As a 3d printer hobbyist, I have come across (and purchased) many types of 3d printers and 3d pens. In this article, I’m going to go over what a 3d pen is and compare them to a 3d printer. I will also go over the pros and cons of each and help you decide what’s better for you.
Let’s start off by defining what a 3d printer and pen is and highlight the major difference between them. A 3d printer is a machine that prints three-dimensional objects based on computer-aided design (CAD) drawings. A 3d pen a hand-held device that allows you to draw objects in 3d. The major difference between a 3d printer and a 3d pen is a 3d printer gives you the ability to design something on your computer and print it where a 3d pen is entirely free form.
There are many other differences between a 3d printer and pen along with the pros and cons of each that you should be aware of. Keep reading to find out more.
What is a 3d Printer
A 3d printer is a machine that is capable of accurately printing CAD objects in a variety of different materials based on the type of printer being used. There are seven types of 3d printers on the market today but only two of them are really used by hobbyists, so I will focus on those.
Most Common 3d Printers
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): These are the most common printers on the market today. They use a filament that gets pushed through the extruder which melts the material and applies it to the object being printed. They work by printing one layer at a time until the desired object is complete, most prints can easily have hundreds of layers. The speed of these printers tends to be faster than other types of 3d printers but the resolution is typically lower.
Stereolithography (SLA): These printers use a liquid resin that is stored in a tank below the build plate and print object one layer at a time. It uses an ultraviolet laser to cure the resin during the print and any excess resin drips off the object. These printers produce a considerably higher resolution object than FDM printers but typically print slower and require more maintenance.
- Can accurately print most CAD object you can create, or download from sites like Thingiverse
- Can be used to create structural and prototype objects
- Objects can be printed at different resolutions to meet your needs
- The higher the resolution the longer it takes to print
- Relatively inexpensive
- Can print in multiple colors
- Slow print times
- Prints can fail
- Requires a decent amount of space for larger volume printers
- Can be tricky to get up and running
The cost of a 3d printer can vary significantly based on the quality, type, and volume. The starting point for an entry-level printer is around $200 and more expensive enthusiast level printers can cost thousands.
You can pick up a decent quality printer with a large build volume for about $400-500. I paid $420 (after tax) for my current printer. You can check out the latest printers on Amazon here.
The space needed depends heavily on the size of the 3d printer you go with. My printer is a little on the larger side with a print volume of 12” x 12” x 15” and has the control box on the site. It’s currently using most of the 18” x 36” shelf it’s sitting on.
In most cases, doubling the build volume size (L x W) should give you a decent idea of how much space will be needed. I recommended looking at the actual machine dimensions if you are concerned with space as there are a lot of factors that need considered. One of the biggest ones (besides the actual build plate) being the size and location of the control box.
The biggest limitation in my eyes is 3d printers can be difficult to get up and running correctly. Most printers will come mostly (if not fully) assembled so that part isn’t too bad. The difficult part is really setting up the slicing software and spending the time to learn how to use it.
There are several great slicers available (like Cura and Simplify3D) but they have a learning curve that may scare people away. Some of the higher end 3d printers have their own slicers that are easier to use but the price of entry is much higher.
Who Should Buy One?
3d printers are great for pretty much everyone. You can do everything from printing fun things for around the house to prototyping work for projects. There are so many things that can be done with them that I think you will start seeing them become more of a common household device.
If you are wanting to print any type of 3d object and are willing to learn how to use the slicing software then a 3d printer would be a great choice for you.
What is a 3d Pen
A 3d pen is similar to a 3d printer but handheld and with some key differences. They work similarly to an FDM printer where it has filament that gets heated up to the melting point of the material and forced out of the hot end (like a hot glue gun). This allows you to basically draw in 3d, which can be good or bad depending on what you are trying to do with it and your artistic abilities.
- Small and lightweight
- Fun to use
- Great for kids
- Can’t accurately print objects
- Limited to what you can draw
3d pens are relatively inexpensive and range from $30 – $100. The pens on the lower end of the scale are typically geared towards kids, where the more expensive ones can be used for everything. In my opinion, the best 3d pen on the market right now is the 3Doodler Create, you can check on the latest price on Amazon here.
3d pens are not very large at all and most of them are around the same size. The 3Doodler Create comes in at 4.5” x 3.1” x 10.8”, which means you can store it pretty much anywhere and even travel with it if you wanted to.
The biggest limitation of a 3d pen is everything has to be created freehand, this is also one of its main selling points. What this really means is that you won’t be able to create anything too complex, but they are fun to use.
Who Should Buy One?
A 3d pen is great for people that like to draw and kids. If you’re the type of person that likes to doodle or draw a 3d pen can help push your artistic abilities to the next level. For kids, a 3d pen gives them a chance to be creative and have fun at the same time. I know several kids, including my own, that have a 3d pen and love it.
There are many differences between a 3d printer and a 3d pen but one is not a replacement for the other. 3d Printers allow you to accurately create objects that were designed on a computer and a 3d pen gives you the ability to draw anything you want in 3d. I believe that many 3d printer hobbyists will end up purchasing both, especially if they have kids.
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