3D Printing is gaining momentum, and getting your children started with a kid-friendly, easy-to-use, safe and inexpensive unit will give them a head-start with this technology. Our top picks for this review are the da Vinci miniMaker from XYZprinting and the 115365 Select Mini from Monoprice, both under $200.
The build volume, 6″x6″x6″ , is modest but more than adequate for the types of prints that younger kids will want to make. It has a maximum print speed up to 100 mm/second, which gets you to finished product in a reasonable amount of time. After all, parents understand that attention spans for children can be limited, so it’s best to not waste time waiting around for the printer to finish.
The printer is compact, so it won’t take up a lot of space, and it’s relatively light at 18 lbs. It comes fully assembled, so you can use it pretty much right out of the box. The designers of the da Vinci 3D printer put a lot of thought into making this as user-friendly as possible for their intended audience of beginners. It’s equipped with a single-button for printing; so no complicated controls to confuse and frustrate. It has 5 colored LEDs indicators for signaling the status of your print job. And unlike some more expensive printers, this $200 3D printer has built-in WiFi connectivity and a standard USB port.
We also like that this is not a fully open unit, which means a greater level of safety for younger children.
Another feature we like for this printer for younger children is that it uses a Non-Toxic Filament. The da Vinci miniMaker prints only with XYZprinting’s bio-compostable, non-toxic PLA filament. The PLA filament derives from natural materials, such as sugarcane and corn starch, and has gone through various tests to ensure that it is DEHP-free and Heavy Metal-free. One complaint that some buyers have is that the filament reel has a “chip” with RFID meaning that you can only use approved XYZ filaments with this printer. We actually think this is a good thing since it will typically prolong the life of the unit, and ensure that only the non-toxic materials are being used.
For easier set-up and usage, the da Vinci miniMaker uses an intuitive auto-calibration system that adjusts the extruder and print bed accordingly to ensure that you have one of the best possible prints.This 9-point calibration detection that adjusts the print bed level along the Z-axis. The self-calibration is one of the features that really sets this apart from many other 3D printers; Until you’ve had to manually calibrate a print bed, you won’t realize just how special this is. For kids and beginners alike, not having to use a hex wrench to tighten / loosen screws while the printer whirs and beeps is worth the buying the miniMaker for no other reason. Periodically run the calibration test and watch the printer adjust itself!
A final word on the print bed is that it not heated, which shouldn’t be an issue with the non-toxic PLA, but we wanted to note this since some folks have opinions on heated versus non-heated. We think that for children, non-heated can be a definite plus since it’s one less way they could potentially hurt themselves.
To get started, XYZPrinting provides a host of 3D resources to create files and models. Included with the purchase is the XYZmaker 3D Design Software, XYZ 3D Gallery, XYZprinting STEAM 3D Printing Education Curriculum and XYZware 3D Printing Software. A little explanation for what these are, and why these are important for anyone ,especially children, starting on the path to 3D creating.
“XYZprinting STEAM”, is an online curriculum education program developed to helps K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (“STEAM”) educators to incorporate 3D printing into their classroom. The work that they do is made available to all students using the da Vinci printers. The folks at XYZ explain it best: “XYZprinting’s Complete K-12 STEAM Solution’ combines our K-12 STEAM curriculum with the da Vinci miniMaker 3D printer to offer an all encompassed approach to developing STEAM skills and knowledge. Created with the help of education professionals, the ‘Complete STEAM Solution’ encourages collaborative learning and problem-solving while teaching 3D design skills through hands-on lesson plans that meet the measures of NGSS standards. As a largest catalog of 3D printing curriculum available, with a focus on Physical and Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering and Technology, XYZprinting’s STEAM lesson plans include Tool Design, Elementary Arithmetic, Electromagnets and much more. In combination with the da Vinci miniMaker 3D printer and student-centric 3D software, our online curriculum will show you step-by-step how to deliver an engaging STEAM-based lesson. The ‘Complete K-12 STEAM Solution’ has everything needed to expand your students’ horizons and foster innovation today.”
Once the child understands the basics of 3D Printing, and how to use the design / creation software, they can download some of the 5000+ 3D models available from the online XYZ 3D Gallery. Nine categories (and growing) of build objects include things from toys and games, to art pieces and educational items.
The miniMaker gets our top spot for its ease of use, safety, included design tools and great price. Order the the XYZprinting da Vinci miniMaker 3D Printer
BTW – you get a reel of filament with the unit, but you’ll want more and in fun colors. Here’s a list of Da Vinci Filament PLA colors so you can order when you buy the printer. Expect to pay about $25 to $30 per reel.
Similar to the da Vinci, the Monoprice printer ships fully assembled, and doesn’t require the user to do any setup. It is also factory calibrated during assembly for the axis orientation and for leveling the build plate. You can also make manual adjustments if you find these are required.
What you’ll notice about this printer is the 3.7 IPS color screen makes easy for printer controls, build configurations and providing status information directly on the printer. A small dial next to the screen is used for navigation – it’s great for kids and smaller hands, but may be a little difficult if you have larger hands. Communications are also supported through WiFi, Micro SD Card, and a standard USB port.
The build size at 4.7 x 4.7 x 4.7 inches is smaller than the 6 x 6 x 6 of the da Vinci; Due to the open frame work construction the unit also has a smaller overall footprint, making it good if you are really tight on space. The build speed is a little on the slow side but this is because the Z-resolution is quite high, which is a plus if you are building for quality, but a minus if you are really just starting out and can tolerate lower resolutions. Weigh the trade-offs when making your decision.
The Monoprice doesn’t provide any proprietary software or CAD tools to develop models. Instead, you can use open source programs like Cura or Repetier-Host to generate and create your own G-code files. This software comes factory loaded on the SD card which comes with the printer. Additionally ReplicatorG and Simplify3D are listed as compatible software, but you’ll need to download those on your own. You have a great deal of freedom in software choice for this printer, which some owners prefer but others dis-like. Younger users may benefit from a more closed system like the da Vinci, whereas more creative and experienced designers may enjoy the unbounded nature of open source.
The Select Mini has an insulated and heated built plate, which makes this printer compatible with a wide range of materials. A nice feature is the included and factory installed build mat. Complementing the heated plated is the extruder (and nozzle cooling fan) which can be set for various temperatures allowing this printer to work with any type of filament, from basic filaments, such as ABS and PLA, to more advanced materials, such as conductive PLA, wood and metal composites, or dis-solvable PVA.
Here’s a 30 minute video showing a first look, un-boxing and printing of a test elephant:
Order the Monoprice 115365 Select Mini 3D Printer