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Everything About a 3D Printing Pen

10 Mins read

3D printing pen or simply 3D Pen is the buzzword around 3D printing enthusiasts and hobbyists. Be it a child or a professional artist, everyone is eager to own one. The fact that it brings fun at the workplace, inspires creativity and helps in learning, is making 3D pens a craze all over the world.

Through this article we share everything you need to know about a 3D printing pen.

What is a 3D Printing Pen?

3D printing pen
Making a spiral figure with a 3D Pen/Image Credit: 3Doodler

3D printing pens are just similar to ordinary glue guns, but these pens extrude 3D printing filaments. This extruded material is used to draw figures and artwork. It is similar to a regular writing pen but in these pens the figure can stand on its own in the third dimension (Z-axis). The subsequent result is a three dimensional figure which is drawn by hand and looks like a 3D printed part.

Since the drawings are made with hand they are not as finished as produced by a machine but they are a great tool to inspire creativity.

Inventor of the 3D Printing Pen

3D printing pen
Above: 3Doodler CEO & Co-Founder Daniel (L), Co-founder & CTO Peter (M) and CEO & Co-Founder Maxwell (R)/Image Credit: 3Doodler

Grown out of a necessity to democratise the 3D printing technology and make it accessible to even the average person, three enthusiastic people worked on creating a device which is not as bulky, costly and techno-centric as a 3D printer. The three inventors built, Peter Dilworth, Maxwell Bogue, and Daniel Cowen of WobbleWorks, Inc their first prototype in 2012 in a makerspace. They invented the first 3D pen which they called as a 3Doodler. It is said that they had a bad experience with 3D printers and wanted to create a product which was simple & affordable to every hobbyists and artist.

3D printing pen
Above: 3Doodler PRO 3D Printing Pen/Image Credit: 3Doodler

They launched their first product, the 3Doodler, through a Kickstarter campaign in February 2013. The fund raising target was a modest $30,000 and it booked all reward levels on the first day of the campaign itself. Within three days the campaign raised more than $1million and by the end of the campaign it raised more than $2million.

Operating a 3D Pen

3D printing pen
Above: Operating a MYNT3D Printing Pens/Image Credit: MYNT3D

The working principle of 3D printing pens is straightforward. Since the pens use polymer filament as the material the working is as simple as melting the material in a heat chamber and extruding it through the tip (read nozzle) of the pen and deposit the material on any platform. The user can then move the pen around to draw different figures and shapes. The melted material oozing out of the nozzle quickly cools and this makes the deposited material to stand on its own accord. Once cooled the plastic shape holds its shape and remains permanent.

The heating temperature is adjusted as per the material used in the pen. Only a limited number of materials can be used in a 3D pen. The requirement for a material to be used in a 3D printing pen is that it should melt quickly when heated and solidify quickly once it is extruded out of the pen. The user should also note that he should not draw with the 3D pen like a regular pen. The 3D pen should be moved slowly so the figures can be drawn and it holds its shape.

3D Pen Materials

Only a handful number of materials are commonly used in 3D printing pens. Some of these materials include Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Poly Lactic Acid (PLA), & Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA). The latest 3Doodler pen works with a new range of materials including polycarbonate (PC) and Polyamide (Nylon). It also handles plastic-based composites of wood, copper or bronze.

Also Read: 3D Printing Glossary: The A to Z of 3D Printing

The two of the most popular materials are ABS and PLA and we explain you about the same.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)

ABS is used on a wide scale in traditional manufacturing industries. We find a lot of plastic products being manufactured in ABS like for example Lego bricks. It is cheap and easily available.

One of the drawbacks of the material is its higher melting temperature (210 OC to 240 OC). It also emits toxic fumes during the melting process and therefore proper precaution has to be taken while working with ABS.

Polylactic Acid (PLA)

PLA is a biodegradable material and is widely used in 3D printing due to its ease of printing. It has numerous benefits over ABS like lower melting temperature (160 OC to 200 OC), it does not emit toxic fumes, and moreover it has a sweet smell.

But it has a major drawback that it takes time to cool down after extrusion. This property helps PLA in 3D printing but the same property affects its performance in a 3D pen.

Applications of 3D Printing Pen

A 3D pen can be used in a lot of creative ways and it is limited only by the imagination of the user. They can create new art forms, they can quickly convert their idea and thoughts into a tangible model, they can even use it to print designs on paper or clothes and make it look even more attractive.

Art and Design

3D printing pen
Above: A child creates an eye mask with a 3D printing pen/Image Credit: Scribbler

In the art and design field, 3D printing pens can be used to create intricate, three-dimensional structures and designs in a variety of materials. They offer a level of precision and control that allows artists and designers to bring their ideas to life in a way that traditional methods may not allow.

Some specific applications of 3D printing pens in art and design include:

Sculpture: 3D printing pens can be used to create small-scale sculptures, either freehand or by following a template.

Illustration: 3D printing pens can be used to add a new dimension to traditional two-dimensional illustrations by creating three-dimensional elements that can be incorporated into the design.

Product design: 3D printing pens can be used to create prototypes of new products, allowing designers to test and refine their designs before committing to traditional manufacturing methods.

Fashion design: 3D printing pens can be used to create unique and intricate accessories, such as jewellery or other embellishments, for fashion design.

Education

3D printing pen
Above: 3Doodler RC Plane by Maker Matt Butchard/Image Credit: 3Doodler

3D printing pens can be a useful tool in educational settings, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Some specific applications of 3D printing pens in education include:

Demonstrating concepts: 3D printing pens can be used to create physical models that help students visualise and understand complex concepts, such as molecular structures or geometric shapes.

Hands-on learning: 3D printing pens allow students to engage in hands-on learning by creating their own three-dimensional structures and designs. This can help to increase engagement and understanding of material being taught.

Project-based learning: 3D printing pens can be used as part of project-based learning activities, where students work together to design and create a product or solution using the pens.

Sparking creativity and imagination: 3D printing pens can be used to spark creativity and imagination in students of all ages. By allowing students to create their own designs, the pens can help to foster a sense of curiosity and encourage problem-solving skills.

Repair and Customisation

3D printing pens can be used to repair or customise a variety of objects, including toys, household items, and even jewellery. Some specific applications of 3D printing pens in repair and customisation include:

Fixing broken items: 3D printing pens can be used to create replacement parts for broken items, such as toys or small household appliances.

Upcycling: 3D printing pens can be used to add new features or embellishments to items that are being repurposed or upcycled.

Customisation: 3D printing pens can be used to add personal touches to items, such as creating custom jewellery or adding custom designs to phone cases or other small items.

How Does a 3D Printing Pen Work?

A 3D printing pen works on the same principles as a desktop 3D printer. It melts a plastic filament with a heating element, which is then extruded through a nozzle at the pen’s tip. The melted material quickly cools and solidifies into a stable structure as the user moves the pen along a surface or in the air. This procedure’s key components are as follows:

Heating and Extrusion: The internal heater of the pen causes the plastic filament to become viscous. The user can control the flow of the filament by adjusting the extrusion speed, allowing for greater precision in the creation of various shapes and designs.

Material Cooling: The extruded filament rapidly cools when it comes into contact with air. This rapid transition from a liquid to a solid state allows the user to build 3D structures layer by layer.

User Control: Controlling a 3D printing pen requires mastering the interplay between extrusion speed and pen movement. Producing intricate and accurate 3D objects requires steady hands and a clear vision of the intended design.

Types of 3D Printing Pens

3D printing pens are classified according to their intended use, the type of filament they use, and the features they provide:

  • For Hobbyists and Beginners: These pens are typically more affordable and user-friendly, with features such as one-button controls and low-temperature operation for safety. They are ideal for basic 3D models, crafting, and educational purposes.
  • For Artists and Designers: High-end 3D pens have temperature controls, multiple speed settings, and interchangeable nozzles for different effects and details. They can accept a wide range of filament types, including specialty filaments with special properties.
  • For Educators and Workshops: Educational pens frequently include features that promote safety and ease of use, such as auto-sleep functions, enclosed nozzles, and ergonomic designs that are appropriate for younger users.

Choosing the Right 3D Printing Pen

Choosing the right 3D Printing Pen for your needs
Choosing the right 3D Printing Pen for your needs/Source: 3Doodler

Consider the following factors when choosing a 3D printing pen to ensure it meets your needs and preferences:

  • Compatibility with Filaments: Examine the pen’s filament compatibility – common options include ABS and PLA. Each material has unique properties and needs; for example, PLA is biodegradable and has a lower melting point, whereas ABS is known for its strength and durability.
  • Ease of Use: Features such as an OLED display for temperature monitoring, speed control, and a comfortable grip can significantly improve the user experience, especially when used for extended periods of time.
  • Project Requirements: The features you require will be determined by the complexity of your project. A pen with fine temperature adjustments and a variety of nozzle sizes is useful for detailed artwork. Simplicity and speed of operation may be more important for casual use.
  • Safety Features: To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, look for pens with safety features such as auto-shutoff, heat-resistant exteriors, and anti-clogging mechanisms.
  • Brand and Customer Service: Consider the brand’s reputation and the support it provides. A dependable customer service and warranty can be extremely beneficial, especially if you’re investing in a more expensive model.

Tips for Using 3D Printing Pens

Users should consider the following tips to fully utilise the potential of 3D printing pens:

  • Start with Simple Designs: Begin with simple 2D shapes and patterns and work your way up to 3D structures. This aids in comprehending the pen’s operation and the properties of the extruded filament.
  • Maintain the Right Speed: The rate of extrusion is critical. Moving too quickly can cause breaks and weak structures, while moving too slowly can cause the plastic to pool. Find a steady pace to ensure a smooth and even flow.
  • Use Templates and Stencils: Use templates or stencils as a guide for intricate designs. This can assist you in maintaining proportions and achieving precision in your creations.
  • Surface Selection: Work on a heat-resistant surface that allows for easy removal of the finished piece. Silicone mats are frequently recommended for this application.
  • Filament Quality: To avoid clogging and ensure smooth extrusion, use high-quality filaments. Poor quality filaments can cause inconsistent textures and degrade pen performance.
  • Maintenance on a regular basis: To avoid clogging, keep the pen’s nozzle clean. To extend the life of your 3D printing pen, follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.

Safety Considerations for 3D Printing Pens

When using a 3D printing pen, safety is paramount because they involve high temperatures that can cause burns or start fires if not handled properly. As it is a product mostly targeted towards kids, parents should exercise extra precaution when kids are using the 3D pen. Listing some safety considerations below:

  • Ventilation: Use the pen in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling any fumes, especially when using filaments that emit a slight odour when melted, such as ABS.
  • Handling: To avoid burns, always hold the pen with the designated grip and keep your fingers away from the tip.
  • Supervision: When using a 3D printing pen, children should be supervised by an adult. Some pens are specifically designed for younger users, with additional safety features.
  • Automatic Shutdown: Look for pens that have an automatic shutdown feature that turns the pen off after a certain amount of inactivity.
  • Storage: When not in use, keep the pen away from flammable materials and out of reach of children.
  • First Aid: This may sound like using a pen is a hazardous activity, but don’t be afraid and just take these simple precautions and your kid will be safe. Just have basic first aid knowledge on hand in case of accidental burns. When using the pen, keep a burn ointment and cool, clean water nearby.

Future of 3D Printing Pens

Technological advancements and expanding applications are likely to shape the future of 3D printing pens:

  • Advanced Materials: Future pens may be able to handle a broader range of materials, such as conductive filaments for creating circuits or biocompatible materials for medical models.
  • Precision Control: Future models may offer more precise temperature and extrusion speed control, allowing for finer details in 3D creations.
  • Integration with Digital Design: 3D pens have the potential to be integrated with digital design software, allowing users to more accurately translate digital sketches into the physical realm.
  • Educational Applications: As 3D pens become more widely available, they may become a common educational tool in schools, assisting students in visualising and comprehending geometric concepts and design principles.
  • Sustainability: To align with global sustainability efforts, manufacturers may focus on developing eco-friendly pens that use biodegradable materials or recycled plastics.

Conclusion

In conclusion, 3D printing pens are a versatile and innovative tool that offer a wide range of possibilities for both art and practical applications. Whether used for creating sculptures, prototypes, or custom items, 3D printing pens allow users to bring their ideas to life in a way that traditional methods may not allow.

While 3D printing pens have some limitations, such as being limited to smaller scale creations and having a slower process compared to traditional 3D printers, they are also relatively affordable and easy to use. Additionally, 3D printing pens can be a useful tool in educational settings, as they allow for hands-on learning and can spark creativity and imagination in students.

In short, 3D printing pens have the potential to revolutionise the way we create and customise objects, and as the technology continues to advance, it will be exciting to see how they will be used in the future.


About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Manufactur3D is an Indian Online 3D Printing Media Platform that reports on the latest news, insights and analysis from the Indian and the Global 3D Printing Industry.
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