A prototype of the Lulzbot Mini, on display at Maker Faire 2014 in Queens, New York. Credit: LulzbotThis year's 3D printers are smaller and more affordable than ever. Among consumer 3D printers, the upcoming Lulzbot Mini will be slightly more expensive than its competitors (it aims to retail for about $1400), but it promises to print in a range of materials, not just the most basic 3D printing plastics, while still being both affordable and manageable.
In addition to the ABS plastic and PLA plastic that are most common consumer 3D printing materials, the Lulzbot Mini will also be able to print in nylon, heavy plastics and polycarbonates. The Lulzbot Mini is still in development, but at Maker Faire 2014 in Queens, New York this weekend, I saw a prototype of the upcoming printer, nicknamed "Begonia." The final Lulzbot Mini is scheduled to go on sale later this year.
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All specs are still tentative, but the folks from Lulzbot told me that the Mini will be able to print objects up to 6 inches cubed in size. It will also probably ship with a .4 millimeter nozzle (the part of the printer that extrudes filament in the preprogrammed patterns), allowing for prints of around 100 microns per layer. This is about average for consumer 3D printers.
Users will be able to swap out the Lulzbot Mini's nozzle for other types of nozzles, the representatives told me. The size of the printer's nozzle allows for higher or lower print resolutions. Users will be able to buy other nozzles from Lulzbot's website, or most places where 3D printer parts are sold.
The Lulzbot Mini will have a tray that is both heated and auto-leveling — qualities that help prevent errors during the printing process. The Mini's extruder can heat filament up to 300 degrees Celsius, which means allows it to print in the wider range of materials.
Like all of the products from Lulzbot parent company Aleph Objects, Inc., the Lulzbot Mini is made with open-source hardware and software. The printer's final designs will be available freely on Lulzbot's website, which people can follow to create their own Lulzbot 3D printers. As such, Lulzbot's products are part of the reprap project, a group of open-source 3D printer designs.
With an approximate cost of $1400, the Lulzbot Mini is more expensive than most of its competition's printers such as the UP Mini ($599), the 3DSystems Cube ($999) or the MakerBot Replicator Mini ($1375). But Lulzbot's advantage over these is its wider range of printable materials.
Lulzbot's previous product, the Lulzbot TAZ 3, costs $2,195 and is still available.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.