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Pen for All, All for Pen

Is a 3D Printing Pen a Toy or a Serious Tool?

Picture of Farai Mashambanhaka
by Farai Mashambanhaka
Jan 30, 2019

By now, 3D pens are nothing new. Yet, some of us are still doubtful as to their usefulness. Are they really anything more than toys designed for children? The answer is yes. Let's find out why!

Thinking Outside the Paper

A 3D pen in action!
A 3D pen in action! Source: intl.the3doodler.com

The 3D printing industry has enjoyed great innovation and developments over the years. One such innovation is the 3D printing pen. It’s brought fun and usability to kids, artists, hobbyists, and professional designers.

The gadget seems almost magical, as you can literally draw a 3D physical object in thin air. Yet, one still wonders, is a 3D pen a toy or a serious tool? The real answer is that it can be one or the either, or both!

Confused? Not to worry! This article will explain what we mean by describing what a 3D printing pen is and how it works as well as by providing several types and use cases.

What Is a 3D Printing Pen?

The anatomy of a 3D pen.
The anatomy of a 3D pen. Source: computeraideddesignguide.com

A 3D printing pen is pretty much a bulkier version of a normal pen, but instead of ink or lead, it uses a plastic filament. It draws physical objects in thin air, making it a sort of handheld version of a 3D printer.

3D pens are controlled neither by a computer nor software, guided instead by your hand as you produce a model taken from your imagination. Most 3D printing pens are powered by batteries or a cable running to a USB port or a socket.

How Does a 3D Printing Pen Work?

CreoPop's Cool Ink is hardened with a UV light source.
CreoPop's Cool Ink is hardened with a UV light source. Source: techinasia.com

A 3D printing pen works in one of two ways, depending on whether it’s a hot pen or a cold pen.

A hot pen uses plastic filament similar to that used by 3D printers. The filament is inserted into the pen, where it’s heated to the point of melting and extruded.

As the molten filament leaves the pen, it’s rapidly cooled by the air around it. In this way, one can draw desired objects on any surface or in thin air. If you’re familiar with hot glue guns, hot 3D pens work in a similar way. Here are a few examples of hot pens:

A cold pen takes advantage of a chemical process to convert a liquid to a solid. This is possible because the ink is, in fact, a photosensitive resin. Once it leaves the end of the pen, it’s solidified using UV light. This process is similar to SLA resin 3D printing. Here are a couple cold pens:

Who Is a 3D Printing Pen For?

Even a standard pen can realize a colorful imagination.
Even a standard pen can realize a colorful imagination. Source: thewirecutter.com

Apart from how they work, a 3D printing pen can also be distinguished by its target user, whether that’s a child, a hobbyist, or a professional.

Kids

The recommended 3D pen for kids is one that doesn’t produce an excessive amount of heat, making it safer to use. Cold pens are therefore suitable for kids, however hot pens are also okay, as long as they’re used under adult supervision. “Warm” pens also exist. These are essentially hot pens that use a special plastic, one which melts at a lower temperature. Some good candidates for children’s pens include the following:

Hobbyists

A good hobbyist 3D pen is something with high functionality and a decent price tag. Typical features include support for multiple materials, minimal temperature variation, and speed settings. Such pens might also include buttons for both extruding and unloading. Here are some standard hobbyist pens:

Professionals

3D pens for professionals are the most complex. They typically offer high precision as well as a variety of highly adjustable settings. For two examples, take a look at these pens:

Application Areas

Some quick jewelry designs made with a 3D pen.
Some quick jewelry designs made with a 3D pen. Source: Pinterest

3D printing pens can be used in several different applications:

  • 3D printing repair: When combined with a 3D printer, 3D pens are ideal for minor post-processing and repair work on a 3D object. They’re especially useful when it comes to hard-to-reach areas. This will most likely benefit hobbyists and professionals.
  • Artistic and decorative work: 3D pens are handy in crafts, sculpture, and fine art. A special mention would also be developing raised decorative designs. Naturally, anyone of any age can take part in such activities.
  • 3D design and prototyping: Product development in areas like jewelry, fashion, and automotive can be made much easier with a 3D pen. The ability to instantly realize basic 3D shapes is extremely helpful for brainstorming and conceptualizing, suiting both hobbyists and professionals alike.
  • Education: A 3D pen is an extremely valid learning tool, especially in areas like mathematics (for drawing geometric shapes), architecture (for modelling), and science (for visualizing physical models like atoms and organs).

3D Printing Pens vs 3D Printers

Demoing a 3D pen.
Demoing a 3D pen. Source: Pinterest

Here are some instances where a 3D printing pen is preferable over a 3D printer:

  • Developing freestyle hand drawings of objects and free sketch concepts of designs
  • Realizing imagined models instead of trying to produce them in CAD software
  • Teaching children the basics of 3D printing
  • Visualizing ideas in early concept stages of product development (even before prototyping)
  • Playing around with 3D technologies in an inexpensive way

The Verdict

Don't be afraid to let your mind wander!
Don't be afraid to let your mind wander! Source: gadgetexplained.com

Having seen some of the key concepts behind 3D printing pens, we hope you’re able to see how a 3D pen can be a toy, a tool, or both! In the end, it depends on the pen being used and who’s using it.

A 3D pen can be a serious tool when it comes to the classroom, art, or product development. On the other hand, it’s a toy when used for crafts, drawings, and general fun.

License: The text of "Is a 3D Printing Pen a Toy or a Serious Tool?" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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