What is a 3D pen? In its simplest definition, a 3D pen is a handheld 3D printer. Alright, that may be a little too vague and inaccurate as 3D printers have a number of moving parts and require user input through compatible software. But, in its essence, a 3D pen is a handheld device that utilizes the same type of extruder and heating element that you would find in a 3D printer, with the primary difference being the mode of input. With a 3D pen, the end result depends on the skill/artistic ability of the person wielding it.
Let us have a brief look at the history of 3D pens. They were actually conceptualized in the 1990s. The 1995 Stratasys Patent “Apparatus and method for creating three-dimensional objects,” made a reference to how glue guns and wax modeling guns can be used to create 3D models. This was followed by the Matt Wax Modelling Gun. This gun could transform pellets of hard wax into wire/extrusions of different shapes and sizes. These guns are primarily used to make jewelry. Although this was a major step forward in the realm of 3D pens, it was limited in terms of application due to the working material – wax.
The use of 3D pens remained impractical until the advent of the 3Doodler Pen. This was made by two inventors Maxwell Bogue, and Peter Dilworth. After a fourteen hour 3D print job, they noticed that the printer has missed a line and the job couldn’t be complete. This prompted an idea for a 3D pen, which can make simple geometries rather quickly. Thus after a year of work and an overwhelming Kickstarter campaign – raised $2.3 Million from a $30,000 goal – the demand for such a niche product was realized. This led to a number of other companies releasing their own version of the 3Dpen.
Now, how do 3D pens work and what features do they have?
They have a heating component and an extruder. The thermoplastic material/ filament (usually ABS or PLA) is heated to its melting point. It is then pushed through the extruder tip of the pen as a wire. The melted plastic is quite soft and can be worked into different shapes. On cooling, it hardens to form a solid, stable structure.
Most 3D pens feature a temperature display/control, extrusion speed control and filament change buttons.
The novelty of 3D pens apart from its futuristic concept lies in its advantages. It is very reliable and is extremely easy to clean. The fewer working components also make repair an easy job. The work is completed quickly and saves the user a lot of time. The designs of 3D pens are becoming more ergonomic by the day which has made ergonomics a huge selling point for the companies. The diversity in the types of filaments used allows the 3D pens to have a wide range of applications.
The objects that can be created using a 3D pen are endless and are only restricted by the user’s imagination. You make literally anything. I guess the pen truly is mightier than the sword.