign for the pioneering 3D doodler pen, it’s likely that you’ve already heard the phrase “3D pen” before, but not so many people actually know what a 3D pen is and how it works. These ingenious inventions can be used to create sculptures, tools, and appliances out of thin air, but the design process and mechanics behind them remain a mystery to many. The potential of the 3D pen seems to be endless, so if you’d like to learn a little more about these incredible instruments, then keep on reading.

So, What Is A 3D Pen Anyway?

Simply put, a 3D pen is a pen that allows for the creation of three-dimensional objects by producing quick-cooling plastic instead of ink, almost like a glue gun. This allows for the user to create whatever kind of object they want, completely free-hand.

The first 3D pen was the 3Doodle, which was funded by an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $2 million in pledges towards developing the pen. Since then, manufacturers have gone on to create more and more advanced and intricate pens, with increasing price tags, and people all over the world have become obsessed with creating their own models with the 3D pens. There are even YouTube channels dedicated to the art form, amassing millions of views per video. So, clearly this is a popular hobby; some people have even managed to make careers out of it!

How Does A 3D Pen Work?

You might be wondering how a pen can produce plastic that cools quickly enough to create sculptures out of it, and you wouldn’t be alone, but the science behind it is actually pretty simple.

A plastic filament is inserted in the top of the pen, where a heating chamber gets it to a hot enough temperature that it will melt and become completely pliable. The user then presses a button and the melted plastic is forced out of the nib of the pen. Once out of the pen and exposed to the world, the plastic quickly cools down and takes a solid form again, which means you can quickly create solid objects from scratch.

Only some plastics have the right structure to allow them to melt fast and cool into a solid quickly. These include (to name only a few) acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (more commonly known as ABS), polyamide (nylon, the same material used to make pantyhose), and polylactic acid (PLA). By far the most popular and easiest to get hold of are ABS and PLA, but each come with their own issues that can make choosing between them quite difficult.

Who Created The 3D Pen And Why?

The first 3D pen, as mentioned before, was the 3Doodler, which was created by Peter Dilworth and Maxwell Bogue, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. According to them, the idea for a 3D pen came out of a moment of frustration, after waiting for a 3D printer to finish its project for 14 hours, only to find out that it had missed a line. Bogue and Dilworth then decided to try and create a device that was portable and easy to use, which would make 3D printing a lot easier and fun to take part in. The idea quickly caught on, and thousands of people eagerly awaited their order of the first 3Doodler pen.

What Can You Do With A 3D Pen?

When customers first receive and start using their pen, they can sometimes be disappointed that they are not instantly creating incredibly detailed structures like the ones shown online. The reality is, drawing in 3D is a skill, and like any skill, you get better with practice. A beginner artist working with a 3D printing pen will often start out by making easy practical items such as coasters and pen holders, but with practice, they can quickly start creating more and more complicated structures like the Eiffel tower, albeit with the occasional help of stencils. Pros are able to make vastly complicated and beautiful structures, some of which are more for artistic and decorative purposes, but some that are for practical use as well such as jewelry and phone cases. The freehand nature of a 3D pen means that there is complete creative freedom, which is what attracts many people to 3D drawing in the first place.

How Much Do They Cost?

The cost of a 3D pen will depend greatly on who the buyer is and what they intend to use it for. There are 3D pens on the market available for as little as $30, but they tend not to be the best ones out there. However, for beginners or people who are interested, but not necessarily invested, they can be an affordable option. Many people start out with an original 3Doodler brand pen. These range from the most basic at $50 to the pro level pen at $250, so there’s something for everyone. Most people will go for the mid-range $100 option to start.

Is Using A 3D Pen Safe For The Environment?

With an increasing awareness of the effects of plastics, especially single-use plastics, on the environment, many people who are looking into 3D pens are concerned about the potential environmental damage they could cause.

Many 3D pen users will use ABS plastic in their pens, which is not biodegradable and, therefore, not safe for the environment. What’s more, it can emit toxic fumes when it is heated, that can easily be inhaled if the use isn’t working in a well-ventilated area. Because of these downsides, many users prefer to instead use PLA, which is actually derived from natural sources such as corn and is, therefore, biodegradable. This makes PLA much safer for the user, and for the planet. However, PLA can take longer to cool than ABS, which can put some people off. Hopefully, as awareness of the increasing risk that plastic poses to wildlife, more people will choose to opt for PLA over ABS.

Sidney H. Alexander

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About the Author

Hi, Sidney here, I am addicted to techy stuff, anything breaking edge is my favorite, and I love writing so Digitizd.com was born. I realized that there is a huge market for advising people on tech related topics. People just don't have the in-depth knowledge of the digital world that they need to make purchasing decisions. So I am the middle man, the advisor, the guru, call me what you want. I just hope you enjoy my writing. Please leave a comment with your thoughts or questions. Thanks, Sidney

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