Things were going so smoothly. My LIX 3D Printing pen was sucking in reeds of filament and spitting out hot, soft-ish material from the tip. I was gamely trying to master 3D printing with the thin, metal device. So far, I’d managed something approximating a shoe, a face and a pair of triangles. None of it looked good, but I was improving.
Then it stopped working.
Let’s back this up a bit. It had been almost two years since I’d first written about LIX, an ultra-slim 3D printing pen that worked much like traditional 3D printers, extruding PLA or ABS material through a super-heated tip. However, instead of a computer guiding the output, your own unsteady hand could do the grunt work.
The $139 pen finally started shipping in later 2015 and the company kindly sent me a review unit. LIX comes with a box of black PLA filament and a box of multi-colored ABS. ABS requires a higher temperature to melt at than PLA, so the LIX pen has two output buttons — one for each filament type. The instructions tell you which are which, but there are, oddly, no markings on the LIX pen. To keep track of which one I should push, I kept referring back to the all-too-brief user manual.
Fortunately, using the pen isn’t too difficult. You plug it in (unlike other 3D printing Pens, there’s no rechargeable battery), give it two minutes or less to heat up (LED lights on the body let you know when it’s reached full temperature) and then you feed in the thin filament through a tiny hole in the back end, right next to the power port.
Depending on which filament type you use, you hold down one of the output buttons, and a tiny motor inside the pen starts pulling in the PLA or ABS material, driving it to the ultra-hot tip. Soon a thin line of melted (extruded) material starts flowing out of the business end of the LIX pen.
I noticed that regardless of which material I used, the output was what I’d call super soft and pliable and not fully melted. It’s also worth noting that what comes out of the end is a thinner line than the full thickness of one 10-inch strand of filament. As a result, one stick goes further than you would think.
However, because it’s not liquid like, say, the stuff you get from Creopop, which uses UV light to harden the gel-like material, the LIX output is incredibly difficult to work with. For guidance, the LIX package ships with a single template sheet with exactly two ultra-basic designs: a square and a rectangle.
I tried simply “drawing” a melted line of ABS along the template, but as soon as the material exited the LIX pen, it started curling up. Eventually I figured out that if I could hold down a piece of the extruded material with my finger (it cools down super-fast), I could gain more control over my output. This allowed me to eventually create a pair of three-dimensional triangles. (Yay me!)
That was the apex of my LIX pen 3D output.
During the course of my tests, I switched filaments a couple of times. Doing so is easy — you hold down both output buttons, which reverses the motor and spits out whatever unmelted material is inside. I switched to using mostly the black ABS, hoping that, at the higher temperatures, it might be more malleable. After one stick was done, I fed in another and suddenly the LIX Pen started eating the whole filament without outputting anything. Then it started to make this sickly clicking sound.
Eventually, the LIX pen stopped working altogether.
Even before things went south with the LIX pen, I was wondering how many years you would have to work with it to create something like this:
That’s a work that’s featured prominently on the LIX site, but seems virtually impossible to create based on my own experience. The filament never got soft enough for that kind of control. Maybe I’d get there if I spent a lot more time with the pen. Of course, that’s not possible; the pen killed itself.
Just as we were about to publish this review, I finally reached the LIX developers, who wondered if I had, perhaps, used the wrong heat button with the wrong filament. ABS melts at a higher temperature than PLA. If I had used the PLA buttton with ABS, that could account for the breakdown. I told them, however, that I was careful to use the right button and most of what LIX supplied was ABS, anyway. The company may eventually send me another LIX pen so I can give it another go. Even if it doesn’t break, my experience shows that creating amazing pieces of 3D printed art is far easier said than done with this pen.
My conclusion? Size truly isn’t everything. The fact that LIX is the “smallest 3D printing pen in the world” is admirable but becomes little more than an interesting bit of trivia when the product can’t perform without breaking for more than 30 minutes. But keep watching this space, as I may update the review with new performance information based on the next LIX I get.
Only slightly bigger than a real pen • Simple setup • Sharp looking • Affordable
Hard to create anything meaningful • Always tethered to an outlet • Fragile
The Bottom Line
The LIX 3D-printing pen is as small as promised, but there’s more to 3D printing than size; things like output and build quality matter — a lot — and the LIX doesn’t really deliver.