You Know, For Kids: A Quick Look At The 3Doodler 3D-Extrusion Toy

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When we first broke the news about the 3Doodler I was pretty excited. It was supposed to bring 3D printing to kids in a way that was easy-to-use and fun. Created by a pair of veteran toy makers, it was bound to be a hit – and it was. The product hit $2.3 million on Kickstarter and was a sleeper hit of the holiday. Now that it’s for sale at retail – and now that I’ve gotten more time to play with it – I still think it’s an exciting product but not in the way I originally thought.

To be clear, the 3Doodler is not a 3D printer. It’s a sort of free-form glue gun that squirts out ABS and PLA plastics with uncontrolled gusto. There are two buttons on the front to control the extrusion – forward and reverse – and the best way to use it is to extrude just a bit of plastic and pull it taut so the plastic hardens and you can create 3D objects. The second best way to use it is to create flat, 2D objects and glue them together with hot plastic, allowing you to build things like the Eiffel Tower which, in theory, is impossible for the average non-artist to build.

I am neither disappointed or surprised by the 3Doodler’s limitations but I’m sure some excited 10-year-olds will be. While the device is for adults only, this is, quite simply, a toy. Parents should be ready for their kids to want this thing if they hear about it. Adults should probably look elsewhere. Here’s the problem:

As a toy it’s just about perfect. The nozzle, which does get hot, is protected enough to ensure a minimum of burns and the extrusion process is quite simple. You can buy lengths of plastic for the device or use cheaper filament you get from Monoprice. You will definitely go through a lot of filament just trying this thing out so it pays to buy in bulk if you plan on using it at all.

As a tool it’s kind of silly. The quality is wonky at best and unless you have the hands of an artistic surgeon you’re probably going to be frustrated with what this can produce. It is good for very quick 3D sketches or for arts and crafts. It’s not good for building a house for your hamsters or an Arduino enclosure.

That’s not to say you can’t try. The beauty of the device is that it offers a unique type of open-ended play missing in so many toys these days. Not unlike wood burning kits (remember those?) and chemistry sets, the 3Doodler is slightly dangerous and just fun enough to keep you coming back. It won’t replace a Makerbot but it will open the door to future interest in 3D printing. I could also see it ending up on a shelf in the playroom once the kids realize they won’t be building life-sized replicas of Thor with it, but that depends on your kids.

So yes, the 3Doodler is a lot of fun. Yes, it will also be disappointing to some who expected a bit more, but it definitely does what it says on the tin. You can make odd, clever little trinkets with this and little else. If you manage to pull off something impressive it will be a testament to your talent and efforts, which, in the end, is all we can depend on anyway.

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