The Polaroid Play 3D Pen is an appealing product, carrying on the tradition of cheery, craft-oriented gear that we saw in last year’s Polaroid PlaySmart 3D Printer. This device, geared to craftspeople and 3D-printing dabblers, is enjoyable, for the most part easy to use, and reasonably priced at $39.99.
The Play 3D Pen is sold in the U.S. exclusively through the JoAnn chain (in-store and online). It is one of three similar models recently released by Polaroid. The Polaroid Root Play 3D Pen has a wood finish and comes with three types of composite wood filament. And the Polaroid Fast Play 3D Pen includes three interchangeable nozzles that let you alter the extrusion speed.
The blue-and-black, glossy Play 3D Pen measures 1.9 by 1.4 by 7.1 inches and weighs 5.3 ounces. It is larger and curvier than the similar-in-concept but higher-end WobbleWorks 3Doodler Create+, and it feels less like a pen and more like a soldering iron. When it’s in use, you hold it near the front end, angled downward, with the middle resting between thumb and index finger.
In addition to the pen itself, the Play 3D Pen kit comes with a holder in which the pen can rest when not in use. That puts the extruder facing downward and out of danger of accidentally burning someone. (The extruder can reach 200 degrees C, which is the reason that Polaroid doesn’t recommend the pen’s use by people younger than 14, unless supervised by an adult.) The trickiest time for burn potential is when pulling plastic residue off the hot end.
Also included is a power plug, which is attached to a cable ending in a USB Type-A connector that fits a cell-phone or similar charging block (Polaroid suggests 5 volts/2 amps), a power bank, or a computer. You also get a screen protector for tracing objects from patterns on a device screen (more about that in a bit), and small sticky squares to hold the protector in place. Last, the Play 3D Pen includes four 5-meter starter packs of PLA filament, each a different color, and a quick-start guide.
Care and Feeding of Filament
At the opposite end of the pen from the extruder are two holes; one fits the power plug, and the other is for feeding filament. Once you plug the cable in, you press the nearest button on the left side, and a light on top of the pen glows red. When, after a few minutes, the light turns blue, you can load the filament, pressing and holding the Print button (the other button on the left side) until you feel the filament being pulled into the pen, where it goes into a heating chamber. When the filament starts to extrude (emerge from the front nozzle), you are ready to create.
Two arrow buttons on the right side, halfway down the barrel, speed up or slow down extrusion. Depending on how many times you press each button, up to eight extrusion speeds are possible, but I found it tricky to adjust speed. For one thing, there is nothing to mark the speed setting, so you can only hope that your pressing the button has the desired effect each time.
To retract filament, you simply press the on/off button for two seconds, and the remaining filament will emerge. A nice feature is the Play’s self-retracting shutdown. After seven minutes of non-use, the pen turns itself off, retracts the filament, and cools down. When loading a new filament color, be sure that all the old filament has been extruded and the new color appears before applying it.
Both loading and retracting filament proved hassle-free in my testing. This generally wasn’t the case with the WobbleWorks 3D pens I’ve reviewed, such as the 3Doodler Create+ Leather Edition. Several got filament jams, and I would have to open up the pen and extract the plug of filament with a tool.
Additional filament is available in packs of 20 5-meter strands of different colors, at JoAnn for in-store pickup ($24.99) or through Amazon (around $40). I did notice, though, that the filament packs are currently unavailable at my nearest JoAnn, and would take at least a week to reach me by Amazon’s fastest delivery. That said, the pen is also compatible with Polaroid Universal PLA filaments, including Premium PLA, Multi-Color, Glow-in-the-Dark and Deluxe Silk.
Drawing on a Screen, on Paper, or in the Air
You can either draw freehand—on paper, fabric, wood, or other materials—or use a stencil. The Polaroid Play Trace iOS/Android app provides a small selection of patterns to draw on. You can put the included screen protector over your device, but the protector is just large enough to fit my iPhone 11’s screen. Unless you’re skilled at tiny, intricate sketching (and can do it with a chunky 3D pen), a better approach may be to print the pattern on letter-size paper. (Screen protector or no, I’m also a bit leery of putting a superheated extruder that close to the screen of any device.)
The app’s selection of patterns is very limited, but it also lets you import pictures from your device’s Photo Gallery to be turned into stencils. (As a result, you can shoot an object in the wild and then bring it up in the app to be reproduced by your hand.) 3Doodler has an archive of printable stencils, and a web search will turn up many more patterns.
With the Play pen, you can even draw in three dimensions. To do that, you set the pen at its slowest extrusion speed, draw a small circle on a surface to act as a base, and then slowly bring the pen upward, keeping the filament taut, and it will harden even as you draw. In this manner, you can connect elements, draw spirals, and more. You can also make a three-dimensional object by creating two-dimensional objects (say, the sides of a building) and then “welding” them together by extruding hot plastic along the seam while keeping it at the proper angle.
In testing, I did a few 3D constructions, but mostly drew some free-form objects or traced patterns on stencil. My experience was quite enjoyable, and the pen was easy enough to control, although I never did quite master changing the extrusion speed. Artistically, I would classify myself as a doodler, and the Play lent itself to this form of unguided creation.
Good, Messy Fun
The Play 3D Pen does well in basic functionality. Filament feeding proved easy, with no glitches. That said, it was tricky to control the extrusion speed. Supplies—namely filament packs—are hard to come by, but you can find substitutes. Polaroid includes very few stencils in its tracing app, but fortunately the app will “stencilize” your own photos, and you can find other patterns to trace elsewhere.
The price is right, and the Polaroid Play 3D Pen is a good choice for artists and craftspeople wanting to (literally) try their hand at creating three-dimensional objects out of molten plastic (and who are not afraid to get a good bit of plastic residue on their workbench).
Polaroid Play 3D Pen Specs
|3D-Printing Technology||Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)|
|Number of Print Colors||1|
|Number of Extruders||1|
|Maximum Build Area (HWD)||NA|
|Built-In 3D Scanner?||No|
|Dimensions (HWD)||1.9 by 1.4 by 7.1 inches|
|Warranty (Parts/Labor)||1 year(s)|