3D pens are becoming increasingly popular. They are a great introduction for beginners looking to get into 3D printing without spending a lot of money on a desktop 3D printer.
As they are easy to use, most people mistake 3D pens for a toy. You should not take a 3D pen as child’s play, however. 3D pens have massive utility for both casual hobbyists and experienced professionals.
But how does a 3D pen work and why should you consider getting one? In this guide we explore what you can and cannot do with a 3D pen. We look at what materials it uses and the type of surfaces it can print on. Can you use a 3D pen to print on your skin? Keep reading to find out.
What Can I Do With A 3D Pen?
3D pens are a versatile decorative tool. Instead of creating a flat 2 dimensional drawing, they are a simple way for users to create 3D art. They can be used to make sculptures, structures and even wearable jewelry. They can even be used as a handyman’s tool to repair broken items.
How Does A 3D Pen Work?
A 3D pen is like a 3D printer in the sense that it creates objects in 3 dimensions. 3D pens use Filament Deposition Modeling (FDM) to produce a print. FDM is a printing process where plastic is melted to print with. The plastic hardens into the shape it has been printed in as it cools.
This is where the similarities between a 3D pen and printer end. A 3D pen is much simpler to use because you do not need a computer or software to print with it. Instead, the whole process is controlled by hand. All you do is point, press and guide the pen as plastic comes out!
What Materials Does A 3D Pen Use?
3D printers use resins, powders or filament. 3D pens on the other hand are more restricted in that they only print with filament. Most 3D pens use either PLA, ABS or PETG.
Polylactic acid (PLA)
PLA is the most popular 3D printing material. It has a low temperature which makes it very easy to use and is made from organic material like cornstarch which makes it more biodegradable. It is also odorless when heated. Source
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
ABS is the second most popular printing material. It is slightly harder to use since it requires a higher heating temperature. It is, however, a stronger material compared to PLA. ABS is made from petroleum so is not as environmentally-friendly as PLA. It also produces a strong odor when heated. Source
Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG)
PETG is a combination of PLA and ABS. It is as easy to print with as PLA while being as strong as ABS. This makes it a better alternative to either. PETG is odorless like PLA, but it is not as biodegradable.
These are the most common filaments for 3D pens. Depending on where you are however, you can also find pens that support HIPS, wood-filled or flexible filament.
We also highly recommend that you check out our post ” Everything You Need To Know About Using 3D Pen Filament! (Simple Guide)“
Why Should You Get A 3D Pen?
Compared to 3D printers, 3D pens are far much easier to use. They do not require complicated computer aided design software nor a computer for preparing designs. This makes 3D pens especially suited for beginners. They are also useful for advanced 3D printer users in that they can be used for repairing or detailing 3D models.
3D pens can be safely used by children (14 and over is the recommended age). This makes 3D pens a useful teaching aid for both children and adults who are new to 3D printing. A 3D pen is an easier way to get into 3D printing.
Here are the key differences between a 3D pen and a 3D printer.
|3D PENS||3D PRINTERS|
|MATERIALS||Filament only||Resin, Powder, Filament|
|SIZE||Handheld printer||Desktop printer|
|EQUIPMENT||No additional equipment needed||Controlled by a computer and software|
3D pens are not just a tool for beginners or for creating decorative art. They are also useful for users who already have a 3D printer. 3D pens can be used for fixing gaps or used to weld or make joints, hinges or rivets for 3D prints. They are a handy tool for a serious printing enthusiast.
What Surface Do You Use A 3D Pen On?
3D pens print out plastic. The plastic can be printed on almost any flat surface including wood, glass, steel, fabric, paper and even plastic itself. The strong adhesion of plastic to plastic makes 3D pens ideal for repairing or post-processing 3D prints.
If you print regularly, there is a good chance you are sometimes left with small rolls of filament. These rolls might be too small to start a new project with but rather than throw them away you can recycle them. These small rolls can be converted to welding material for your larger prints.
For more on this, check out our post “What Surfaces Can You Use A 3D Pen On? All You Need To Use One!“
Can You Use A 3D Pen On Skin?
In order for it to print, a 3D pen first has to heat up and melt the plastic it prints with. The nozzle where the plastic is heated and printed out, reaches temperatures between 130 and 240 degrees Celsius. Skin contact will highly likely produce burns and is not recommended.
3D pens and the materials they use are safe when handled correctly. With that said, melted plastic will certainly burn skin. Melted plastic is also toxic and can cause skin irritations like dermatitis. Here are a few tips to print safely with a 3D pen:
- Avoid touching the nozzle directly while using a 3D pen.
- Use the recommended filament. Trying to use a harder material like a composite filament will likely damage a 3D pen that is meant for soft material like PLA.
- Clean the pen when switching between different materials.
How To Use A 3D Pen ? (Basics)
A 3D pen does not have as many steps to use as a 3D printer. The only steps involved are:
- Pre-heat the pen to let the nozzle reach the required melting temperature
- Load the filament
- Select the required speed
- Start printing