Like Hulk, the 3Doodler stepped into the laboratory a normal pen, but emerged many times the size and countless times more awesome, as a shining tool of the future, roaring and squirting out fat 3D ink.

 
Well, the big green guy didn’t really squirt anything (at least not in any of the official comics we’ve read), but otherwise the simile stands. This is our favourite Kickstarter project this year not just because it’s an inspired idea but also because it took us by surprise, 3Doodlers are already in the hands of backers and the price is low enough for a punt. So what is it?

What the what is a 3Doodler?

Essentially a 3D printer nozzle in a pen, sticks of plastic filament are fed through the 3Doodler like a glue gun and extruded at 200ºc (or thereabouts) into thin air or onto surfaces. The plastic then cools and solidifies almost immediately– you’ve got a second or two to bend it to your will – letting you ‘draw’ 3D structures.

It really is gawp-inducing to see the 3Doodler working its next-gen magic in the flesh, making for a nice techy spectator sport. And speaking of flesh, we’ve only burnt ourselves once. Maybe twice. But we manned-up, pressing on with our spindly sculptures with even more dedication than before. Still, it’s not really for kids, despite first impressions.

After your first minute or so of doodling you’ll end up with, well, something. You can squint at it for a while and decide it looks like a camel or alternatively hide away and spend an hour or so (probably over a few sessions) making a figurine, model or piece of plastic jewellery. But either way, it’s miles quicker than a regular 3D printer.

Design and Build

Hulky, but comfortable in the hand as it’s not too heavy, even intricate doodles are easy to manage thanks to two arrow buttons for fast (down) and slow (up) settings. It’s a neat device that’s intuitive to use and the power button doubles as the slider to select the plastic you’re using.

The fan is quite noisy so you won’t be whipping it out in the office for a quick sketch and 3Doodling can get tiring so you’re unlikely to have sessions lasting longer than half an hour to an hour. It needs mains power too– we wish the cable stretched further, extension cables are a bother. Plus UK users should hunt down a universal adapter while they wait for their delivery as you’ll need one to get started.

Doodles

Doodles are both surprisingly sturdy and unsurprisingly awesome. It’s perfect for figurines, jewellery, decorations, customising cases (or GameCube controllers) and basic architecture models. ABS flexes and bends rather than snaps off – though thin sections can be fragile so best to avoid these altogether.

A mix of techniques is best. That includes doodling outlines in fat 2D on paper (with or without stencils) then peeling them off, building up parts in layers from the surface upwards as a 3D printer does and drawing details straight onto your work. You’re not going to doodle an Eiffel Tower freehand though, trust us, that needs a stencil.

Our 3D penmanship improved rapidly after an hour or so, then continued apace all week, but the first five minutes are fun, too. Anyone with a steady hand will get on well with the 3Doodler – you should see dentists with this thing. Practice makes perfect, though, and 3Doodler sticks examples of the coolest doodles on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest pages for inspiration.

Pro tip: decide what you’re drawing first or you’ll get stage fright and just spiral your ABS up and up in the air. But hey, if you draw wide enough circles you’ve got yourself a springy Slinky.

What else can you stick in a 3Doodler?

Next to a regular £1000 printer that can spit out 3D printed guitars and guns in a day, the 3Doodler might look trivial in its abilities. But plans are already afoot to expand its capabilities. Accessories and different sized tips are on the way, which WobbleWorks reckon will amount to the equivalent of different sized paintbrushes, plus it can already be mounted to a CNC arm or Lego Mindstorm for extra awesomeness.

Not only that but WobbleWorks is fielding requests from 3Doodler backers to tinker with the 3D printing pen to allow more plastics, and even different materials, to get involved. Toffee, chocolate and sugar could be on the cards – funny that, as doodling on a stencil can feel like icing a cake. Mmmm, tastes like the future to us.

Verdict

If you want to get hold of a 3Doodler and you’re not one of the original 30,000 Kickstarter backers, pre-orders taken now have an estimated shipping date of February 2014. There is an £80 rival YAYA pen being sold by London 3D printing emporium iMakr but we haven’t tested this yet and there’s no obvious advantage from the specs.

Sure, we’d like a slimmed down, battery-powered version compatible with different plastics and materials, but that’s only when pushed to be picky. Tipping the usual notion of 3D printing on its head (that’s a 3D selfie head printed at Selfridges) the 3Doodler makes truly freeform ‘prints’ without the heartache that can accompany regular 3D printers. And with its friendly pick-up and play factor combined with that wallet-friendly price, the 3Doodler turns 3D printing from an inaccessible buzzword into a genius part-toy, part-tool 3D printing pin-up that’s a joy to use.

Words: Sophie Charara 

Stuff says... 

3Doodler review

Cheap, messy and the most fun we’ve had in ages, the 3Doodler is our new favourite tech toy
£61
Good Stuff 
Pick up and play ‘wow’ factor
Cheap price for the pen - less than 1/10 the price of 3D printers
Invest time and concentration and you’ll be amply rewarded
3Doodling is a great spectator sport
Bad Stuff 
Creations depend on your own steadiness and skill
Kids may get bored, frustrated or burn themselves
Not ideal for ‘making’ fully-formed objects like a regular 3D printer can