When it comes to affordable home 3D printers, there have never been more options than exist now. From what we saw at CES 2014, 3DSystems' new Cube 3 printer looks like one of the best choices.
Announced and shown for the first time at CES, the Cube 3 will cost less than $1,000. 3DSystems said it will go on sale sometime this spring.
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A fairly small 3D printer taking up about one cubic foot, the Cube 3 has a big build volume for its size, able to print objects 6 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches in size.
With its silver casing and rounded corners, the Cube 3 was also the most stylish-looking 3D printer we saw at CES. It's easy to imagine it on a desk or counter in the home.
With its two extruders (the printer parts that lay down melted plastic to form a printed object), the Cube 3 can print in two colors at once. It can handle PLA and ABS plastic, the two most common 3D printing materials, as well as the materials called Tough Recyclable and Compostable Plastic. The Cube 3 also has an impressive print resolution of 75 microns per layer. That's finer than the majority of consumer printers, even ones that cost two times as much or more.
Users send print jobs to the Cube 3 from 3DSystems' desktop or mobile apps, which communicate with the Cube 3 over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The apps also communicate with Cubify, 3DSystems' online portal, where users upload, share and buy 3D designs.
Cubify also has partnerships with several brands and artists, including fashion company Nooka and guitar maker ODD Guitars, both of whom make their designs available for purchase on the site.
The Cube 3 is safe for use by both kids and adults, says 3D Systems, despite the fact that it doesn't have a door over the print area. That's because the Cube 3 doesn't have a heated print tray and because the extruders, which get very hot, are covered by an encasing to protect stray fingers. Usually a heated print tray is necessary when using ABS, but 3DSystems says that putting its CubeStick glue on the print tray, along with the ambient heat, is enough to prevent warping and produce high-quality ABS prints.
Another ease-of-use feature on the Cube 3 is the ability to use instant-load cartridges, so users won't have to worry about feeding a spool of filament into the printer. (However, these cartridges, which you can get only from 3D Systems, cost more than the basic spools of filament that most other consumer printers use.
We got to check out the Cube 3 on the show floor at CES Las Vegas, where we were impressed with its compact size and sub-$1,000 price range. Connectivity to the Cubify community is also a huge plus, both for people exploring their 3D printing options and those who might not yet feel comfortable designing digital objects themselves.
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Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.