Posted by Neil Bennett 04 April 2014
3Doodler hands-on review: available in the UK on April 12
The 3Doodler is a pen that allows you to draw in 3D – and it's finally available in the UK from April 12 exclusively through Maplin for £99. It'll be availabie online on that date and from April 22 at that company's shops.
The pen uses 3D printer technology but works like something you’d buy from an art shop – and is just a heck of a lot of fun. Watch the video below to see it in action.
We got a chance to play with the 3Doodler at the 3D Printshow – assisted by Charlotte Mary Rose from artists’ agents Jelly (pictured above and in the video) – where it provided moments of carefree fun with instant results that seemed at odds with much of 3D printing. While 3D printers are capable of some amazing and even truly life-changing things, they require a serious amounts of thought for every project and lots of patience while your objects are built layer-upon-layer. If creating something with your average 3D printer is like working with a full set of paints on canvas – taking time to plan, prepare and build your strokes – the 3Doodler is like a 2B pencil: quick and easy (though somewhat limited in what you can create).
The comedy-cigar shaped/sized 3Doodler pen works like a hot glue gun – and like one of those is suitable for those aged over 10. You press either of two buttons and a stream of hot plastic 3mm thick emerges from the tip. The first button pushes it out slowly for creating intricate shapes, fine detail and drawing vertically – the second squirts more quickly, for big outlines or filling in. And that’s it for controls – but what more do you need?
There are two main ways to use the 3Doodler. You can draw on paper (or another surface) and then peel off flat elements that you can then join together Airfix-style to create a 3D shape – a process used by this model of the Eiffel tower. Or you can draw freehand from your base into the air (above), though this is slower and trickier – requiring you to be very precise about how you move the pen. Drawing flat on paper is easier, especially if you’ve worked out a stencil to follow earlier.
With both ways of working, each strand of plastic is squirted hot but dries very quickly indeed. This makes it easy to attach new strands to bits of your sculpture you’ve created already – as it bonds quickly to what’s already there. You can draw these new strands upwards, wait a few seconds for it to dry and then your new strand is strong enough that it will stay sticking upwards as long as you’re not trying to place anything too heavy on it. Changing colours is as simple as pulling the current plastic strand out the back of the 3Doodler and sticking in a different colours – and you can buy over 30 from the 3Doodler website.
Like most people, I found the 3Doodler tricky at first to do more than simple shapes and trees. Charlotte took to it easier and was soon writing her own name – working towards her own version of a Tatty Devine name necklace perhaps. We also met an artist who has created complex designs using the 3Doodler from rabbits and motorcycles to a vegetable garden complete with greenhouse below (as you do).
The 3Doodler supports both main types of plastic used in 3D printing: ABS and PLA. The pen’s creators recommend ABS for most tasks: as it allows drawing upwards and you can easily peel the plastic off paper. PLA will stick to paper, but will also stick to glass, metal and ceramics if you want to use this to decorate pottery or homewares (or 3D printed skulls for Día de Muertos). It also allows you to work with translucent strands.
The 3Doodler is simple and fun, but the best you can say about what you can create with it is that it’s simple and fun. No matter how careful or artistic you are, the nature of working with hot plastic means that your creations will always be rough and knobbly. If this fits with what you want to create – or you’re just interested in the fun of the creative process – then the 3Doodler will live up to your expectations.
From our time using the 3Doodler, it’s clear that this is a great fun art toy for creative adults and teens – and would be perfect Christmas present for them. However, until February, it’s shipping only to those who helped fund the 3Doodler’s development through Kickstarter. After that, the rest of us can get our hands on one – when we’ll be giving one to a talented artist we know through our sister site Digital Arts to see just what she can make of it.