3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, Up! and Solidoodle - HotHardware

3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, Up! and Solidoodle

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3D printing is a fascinating new technology and an exploding new market. The process involved is pretty basic actually. Heat up some plastic, and sort of like that Play-Doh Fun Factory you were so fond of as a kid, you extrude the melted plastic out to create objects of magnificence -- because you built it yourself.  However, 3D printers are much more akin to their cousin the 2D inkjet printer, though objects are being printed not only on the traditional X-Y plane but with that magical third "Z" dimension of height. In addition, advancements in 3D CAD software packages like Google SketchUp (now a product of Trimble) are making it increasingly easier for the novice DIY designer and budding 3D model artist to make their own designs a reality.

It all started back in 2007 when the first RepRap machine was built.  The idea behind RepRap was to design a machine that could build complex parts in three dimensions using extruded molten plastic and that machine could also "self-replicate" or build a copy of itself. Also, RepRap is a fully open source project that draws on the collective resources of its community to further advance the technology and the vision of the "Self Replicating Machine."

Since then 3D printers of all types have emerged from the community, from almost household names like MakerBot, (one of the largest player in this space, now a proprietary product) to the likes of Solidoodle, PP3DP, and 3D Systems, a pioneer in StereoLithography that invented the STL file format.  STL is also known as Standard Tessellation Language and it's the file format that is widely used for 3D printers, like all of the machines we're going to show you here in this review.  Gamers, you may recall the word "tessellation", as it is a key feature in DirectX 11 and OpenGL 3D graphics rendering.  Tessellation helps define datasets for rendering 3D structures in the virtual world as well as the real world, in the case of 3D printing.  See how it all ties in?  Kinda cool, huh?

We thought so too. So we decided to reach out to a few of the more prominent names in 3D printing and do our usual round-up two step with them.  Unfortunately, the folks at MakerBot were either too busy getting their Rep 2 system off the ground or putting together fancy marketing campaigns for it, so we weren't able to get that machine in but we may come back to it another day. However, we do have systems in from Solidoodle with the Solidoodle 2, PP3DP with their Up! Mini, and 3D Systems, the godfather of STL, with their Cube 3D.  First, let's give you a quick guided tour of these machines, then we'll do our usual deep dive.


Virtual 3D objects have graced the pages of HotHardware many times over the years.  Now, it's about to get real...


3D System's Cube 3D Printer - $1299 MSRP


PP3DP's UP! Mini 3D Printer - $899 MSRP


Solidoodle 2 "Expert" 3D Printer - $699 MSRP (as low as $499 base)

What's perhaps more interesting about the trio of printers we have here is that they represent three different price points and, in some respects, three slightly different approaches to consumer-level 3D printing solutions.  The Cube 3D is sort of the "Apple" of the group. It's easiest to work with and setup, very reliable, looks good and just works.  It's also the most expensive of the three.  The Up! Mini is in the mid-range, both in terms of price point and ease of use and the Solidoodle 2 can be had for as little as $499. The SD2 is a tinkerer's dream and more closely follows the RepRap model with a no frills design.
 

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First off, awesome video and awesome article. I've been waiting for this sort of review for a few years now. I was in the middle of doing some work and saw this post to facebook. I immediately hoped over to my laptop and watched the video.

Here's my take,

The UP! mini, and the club3d seem great if you don't really plan on doing anything over the top, but the Solidoodle wins in my opinion. From a typical user perspective, i'd choose the Club3d for ease of use, but when it comes to 3d printing, i'm not looking for easy. I'm looking for the challenge of building something magnificent, while still having the ability to make a 6 sided dice at the same time, which I feel the Solidoodle can deliver.

I'd also like to look at the level of ease for repair on each device. These things are mechanical objects, they are going to lose calibration, and eventually break. From the video it appears to me that the Solidoodle would be incredibly easy to repair. Heck, it looks so simple that I think I could build a functioning clone in a few weeks. The club3d looks like the most difficult, with everything encased in a smaller plastic form.

For me, the club3d is the most marketable item on this list. It's ready to go the second you are ready to use it. However, for a technical person, or someone willing to learn, the Solidoodle takes the cake with simple design, easy access in case of repairs, overall cost, and advanced settings for the inquisitive designer.

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I found the video very interesting and informative. Technology has always amazed me. Before you know it there will be a lot of people using these just like we use our regular printers. It's amazing to me that it can make a 3D item. I would love to see one in person and watch it make something.

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Very nice review! I know 3D printers are taking off but it's still unique to see this kind of review.

My Dad is a Jeweler and has been using 3D printing since 2002 to print out wax models of jewelry rather than shape it by hand for the easy cookie cutter parts of jewelry. He doesn't own the machine himself (which is a large industrial expensive model) rather he designs the item draws it with basic measurements then pays for the operator to translate his design into the software and print it. It saves him hundreds of hours a month!

However, can anyone tell m a GOOD reason for the average joe to want one of these? What useful items can be printed? Paper-weights? Keychains? Not really sure what useful things can be made. I'd rather buy kids toys than print them. Printing logos and mini buildings is hardly useful other than the fun of it. Anyone have 1 real good example of use?

Also does anyone know of a way to make money off one of these printers? What could be printed from one of these 3 machines that can be sold for a profit?

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One commercial use with which I am personally familiar is making custom cases for nano PCs such as the Raspberry Pi and the APC.IO; and I can see the average joe wanting a 3D print of a family photo, to be hand-painted in realistic colors, for his office desk.

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RTietjens:

One commercial use with which I am personally familiar is making custom cases for nano PCs such as the Raspberry Pi and the APC.IO; and I can see the average joe wanting a 3D print of a family photo, to be hand-painted in realistic colors, for his office desk.

Did you see the phone cases people made with the 3d printers?  I thought that was rather neat as well.

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RT, The possibilities are literally limitless. From custom phone cases, to that little piece of whatever that broke off and it would be great if you could replace it, the technology is very powerful. I think the next big innovation we'll have in this area is the input side of the equation. Say you need to scan something in to be able to print it, not just the exterior visible structure but modeling for replication of a complex design. It should be interesting to see where this technology takes us!

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Dave_HH:

RT, The possibilities are literally limitless. From custom phone cases, to that little piece of whatever that broke off and it would be great if you could replace it, the technology is very powerful. I think the next big innovation we'll have in this area is the input side of the equation. Say you need to scan something in to be able to print it, not just the exterior visible structure but modeling for replication of a complex design. It should be interesting to see where this technology takes us!

I was thinking about that earlier.  The ability to copy an item that is.  It really doesn't seem that difficult, as i'm sure it could be done using a calibrated measuring object and a Xbox kinect or something similar that can capture a 3d model. 

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@Sevags - Why would the average person "need" one of these things? As of today, there's no good answer. The technology is still young. Eventually though, people will be able to "print" replacement parts for just about anything though. Cracked remotes? battery covers? Whatever. You could also make customized containers for any type of project, etc.

As for profiting from one of these machines, I think that's a real possibility right now. Just in the holiday season, for example, what about offering customized Christmas ornaments? Making custom, 3D name badges, etc. The possibilities are there---it's all about imagining a product and marketing it well.

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Interesting comparison, but you have failed to mention that 3D Systems (Maker of the Cube 3D printer) are currently suing the Kickstarter startup Formlabs, on what are seemingly baseless grounds: (http://blog.makezine.com/2012/11/21/3d-systems-suing-formlabs-and-kickstarter-for-patent-infringement/)

For people who wish to support the rise of these technologies, it's really, really important to know what their money will be put towards, pushing technology, or squashing competition, let an informed decision be had by all.

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DrBlackadder, In general, I am totally indifferent to legalese like this to be honest. The level of bs and static about patent wars that we hear in the news these days is ridiculous and a waste of bandwidth in my opinion. We just pulled three low cost printers that we could get in for review coverage. I could care less about the patent wars but your insight is welcome here of course. We'll just stick to what we do here.

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