In all likelihood, 3-D printing will forever remain a niche thing. But if you or your kid happen to reside in that niche, making your own stuff has become crazy accessible.
Much of the reason is software: Microsoft’s Paint 3-D app in the upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update makes designing 3-D objects super simple, and kids can even print out their own Minecraft creations. But the hardware is following suit, as 3-D printers are now much cheaper and easier to use.
How cheap? For less than $300, you can now buy a capable and beginner-friendly 3-D printer. There are solid models from Monoprice that cost even less, but XYZprinting has 3-D printers for kids and beginners that will look better in your workspace. They’re essentially designed to fill the void left empty by the long-delayed Mattel ThingMaker. But as a well-timed bonus, they also play nice with Windows 10’s latest maker-minded features.
The cheapest and smallest of the lot is the Da Vinci Nano, a $230 box slated to ship by the middle of the year. It’s designed to just plug in and work with a Windows PC like a mouse or keyboard, with the ability to print out objects up to the size of a 4.7-inch cube. In case you’d rather just print stuff without futzing around in Paint 3D, there’s a database of toys and other objects on XYZprinting’s site.
But there’s even an easier version of the printer designed for kids. The Da Vinci MiniMaker sells for $250, and it’s capable of larger 5.9-inch-cubed print jobs. In addition to being able to print out Paint 3D projects and Minecraft models in Windows 10 Creators Update, XYZprinting has a downloadable STEAM education package with tutorials and projects for K-12 students.
Both printers use XYZ’s proprietary PLA filament, which is non-toxic in case your kid decides to eat the green hamburger they just conjured. The printers have a resolution of 100 microns, which is far from what the industry considers high resolution, but a lower quality is to be expected for the price. If you fork over an extra $250 for the separately-sold 3-D Scanner Pro, you can make low-res 3-D clones of every object in your home. Even a (non-working) version of the 3-D printer itself.