The Juku 3Doodler Create+ 3D Printing Pen Set ($74.99) contains a mini portable 3D printer in the form of a pen that is fun to use and has a lot of creative potential. It is the latest in WobbleWorks’ 3Doodler Juku series, created in partnership with Office Depot and marketed to a young audience with educational purposes in mind. We reviewed an earlier version of the 3Doodler pen a year ago, and while the device itself looks essentially the same, the new accessories and activity kits offer users additional guidance and educational value.
The 3Doodler Create+ allows you to “draw” in 3D by extruding tiny strands of plastic that the pen uses for shaping and control. The device looks like a hot glue gun: you stick the plastic filaments on the back and the pen melts them. The plastic dries almost instantly, staying (for the most part) locked in no matter how you draw them, essentially allowing you to create anything you can dream of.
I tried the Juku 3Doodler (my first time using one) and had a lot of fun with the product, although I realized early on that there was definitely a learning curve. Despite its name, 3Doodler works best when you have a plan in mind. Drawing in 3D is a skill that will be new to most people. In my initial attempts with the 3Doodler, I defaulted to writing in 2D. But the process gets easier every time you use it.
The pen comes with 50 plastic filaments in assorted colors that equals 400 feet of plastic. Turn on the pen, and then wait for it to warm up before using it. This process takes between 60 and 90 seconds. A light changes from red to green when ready to go.
Loading the filaments into the pen was a bit more difficult than I expected. He can’t just load the filament in the back, he really has to use a bit of force to jam it and make sure the intake gears at the bottom pick it up. Once the pen grabs onto the plastic, it can begin to extrude in a few seconds.
I found information that does not match in the manual. The pen I tried had two settings: high and low, but the pictures of the pen in the manual showed a different model, where the settings say ABS/FLX and PLA (those are the two different types of plastic filament, the one in high temperature). ABS or Flexy plastic and low temperature PLA plastic). This setting is important, as using the wrong combination of temperature and plastic will result in less than optimal results. However, if they don’t read the manual and make the connection, some users may miss this.
Along with high and low temperature settings, you can adjust the extrusion speed to fast and slow with the two buttons on the bottom of the pen, ideally right where your index finger would be while drawing.
I recommend new users to keep it on the slow setting until they feel comfortable using it, as once it starts extruding it won’t stop until you turn it off. This makes precision a bit difficult to achieve, as starting and stopping the extrusion is not instantaneous, and you have to keep your finger on the button in order to stop the command.
The pen itself is easy to hold and lightweight. You have to keep it plugged in while using it, so watch out for the cord while you’re doodling. The plastic comes out hot but cools down and dries quickly. The pen itself gets hot. Touching the metal tip of the pen could cause a burn, so parents should keep an eye on younger children when using the 3Doodler.
Building 3D shapes takes some practice, but the concept is simple: the plastic is malleable as it comes out, but it solidifies almost instantly. In order to draw, you have to have some sort of base to draw on. Then simply lift the pen off the surface in a straight motion, turn off the extrusion when it’s the desired length, and quickly remove the pen. With a little finesse, the plastic will stay in place and you’ll have the beginning of a frame to draw on.
This is where precision comes into play. Switching between fast and slow settings and turning extrusion on and off isn’t entirely straightforward, and there are some fallout even after turning it off. However, learning to fine-tune the way the pen works is relatively quick. In our previous review, we noted that holding the stylus in a way that you can easily turn the buttons on or off takes a bit of practice.
Also, don’t worry if you have a loose strand or if you mess up what you’re trying to do. Hardly anything is built with a single thread, it’s more about going back and forth multiple times and laying threads on top of each other.
I enjoyed the range of filament colors (there’s even a clear plastic one, which looks cute), but you can’t really change them until you use the current filament or take it out of the pen, which is time consuming. I found it easier to create designs with just one or two colors.
So you master the technique. Now what do you really do? The company offers tons of resources that make it easy to create projects with the pen. Both the website and the manual include template plans for projects of various levels of difficulty: coasters, a candle holder, and the Eiffel Tower itself. The good thing about this type of design is that you can do the same thing several times and improve your technique each time.
The 3Doodler 3DU STEM Accessory Kit(Opens in a new window) (sold separately for $12.99) For ages 8 and up, includes templates and building plans for projects like a geodesic dome and five-axis arm. The STEM kit provides more inspiration on what to create and has the added benefit of exposing children to the principles of mechanical and engineering design.
The kit also comes with a ball joint silicone mold and an interlocking silicone mold piece to use for different creations. Combining the parts you make with the pen with existing joint molds is a great way to experience how the different components work together to create a single piece of work.
The pen also has creative implications beyond that of a toy. I can see it being useful as a brainstorming tool – architects, engineers, or artists could quickly produce 3D prototypes or mock-ups of rough models. It’s a bit too limited at the moment for many people to have the skills to use it this way, but perhaps a future version of the pencil could be used for these purposes.
The Juku 3Doodler Create+ does what it’s designed to do, but I can imagine future iterations of this technology evolving into something else, especially as technology used in toys may influence innovation outside of that industry. Way back in 1978, Speak and Spell by Texas Instruments(Opens in a new window) it was the first commercial instance of digital signal processing (DSP) and the first time “the human vocal tract has been electronically duplicated on a single silicon chip”.(Opens in a new window) An early prototype of Siri or Alexa? That might be an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that technology played a role somewhere.
The Juku 3Doodler Create+ is a great creative and educational tool for kids to develop design and spatial reasoning skills, but it’s also fun as a creation tool. Your apps can go either way right now, and that’s part of the open-ended fun.
Juku 3Doodler Create+ 3D Printing Pen Set
The bottom line
The 3Doodler is at least partially a toy, but it also has potential in creative and technical applications, such as exposing children to spatial design and engineering skills. It does what it’s designed to do well, but it’s not perfect.
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