3Doodler Create 3D Pen (***)
As a D&D gamer who is fond of painting miniatures and terrain, I always wanted a 3D printer. So I figured a 3D pen was the next best thing. The good news is, it's actually a pretty cool tool that works as advertised. The bad news is it has almost no utility as a 3D printer.

Let's start with the positives. The pen is really easy to use. It comes with two packs of flourescent and regular colors, which you simply insert into the pen. The pen itself heats up and then extrudes the heated plastic. There's an art to applying it -- a template is highly recommended, as you'll see from the pictures -- but it's pretty simple once you get accustomed to it. Switching colors isn't too problematic, and the plastic really does instantly cool within seconds so you can pretty much build whatever you want on the fly. That's the good news...

This is basically a plastic soldering tool that gets hot, so little kids really can't use it -- and frankly, they'd be bored after 15 minutes of slowly moving a pen back and forth to fill in the blanks. Half the stuff advertised on the box would take reams of (expensive!) plastic that is likely bad for the environment. I had a headache after using it for 20 minutes.

You know this is something of an experimental technology when it comes with three tools, all dedicated to cleaning out plastic jams. In short, you either finish using the entire strand of plastic or you need to remove the pen tip with a hex wrench and shove a poker through the tube to force it out. Theoretically, the pen reverses unused plastic with a click of a button. In practice, after a certain amount of plastic is used there's no way you're going to get it out of the pen without using it up.

If it's not obvious, this pen gets hot. It's not so bad that you'll seriously burn yourself, but it's hot enough to hurt if you're not careful. The pen is all about making kids' stuff (again, the box art is covered with all kinds of cool toys) but it's not for kids.

The first sculpt I made was a 2D sculpt of Rainbow Dash as a unicorn (this was my daughter's request, I don't ask questions). Rainbow Dash was a particularly good test because My Little Pony characters are drawn with thick lines and vibrant colors. There was plenty to experiment with, and you can see from the picture that I got better as I filled out the sculpt.

The second sculpt I made was for my son, who considers fries a major food group. We made a papercraft of a fry box and then I sculpted the model around it. It revealed the flaws in this kind of sculpt, which is that it's not made for flat surfaces. I had to divide it up into several sections, and even then ended up using all of the red plastic filament provided. I made the fries myself without any model at all, and while they worked well enough you really can't handle them. You'll need a scissor to prune the edges on anything you produce.

This 3D pen works great. The question is why you would go through all this trouble to use it. I printed Rainbow Dash to begin with and just traced her, so I technically had a 2D picture of Rainbow-Dash-as-unicorn before I even started. Similarly, I could have just made my own fry box with paper and markers. The 3D pen made it more difficult and took longer.

There's likely application for a 3D pen with miniature gaming, but it's not anything with hard edges. Think spiderwebs, blobs, elementals, stuff like that. I plan on trying my hand at some other interesting miniatures using it next, if I can puzzle out how to create them. It definitely helps to have a frame of some sort to work with.

My kids were thrilled. After all that hard work...me, not so much.

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