3D printing is a hot topic in the real estate industry (in which I work). Houses are already being built using 3D printers and this has the potential to radically change the way the construction industry works and how we may live in future. For consumers, a range of 3D printers are already available for use at home, including a number of good options for kids. This provides an ability for kids to design things in 3D, then press print to see them come to life. It’s part creation, part technology, part fun – perhaps somewhere between using play-doh with your hands, and first drawing something on a PC (eg. Microsoft Paint) and seeing it printed on paper.
Being aware of the growing use of 3D printers, I wanted to get one for our family to help expose Nina and Violet to this technology. They love drawing, Duplo and play-doh, so it seemed natural they would enjoy this. After researching what was available, I settled on purchasing the da Vinci mini Maker 3D Printer. On first glance, the design of the printer indicated that it was best suited towards younger kids (thanks to the friendly, bright colours), but the manufacturer recommends it is best suited towards children aged 14 years and up, so I will assume younger children are ok with a fair dose of adult supervision.
At its core, the mini Maker differentiates itself from other 3D printers by focusing towards a younger demographic. The printer comes with propriety software titled XYZ maker that makes printing for novices easier by including numerous pre-made designs. I ended up purchasing the mini Maker from Amazon.com for $229 at the time of this review, although it’s useful digging around the manufacturer’s website to get a sense of the company and their other products.
For kids who are really keen and patient, this is a great product
How to set it up
Opening the printer’s box turned out to be much more exciting for my daughters than assembling it. While it is not too complicated, it is also enough work to mean kids can get bored waiting (if your child is a natural builder this could be different – ask yourself if they would want to help put together something from IKEA?). The assembly process is relatively straightforward, but be warned, it is not your average toy. It does require time and patience.
After assembly, the next stage is to get familiar with its software which is available for download after registering an account on the XYZprinting website. Part of what makes the da Vinci mini Maker easy to use is the automatic calibration. Calibrating a 3D Printer can be an arduous task and XYZprinting makes the experience much simpler by making the printer calibrate by itself. After installing the software on your computer, simply plug in the printer and turn it on to begin printing.
How it works
Printing an object on the da Vinci mini Maker is not very different than printing on a 3D Printer that is twice as expensive. While beginners or young children may prefer using the mini Maker’s software to print one of the many included designs, more advanced users can create their own design to print with some modelling tools included in the software. It is also possible to use other modelling software to create a design and then export it into the da Vinci mini Maker’s software to print. Personally, our family started out by printing a small square, which while very simple was also exciting.
Before running the printer, you need to ensure that the printing surface is coated with an adequate amount of glue. The glue is required because unlike bigger 3D Printers, the da Vinci mini Maker does not have any heating on the print bed making some larger prints often unable to stick. Although the print bed measures 5.9 inches on each side or around 205 Cubic Inches, the active printing area is not as large in practice.
Despite having no LCD screen, the da Vinci mini Maker features LED lights to indicate the print status (whether it is printing or paused) and a bar to pause print. The rest of the functions of the Vinci mini Maker are controlled by the software which is detailed below.
Available after registering an account on XYZ’s website, using the da Vinci mini Maker is not possible without understanding how the software works. Known as XYZWare, the software allows users to either print their own or pre-made designs. Printing is done by hitting the print command which then allows the user to select the quality level of the print. Since choosing a high resolution can mean long print times, it might be best to start by selecting a normal resolution for your first print.
It is important to note that the software has been reported by customers to not work on Apple systems and is best suited towards use on a Microsoft Windows machine with at least four gigabytes of ram. Sometimes the Vinci mini Maker’s software can lag and provide “busy” messages while trying to print. These error messages are best resolved by either restarting the machine or host computer.
Just like ink for a normal printer, you need to buy filament for at 3D printer. However, unlike other 3D Printers which can accommodate various types of filament, the mini Maker is only able to use the PLA filament provided by XYZprintings. This lack of third party filament compatibility means that users are forced to pay extra for XYZ’s filament and quite a few people on Amazon have complained about this.
Buying a 3D Printer for your kids can be a big decision. Not only is it expensive, but when it arrives it takes time to set up and get printing. While a lot of people have reported trouble with the software and complained about the proprietary filament, overall this is still one of the leading options for kids on the market. For kids who are really keen and patient, this is a great product. Just make sure you are aware of all the potential issues when buying. It worked fine for us and proved a wonder for the kids to see something created from nothing.
Colourful, bright and immediately attractive for kids
First family 3D printer
Pre-designed options help you start easier
Be prepared to take time setting it up
Proprietary filament is a bit costly
The software and speed can be clunky