Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Cube 3: 3D Printer for Families

3DSystems have announced their range of new 3D printers at CES 2014. There are some very cool additions including multi-color and even edible printing! But for families looking to get their first 3D printer this year, the Cube 3 is probably the most relevant new product.

The Cube 3 is a next generation entry-level 3D printer. This new printer will be available in 2Q 2014 and will retail for under $1000 and has a feature set intended to make it easy for beginners and time-limited families rather than tech specialists.

One of the stand-out features of this printer is that it is suitable for children from age 8+ (and has relevant safety certification.) I know this is an important issue for many parents who want to encourage their kids to get involved in 3D printing.

We have a home-built 3D printer and it's not designed for kids to use. My older son will turn 8 later this year and I love the idea of him being able to print his own creations and design choices on a machine that has been designed and tested with children in mind.

3D printing technology is moving on and we're seeing this trickle down to the entry-level models. The Cube 3 is able to print in two colors which does make more interesting designs possible. It also has a self-leveling bed which ensures that the print surface is flat - this avoids a lot of time-consuming manual fiddling around and avoid annoying errors.

You can build pretty large objects with this printer, it has a print volume of up to 6 x 6 x 6 inches. Most objects that we print for family use are much smaller than this.We print lots of small toys, key chain ornaments, puzzles, clips and boxes that would easily fit into this space. We do print objects that can get close to 6 inches in one or two dimensions though so it's handy to have that option.

There's also a Cubify app that's available for iOS, Android and Windows and there's wireless connectivity which simplifies things. And there are lots of designs available from as well as online customization tools that allow kids to design their own rocket, robot or other toy model. I'm always keen to get kids designing their own objects, but using existing designs is a great way to get started and to be able to get some cool objects quickly once you get your printer.

3DSystems are also claiming that the Cube 3 is "2X faster than other printers." Kids get impatient to get their hands on their latest creation so this is definitely a good thing!

It's good to see a 75 micron resolution on an entry level printer. This determines how thin the printed layers are and how smooth and detailed the final print will be.

It's important to note that the Cube 3 runs of custom cartridges of filament. These can be more costly that buying filament for other printers, but should be less error prone and easier to use.

 The Cube 3 takes a good step forward in what we can expect in features and usability for an entry-level home family 3D printer. And the price point means that it will be affordable for a lot of families and also schools and kids clubs and camps.

I do think we're going to see more and more features reaching entry-level 3D printers in the next few years so if your kids are still little and you can hold off for a bit longer then you'll get more for your money next year. On the other hand, if you and your children are itching to be able to produce plastic bits and bobs in your own home this looks like a reasonable time to jump in.

More information: Cube 3

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