A 3D Printer for $399?
3D Printers are rapidly going mainstream. Prices on 3D printers have fallen fast, making it affordable for the average consumer to get involved in the 3D printing revolution. New Matter offers their MOD-t 3D printer for only $399, a full featured 3D printer that is well designed and attractive.
What is a 3D Printer?
A 3D printer is a device that can “print” plastic objects.
Think of an inkjet printer but instead of ink, it uses tiny streams of melted plastic. Then instead of printing to paper, the print head moves back and forth as well as up and down. That’s essentially a 3D printer. If you ever saw one of those massive “plotters” back 20 years ago that drew your printout, that’s another good analogy. Just swap out the pens and insert a stream of plastic.
3D printers have been around for a while but many of the first ones were home-built and too expensive for the typical consumer. New Matter is bringing 3D printing to everyone with their MOD-t that comes ready to use out of the box for only $399.
What You Can Do with a 3D Printer
With a 3D printer, you can design your own objects or download and print 3D models that someone else has built. People are designing plastic replacement parts for commercial products that have broken as well as accessories, organizers, and cases. NASA recently installed a 3D printer on the International Space Station so scientists on the ground can design parts or tools and send the files so astronauts can print them in space. Imagine emailing a wrench to the space station!
People have even figured out how to 3D print prosthetic hands for amputees, dramatically reducing the cost and giving prosthetic hands to people who couldn’t previously afford one. With customizations, kids are getting Star Wars or Frozen themed 3D printed prosthetic hands.
About the MOD-t 3D Printer
The New Matter MOD-t is a great 3D printer for the typical consumer. For $399, you get a 3D printer that is as easy to use as a typical PC printer. The unit itself is very sleek and attractive, compared to many 3D printers you may have seen in the past.
It doesn’t have a huge frame or a bunch of wires hanging out. A flat tray moves back and forth on the base of the unit and the print head goes up and down on a screw-lift. The printer cover is a clear plexi-glass cube that cuts down on noise and keeps grabby kid fingers out of the unit while it is operating.
The unit comes in several pieces and assembles easily. It comes with a large spool of plastic filament (3D printer “ink”) so that you can start printing right away.
During setup, you connect the printer to a PC or Mac with USB to configure the WiFi settings. Once the printer is configured, it talks to the MOD-t website over the Internet. To control the printer or print something, you login to the MOD-t website and it tells the printer what to do. I had no problems getting the printer onto my rather complex home WiFi network. I can’t say that for all devices I review.
Our First MOD-t Print Experience
Once the unit was assembled and on the Internet, the entire family was itching to print SOMETHING, and fast. Our 10 year old son, Thomas, was willing to forego TV and dinner to “make it do something.”
The New Matter website contains a “store” of 3D models that you can download, visible here. It’s a store format, but many items are free to download and print. We picked a drink coaster because it looked cool and was relatively flat, making it a good first thing to print out.
We clicked print on the webpage and the file was sent to the MOD-t printer for printing.
When the printer begins a new job, the print head spends about a minute heating up to melting-temperature and the unit does some calibration to ensure that it properly centers the building tray.
The MOD-t unit is slightly louder than an ink-jet printer with metal rollers moving the tray back and forth and a fan noise from the print assembly. It’s very quiet for what it does and would not be overly distracting if you happened to be working on the computer in the same room or talking on the phone while printing is in progress.
Once the drink coaster was complete, we used the plastic box-cutter scraper/knife to remove the finished product from the build tray and we had successfully printed our first object.
Our Second MOD-t Print Experience
With a natural-high coming off the first successful print, Thomas was hooked and wanted to print something else right away. I told him to look through the store and find something that looked cool.
What does a 10 year old find? A gun. Sigh.
It wasn’t a real gun that shoots bullets, but a gun-shaped rubber band shooting device. Still, maybe not something to be proud of.
With a spool of pinkish filament, I decided I would let him print a pink rubber-band shooter. It was a large design and it took a long time, but it mostly worked.
When we returned to look at the completed project, it appeared that a piece of the printout had melted and fell off. Despite this, the finished product was mostly usable. I didn’t watch the entire printing process and it may be that the design of the rubber band shooter had gravitational challenges that any 3D printer might have had a tough time with.
Printing from Elsewhere
In a quest to do more research about what interesting and useful things could be printed directly from plans on the Internet, I left the confines of the New Matter store and looked for other 3D designs. I found a neat design for a carabiner and was easily able to download the file as a set of “.STL” files which the MOD-t will accept.
The carabiner itself printed just fine. But we had problems with the latch. After a successful print, we broke the hinge clasp during assembly.
Completed 3D prints can be rather fragile because of the type plastic used. We printed out several other copies of the carabiner latch and had some massive failures. I haven’t had the patience to sit and watch the entire print process to see exactly what is happening (the kids have suggested setting up a time lapse to figure out the root of the failure), but I suspect that the clasp is too tall and thin and it’s falling over as it is printed.
The picture below shows what happens when 3D printing goes south.
To date, we haven’t successfully printed the carabiner insert again. I suspect that with some time and changes to settings, we might be more successful.
It may be a situation where the design/model file is just telling the printer to print something too tall and too fast, making it topple over.
Clearly 3D printing is a new technology and there is a lot to learn. I don’t know if a more expensive printer would have done better at this task.
New Matter MOD-t Specs
If you were shopping between multiple 3D printers, the specs you would want to pay attention to are the resolution of the printer and the size of the object you can create. Of course, as these specs get better, the price can go up substantially.
The MOD-t printer can print horizontally in .4 millimeter increments. Vertically, it can print laters of .1 millimeter. The printer can print objects as large as 6x4x5 inches and it has a speed of up to 80 mm per second.
For comparison, there is the MakerBot Replicator Mini which builds up to 4x4x5 (a little smaller) and has a vertical layer thickness of .2 mm (twice as thick as the MOD-T, meaning less precise). Staples sells this unit for $999. On Amazon it’s $1234.49 at time of publication.
It’s not always easy to find these specs among 3D printers but this gives you a sense of how to compare different units.
Building Your Own 3D Models
To really maximize your use of a 3D Printer, you really want to design your own objects to print such as artwork, signage, crafts, toys, or anything you could come up with!
There are several different drawing applications available for free use which will allow you to build your own 3D models.
In order to get started, I talked with Steve Morris, founder of Catylator Makerspace in Silver Spring, Maryland. Steve recommended TinkerCad by Autodesk, a web-baed 3D creation environment that was easy for beginners to learn. TinkerCad is free for non-commercial use, meaning the home inventor or “Maker” as the cool kids call themselves.
I got an account on TinkerCad and in less than 10 minutes, I created a quick TechSavvyMama sign about the size of a business card.
My object lacks any artistic sense of creativity but it serves as a perfect example of how anyone can quickly design their own 3D objects for printing.
New Matter’s MOD-t 3D printer is a great way to get started in 3D printing at only $399. It’s a fully featured 3D printer which meets the needs of the home artist, maker, or tinkerer. Without hands on experience with other 3D printers, it’s difficult to compare this user experience and print quality with other printers on the market. It worked as described and successfully printed both objects from their store and that we designed from scratch. I did have trouble with the carabiner latch but I’m willing to give it a pass on this task. With such a low price point, New Matter extends the availability of 3D printing to the masses.
We received an MOD-t for review purposes. All opinions are our own and based on personal experience. Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.