What Is A 3D Printing Pen and How Does It Work?

The very first time 3D printing was heard of was in the 1980s. The idea however, did not materialize until 2012 after developers made perfect the advanced digital layering process from Computer Aided Designs (CADs). Then towards the end of February 2013, Engadget received an announcement of a prototype 3D pen from the 3Doodler company. 3Doodler was trying to hype up funding for a 3D printing pen manufacture project. The funding successfully produced over 2.3 million USD enabling 3Doodler to produce the very first 3D printing pen in the world.

Relationship between 3D pens and 3D printers

In actual sense, 3D pens are just manually hand operated 3D printers. They use a similar technology as the latter, but are more compact and convenient. The pens are not more than 5 inches which makes them easier to manipulate than even the tiniest 3D printers which weigh around 25lbs. The compact size of these pens is therefore the most contradicting aspect with 3D printers, although they also have a minimal design potential and are only compatible with two different materials.

How 3D pens work

The 3D pens that have been rolled out into the market currently come designed with a power cord and an outlet option that can be internationally used. One end of the pen has an inlet hole and the other an outlet nozzle tip. There are 2 writing mediums commonly used by the pens; Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polylactic Acid (PLA). These are actually the thermoplastic material used in most 3D printing and both have their advantages and disadvantages. While ABS is easy to recycle PLA is a manually made material and therefore they both are eco-friendly. ABS is credited for a more stable design while PLA is said to have excellent color retaining capabilities.

Here are simple steps of writing with a 3D pen:

  1. Plug in the power cord to warm up the pen.
  2. Feed the writing material (PLA/ABS) into the pen to initiate heating. Heating will take 55seconds to 2 minutes.
  • When the material is ready (some pens have an indicator for this) press the extrusion button or foot pedal to start drawing. While extrusion buttons are okay to work with, foot pedals are more ideal for projects that run for long hours and you can control the extrusion better with them.
  1. You should start drawing the moment the pen has reached the optimum temperatures since it will automatically start cooling when on standby and will slow you down.

As you can see, drawing with a 3D pen is just like using a glue gun. Actually they even have same nozzles of different sizes, and sometimes shapes, which give freedom for an artist to determine their preferred line texture and thickness. It is also possible to create triangular strokes or ribbon-like designs. You can also determine the speed of the extrusion by setting it on the extrusion buttons located on the pens body. Armatures can begin with slow speeds as they continue to master the skills. On the other hand, expert artists can use very fast speed when they want to complete their design very fast or use slow speeds when they are looking at creating very delicate details on their pieces.

3D Pen Myths

Although 3D printing pens are sold as enabling you to write in the air, your designs donít practically stand on air. You first create a base for the piece you are working on from a predetermined surface, after which you advance it in air to create a stable stand-alone design. It is encouraged to create a very steady base since if you donít achieve this your design wonít be capable of standing alone.

Another common misconception is that 3D pens write with liquid material that makes the pieces weak. Well, the material that comes out from the pen is liquid, but this solidifies on contact with air. You donít have to worry about the temperature of the molten matter as itís tolerable and wonít burn you if you accidentally touch it. After the material is completely cooled, it becomes a steady material and your design can stand alone. However, since the molten material passes through the nozzles while hot, the nozzles get heated up and can inflict serious burns if you accidentally come in contact with it.

How affordable are 3D pens?

The most amazing news about 3D pens is their price. 3D printers are always a put off to art enthusiast due to their exorbitant prices, mostly from $1,000USD and this is what makes 3D pens more attractive. The original 3D pen was rolled into the market at just 99$! You can purchase these from famous retail stores like eBay and Brookstone.


3D pens have hardly been in the market for 2 years, yet their demand is continuously becoming overwhelming. The innovators are not sleeping on designs and improvements are being made on old versions as newer designs also come up. As I speak, several companies are doing fundraising campaigns for rolling out even more intriguing 3D pens. These new developments are expected to enhance the applicability and usability of the pens. Features that are expected to improve include; battery operated option to improve portability, more versatile and safe materials and also cheaper and safer writing media. With all these and many more, 3D pens are definitely going to be hype for the next couple of years. They are indeed the next generation writing materials.

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