A cost-effective technology recently emerged in the form of a 3D pen, offering easy entry into the world of 3D printing. Those familiar with a hot glue gun should grasp the concept of a 3D pen; a plastic rod, heated by the pen, melts and extrudes “ink” from the pen’s tip. Unlike a glue gun, however, 3D pen plastic hardens almost instantly and supports its own weight, so unlike a conventional pen, there’s no need for a substrate such as paper. The artist creates lines at any angle, working in a three-dimensional medium.
The heated plastic method — Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) — matches the method used for many 3D printers. It’s not, however, the only 3D pen technology. Photopolymer ink begins in liquid form and hardens upon exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This is ideal for children, since there’s no risk of burns. LED lights at the nozzle firms the photopolymer into solid form, yielding similar results to FDM pens. This is commonly known as “Cool Ink” 3D printing.
Here, we take a look at the 10 best 3D pens in 2018.
|Product Name||Weight||Target Market||Technology|
|Smarson 3D Printing Pen||55g||Advanced||FDM|
|AtmosFlare 3D Drawing Pen||99g||Children||Cool Ink|
|Da Vinci 3D Pen||70g||General||FDM|
|Tech 4 Kids 3D Magic ImagiPen||120g||Children||Cool Ink|
|Hatchbox 3D Printing Pen||40g||Advanced||FDM|
|Manve Intelligent 3D Pen||68g||General||FDM|
|7Tech 3D Pen||64g||Advanced||FDM|
|NEXTECH Intelligent 3D Pen||40g||Advanced||FDM|
This 3D pen is similar to both the FDM technology pens ranked ahead of it, so there is a bit of a plateau in development at the higher end. The Smarson features variable speeds and temperatures as well, so users have their choice of filaments. With so many similar 3D pens, the perfect one may come down to the feel.
The Smarson pen takes a different approach to button location. Filament feed is placed for thumb operation, assuming a right-handed user. This may not be to everyone’s taste, though the Smarson is just as balanced as the other best 3D pens.
Part of the reason for the placement is the vent in the pen’s body, just above the tip assembly. This improved airflow speeds temperature adjustments and prevents overheating. Accurate temperature is key to proper setting here.
The heat and button placement make this pen less suitable for kids. Artists and hobbyists will be more comfortable with the Smarson, though, and for some users, this pen has the most natural feel.
There is no active user community for the Smarson pen, unlike the very best 3D pens in 2018. Those comfortable with navigating their way through the details of a new hobby won’t be hindered by this, but others may miss the lack of peer advice. Current 3D pen users should have no difficulty with the Smarson.
The AtmosFlare pen, targeted primarily to the younger market, is a Cool Ink pen with no automation in the extrusion process. The user simply squeezes the ink bottle as it sits in the body. In addition to the ink bottle, the body holds a single AA battery, powering the LEDs which drive the photopolymer hardening process.
The simplicity of the AtmosFlare pen allows it to be very affordable, yet quite effective. The ink bottles are refillable, and four nozzle tips come with the basic package.
The AtmosFlare website has video tutorials which explain the basics of 3D drawing with Cool Ink technology. Of the Top 10 Best 3D Pens in 2018, only the 3Doodler has better user resources. The AtmosFlare blog isn’t limited to 3D pen drawing either, creating a broader world to keep users engaged.
Photopolymers have unique challenges. Drawing on bright or reflective surfaces can prematurely cure the ink by bouncing UV rays around, causing the ink to harden in an unwanted way.
Though heat isn’t an issue with Cool Ink, the UV rays of the pen can damage vision, so, though kid-friendly, the device requires parental supervision.
Overall both simple and affordable, the AtmosFlare is absolutely of of the best 3D pens.
XYZprinting has a solid background in 3D printers, and had a basic design approach to the Da Vinci 3D pen. There’s not a whole lot of flexibility, having only two buttons to feed and unload filament. With no temperature adjustment, the Da Vinci pen uses PLA filament exclusively. XYZprinting offers 11 colors of their own PLA filament, but any similar 1.75 mm product should work fine. Note that problems arising from non-XYZprinting filaments may void the warranty.
Using ABS filament with the Da Vinci pen will result in frustration. ABS requires temperatures over 210° C for proper extrusion, so the Da Vinci’s max temp of 200° C is too low. It will soften, but will not behave as a proper 3D pen medium.
PLA filaments for the Da Vinci pen are, like all PLA products, biodegradable and non-toxic. XYZprinting’s filament material goes through testing for DEHP, a plastic compound with negative health implications, and heavy metals.
The Da Vinci 3D pen suffers a bit from hidden tip syndrome. It’s not a major handicap, but it’s reason enough for the Da Vinci pen to be ranked lower on the list of the best 3D pens in 2018.
Tech 4 Kids has the community idea down. A kid-friendly website offers downloads and videos for all Tech 4 Kids products. The ImagiPen is quite affordable, requires only 3 AAA batteries, and uses a pumping motion to dispense the photopolymer gel, where UV LEDs cure the material.
The pumping action is well-suited to kids’ hands, though it’s less smooth than thermoplastic pens. Nonetheless, it’s a great entry-level 3D pen for a younger segment of the market.
The on/off switch is delicate for a device meant for children. Since UV lights are, of course, essential to the 3D pen’s operation, more durability in the switch would make sense, even at the price that the ImagiPen sells for.
As with other Cool Ink pens, parents should warn their kids of the dangers of UV light; LEDs can be harmful to vision. Otherwise, the ImagiPen is one of the best 3D pens for kids. Be sure to check out the videos on the Tech 4 Kids webpage.
The Hatchbox is a promising up-and-comer. The website shows lots of content still in development. In fact, the pen only makes a visit in a photo connecting to Hatchbox’s ABS filament. There’s no specs for the device posted yet.
The pen is all plastic construction, with a ceramic nozzle. This results in a light 3D pen that’s easy to use. The balance is good, a result of ergonomic forethought. Temperature and speed adjust, and both extrusion and unload directions exist. Once again, the tip of the nozzle sits behind a large collar, requiring a side view to fully see the business end of the pen.
When the Hatchbox website has more information, it’s likely this pen will rank higher. Developing a community is important to the Hatchbox team, and since their core business seems to be filament sales, that’s sound planning.
For now, we know the Hatchbox pen is affordable and competent. It is one of the best 3D pens for users who prefer lightweight devices.
Next up, we have the first Cool Ink 3D pen maker. Since there’s no heat, the CreoPop is safe for everyone, children included, and the design is quite sleek. Adults who struggle with power cords may also enjoy the cordless CreoPop.
Each ink cartridge prints about 46 feet of line with the standard 1 mm nozzle. Inks come in a variety of colors and properties. In addition to glowing and sparkling inks, specialties like fragrant, magnetic, and conductive inks widen possibilities. There’s even a temperature-sensitive ink available that changes color based on air temperature. Body painting is something a thermoplastic pen will never manage, but it’s available with CreoPop’s Cool Ink.
The Cool Ink can be a bit messy, and for those not familiar with creating in 3D, there’s a learning curve. Finished designs aren’t particularly durable, and the reaction that hardens the photopolymer does create heat, though not at the burn level.
The CreoPop pen is thick. Unlike the thin thermoplastic filaments, there’s an ink cartridge inside. It’s easy to change, so multicolored designs are as simple as a cartridge change. The pen isn’t heavy, and is balanced and easy to hold.
Despite the fact that the Cool Ink process is somewhat shakier than thermoplastics, it is one of the best 3D pens for kids. Given a child’s creativity, the possibilities here are limitless.
3Doodler, the maker of the original 3D printing pen, provides a lot of value for many users. The Create is version 3 of the 3Doodler, showing lots of refinement. Controls are intuitive, simple, and responsive. The company’s experiences have led to improvements in the filament transport system, resulting in better feed, temperature control, and stability.
The tip is reinforced to facilitate nozzle changes, and the pen itself comes in five colors. The 3Doodler is ergonomically one of the best 3D pens, and has two feed speeds and heater temperatures. The print button sits right under the index finger. Pressing once starts printing. Pressing again stops, and a double click reverses direction.
Thermoplastic 3D printing has two formulations of filament material, ABS and PLA (see 3D Pen Plastics below). Each has different melting temperatures, which is why the 3Doodler offers two heat levels, as do other FDM pens.
3Doodler has 65+ filament colors, including metallic, glowing, and sparkles. The Create is also compatible with earlier filaments and accessories. The user community well-developed, offering stencils, templates, and tutorials help get the most out of your pen.
For its elegance, level of development, and strong user base, we give 3Doodler the top spot amongst the best 3D pens in 2018.
The Manve 3D pen is another with an extensive list of clones. In fact, the Manve Intelligent pen resembles the 7Tech without the LCD. The 5-minute standby mode is also included, but Manve neglected a number of 7Tech’s more advanced features.
Two buttons control filament extrusion and unloading. A speed slider controls the extrusion rate, and a pair of LEDs indicate power and activity. Though the Manve 3D pen ships with ABS filament, the website recommends PLA filament as a safer and healthier alternative.
The Intelligent 3D pen shares the slightly off-balance characteristics of the 7Tech pen, and the recessed tip makes sideways orientation almost mandatory. The collar around the extrusion nozzle protects from burns, but sacrifices visibility. Considering soldering irons and their exposed tips, the extent of protection around the tips of 3D pens seems excessive, even if intended for 8-year olds and up. The best 3D pens strike a balance between visibility and safety.
Still, the Manve Intelligent 3D pen may be perfect for some users. Comfort is key for successful freehand 3D printing; the magic of defying gravity with a pen is an experience that tickles the fancy of young and old alike.
Packed with all its bells and whistles, the 7Tech 3D pen may top some users’ lists as one of the best 3D pens. Adjustable temperature and speed are augmented with a filament jam detector and a mechanism that clears clogs. Both PLA and ABS filaments are supported, and two-direction feed buttons extrude or unload filament.
The 7Tech pen is quiet and enters standby mode automatically after 5 minutes. Like the Smarson 3D pen, there are vents on the body to aid cooling.
The 7Tech is ranked lower due to its recessed tip, which makes it very tough to observe from a conventional writing position. Though the shape is not unusual for an FDM device, the device is not as balanced as those higher on the best 3D pens list.
The 7Tech design has several clones under other brand names. As such, not only is there no user community, it can be hard to tell which pen is the original. Once again, this is fine if a user is comfortable with the pen. The added features may even invite some tolerance of the visibility issue.
Nextech’s Intelligent pen uses thermoplastic technology, like the 3Doodler. Temperature setting is variable, so both ABS and PLA filaments work here. There’s even a wood filament available to take advantage of the variable temps.
The tip design permits quick cooling of the active filament, though this advantage is compromised by the wide body. It’s tougher to see what’s happening around the Nextech pen, though the improved airflow around the nozzle has the potential for more accurate work.
Another worthwhile feature is the unload button, which makes the changing of filaments quick and keeps the pen clean. Extrusion speed is adjustable to user preference.
The pen is balanced and comfortable. It allows a good range of motion, so it’s frustrating that the tip is not easily visible. Since the tip heats substantially, the Intelligent 3D pen isn’t recommended for children.
The Nextech pen ships with a pen holder, and has a standby mode. Only two filaments are included, so it won’t be long until more are necessary.
Clogging does occur despite the unload feature, and more frequently with PLA filaments than with ABS. This is due to the plastics rather than the pen, so this is expected.
The Nextech Intelligent 3D pen doesn’t have the community that makes the 3Doodler attractive, but it’s marketed as for artists, who are more self-sufficient than hobbyists. Overall, it’s one of the best 3D pens in 2018, while still leaving room for a few refinements.
Best 3D Printing Pen – Buyer’s Guide
Two 3D pen technologies emerged to feed the 3D drawing market. FDM techniques require melting a plastic filament that re-hardens almost immediately upon extrusion. Cool Ink uses a special plastic that hardens with exposure to UV light.
The challenge of 3D drawing is that the “ink” must harden almost instantly and support, not only its own weight, but everything drawn above as well. While gravity will still pull down poor designs, material strength is necessary. The most obvious candidate for the job is plastic, with a relatively low melting temperature, good extrusion characteristics, and the ability to harden quickly.
3D Pen Plastics
FDM technology can use two different filaments, each with a different melting point. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) has the higher point. This plastic is used for plumbing, among other uses, and is the more durable choice. On the down side, ABS has a chemical smell that, while not harmful, is unpleasant; good ventilation is a must. ABS also has a tendency to shrink when hardening, though this isn’t usually a problem with 3D pens as much as 3D printing.
PLA (Polylactic Acid) has a lower melting point. It doesn’t have the same tendency to shrink, but its lower melting point means that some finished products may be vulnerable to direct sunlight or other warm locations. PLA tends to jam more often in 3D printers, though there’s no overwhelming mention of problems in 3D pen use. Not only does PLA avoid unpleasant fumes, it smells a bit sweet. It’s not as strong as ABS, but in 3D pen applications, both strength and melting point aren’t as critical.
Cool Ink Drawing
This 3D drawing medium starts out as a room-temperature thick photopolymer ink. It’s much more like conventional ink pens, with the obvious exception of hardening immediately thanks to the UV LEDs surrounding the nozzle. The hardening process is called curing.
Users do not have to cure as they are drawing, however. For example, a user drawing a barn might first lay out a flat foundation with the UV light off for smoother extrusion. Then, when the satisfactory base is drawn, the user turns on the LEDs and cures the base before starting on the upward portions of the design. Drawing vertically, however, does require instant curing, to support the weight of the drawing.
Cool Ink technology doesn’t suffer from clogging the way FDM filaments can. Many recommend baby wipes for cleaning unwanted photopolymer.
Cool Ink does warm up with the chemical process of curing, the pens themselves, however, remain cool. The combination of low heat and non-toxic inks make Cool Ink the best 3D pens for children.