Polymers Can Bring Your Drawing to New Heights


When you draw on paper, you typically don’t think about how you do it. As you follow your inspiration, your brain performs all the necessary calculations to move your hand as you commit your visualization to paper.

With 3D-printing, more thought is involved: We transform our inspiration into a computer program that controls the movements of the printer to bring our visualizations into existence, usually in plastic. But, imagine if you could skip both the program and the printer to draw in 3D!

3Doodler is a pen allows you to draw or sketch in three dimensions with plastic. It is made by WobbleWorks, a Boston company founded in 2010. In March 2013 the 3Doodler project raised more than $2 million through a kickstarter.com campaign, and the first order was shipped in September 2013.

How does it work? This is how Leah Yamshon described it at TechHive:

It’s a handheld 3D printer that functions like a pen, letting you scribble free-form designs without any complicated object files. To use the 3Doodler, you insert a short stick of filament into the top of the pen, and then press one of the speed buttons to feed filament to the extruder and expel it […] You can scribble or doodle on any flat surface to print 2D designs, or use the pen to build freeform vertical objects […] Though it’s much larger than a standard pen or marker, the 3Doodler is still simple to maneuver with one hand.

Choice of Plastics

The 3Doodler uses two types of plastic, ABS and PLA. ABS (a copolymer of acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene) is prepared by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. A thermoplastic commonly used for household and consumer goods (with Lego blocks as an example), ABS is a popular polymer for 3D-printing due to its high glass transition temperature (around 105 degrees Celsius), which means it hardens at relatively high temperatures to prevent deformation of the resulting product. Fed as a 10-inch strand into a 3Doodler, it is heated to 225-250 degrees C and can be pulled up, that is, you can draw vertical lines with it. It solidifies into a relatively flexible design.

Another choice is to use PLA strands, which come in handy for translucent designs and stick much better to a variety of support materials, including paper, glass, and metal. PLA (polylactic acid) is a common bioplastic (produced typically from corn). It is naturally transparent and used for variety of biomedical applications. Due to its slow degradation rate, PLA is a preferred material for implants such as slowly degradable screws, sutures, and mesh or pins used in bone regeneration. PLA is a food-grade plastic and can be used for food packaging (for example tea bags). Being a thermoplastic, PLA is used for 3D-printing. In a 3Doodler it is heated to 190-240 degrees C, and is good for creating acute angles and edges, but the resulting design will be more brittle (however, if it breaks you can just compost it!)

Right now you can order a 3Doodler online along with a pack of 50 multicolored plastic strands for $99, but you can expect to see it retail soon at ThinkGeek.com, the MoMA Store and Brookstone. Equipped with enthusiasm, a 3Doodler, and a variety of available nozzles, let’s see what you’ll create!

Image by Forgemind ArchiMedia.
Source: “The World’s First 3D Printing Pen That Lets You Draw Sculptures,” by Christopher Jobson, thisiscolossal.com, February 19, 2013.
Source: “3Doodler: The World’s First 3D Printing Pen,” kickstarter.com.
Source: “Handheld 3Doodler Pen Brings out Your Inner 3D-Printing Artist,” by Leah Yamshon, techhive.com, January 8, 2014.
Source: Wobble Works, wobbleworks.net.
Source: “Materials: ABS,” i.materialise.com.
Source: “Printing With PLA,” makerbot.com.
Video: “3Doodler Video 2014,” by 3Doodler, YouTube.com.