LAS VEGAS--With an updated Cube 3D printer, announced this morning, 3D Systems has demonstrated its commitment to improving the ease-of-use for consumer 3D printing.
The new Cube might look familiar if you recall the company's original model, announced at last year's CES. The new version is available in a few new colors now, but it otherwise largely looks the same. The biggest functional change on its exterior comes to the build plate.
Whereas before the Cube's build plate was a heated piece of metal, the new build plate is glass, and is unheated. Traditionally, you heat the plate to help secure the plastic during the course of a print. With glass and a new customer-applied glue to roll on between prints, 3D System now has a more child-safe 3D printer.
You might also notice a new mechanism holding the build platform in place. 3D Systems says the new design eliminates the need to manually level the build plate, a task that can be tedious, and can also result in bad prints when the plate becomes misaligned.
The new Cube also has some useful internal changes. 3D Systems has added support for PLA plastic, to go along with the more-common, less rigid ABS material that came with the original model. The printer also detects the kind of plastic you're using thanks to a sensor in the cartridge, which lets it automatically make all of the necessary changes to the print settings to ensure a successful print.
3D Systems says the new model will print up to 1.5 times faster than the older one, and with twice the accuracy. Along with the new material, 3D Systems will also sell plastic filament in more colors than before, going to 16 different options, including glow-in-the-dark green and blue choices. Before it only sold plastic in 10 different colors.
Another welcome update comes on the Cube's software side. One of my criticisms with the original model was that the Cubify printing software offered too few options, in particular the inability to adjust the in-fill, or the amount of material printed inside each object. The software for the new Cube lets you switch between hollow, solid, of half-filled, giving you greater control over object strength and limiting wasted plastic.
3D Systems has also taken a large scale approach to waste with this new release, introducing a recycling program. One rather obvious criticism of 3D printing is that it seems to introduce a lot of plastic junk into the world. Between getting bored with your printed objects and erroneous prints, 3D printers can indeed produce a lot of waste.
As a solution to that issue, 3D Systems in instituting a recycling program for both ABS and PLA objects, as well as the plastic housing surrounding each cartridge. The latter recycling plan deals with a problem that's unique to 3D Systems, since it's the only vendor so far among the desktop 3D printing vendors that uses a proprietary, nonrefillable cartridge system. Now you can ship the plastics or the cartridge back to 3D Systems, or look for a company-sponsored recycling meet-up in either New York or San Francisco. You even receive a $5 discount on your next cartridge purchase when you turn in an old one.
The maximum build size in the new Cube is the same 5.5 inches cubed as that of the original model. The $1,299 price is also the same. 3D Systems also tells me that it has not updated the object manipulation interface in its software, so you can expect that will still be a pain. The company will also cease manufacturing of the old model, although the print cartridges are backward compatible.
If you're interested in making a purchase, 3D Systems says it is taking orders for the new Cube immediately, and that it will start shipping out to customers on January 21.