How Does A 3D Pen Work?

The realm of 3D printing is full of endless possibilities, from crafting unique pieces of plastic jewelry to creating replacement parts for broken appliances. These printers come in a range of different shapes and sizes, although the smallest by far are 3D pens. 

How Does A 3D Pen Work?

Yes, you read that right, you can buy a pen with a nib capable of creating 3D objects out of extruded plastic. As futuristic as it sounds, these devices are very real and work by using a lot of the same principles as a 3D printer.

In this article, we’ll be taking you through how 3D pens work and letting you know what they can do, as well as what their limitations are. 

What Is A 3D Pen?

A 3D pen is basically a handheld 3D printer that looks like a regular pen, albeit one that is incredibly bulky. It may sound like magic, but they are actually very simple to use and can work with a range of different plastics, as well as some metals and even wood! 

These devices are still quite sensitive and can break due to overheating or from using the wrong filament. That said, if you are careful, and use them properly, 3D pens make great tools for artists who want to create imaginative sculptures, models, and accessories out of extruded plastic. 

Unlike 3D printers, these pens don’t require any software and have a much gentler learning curve for those who aren’t very tech savvy. 

How Does It Work?

These pens have a hole in the top for loading in a thin wire of plastic filament. This filament is heated up inside the pen until it melts and is then squeezed out of the nozzle on the other end. Upon making contact with the outside air, the plastic will instantly harden and set to retain its shape.

Many pens will have controls for adjusting the heat of the elements inside and speed settings for dictating how fast the filament is pushed out of the nozzle.

The most common mistake people make is overheating their pen, which can damage the elements and cause the nib to become clogged with melted filament. 

However, once you get the hang of using these devices, you can create your own 3D shapes out of extruded plastic without the expense, or complexity of using a 3D printer. 

Drawing With A 3D Pen

The idea of drawing in 3D can be a difficult thing to wrap your head around at first. It can take a while to learn how to use these devices effectively without your creation looking messy or being structurally unstable. 

The best way to learn is to start by drawing the outline of the object you want to make. This will be a skeletal frame that forms the foundation for the basic shape of your item. Once you have this skeleton, you can proceed to fill in the gaps using a thicker filament setting. 

While you are filling in, you can swap between different colors and add raised surfaces or simple patterns to your creation.

This is the best approach for creating solid objects with a 3D pen, but after a bit of practice you will quickly begin to develop your own style for crafting anything your imagination can conjure. 

What Can You Make With A 3D Pen? 

What Can You Make With A 3D Pen? 

While they aren’t as versatile as 3D printers, you can still create a lot of incredible things with a 3D pen. There is a wide range of different filaments you can load into the top, and some pens are even compatible with wires made from copper, or wood composites. 

These wood filaments contain real wood, so you can sand down the final product to make it extra smooth and bring out the grain. 

Artists use 3D pens to create intricate sculptures made from extruded plastic. Some fashion designers have also adopted these devices and use rubbery, more flexible plastics to create incredible items of clothing and other accessories, like jewelry. 

They can even be used alongside a 3D printer to add detailed patterns and raised surfaces to printed objects. While they certainly have their limitations, in the right hands there are a whole plethora of incredible things you can make with a 3D pen and a little imagination. 

Drawbacks For 3D Pens

One of the biggest problems with 3D pens is that the elements can become deformed if they are overheated. You can tell your pen is too hot when the plastic coming out of the nozzle is runny and has bubbles or smoke coming off it. 

It is vital to double check the melting point of the specific plastic you are using to ensure you apply the right temperature for melting it down. 

Another problem with these devices is that they aren’t great for creating super fine details or smooth surfaces. Since you’ll be filling in your creation, one layer of extruded plastic at a time, you are likely to be left with an item that is quite rough and bumpy. 

Some filaments can be sanded down once they have dried, which will give them a smooth finish. 

Tips For Using A 3D Pen 

  • Always leave a little bit of plastic filament sticking out the top of the pen so you can remove it if needed. 
  • If you are reusing a piece of filament then cut 3-5cm off the tip to prevent the more fragile section that has been heated before from clogging up the nozzle of the pen. 
  • After use, leave your 3D pen turned off to cool down. 
  • If the outside of your pen becomes noticeably hot then turn it off immediately and let it cool. 


3D pens may sound like magic, but they are very real and capable of creating all sorts of amazing objects and works of art. Hopefully after reading this guide you now know a little bit more about how these pens work and how to look after them so they don’t break.

If you are an artist who likes the idea of 3D printing but doesn’t have the time and money for a large filament or resin printer, then why not try out a 3D pen instead and see what amazing things you can make from extruded plastic. 

Mark Andrews
Latest posts by Mark Andrews (see all)