3D printing is a fascinating new technology and an exploding new market. The process involved is pretty basic actually. Heat up some plastic, and sort of like that Play-Doh Fun Factory you were so fond of as a kid, you extrude the melted plastic out to create objects of magnificence -- because you built it yourself. However, 3D printers are much more akin to their cousin the 2D inkjet printer, though objects are being printed not only on the traditional X-Y plane but with that magical third "Z" dimension of height. In addition, advancements in 3D CAD software packages like Google SketchUp (now a product of Trimble
) are making it increasingly easier for the novice DIY designer and budding 3D model artist to make their own designs a reality.
It all started back in 2007 when the first RepRap
machine was built. The idea behind RepRap was to design a machine that could build complex parts in three dimensions using extruded molten plastic and that machine could also "self-replicate" or build a copy of itself. Also, RepRap is a fully open source project that draws on the collective resources of its community to further advance the technology and the vision of the "Self Replicating Machine."
Since then 3D printers of all types have emerged from the community, from almost household names like MakerBot
, (one of the largest player in this space, now a proprietary product) to the likes of Solidoodle, PP3DP, and 3D Systems, a pioneer in StereoLithography that invented the STL file format. STL is also known as Standard Tessellation Language and it's the file format that is widely used for 3D printers, like all of the machines we're going to show you here in this review. Gamers, you may recall the word "tessellation
", as it is a key feature in DirectX 11
3D graphics rendering. Tessellation helps define datasets for rendering 3D structures in the virtual world as well as the real world, in the case of 3D printing. See how it all ties in? Kinda cool, huh?
We thought so too. So we decided to reach out to a few of the more prominent names in 3D printing and do our usual round-up two step with them. Unfortunately, the folks at MakerBot were either too busy getting their Rep 2 system off the ground or putting together fancy marketing campaigns for it, so we weren't able to get that machine in but we may come back to it another day. However, we do have systems in from Solidoodle with the Solidoodle 2
, PP3DP with their Up! Mini
, and 3D Systems, the godfather of STL, with their Cube 3D
. First, let's give you a quick guided tour of these machines, then we'll do our usual deep dive.
Virtual 3D objects have graced the pages of HotHardware many times over the years. Now, it's about to get real...
3D System's Cube 3D Printer - $1299 MSRP
PP3DP's UP! Mini 3D Printer - $899 MSRP
Solidoodle 2 "Expert" 3D Printer - $699 MSRP (as low as $499 base)
What's perhaps more interesting about the trio of printers we have here is that they represent three different price points and, in some respects, three slightly different approaches to consumer-level 3D printing solutions. The Cube 3D is sort of the "Apple" of the group. It's easiest to work with and setup, very reliable, looks good and just works. It's also the most expensive of the three. The Up! Mini is in the mid-range, both in terms of price point and ease of use and the Solidoodle 2 can be had for as little as $499. The SD2 is a tinkerer's dream and more closely follows the RepRap model with a no frills design.