David Zax

A View from David Zax

A 3-D Printing Pen Wows Kickstarter

The very affordable pen could open new vistas for 3-D creation.

  • February 19, 2013

Really all I want to say is in this video:

But if you’re not a video-friendly environment, at the moment, that’s the Kickstarter pitch from a couple of guys at a Boston company called Wobble Works, and they’ve made what they say is the world’s first “3-D printing pen,” 3Doodler.

It’s around the 20-second mark of that video where the magic of such a device becomes apparent. A hand draws a square on a piece of paper–the standard first step for drawing a representation of a cube. But then, instead of drawing a second square on the paper, and connecting the edges with ink, the hand rises up. A plastic material emits from the pen, as the hand “draws,” or sculpts, really, the vertical edges of the cube. Then the hand caps off the cube with edges at the top. The whole structure stays sturdy.

Drawing has entered the third dimension.

3-D printing has always been about empowering smaller artisans, about taking what is traditionally the realm of major manufacturers, and bringing some of that power closer to the creators. The journey of 3-D printing, in many ways, has been bringing technology that’s traditionally been too expensive for individuals or even small businesses, and making that (or similar) technology available to the little guys. To wit: one company made a portable 3-D printer that, as of my writing about it in November, only cost a few hundred dollars (see: “3-D Printing on a Budget”).

The 3Doodler is far cheaper and easier to use, and though less capable in some ways, it has the curious effect of leapfrogging the technology that it’s descended from. 3-D printers are gaining in cultural mindshare, yet I still have to explain to some people what is meant by such a device (“printing” simply evokes an ironclad image of ink and paper, for many). Most people have never seen one; I’m a professional tech journalist, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person. Yet I’m a click away from dropping $75 on my very own 3Doodler pen. It’s cheap, it’s novel, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see technology like this to have a crossover appeal with DIYers and upscale toy store owners alike.

As a result, many people may be introduced to a “3-D printing pen” before they even know what a 3-D printer is to begin with. Though the analogy is accurate–the 3Doodler heats and cools plastic in a controlled way, much like a 3-D printer–I wonder if the company might have more success by breaking with precedent and simply describing the thing as a “sculpture pen,” or something of the sort. I might even call it “the skywriter.”

Here is the ultimate democratization of 3-D printing. “If you can scribble, trace or wave a finger in the air you can use a 3Doodler,” explain Wobble Works on their Kickstarter page The clever people of Wobble Works have brought 3-D creation to masses of people who might otherwise not have had access to it. Kudos to them, and I look forward to seeing what kinds of creativity their invention unleashes.

For more specs on the device, or to order one yourself, click over to the 3Doodler’s Kickstarter page. As of this writing, the project is already hyperfunded, having already exceeded their $30,000 funding goal by a factor of 5.

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