What is a 3D Pen – How do 3D Pens Work?

Invested in 2013 by the group of three men, Maxwell Bogue, Peter Dilworth, and Daniel Cowen, 3D pens soon became popular among hobbyists and artists.

While many still do not know how these pens could be useful, there are many experts who have created wonderful arts from vases to decorative using 3D Pen. Amidst all of these, there are those who still do not know any such thing exist.

So, what is a 3D Pen? It is important to answer that before we go ahead into any detail discussion.

A 3D pen looks similar to a glue gun. But there are many things that make them two different tools working on dissimilar technologies.

While glue guns have just one goal of pasting things together, 3D pens can make 3D objects with just flow of hand. 3D pen uses plastic and other filaments for operation and can be utilized for plenty of purposes.

What is a 3D Pen?


Designed in the pen like structure, the 3D pen very much resembles a normal pen, but much bulkier. Moreover, it does not use lead or ink and does not write on paper, instead, it uses filament, mostly plastic filament that is melts and oozes from the tip of the 3D pen. One can easily draw in the air with the help of these wonderful pens.

Some even consider it a smaller version of 3D printers. However, it is not as difficult to work with 3D pens as it is with 3D printers. When using a 3D printer, one must learn few skills and there is involvement of desktop and soft copies of the designs needed to be printed.

With 3D pens, all you need is the inserted filament. Once the temperature reaches the desired level, the softened filament starts oozing from the pen’s tip. It solidifies almost instantly.

These 3D pens use power source in the form of cable or batteries to perform the task. You do not need any software when designing with 3D pens which is a pre-requisite with 3D printers. With few buttons one can adjust the settings of the 3D pens.

You can purchase it right away even if you have never used 3D pens before. Are you still wondering: what is a 3D pen? Buy it and find it out yourself.

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How Does a 3D Pen Work?

There are two processes involved in a 3D pen. Based on those two processes, the 3D pen is further categorized into two variants: Hot pen and cold pen.

  • Hot Pen: In a hot pen, the plastic filament is used. This filament when passes through the inside of the pen is heated and melted at a certain temperature. This softened plastic oozes from the tip of the pen and can be used for drawing as standing lines in the air as well. The hot pen is based on FDM 3D printer’s technology. One can use PLA and ABS when using a hot pen.
  • Cold Pen: If you have heard about SLA 3D printing, you would know how the cold 3D pens work. Instead of heat, a chemical process is used to solidify the liquid resin instantly as it comes out of the tip of the pen. The pen uses an ink like material which is known as photosensitive resin. When this resin meets light, it solidifies. This is how the liquid resin is used in the cold 3D pens to create 3D arts.
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How to Use a 3D Pen?

It is very important to know how to use a 3D pen. This is because, 3D pens are very sensitive and can break easily when not used properly. Excess of prolonged high temperature, wrong filament or clogging of extruder can lead to a broken pen.

If you do not want that to happen, you must take care of these things when you buy a 3D pen.

  • Choose the Right Filament: Working with 3D pen can be daunting if you do not know how which filament goes best with the specific 3D pen. While some 3D pens support ABS as well as PLA filament, there are few that works on just one filament. So, when you choose the filament to buy, consider what is compatible with your 3D Pen. If you are a beginner, it is better to choose the pen that supports PLA. PLA is cheap and is best for learning and creating your first few designs. ABS is pretty pricey.
  • Go Through the 3D Pen Guide: With every 3D pen, you must get a guide to understand all the buttons and temperature setting guides. Understand the do’s and don’ts of the usage and follow the instructions religiously. In most of the 3D pen, you will find few must buttons: Power input hole, Wire loading hole, Indicators, Speed controller, Temperature Controller, Wire feeding Button and Wire unloading button. Usually, you must turn on the power by plugging the 3D pen to the power source. The kit would contain the USB cable to connect the pen to the power source. The temperature will start rising. Insert the filament through the wire loading hole. Once the temperature reaches the desired level, you can start extruding the material out of the tip to create design.
  • Handle with Care: As mentioned before, 3D pens are sensitive and can break easily, hence, handling it with care is very important. Make sure that the filament is taken out of the 3D pen once you stop working. This will help keep the 3D Pen unclogged. Also, clean the tip.

Maintaining 3D pens does not take a huge effort. Just understand what the guidelines say and use your 3D pen accordingly.

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How to Create 3D Arts?

Although there could be many ways of designing arts and objects using a 3D pen, four common methods go a long way.

  • Use 2D Sketch to Create 3D Art: Most of the 3D pen kits come with templates. You can try those or make your own. These templates have the drawings of the arts you can create using a 3D pen. To start with, you just have to follow the outline to draw on the paper or the template. Once that is done, simply take out the set plastic apart from the paper and your design is ready.
  • Use Bases to Create Decorations: You can do a lot of things using 3D pens. This is one of the best parts about 3D pens that you can convert any boring piece of object into fun and exiting design. For example, buy a plain vase from the market or a plain mobile cover. You can even choose to buy plain mats for tabletop. Use these as the bases and create your art on top of these using 3D pens. You can employ multiple colours and layering when doing so. And, can turn your boring purchase into a designer piece of art.
  • Use of molds: This is the most difficult way for beginners. If you are a beginner, you may find this option a little weird, but it works. To do this, you must create the shape of the object you want to build using a 3D pen with paper or cardboard. This will act as a mold. Create the first layer with the 3D pen using single color or multiple color. Once the art is about 90% complete, take out the mold and complete the art. You can further add layers to the design for making it stiff and durable. This way, you can build hollow designs as well, saving a lot of material.
  • Free Hands: If you are great at arts and painting, you may find this as easy as a piece of cake. All you must do is, move your hands and create whatever design you like. In free style designs, you need to be accurate. There is no way to test the same until some percentage of the design is already completed in some cases. But, with practice, you can master the art of free style 3D designs.
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Material Used for 3D Pens

3d pens filament

Among all the materials, there are two most common used filament for 3D pens.

  • ABS: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS is one of the most common materials used with 3D pens as well as 3D printers. You can easily find ABS used for building bicycle parts or Lego blocks. These are easily available online or at near stores. However, ABS filament does have some downsides. The material needs very high temperature to melt. Although the 3D pens compatible with ABS can withstand this temperature, you may have other problems though when working with ABS. The material when melted at such high temperature emits fumes. Those working with ABS must use mask or work in a well ventilated space. These fumes are irritable and can cause health problems when inhaled in huge amount.
  • PLA: Ploy Latic Acid, PLA is environment friendly material and is made of food sources such as sugar cane, corn etc. The material is biodegradable and safe to use. Unlike ABS, PLA can be melted at comparatively lower temperature and also does not emit fumes. The problem with PLA is that it takes time to set and cool down. You may have to use additional cooling equipment when working with complex designs which has tiny details.

There are other materials too. You must consider the reason for buying a 3D pen and what all you want to accomplish with it. This will help you choose the right filament for your designs. If you are a beginner, PLA would be the best to start with.

You can read more about other 3D Printing materials here: A Complete Guide to 3D Printing Materials
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Application of 3D Pen

Create 3D Arts

What is a 3D pen? This question must be clear to you by now. So, lets get to the next question. Let us check the various application that 3D Pens are suitable for. Depending on the user, 3D Pens can be employed for many applications.

The 3D pen can be used by kids for learning and enjoying. However, hot pens may not be suitable for kids under certain age. Or, it may be used under supervision. A cold 3D pen is a great choice for kids. If you must know, warm pens are also available. These pens work at low temperature and uses special type of material that melts at lower temperature making it safe for kids.

Those who are interested in watching their creativity taking shape, and often called hobbyist can use 3D pen for designing arts. The 3D pens should have more than just basic features. Such as multiple materials support, speed settings and minimal temperature variation.

Professionals also use 3D pens for creating prototypes. These pens are more complex and provides huge adjustable settings. These pens are created for providing high precision which is a must for designing prototypes.

There are several areas of applications and many other uses. One can make jewelries and designer clothes using 3D Pens. One can easily create sculptures and creative arts.

You can think of many things when converting an imagination into reality seems so easy and achievable. Just follow your creativity and create free flow designs by moving your hands.

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The Conclusion

By now, you may have got an idea about 3D Pens. And, what all things you can do using these pens. Many still believe that 3D pens are mostly for kids and do not have any useful application. However, this is completely false. There are many useful things one can accomplish using this small tool.

What is a 3D pen? This question is simple to answer. However, experience is still important when working for high level applications. You can start using a 3D pen instantly after taking it out of the kit.

But, honing your skills through practice would help you get into more serious work. You can create designer items and sell it online. You can even offer help to others if someone wants to learn about 3D pens. So, use your imagination and convert them into something exciting using 3D pens.


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