What are the parent basics of 3D printing?
If your going to help your kids learn, you have to know the 3D printing basics yourself.
3D printing has been around for just over 30 years, but has gained momentum in the past 10 years. You now find 3D printers in schools, libraries and yes even homes. So, while you may not know anything about 3D printing, your kids are going to be exposed to it so it’s important for you as a parent to learn yourself.
3D printing is known as additive manufacturing. Simply put, that mean you create objects by adding layer upon layer until the object is formed. Imagine a glue gun. A 3D printer is much the same. The gun heats the glue stick and by moving the gun around you dispense the liquid glue. Then, repeat that process again by adding another layer of glue on top of the previous glue pattern and you have 3D printing.
The glue gun and hand acts just like a 3D printer moving in all directions to create a patter with the glue. The metal tip of the glue gun acts just like the extruder on a 3D printer heating and melting the glue so it can form a pattern. The glue stick acts just like 3D printing material which is called filament.
Filament is a thin strand of plastic wound around a spool. It is fed into the extruder which heats and melts the filament allowing the printer to move in all directions to create a pattern of filament. The melted filament then cools and hardens. The printer than repeats that process adding another layer of filament on top of the previous. After hundreds of layers, you have an object.
Additive manufacturing is opposite of traditional manufacturing which is considered subtractive manufacturing, which means you remove material from a block to form an object. Imagine a block of steel, that you carve away flakes of steel to form an object.
What can my kids 3D print?
Anything can be 3D printed, a wrench, a cup, a plate, a hook for your wall, a chess piece, a toy car or a figurine. These are things you might relate too, but 3D printing also is used for printing teeth, car parts, body organs, and even components of a house that are then assembled. The possibilities are endless and only limited by creativity. If it can be created digitally, it can be printed.
As your kids first explore 3D printing, they will not be able to create their own 3D digital objects to print. This is a whole other aspect to 3D printing which we will discuss later. The good news is, you don’t need to create your own objects. You can access free 3D digital objects online that will print with a kids printer. Then, once your child has mastered the physical printing aspect, the next logical step will be to learn how to create their own 3D designs.
Given the breadth of things you can 3D print, it becomes obvious that you must be able to 3D print with almost any material including plastic, nylon, wood, metal, even foods like chocolate.
Now, the reality is, anything can be 3D printed but for a kids printer don’t expect them to print you a new car ha ha. You might get a small toy car, or a ball, or a figurine but what they will be printing will be objects that have been predesigned and are relatively small. Kids printers are for the experience, not necessarily for practicality.
How do I decide on a good 3D printer for kids?
We have narrowed it down to 5 of the best 3D printers for kids. Many articles discuss printers that may be easy to use, but are still not good for a young child.
There is a myriad of 3D printers on the market today ranging from large industrial grade 3D printers used in manufacturing, all the way down to small easy to use 3D printers designed to be used by kids in the home. Finding the right printer for kids is the challenge.
We wanted to ensure the printers we recommended were good for children under the age of 12, under your supervision of course. That being said, we have established four criteria essential for a kid friendly 3D printer.
- Safe for kids.
- No assembly required.
- Fully enclosed print area.
- Easy to use.
- Won’t break the bank < $500
Safe for kids.
Obviously the number one concern for kids is safety. It must be a product that isn’t going to expose your child to unnecessary harm.
With 3D printers you need to consider everything from moving parts, to dangerous heat, to fumes. The bottom line is, 3D printers and 3D printing material need to be safe or at least reasonably safe before you buy.
Our recommendations below consider all these points. We have chosen printers that are fully enclosed to cover all moving parts and only allow printing of the safest material.
In terms of 3D printing material, there is really only one material recommended for children, and that is PLA. PLA filament is the safest material available today. It is also one of the most common, easily accessible, and least expensive filaments. In fact you can purchase it at Amazon for around $23 per spool.
PLA is a plant-based material primarily made from corn starch. It is considered food safe, although we recommend you review the technical specs of any PLA you purchase as some manufacturers may blend other additives making it unsafe to ingest. PLA does not emit dangerous or toxic fumes.
See our full guide to 3D printing materials.
No assembly required.
While a 12-year old may be good at assembling bikes or running the remote control it is best to purchase a 3D printer that requires no assembly. Most kids have a short attention, as do adults for that matter, so plug and play is a good option. Setup won’t be as easy as plug and play, but if the printer comes fully assembled, it will make the other minor connections and setup requirements minimal. The experience will definitely be more enjoyable.
Fully enclosed print area.
3D means three dimensional, which requires the printer to move up and down, backwards and forwards and left and right. With all that movement, it is best to keep access limited from tempted small hands. A fully enclosed print area protects the printer from damage and it protects children from potential harm. The last thing you want is for a part to get broken or a pinched or burned finger on day one. Don’t be deceived, fully enclosed doesn’t mean casing all the way around, it merely means there are at least 4 corners surrounding the entire print area, but the windows between may not be sealed.
Easy to use.
If it is not easy to use, it is not for kids. While some adults may enjoy reading a large user manual, most kids will not nor will the adult helping them. There will be some instructions for turning it on, inserting the filament material, acquiring a print job and sending a job to the printer but it shouldn’t be much more complicated than that when kids are involved.
As mentioned earlier, children will not be designing their own 3D objects to print, at least initially. So, one aspect of making it easy is access to free or sample objects that are ready to print once the printer is setup. A good printer will provide this or direct you to find them. If not, you can find more information about free object files here. Thingiverse.com offers a great resource of models as well.
If you have to read a large user manual
Won’t break the bank < $500.
Never invest in an expensive 3D printer for kids. The reality is, they are young and just learning so the basic printers will serve their purpose. Eventually, they will grow out of it and then be ready to purchase their own more advanced machine. The purpose of a kids 3D printer is to learn and expand their creativity. So, don’t pay more than $500. Most truly kid friendly 3D printers will run $200 to $500.
What are the 5 best 3D printers for kids?
The printers are not ranked in any particular order. Each works well as a kids first 3D printer. They all have limited print sizes which is expected in entry level machines. For the most part they comply with the requires listed above, with minor exception.
Printer #1: FLASHFORGE FINDER on Amazon
The Flashforge finder is full of regular 3D printer features, but designed for kids. It has a cold printing deck, so no burns, and it slides in and out for easy removal of printed objects. It has a large touch screen for easy operation. It is fully contained. It comes fully assembled. It connects via Wi-Fi, the cloud or a thumb drive. And best of all it comes in at about $299.
Printer #2: MONOPRICE VOXEL on Amazon
The Monoprice voxel maybe is just at the top end and beyond in terms of age but for the price it is good to consider. It provides growth opportunity. It has auto-leveling, a good touch screen for control, easy nozzle change, and a sliding deck for easy object removal after print. It is fully contained. It comes fully assembled. It comes in at about $399 per unit.
Printer #3: TOYBOX on QVC
The Toybox is probably by far the most basic 3D printer available. It truly is built for kids. It provides fun, it comes with a huge selection of free toys to print, the process is literally plug and play, and generally produces good prints. The box itself is small maxing out at 3-inch size prints, the controls reside on the web, prints simple toys quickly, easy to setup and interface. It comes in at about $399 per unit, but the number of free objects available may make it more attractive.
Printer #4: CREALITY3D CR-100 on Amazon
The Creality3D CR-100 is another in expensive kid option. It is easy to use, plug and play type printer that is always good for both you and your child. It comes in the shape of a semi-truck which gives it a fun appearance and claims to be very quiet as it runs. At $165.99 it may be a hard one to pass up. Even if has problems you haven’t committed the farm.
Printer #5: XYZPRINTING DA VINCI JR. 1.0 on Amazon
You can’t give a list without jumping outside a little just for perspective. The XYZprinting DA Vinci Jr 1.0 comes in at about $650 per unit. It is produced by XYZmaker and requires proprietary filament. The negative to this is you may pay a higher price; the benefit is even more easy to use as the cartridges plug right in. Some have claimed to set this printer up in 10 minutes and boast one of the easier 3D printers to use.
Good luck on the shopping. Once your children master the printing, we can move them onto designing. See below for some basic info on the best 3D printing software for kids to learn with.
What is the 3 best 3D printing software for kids?
Makers empire is all about kids, even as young as 4 years old. It is an online software comprising 6 modules: shaper, character, blocker, cogger, doodler and toy designer. While Makers Empire has created a specific program for K-8, anyone can download and begin learning. You can go to makersempire.com to download.
Solidworks Apps for Kids
Solidworks Apps for kids is a web-based learning center created by Solidworks. They have broken down the complicated process of design into simple apps that make it kid friendly and fun. You can go to: swappsforkids.com – create a user login and begin designing.
TinkerCAD by Autodesk boast “from mind to design in minutes”, which should give some indication who they had in mind when it was designed. It is a free software tools online giving people and kids the access to think, create and make. You can go to: tinkercad.com – create a user login and begin designing.
Summary of 3D printing for kids
As a parent, you should now know the basics. You’re on your way to becoming your own 3D printing expert and should feel a little more comfortable that 3D printing will become second nature to your kids. The possibilities are endless, and all it takes is that first 3D printer to get started.