If you can picture your home with a 3D printer on the counter, then you'll be interested in what we saw at CES 2017, where the next generation of 3D printers were on display. They resemble last year's models--just bigger, better and faster than before. And they print a wider variety of filaments.
The takeaway: As build volume and types of filament grow, we get further away from tchotchkes and trinkets and closer to making serious, useful stuff. And if that serious stuff you're building requires more than one printer? Well, in at least one case shown here, you can actually use your printer to print another printer. How cool is that?
The Robo R2 offers an array of features that make it a great choice for those already serious about 3D printing, or maybe even prototyping at home.
One key feature that's still somewhat unusual is that you can control everything from Robo's smartphone app. The printer is WiFi enabled. It even has an on-board camera so you can watch your printed object grow in real time. This will seem gimmicky to anyone who hasn't 3D printed. But coming home to a mess of filament spaghetti because a print went awry whole unattended will make you appreciate being able to check on your print from afar.
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The Robo R2's maximum print volume is quite generous at 8 inches X 8 inches X 10 inches. It also has a 5-inch color touchscreen and a heated print bed.
The Robo R2 won a Best of Innovation Award at this year's CES. It will retail for $1,300, and shipping is expected in February.
The LulzBot Mini earns high marks for easy setup.
Every LulzBot Mini comes with its first print (the company's mascot Rocktopus) as proof that it was tested and is ready to print straight out the box.
Why a company based in land-locked Colorado has an ocean-dwelling creature as its mascot is the only confusing thing about the LulzBot Mini's otherwise simple setup, which takes about 15 minutes to go from unboxing to printing.
The LulzBot Mini's second biggest plus is its ability to accept a wide variety of filaments, from standard PLA to nylon, wood and metal composites. It resembles more a prosumer than consumer 3D printer, but without the $3,000 price tag.
LulzBot printers come with 24/7 live customer support, a huge advantage if you're just getting started. The LulzBot Mini retails for $1,250.
M3D has made some major advances with the new M3D Pro. I reviewed the company's first model, the M3D Micro, in these pages and was favorably impressed, particularly with its variety of in-house filaments, like its Tough 3D Ink. That said, print volume was small and the printer was slow even by 3D printing standards. Both issues disappear with the new M3D Pro, which prints objects up to 7.5 inches high. And now this baby flies. It's at least six times faster than the Micro.
In a world of big, boxy and heavy 3D Printers, the M3D Pro's light, airy design is arguably the nicest on the market. An important design distinction over the Micro is that it's now all-metal construction.
Another plus: The M3D Pro no longer needs to be tethered to a computer to print and includes an SD card slot. The extruder has also been completely remodeled to reduce jams, with some two dozen sensors to monitor and prevent filament clogging, shortages, and other errors. Also added is a high-quality fan directly in the cover of the extruder housing.
The M3D Pro introduces a heated glass print bed, which the company says uses 400 percent less power than traditional heated beds. This will expand the types of filaments the M3D Pro can print. Filaments are definitely one of M3Ds strong suits and I liked the look and feel of its new carbon fiber filament.
There are many more advances over the first-generation model; suffice it to say that they aren't incremental. This company appears to be on a mission. The M3D Pro is currently on pre-order at Indiegogo for $499 or for direct pre-order for $749.
Dagoma is a French-based 3D printer maker that's coming to the U.S. in June (pre-sales start in March). Dagoma's DiscoEasy200 prints a decent build volume of 8 inches X 8 inches X 8 inches. The company makes it easy to post and sell your creations online through its Dago'Box.
The coolest part of the DiscoEasy200? You can print 40 percent of the parts toward your next printer. The price of the DiscoEasy200 will be $250.
da Vinci Nano
XYZ Printing, a Taipei-based 3D printer maker, had an impressive array of printers on display on the show floor at CES. One that caught my eye was the da Vinci Nano, which will go on sale in Q2 of this year for $230. That makes it possibly the lowed priced 3D printer out there and a great entry level choice for those just getting into 3D printing.
The Nano's build size will be a diminutive 4.7 inches X 4.7 Inches X 4.7 inches. Admittedly, that's on the small side. However, if you're a first-timer you should focus on price and reliability. There's no point in breaking the bank to find out 3D printing isn't your thing, and a fickle 3D printer will end any desire in you to keep 3D printing.
As I've tested the larger da Vinci Jr. 1.0 I can vouch for its workhorse-like prowess. Odds are da Vinci Nano will demonstrate that same reliability, albeit in miniature.
You may have seen the 3Doodler, a "3D pen" that lets you literally sculpt in three dimensions by drawing in air. And now, 3D pens are starting to appear in greater numbers. The Lix Pen, with its elegant design, stood out at CES. 3D pens tend to be boxy, or designed for children. The Lix Pen is meant for professionals like architects or graphic artists, but can be used just as well by artistic amateurs and enthusiasts.
The Lix Pen has two buttons near the tip that control how fast the filament flows. Simply hold the button down and begin drawing your design in 3D. If you want to change direction, hold the pen steady for a few seconds to give your line time to dry and then start a new line. It took me only a few moments to get the hang of it. However, this is a device for those who already have a proven artistic bent. The Lix Pen won't make you into an artist. This skyscraper on display at CES took about two weeks for a professional artist to build.
The Lix Pen uses refills which resemble lead pencil refills. They are 8 inch rods and come 40 to a pack. One pack costs $10. Lix refills are specially made for its pens and the pen doesn't support third-party refills. The good news is that there are a variety of colors to choose from and the refills come in ABS and PLA filaments. The Lix Pen itself comes in gray or black and retails for $140
Ability3D 888 Printer
How would you like a 3D printer that prints with steel, stainless steel and aluminum? So would we. The Ability3D 888 Printer was on display at CES in prototype form and gives us a taste of things to come. It doesn't use sintering (a process that can be dangerous and kick a lot dust in the air). Instead, it uses a dual head system--a welder and a router--with one laying down the wire and the other milling it into a precise shape.
The build volume is a respectable 8 inches X 8 inches X 8 inches.
If its creators succeed in bringing it to market, the Ability3D 888 would be the first consumer 3D metal printer. It starts on Kickstarter in March and will retail for $3,000.