A pen that uses plastic for ink allows you to draw in three dimensions. The 3Doodler, invented by Peter Dilworth and Maxwell Bogue, gives people a freer hand in creating sculptures and brings computer-aided design software front and center.
You hold it just like a regular pen, but instead of building a shape layer by layer, as a 3-D printer does, this pen it extrudes the plastic into the air.
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The plastic is soft when it is extruded, but it hardens quickly enough that it can form a stable structure. It's the same kind of plastic (called ABS) that is used in 3-D printers. The pen is hooked up to the supply of plastic, which comes in the form of long, thin strings, so it has a kind of tether on it. It doesn't need a computer or any software to work.
The demonstration video shows some of the thing it can do: lifting the pen from a surface, for instance, leaves a straight line of plastic standing up. "Scribbling" would make layers of plastic for a stronger support if it's vertical.
While it seems remarkably easy to use, there might be some hurdles if you get one. Drawing would require a steady hand, and it would be slower than using a pen (the video on the Kickstarter site is sped up in places, so it doesn't always show that controlling the "line" might be a painstaking process). You'd also have to be aware that what you draw has to stand up under its own weight.
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On the plus side, it's remarkably cheap compared to a 3-D printer: you can get one by pledging $75 on the Kickstarter page. The project has raised more than $830,000, well past its $30,000 goal – and there's still a month to go.
The makers of 3Doodler are also partnering with artisans on Esty, and offering stencils so users aren't left having to practice on their own.
It is a Kickstarter project, so there is some reason to be skeptical that the inventors can deliver on their promise to ship the 3Doodlers on time – they wouldn't be the first to run into problems. On the other hand Dilworth and Bogue seem up front about the challenges they will face with quality control and finding a factory in China to build them. Their FAQ also says they've worked with manufacturers in China before on other products.