The 3D printing movement just kicked into a higher gear last week with the launch of a wildly successful Kickstarter project – the 3Doodler - that promises to create the world's first 3D printing pen. In the space of just the first 24 hours, the Kickstarter project for the 3D printing pen raised more than $500,000 from the crowd, well surpassing the initial target of $30,000. With nearly a full month to go until the Kickstarter project ends, the 3Doodler has already raised nearly $2 million from over 21,500 backers and attracted over 120,000 Facebook "likes". If 2012 was the year of the affordable 3D desktop printer and the world's first retail 3D printer store, will 2013 be the year that 3D printing became so simple that even a child could do it?
What makes the 3Doodler so exciting is that it marks yet another important iteration in 3D printing technology. Thanks to the Law of Accelerating Returns, the adoption path for 3D printing is tracing the same path we've already seen for the computing movement, but at an accelerated pace. While the path from mainframe to desktop to laptop to mobile took nearly 30 years, the path from industrial 3D printer to consumer desktop 3D printer to 3D printing pen appears to have taken less than 3 years. The first evolution was bringing the 3D printer out of the academic lab and into loosely-run design cooperatives where creative types could pool their resources. The second evolution was shrinking the heavy industrial 3D printer into a device small enough and affordable enough that it could fit on your desktop. This next evolution with the 3Doodler is comparable to moving from the desktop to mobile, where 3D printing is available in the palm of your hand.
And it's not just that 3D printing is "shrinking" - it's also becoming so easy to do that all you have to do is know how to trace a stencil or wave a pen in the air. There's no assembly required, no complicated design software to learn, and no lessons in 3D modeling required. The 3Doodler is "the pen that can draw in the air." If you can imagine it, you can draw it in 3D.
Just take a look at what’s possible once you’re able to doodle your designs on a cocktail napkin and have them turn into a reality right in front of your eyes. On the 3Doodler site, there’s an amazing gallery of what the folks behind the 3Doodler have been able to accomplish in a remarkably short amount of time. There are 3D jewelry creations, 3D ornaments and 3D toys. There are 3D versions of dinosaurs and 3D versions of the Eiffel Tower. Just think what’s possible once the crowd is involved. According to emails sent to 3Doodler backers, the company is now targeting November as a ship date for its 3D pens, meaning that the holidays could be a very festive time of the year in 3D Land this year. 3D ornaments. 3D trees. Heck, we might even see 3D reindeers.
But are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Some of the designs created with the 3Doodler look like something gooey your two-year-old left behind on your kitchen table after breakfast. And, there are some in the tech community who view the 3Doodler's epic early success as just a bunch of fluff and clever Kickstarter marketing mojo from a toy company in Boston. They claim the Kickstarter video is really just a new version of infomercial, and that the 3Doodler isn't really even a "3D printer" -- it's a hot glue gun. How innovative is it, really, if Russian hackers reverse-engineered the 3Doodler in less than 20 minutes?
However, doodling in 3D is so exciting precisely for this reason. Printing in 3D will eventually become so easy that even a child can do it - you won't need to have a degree in computer science or graphic design to get started. You won't even need to invest thousands of dollars in a 3D printer - you can try it out for the low-low cost of a $75 3D printing pen. The 3D pen makes 3D printing come alive in the easiest way we know how, in a way so intuitive that you could teach your grandparents how to use it. In the future, when you have a great idea for a new product, maybe you won’t scribble it down in your Moleskine book or attempt to describe it to friends with words. You’ll pull out a cocktail napkin, take your 3D printing pen out of your pocket, and doodle your vision of how you plan to change the future.
image: The 3Doodler
full disclosure: the author drank the 3D printing Kool-Aid and backed the 3Doodler on Kickstarter last week