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MakerBot Replicator Mini: 3D Printing Gets an Easy Button

Still in its infancy, many 3D printers have a bit of a learning curve that may deter some consumers. MakerBot is looking to lower this entry barrier with the Replicator Mini 3D printer. At $1,375, the Mini isn't the cheapest introductory 3D printer out there, but it is one of the most powerful with an intuitive user experience.

MakerBot claims that the Replicator Mini is capable of one-touch 3D printing, and indeed there is only one button on the Mini itself. Other controls for the Mini can be accessed via MakerBot's new desktop and mobile apps.

MORE: Best 3D Printers 2014

MakerBot announced the Replicator Mini at CES 2014 in Las Vegas, along with two other all-new machines: the MakerBot Replicator, a "prosumer" 3D printer costing $2,899, and the Replicator Z18, an industrial-strength 3D printer that costs $6,499.

The Replicator Mini is, as its name and price suggest, the smallest of the three. It can print objects with a build volume of up to 4 x 4 x 6 inches using a so-called Smart Extruder, the nozzle that puts down the layers of material that comprise a printed object.

MakerBot calls it a "smart extruder" because it connects wirelessly to the printer. If the printer needs more filament halfway through a job, the extruder will ping the printer to pause the job, and the printer will then ping you an alert. Secured to the rest of the printer with magnets, the extruder can then be easily removed, cleaned and refilled.

Inside the print area, the Mini has a camera that can stream live video of your in-progress prints to your devices via MakerBot's newly announced desktop and mobile apps. Users can also take pictures from the app. The Replicator Mini itself connects to computers via Wi-Fi or USB. MakerBot says the Mini requires no further setup.

Some may balk at the Mini's price, in which case entry-level 3D printers such as the $799 Snap3D by Tjiko Labs or the $499 da Vinci by XYZprinting might be a better fit. But for its simplicity, good quality and support from MakerBot's apps, the Replicator Mini is sure to attract attention from experienced 3D printers as well as newbies.

At the same time Makerbot announced the Makerbot Replicator, a "prosumer" machine with an 8 x 10 x 6-inch build volume and a print resolution of up to 100 microns per layer. Like the Mini, it uses a Smart Extruder and has a camera inside the build area.

To control filament, heating details and connectivity to the MakerBot cloud storage service, a knob on the device lets users navigate printer settings via a 3.5-inch LCD display.

The Replicator also features assisted build plate leveling, which means it works with the extruder to adjust the distance between the tray and the extruder in order to fine-tune the printing process. MakerBot compared this to focusing a camera.

The MakerBot Replicator costs $2,899. You can order the replicator starting today, and shipping will begin in a few weeks, Makerbot said.

The third 3D printer MakerBot revealed at CES is the Replicator Z18. With an enormous build volume of 12 x 12 x 18 inches, the Makerbot Replicator Z18c an make far larger objects than the Replicator Mini and the Replicator, or it can print multiple smaller prints at the same time. Like the Makerbot Replicator, it has a Smart Extruder, a camera inside the build area and a print resolution of up to 100 microns.

At $6,499 the Z18 won't appeal to the average customer, but MakerBot claims that this 3D printer has the best price to build volume ratio on the market. It added that the Z18 will be used in its own factories to make more MakerBots.

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