It's been almost a year since the 3Doodler debuted on Kickstarter, raising a whopping US$2.3 million in the process, and since then we've been curious to see just exactly what a "3D drawing pen" can do. Luckily, WobbleWorks was more than happy to show off its new sketching tool and let us try it out for ourselves at IFA's Showstoppers event during CES. In short, it's fun and easy to pick up, but don't expect to craft anything too elaborate on your first try.
The way the pen works is simple. First you fit a 3 mm piece of ABS or PLA plastic filament at the top, which heats up near the tip. Then you press one of the two buttons on the side to control how fast the partially-melted plastic flows out of the nozzle. It sounds easy enough, but as with any new tool, mastering it appears to take quite a bit of practice.
Sketching 2D images on paper with the 3Doodler can be tricky, as you can see by my failed attempts to write the word "Gizmag" below, which only got as far as the first two letters. The plastic dries in about a second, so if you move at the wrong pace or lift the pen for even a moment, it will trail out disproportionately, and you'll have to correct it. I imagine it's much easier once you're accustomed to how the 3Doodler works, but I felt like a pre-schooler trying to use watercolors for the first time.
Where the 3Doodler really shines though is when you begin to sketch upwards, right off the table. After sticking one end of the filament to a piece of paper, I just held down the button and slowly moved my hand upwards, forming little swirls as I went. It wasn't anything complicated, but it was still strange to watch the plastic follow right along with my movements. Imagine doodling a line drawing on paper, then setting the paper down only to find your doodle still hovering in mid-air in front of you. Of course, with the 3Doodler, you have to ensure there's a proper support structure keeping it upright, but the concept is quite similar.
The pen may have a few practical applications as almost a multi-colored glue gun – a rep even showed us how he had repaired an arm on his glasses with it – but the 3Doodler's main purpose is to just be creative, which should be evident from the word "doodle" in the name. Another visitor, after glancing over some of the colorful creations on display, looked genuinely confused and asked aloud what the point of it was, to which a rep enthusiastically responded, "For fun!"
And honestly, it is more fun than I expected. It only took me only a couple minutes to blow through an entire stick of ABS plastic just making little squiggles on paper and in the air. If I didn't have to move on to see the other exhibits, I probably would have spent a couple hours trying to get more used to it so I could at least draw something recognizable. It's clear that building something more elaborate requires practice and patience, since the only people who seemed capable of putting anything decent together with the 3Doodler were the very people who had designed it in the first place.
One rep spent some time demonstrating how it could construct crude figurines of animals and small structures, but the "pièce de résistance" was a massive recreation of the Eiffel Tower, which we were told involved combining multiple fragments together.
WobbleWorks was also revealing its first line of accessories for the 3Doodler that are planned for release later this year, including nozzles in various shapes, sturdy plastic templates for tracing simple shapes, and a pen holder that both stores it and guides it more steadily on a flat surface. The 3D drawing pen will also be hitting retail stores like Brookstone and online shops like Think Geek in the near future.
For now though, if you want to pick up a 3Doodler for yourself, WobbleWorks is accepting pre-orders through its official website for $99 each, and plans to begin shipping in March of this year.
Product Page: 3Doodler
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