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CES 2013 video: Cube 3D Printer is (relatively) simple and affordable

CES 2013 video: Cube 3D Printer is (relatively) simple and affordable

To date, many so-called 3D printers that make three-dimensional objects layer-by-layer have costs tens of thousands of dollars and been too complicated for most consumers to use. But the Cube 3D Printer on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show aims at relative simplicity and affordability at $1,299—and is a modest success on both counts, I think.

The Cube can manufacture plastic items of up to 5.5 cubic inches. You send the design to the device via Wi-Fi, by using a Web interface that allows you to customize Cubify designs—by, for example, choosing which symbols you want on a bracelet or adding your name to, say, an iPhone case.

Cube-3D-printer-interface.jpg

The interface (above), with which you to drag and drop the design features you want, seemed easy to use. But if you’re more ambitious, you can buy a $49 program that lets you create your own designs from scratch. (That program wasn’t available to see at the Cubify booth, but staffers described it as more powerful and more challenging.)

The Cube does demand patience and a decent budget to buy the plastic, which sits in a heated reservoir inside the device. Even a fairly flat item, like a plaque for a door, might cost several dollars in materials and require a few hours to print, since each layer of plastic is extremely thin. Something more ambitious, like a rocket ship or dragon, could require $8 or so of plastic and leave you waiting for up to 8 hours. But watching items take shape, layer by layer, is part of the fun (see the video below for an idea of how it works).

The Cube has drawbacks, even for a simple household device. It prints in only one color of plastic at a time, and so won’t allow that green dragon you’re making to spew black smoke and red fire from its nostrils. And while items are fairly well executed, they lack the sharp finish you see on better mass-produced items.

The Cube might be cheap as 3D printers go, but its $,1000-plus price tag hardly fits within most household budgets. Nor is it entirely clear that even crafty families will find continuing use for the device, after having tired of making bracelets, rocket ships, and the like. To go mainstream, 3D printers need to cost less than the Cube and make a wider variety of things in a bigger range of materials.

That said, the thing is cute as heck, with its choice of 16 different colors for the frame. And, to me, it worked well enough to understand why digital gurus like author Chris Anderson proclaim that home 3D printing will unleash a new industrial revolution of DIY manufacturing, though I may not necessarily agree with them just yet.

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