3D printing seems to be all the rage these days: geeks of all stripes might not know exactly what they’ll use it for, but they’re all certain that they want a printer of their own.
Thankfully, they aren’t so frighteningly expensive any more, but $200+ still seems like a lot for a toy.
Of course, 3D printing does have some extremely worthwhile, proven applications, from generating custom prosthetics within hours instead of days to allowing smaller companies to compete with corporate giants. In education, students can now view and handle artifacts that would otherwise be available only in museums, see anatomical and molecular models without their school having to pay a fortune, and even use designs and parts from the open-design movement to create their own prototypes.
While these capabilities are certainly great for older kids, 3D printing also offer younger children the opportunity to develop their spatial reasoning abilities. Although few schools go to any trouble at all to develop this skill, it’s incredibly important if you want your child to excel in any of a variety of fields: science, math, engineering, design, art, and of course parallel parking.
This pen “prints” by extruding a barely-melted plastic fiber from its tip. It solidifies instantly, meaning that you can create a wireframe model in three dimensions. Kids might have to fight off their parents before using it, though, since the whole creative process is just unbelievably fun.
We chose to review this model over similarly-priced products for several reasons, but the ability to set both the temperature and feed rate, and being able to check these on a digital readout, is definitely a feature we like. It heats up quickly, too, and has an automatic cleaning function which some 3D pens lack.
As with everything in life, though, there are a few snags. Clogs sometimes do occur and require manual removal, while the tip gets hot enough to make it unsuitable for very young children. It’s also not something you’ll be able to use perfectly the first time you pick it up, Mr Picasso: do read all of the instructions and be prepared to experiment.
Still, these are pretty minor drawbacks, so if you know someone with creative, smart kids, this will make a perfect Christmas present.