NEW YORK — Most 3D printers are too technical and complicated to be operated by children. That may change with Mattel's ThingMaker ($300, available this Fall), which has an easy-to-use app and that can make articulated figurines.
The ThingMaker's app offers a friendly, drag-and-drop interface to create a toy from scratch or to customize a toy from a series of stock designs. Once you're done adding colors and swapping parts out, the app tells you how much material it needs and displays a production time estimate.
The current pre-loaded designs include dolls, dinosaurs, samurai and skeletons, but Mattel plans to roll out more options in the future. We saw a hard-plastic scorpion with a tail made from eight separate interlocking parts that move in different directions, like the articulations on an action figure.
Mattel has yet to decide which materials the ThingMaker will manufacture parts out of, but a rep said that the company is currently using harder PLA plastics, as well as testing a number of materials for softer toys. Another material that Mattel is currently testing will change colors when exposed to sunlight, but that option is not confirmed.
If you want to make toys with a wide variety of colored parts, you'll need to invest in additional reams of colors, as the ThingMaker will likely ship with only two bands of undisclosed colors. Parts can be customized with additional textures, such as a debossed hexagon pattern, woven cross-hatching and no-slip ridges. The price for additional color bands is to be decided.
You may remember the ThingMaker as a 1960's kit for making fake bugs. This one can make toy insects, but now they're more elaborate and less gross, formed into 3D printed plastic.