Da Vinci Junior is a Cheap 3D Printer for Beginners

The Da Vinci Junior 3D Printer by XYZPrinting, at CES 2015.

The Da Vinci Junior 3D Printer by XYZPrinting, at CES 2015.

LAS VEGAS -- Even the great inventor Leonardo da Vinci had to start somewhere. Today, beginner 3D printing enthusiasts will soon have the da Vinci Junior ($349), a new easy and affordable 3D printer whose specs are still competitive with printers twice its cost.

The da Vinci Junior is a fused-filament 3D printer, meaning it creates physical objects from 3D designs by extruding layers of non-toxic biodegradable plastic called PLA onto a print tray.

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The da Vinci Junior has a layer resolution down to  100 microns, or 0.1 millimeters. For comparison, the Cube 3 printer by 3DSystems costs $999 and has a layer resolution down to 70 microns, for more-detailed prints. The Printrbot Simple Maker also costs $349 and has a layer resolution of 100 microns, but unlike the da Vinci Junior it needs to be assembled after purchase.  

The da Vinci Junior can print objects up to 5.9 inches cubed in size, and has a non-heated print tray, which XYZPrinting says makes it safer and more child-friendly. (Some 3D printers feature heated print trays to keep print objects flexible while they’re being created, but PLA plastic doesn't require this)

The da Vinci Junior is one of three new 3D printers that XYZPrinting is debuting at the CES. Another is the company's first resin-based 3D printer, called the Nobel 1. It will cost $1,500 and have a layer resolution of 25 microns for high detail and a build volume of 5 x 5 x 7.9 inches.

Resin-based 3D printers create objects by shining patterns of light onto ultra-thin layers of  resin in order to harden it in the desired shape. This process is far more precise than fused-filament 3D printing, but also more expensive: the Form 1+ resin-based 3D printer from Formlabs (see our review) costs $3,299 and also has a layer resolution down to 25 microns. At less than half the cost, XYZPrinting's Nobel 1 certainly sounds promising.

The 3D Food Printer by XYZPrinting, at CES 2015.

The 3D Food Printer by XYZPrinting, at CES 2015.

XYZPrinting is also demoing a new food-based 3D printer. Currently called by the simple name of 3D Food Printer, the device can print intricate patterns in chocolate, icing, cookie dough and other delights, each time with a precision and consistency that even the most masterful of human chefs couldn’t hope to match.

By comparison, the 3Dystems Chefjet, announced at last year’s CES and scheduled to launch later this year, is a prosumer-level machine approximately twice the size of XYZPrinting’s 3D Food Printer, and will cost below $5,000. However, the Chefjet is able to make complex geometrical objects out of hardened sugar, whereas we only saw the 3D Food Printer making flat designs and cookies.

Details about the 3D Food Printer are still scarce, but XYZPrinting plans to release it in late 2015 or early 2016.  XYZPrinting is considering selling the device with “cartridges” of pre-prepared food material to be used in its culinary creations.

Alternatively, users might be able to put their own special mixes into the machine. The prototype shown at CES was the latter: it had extractable tubes that XYZPrinting representatives were filling with melted chocolate and inserting into the machine.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can email Jill at jscharr@tomsguide.com, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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.