Based on the same technology as the ubiquitous 3D printer, these pens use plastic as ink, making for a writing or drawing experience that literally stands out from the page.
3D pens use ABS or PLA plastic which is fed into the pen in 1.75mm - 3mm strips and melted by a heating element in the barrel. As the ink leaves the pen, it cools and hardens into whatever shape the writer has created.
As you can see, words, drawings, objects: all rendered horizontally and vertically in about the same amount of time it would take for a really wet ink to dry.
The 3Doodler was the first mass-market 3D pen, launched in 2013. It started as an idea at the Artisan's Asylum in Boston and went on to become a huge Kickstarter campaign. The 3Doodler, offered at US$99, smashed its initial five-figure funding goal and raised more than US$2.3 million. Reviewers were generally positive about the 3D pen.
Since then, competitors have emerged onto the market, among them the 3DAirpen, the SwissPen (it raced 3Doodler to the retail market) and the LIX, which bills itself as the world's smallest 3D pen and was successfully funded through its own 2014 Kickstarter campaign that raised more than £700,000.
3D pens are capable of creating fascinating works of art in the hands of skilled, patient craftsmen, but keep in mind that your mileage may vary. Also, not all 3D pens are created equal.
Barnacule from Barnacule's Nerdgasm tried out the Dim 3W Smart 3D Printing Pen he got last year from a Massdrop deal. The pen, then in its first generation, did not perform spectacularly, but his detailed first look gives you an excellent example of how 3D pens operate.
Dim3Printing now expects to release a new generation 3D pen some time later this year.
From the CreoPop website:
In contrast to other 3D pens, there are no hot parts, no melting plastic and no unpleasant smell. Instead, CreoPop uses photopolymers that are solidified using LED diodes to let users create amazing 3D designs. Since no heating is required, CreoPop is safe in a home environment with children and pets around. The most innovative feature of CreoPop is the large selection of cool inks available including different colors, elastic ink, magnetic ink, glow-in-the-dark ink, temperature sensitive ink and body paint ink.
Mashable tried out the CreoPop 3D pen and found it impressive, although the reviewer noted that it would require a high degree of skill to use.
The CreoPop pen is not yet widely available on the market. The company is currently taking preorders and expects to begin shipping the 3D pens in April.
A competitor, the Polyes Q1, is wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign that had already surpassed its US$50,000 fund-raising goal with more than a month left to go.
If any of our readers have used one of these 3D pens, or is planning to get one in the near future, we'd love to hear about your experiences and see some of your creations.