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Lulzbot Mini Offers High-Quality Portable 3D Printing

The Lulzbot Mini, at CES 2015.

The Lulzbot Mini, at CES 2015.

LAS VEGAS -- It may be called Lulzbot Mini, but the Lulzbot Mini is nothing to laugh at. This open-source printer from parent company Aleph Objects combines high-quality prints, a wide range of materials, and a portable, plug-and-play size.

Launching this week (January 6) at CES in Las Vegas, the Lulzbot Mini takes the quality of Aleph Objects' popular Lulzbot TAZ printer and makes it smaller and easier to use. The Lulzbot Mini will go on sale by the end of January for $1350.

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I saw an early prototype of the Lulzbot Mini at the 3D printing show Maker Faire in Queens, New York last September. Now debuting in its final form at CES, the Lulzbot Mini has a build volume of 6 inches by 6 inches by 6.2 inches, and can achieve a layer resolution as fine as 50 microns.

The printer itself measures 17 inches x 13.4 inches x 15.2 inches. It weighs just under 19 pounds and sports a carrying handle on top for easy transportation.

The Lulzbot Mini works with a wide range of materials, not just the PLA and ABS plastics to which most 3D printers are limited. At CES, I saw objects printed in tough, unflexible polycarbonate and nylon, in a clear colored material called T-glase and in mixtures of bronze and plastic or even wood and plastic -- to give the finished objects unique metallic or wooden appearances.

One of the reasons the Lulzbot Mini can handle such a wide variety of materials is because it can heat filament up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to get even tough materials flexible enough to 3D print. 

Like all of Lulzbot's products, the Lulzbot Mini is open-source, meaning the designs and software are all freely available online. Users can also modify the Lulzbot Mini by swapping out parts (Lulzbot itself sells extruders of multiple sizes on its website). Lulzbot materials also don't come in prepackaged cartridges, so users are free to try to use any kind of material they wish.

Experimentation can get messy, so the Lulzbot Mini features a self-cleaning system: the printer taps its extruder on each of the four corners of the print tray to detect any dried material, then drags the nozzle across a rough piece of ruglike material to wipe the extruder clean.

True to its open-source intentions, the Lulzbot Mini is compatible with several different types of 3D modeling software. The default is an open-source software called Cura.

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 onGoogle+.