fbpx

Best 3d pens and ultimate 3d pen buying guide

Updated on:

We participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may earn a commission if you make a purchase through links on our site. We also participate in other affiliate programs.

I recently bought a 3D pen, some stencils, and 3D pen filament. Imagine being artistic (I’m not), creating a drawing, then lifting it off of the paper and turning it into a three dimensional object.

That’s a 3D pen.

Seriously, my 2 year old daughter’s eyes lit up when I wrote her name with the 3D pen, lifted the filament off the paper, and handed her name to her.

So today we’ll answer what a 3d pen is, how it works, how to best use a 3d pen, the different types of filament, and which ones we recommend you buy (besides getting one free from us.)

Table of Contents

  1. What is a 3d pen and how does it work?
  2. How to use a 3D pen
    1. Preheating the pen
    2. Loading filament into your 3d pen
    3. Holding the pen
    4. Drawing (printing) with your pen
    5. Final assembly of 2d parts into a 3d object
  3. What types of materials and filament types can a 3D pen use?
    1. ABS filament
    2. PCL filament
    3. PLA filament
  4. Incredible things you can do with a 3D pen
    1. Build a skyscraper
    2. Draw your kids name… then hand it to them
    3. Touch up for fix 3d prints from your Ender 3, Prusa i3 MK3S+, etc.
    4. Create or replace game pieces
    5. Draw your kid’s favorite animal
    6. The Eiffel Tower
    7. A giant robot
    8. 3D Art projects
  5. What features to look for in a 3d pen?
    1. Continuous extrusion
    2. Customizable settings
    3. Ease of loading
    4. Replaceable nozzle design
    5. Lightweight / low weight
    6. Portability VS extended use
    7. Display type
  6. How to get a 3D pen
    1. Where to buy a 3d pen
    2. How much does a 3D pen cost?
    3. How to make a 3D pen
  7. Best 3D pens of 2022 – for kids and adults alike
    1. Best 3D pen overall: MYNT3D Pro 3D Pen – best overall
    2. Best 3D pen to purchase for kids ages 6+: the 3Doodler Start+
    3. Best value 3D pen
  8. FAQ
    1. What is the safest 3D pen option for kids under 12?
    2. How long does a 3D pen last?
    3. How long do 3D pens take to charge?

Without ado…

What is a 3d pen and how does it work?

A 3D pen is functionally the extruder (heating element, feeder, and nozzle) part of a 3D printer put into a pen format. That’s why it’s sometimes called a “3D printing pen”.

The pen works like a printer – without the automation.

You put a plastic filament into one side which gets heated then forced through the ejector/extruder nozzle as melted plastic. They typically use PCL plastic – a much safe option for kids due to the low melting point – but some can accept ABS, PLA, and just about any filament with a melting point below ~220°C.

And 3D pens are easy to learn – just hold the extruder (or tap auto-extrude, more on that later), and start drawing on silicone, glass, or coated paper template stencils – but difficult to master.

It’s art… but you’re creating three dimensional objects.

How to use a 3D pen

Preheating the pen

Depending on the make and model of your 3d pen, you’ll either preheat it just by plugging it in or by turning it on and setting the temperature.

Be warned, many of the imported models with temperature selectors aren’t super clear that you’ll need to hit several buttons before it’ll turn on (their screens will light but they won’t actually heat).

Check your manual, online, and – if all else fails – go to Google and enter the search query “{model} won’t heat site:reddit.com” replacing {model} with the make and model of your 3d pen.

As an aside, searching “____ site:reddit.com” is a great trick to only search Reddit, which often has great answers but rarely ranks in Google for those answers.

Loading filament into your 3d pen

Loading your material of choice into your 3d pen is relatively straightforward.

BUT, most of these pens load slower than you’d expect and take far longer to load than you’d expect. My first time loading the pen I nearly gave up thinking it was broken as it took nearly 65 seconds to fully load the filament.

So, be patient. It’s not likely broken, it’s likely just rather slow.

Holding the pen

Hold it like a pen. I don’t have any further tricks for you there.

Drawing (printing) with your pen

Check first if your pen has a “continuous extrusion” feature which often allows you to just tap the forward/extrude button and focus on moving the pen. It’s nice.

Now, depending on your artistic ability, you’ll either want to use a booklet-based template, a silicon mat template, or just free-hand it. If you opt for the template route you’ll be creating 2d objects and then will “weld” them together later on (see “final assembly”).

Final assembly of 2d parts into a 3d object

As I’m as artistic as an ape with a paintball gun I won’t be free-hand drawing.

Instead, I like to use paper based templates (I don’t own a silicone mat… yet) to create 2d components of my final 3d print, such as this bicycle I created:

A bicycle I created using a 3d pen and a booklet template.
A bicycle I created using a 3d pen and a booklet template.

or this butterfly I “drew”:

A butterfly I drew with a 3d pen as 2d parts and assembled into a 3d final part

Or even this small guitar – a gift for my daughter:

A small guitar I created for my daughter using PCL and lots of pink and purple.
A small guitar I created for my daughter using PCL and lots of pink and purple.

Once you’ve created all your 2d components, place two 2d parts in the configuration you want (for example, for two walls of a house you might want to set them at a 90 degree angle) then extrude a little extra filament in the gap between them.

Then wait for the filament to set and continue on your way.

Be warned, PCL will soft-set in under a minute but, in my experience, takes nearly 5-10 minutes to really harden. I learned this on the guitar when, 10 seconds after giving it to my daughter, the guitar neck was about 70 degrees off of straight.

Here’s assembly of the plane we’ve been watching:

What types of materials and filament types can a 3D pen use?

There are generally two types of 3D pens: one for kids (which uses low-melting-point filaments, like PCL) or “other” – 3D pens which can use ABS, PLA, and anything with a melting point below 230°C, depending on the specific model.

Let’s review the three most popular filaments and materials for 3D pens: ABS, PCL, and PLA.

ABS filament

ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is an industrial grade plastic derived from oil. With a high melting point and good rigidity, it’s a great bet for

ABS is good for

Strength and rigidity. If you’re building tall with less supports, ABS is a good bet.

It’s also good for projects that might see higher temperatures up to 220°C (428°F) or making small repairs to non-pressurized ABS pipe, such as a sewer pipe (in the US, ABS pipe is black and is usually used for venting and drainage in the home).

A P-Trap drain under the counter at a home. Source StackExchange.com
A P-Trap drain under the counter at a home. Source StackExchange.com

ABS is not good for

First: ABS is not good for younger kids! It needs to get much hotter than PCL – so both the melted filament and the heated nozzle can burn small kids easily.

Also ABS is a bit more fussy, temperature-wise, and there was a lot of popping which made it difficult to control.

Last, ABS isn’t great for unventilated indoor use as it emits a strong, burnt plastic smell and fumes that are reported to be toxic.

A P-Trap drain under the counter at a home. Source StackExchange.com

ABS starts to melt at 200°C, so try a slower feed rate (speed) and 230°C (445°F) to start.

PCL filament

PCL is a biodegradable, oil based plastic that is so un-reactive that it is FDA approved for medical devices.

PCL is good for

Kids, medical devices, and small objects. PCL has a melting point of 60°C and – depending on the model 3d pen you use, can often be extruded right onto your hand without burns. It’s also non-bioreactive and can be used in medical devices – as long as the filament was prepared properly.

It’s also wonderful to use for small objects as it’s easy to extrude, easy to handle, and easy to trim small mistakes.

PCL is not good for

PCL is not great structurally, especially when used with a 3d pen. I wouldn’t recommend using it for larger projects due to the rubbery-ness and lack of rigidity.

Settings for PCL filament

So far I haven’t found 3D Pens using PCL to give any options for settings. You often have to choose between PCL and “everything else”. If you do have a pen with custom settings, start with 65°C for the temperature and adjust up if it’s not flowing well or down if you hear popping.

PLA filament

PLA is a wonderful, semi-natural material made from food starches that’s used a ton in 3D printing.

Choose PLA when making structural elements or when you just want to draw strong shapes without the toxic fumes of ABS

PLA is good for

PLA is a nice middle ground between PCL and ABS for your 3D pen. You’d set your temperature controls to only 200°C, versus 230°C for ABS, yet it’s still structurally strong. It’s also nicer for indoor use as the food starches smell like toasted pancakes when printing.

Not good for

PLA is not great for young kids for the same reasons as ABS… it needs to be hot (200°C/390°F) to melt and will quickly cause burns when touched.

Besides that, though, I consider PLA the “goldilocks filament”. It’s strong, it’s pretty, it’s great for indoor use, it smells like pancakes, and it’s derived from renewable sources such as corn and potatoes.

Settings for PLA Filament

For PLA temperature I typically run my 3D printer at 200°C to 210°C. Speed-wise I like a slow to mid speed for detail work and crank it to 11 for long straight parts.

“It goes up to 11”. Source This is Spinal Tap.

Incredible things you can do with a 3D pen

Build a skyscraper

Building Empire State Building with a 3D pen

Draw your kids name… then hand it to them

The name Tessa, name drawn with a 3d pen
My daughter’s name, drawn with a 3D pen. You should have seen how thrilled she was.

Touch up for fix 3d prints from your Ender 3, Prusa i3 MK3S+, etc.

There’s nothing worse than a large print having a small chunk missing. Or having your finished print break.

For non-PCL pens you can make touch-ups with your 3D pen using the same material as you printed with. I’d recommend it more for models or parts of a 3d print that are cosmetic (EG the shell). Expect to due some sanding/finishing work after.

As for broken parts, if there’s enough surface area you can use some filament as a stronger “hot glue” to weld the broken parts back together.

Create or replace game pieces

With the help of a silicone template you can create scrabble tiles, dominos and board game pieces (for that monopoly piece your grandma lost when she flipped the board in frustration).

DIY game board pieces. Source MYNT3D.com
DIY game board pieces. Source MYNT3D.com

Draw your kid’s favorite animal

MYNT3D has some great tutorials to create a dolphin, whale, turkey, unicorn, dog, lama, dragon, or t-rex. Checkout the plans for 8 animals to 3D print.

8 Animals you can 3D print, from MYNT3D (Source MYNT3D.com)

The Eiffel Tower

A giant robot

This thing is cool.

Steven at Build a Skill spent over 51 hours learning how to use a 3D pen and this was his final creation – a giant, multi-layered robot. Definitely not for beginners or the feint of heart.

3D Art projects

There’s just something I love about being able to create art that you can hold. Here are some great examples of 3D art projects that people have created:

A stained glass style artwork by Katherine Bialek – an artist who works mostly with 3D pens. Source Fabbaloo

Create a 3d drawing of a T Rex:

A 3D pen drawn T-Rex found on Mynt3d.com with full tutorial
T Rex, Source MYNT3D.com

This impressive windmill by the son of Nourishing My Scholar

An impressive windmill drawn by the son of the owner of nourishingmyscholar.com
An impressive windmill. Source nourishingmyscholar.com

What features to look for in a 3d pen?

As with all things the answer to what features you need in your 3d pen is going to be “it depends on your circumstances”.

If you’re looking to buy the 3d pen for a 13 year old kid who will use it occasionally for art projects, opt for saving money with heavier, non-portable, less feature-rich pens.

Alternately, if you’re looking for a 3d pen that you’ll use all the time for fun or profit or you’re buying for a smaller child that might use it often then features like being wireless and lightweight are important while you might want to avoid temperature controls (so they can’t turn it up and burn themselves).

Let’s dive into each of the features available for 3d printing pens:

Continuous extrusion

Of all the features you can get for a 3D pen, continuous extrusion might be the most useful and important. t allows you to tap the feed button once and it’ll continue to extrude filament until you tell it to stop, allowing you a little better control of the pen and less hand cramps.

Customizable settings

Some pens will allow you to tune the extrusion speed and discrete temperature adjustment of their 3d pens.

An adjustable feed rate/extrusion speed is nice for slowing down during fine-detail work or speeding up when you just need to lay some plastic down.

Having the ability to set temperature settings is also nice to give you the choice between PLA, ABS, and other filaments. Most/all PCL pens don’t have this setting because they can’t get hot enough to do anything besides PCL and it’s better for the kids not to have the choice.

Ease of loading

Whether you want to load in a fresh string of plastic or swap the existing one for another, look for one that loads (and unloads!) filament quickly. This is especially important if you plan to do a lot of switching colors.

Replaceable nozzle design

With a replaceable nozzle you can extend the life of a plug-in 3D pen by several years. Nozzles tend to take the most beating and, besides the battery (and maybe the motor) are the most likely to degrade and fail over time.

Lightweight / low weight

If you (or your kids) plan on using the 3D pen for extended time it’s nicer to have a lighter pen. 3D pens that weigh less also give you a little more fine-control when doing detail work.

Portability VS extended use

There are two types of 3D printing pens:

  1. 3D Pens with no batteries that need to be plugged in all the time, usually through a USB-A to micro-USB (or, the worst, a proprietary barrel plug)
  2. Portable 3D pens with a built-in battery.

As always, the answer to what to choose is “it depends on your situation”.

That said, I love my 3d pen that has a battery built-in. Even though you already have filament coming out of the backside of the pen (much like an AC adapter or USB plug), it’s just nice to have less wires hanging around.

BUT, if you expect to use your pen continuously at home for long periods of time it might be better to have unlimited power and not have to stop to wait two hours for it to recharge.

Display type

There are a few types of displays (LCD and an OLED display being the most typical). Manufacturers will tell you OLED is better but given how little you’ll look at the display it probably doesn’t really matter.

How to get a 3D pen

You have three options if you want to get a 3D pen: buy it online, build it, or get a free 3D pen from us (just cover shipping).

Where to buy a 3d pen

Generally you’ll want to buy a 3D pen online (of course, you can also get a free 3D pen from us if you cover shipping). Amazon is your best bet to purchase a 3D pen easily, though Walmart, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn’s, Michaels, and Micro Center all also stock them online.

I also checked Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Target, JoAnn’s fabrics, Michaels, and Micro Center for them in-store and none of them carried them in stock at the time of this writing (JoAnn’s and Micro Center both did claim to have them but they were all out of stock and it’s doubtful they actually plan to restock them.)

How much does a 3D pen cost?

3D pen costs vary depending on the features but generally we’ve found them to range from $25 to $85, with most being on the lower end of that scale.

How to make a 3D pen

But what if you don’t want to pay for a 3D pen and want one for free (well, cheap plus your time)? Below is a step by step video guide on making your own 3D pen. Check it out.

DIY make your own 3D pen

Best 3D pens of 2022 – for kids and adults alike

There are 3 major brands of 3D pens on the market right now: MYNT3D, 3Doodler, and SCRIB3D.

Bestreviews.com has a great, side-by-side writeup of their top 5 favorites. Overall, they rated two of the MYNT3D 3D pens for best overall and best value, with the MYNT3D Pro (check Amazon’s Price, $60 at time of writing)

Best 3D pen overall: MYNT3D Pro 3D Pen – best overall

MYNT3D Professional Printing 3D Pen with OLED Display
9,838 Reviews
MYNT3D Professional Printing 3D Pen with OLED Display
  • Watch imagination come to life with the Professional 3D Pen
  • Adjustable feed lets you regulate speed & flow for optimal control of material while you're drawing
  • Temperature is adjustable in 1 degree increments from 130 to 240 C, for optimal fine-tuning
  • Large, OLED display lets you monitor temperature of material to help you achieve a wide variety of effects

MYNT3D Pro features

  • OLED display
  • adjustable temperature from 130 to 240 C
  • Slim design
  • Variable feed rate/variable speed
  • Replaceable hot end
  • USB powered (can be portable with a battery pack)
  • 1 year warranty

MYNT3D Pro, pros

Long lifespan. With no battery and a replaceable hot end/extruder nozzle the MYNT3D Pro should last a very long time.

MYNT3D Pro, cons

Not wireless. The MYNT3D Pro comes with an A/C adapter

Not good for kids. With a low temp of 130 °C, the MYNT3D Pro is not good for PCL and therefore is a burn risk for kids. If you’d be comfortable letting your child solder, then they’re old enough for this 3D pen.

Rather expensive. To be honest the MYNT3D Pro is a bit on the high side of our price range. If you’re looking to upgrade to a 3D pen you’ll use for a long time, it’s great. But if you’re just getting started it might not be worth the price tag of 2-3x some of the lower priced options.

MYNT3D Professional Printing 3D Pen with OLED Display
9,838 Reviews
MYNT3D Professional Printing 3D Pen with OLED Display
  • Watch imagination come to life with the Professional 3D Pen
  • Adjustable feed lets you regulate speed & flow for optimal control of material while you're drawing
  • Temperature is adjustable in 1 degree increments from 130 to 240 C, for optimal fine-tuning
  • Large, OLED display lets you monitor temperature of material to help you achieve a wide variety of effects

Best 3D pen to purchase for kids ages 6+: the 3Doodler Start+

3Doodler Start+ Essentials (2022) 3D Pen Set for Kids, Easy to Use, Learn from Home Art Activity Set, Educational STEM Toy for Boys & Girls Ages 6+
6,272 Reviews
3Doodler Start+ Essentials (2022) 3D Pen Set for Kids, Easy to Use, Learn from Home Art Activity Set, Educational STEM Toy for Boys & Girls Ages 6+
  • [THE ONLY CHILD-SAFE 3D PRINTING PEN] Designed with no hot parts, completely safe for kids aged 6+. Pen nozzle and plastic can be touched with no burn risks. Uses only the safest 3Doodler Start...
  • "[UPGRADED EXPERIENCE with MORE PLASTICS & STENCILS] Slimmer and easier to hold, charges 50% faster, has 50% more 3Doodler Start filament, 10 new stencils and an added safety stand-by mode. All these...
  • [REFILLS MADE IN THE USA] The 3Doodler Start uses a proprietary child-friendly PCL plastic made at our production facility in Ohio. Learn more by scrolling down on this page.
  • [FUN & SCREEN-FREE LEARNING TOOL] Cut back on children’s screen time with 3Doodler Start+ and let them enjoy hours of play and learning as they make real-world connections to a variety of STEM...

First, I’ll be honest, having imported a few PCL 3d pens I’ve been largely unimpressed with what’s on the market right now for kids.

Options come down to the 3Doodler’s Start+ and MYNT3D’s PEN JUNIOR 2.

They’re both just ok. The 3Doodler uses filament sticks, which need to be changed often and cost far more than filament rolls, whereas the MYNT3D Pen Junior 2 is another 3d Pen for Kids yet only has a 4 star rating on Amazon and a lot of complaints about poor bundling (many being shipped ABS, which will ruin PCL pens immediately) or breaking after the first few uses.

With that in mind, between the two I’d buy the 3Doodler Start+ for 6+ year old kids.

3Doodler invented the first 3d pen and created a PCL (low temp) version called the 3Doodler Start+ for kids

They claim it’s:

  • “The only kids-safe pen (not true, but certainly safe for kids) Designed with no hot parts, completely safe for kids aged 6+. Pen nozzle and plastic can be touched with no burn risks. Uses only the safest 3Doodler Start plastic filaments.”
  • “STEM learning at home. As a tactile learning toy, the pen inspires creativity, design, planning, building and spatial understanding.”
  • “Plastic made in the USA. The 3Doodler Start uses a proprietary child-friendly PCL plastic made at our production facility in Ohio.”
  • “The complete 3D pen kit for kids. Each box includes 3Doodler Start 3D Pen, DoodlePad/Doodlemat, 2 Mixed-color Packs of Start plastics (48 Strands), Micro-USB Charger & Activity Guide + a ton of creative potential. Comes in a certified & sustainable brown packaging!”

3Doodler Start+ pros

With nearly 5000 reviews and a 4.5 star rating on Amazon, it’s a solid, safe 3d Pen for kids.

It:

  • Is battery powered (charged with Micro USB)
  • Is ergonomic and good for kid’s little hands
  • Comes with nearly everything kids need to get started drawing quickly, including PCL, stencils, and USB cables
The filament is actually cheaper than rolls of PCL.

Credit to 3Doodler – I starting writing why the stick type filament was a con, ran the math, and realized it’s actually a pro.

Stick type filament is more expensive is actually cheaper

For $30 (at time of writing) you get 250 pieces of 6″ long, 2.5mm diameter filament or 187,000 cubic millimeters of filament.

Or, for $30 on Amazon, you can get 200 feet of 1.75mm dia PCL, which translates to 146,625 cubic mm.

To their credit, the 3Doodler stick filaments are cheaper.

The Stick type filament is easier to use.

One major issue I have with my 3D pens are that they use small spools of filament which starts flopping around. The 3Doodler pens instead use a larger diameter stick which seems to be a lot easier to maneuver.

3Doodler Start+ cons

Stick type filaments need to be changed out more

While the filament is actually cheaper and easier to maneuver than spool types, it does need to be swapped out more often and might leave you with more waste as filament nubs.

3Doodler Start+ Essentials (2022) 3D Pen Set for Kids, Easy to Use, Learn from Home Art Activity Set, Educational STEM Toy for Boys & Girls Ages 6+
6,272 Reviews
3Doodler Start+ Essentials (2022) 3D Pen Set for Kids, Easy to Use, Learn from Home Art Activity Set, Educational STEM Toy for Boys & Girls Ages 6+
  • [THE ONLY CHILD-SAFE 3D PRINTING PEN] Designed with no hot parts, completely safe for kids aged 6+. Pen nozzle and plastic can be touched with no burn risks. Uses only the safest 3Doodler Start...
  • "[UPGRADED EXPERIENCE with MORE PLASTICS & STENCILS] Slimmer and easier to hold, charges 50% faster, has 50% more 3Doodler Start filament, 10 new stencils and an added safety stand-by mode. All these...
  • [REFILLS MADE IN THE USA] The 3Doodler Start uses a proprietary child-friendly PCL plastic made at our production facility in Ohio. Learn more by scrolling down on this page.
  • [FUN & SCREEN-FREE LEARNING TOOL] Cut back on children’s screen time with 3Doodler Start+ and let them enjoy hours of play and learning as they make real-world connections to a variety of STEM...

Best value 3D pen

The best value 3D pen is to get one from us for free, just cover shipping.

FAQ

What is the safest 3D pen option for kids under 12?

For kids under 12, only 3D pens that use PCL filament are safe unless you’re comfortable with that kid soldering electronics.

Why soldering? The tip of a soldering iron is about 320°C (over 600°F) while the tip of a 3D pen melting ABS is 230°C (445°F).

Otherwise stick to PCL filament 3D pens, often marketed as “low temp” or “kid safe”.

How long does a 3D pen last?

Expect a 3D pen to last up to 2000 hours of use for battery operated ones and 1800 to 3600 to plug-in.

Really, how many hours a 3d pen lasts depends mostly on the model, build quality, filament type, and if you can replace the nozzle.

Here’s how we got those numbers:

For rechargeable ones, a good lithium ion battery will last about 2000 charges so call it half (1,000 charges) and at 2 hours of use per charge that’s 2000 hours on the high side.

A 3d printer extruder nozzle typically lasts 3-6 months with 20 hour per day use (1800 to 3600 hours) and that, or the motor, are the most likely to fail for plug-in versions.

Other online resources report 7,500 to 15,000 hours – but I call BS.

How long do 3D pens take to charge?

3D pens typically take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours to charge, depending on the model.

Photo of author

Garrett Dunham

A trained Mechanical Engineer and lifelong tinker, Garrett chose to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's engineering proram because they had a 3D printer... back when they were called "rapid prototypers". "The first time I held something I designed and 3D printed, my mind exploded. Just hours earlier my idea was just a thought - and now it's a thing I'm holding." Now, years later, Garrett brings his love of tinkering, inventing, engineering, and 3D printing to the Makershop community.