An Interview With A 3D Pen Artist

By on January 16th, 2020 in interview

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 Katherine Bialek, 3D pen artist [Source: Fabbaloo]
Katherine Bialek, 3D pen artist [Source: Fabbaloo]

Katherine Bialek is a Canadian artist whose prime tools are 3D pens. 

Bialek began her journey in the world of 3D by backing a Kickstarter some years ago for a 5-nozzle 3D printer. The 5-nozzle color-blending 3D printer project did not succeed, but somehow Bialek managed to end up with one of the few devices produced. Without any support, she’s still trying to get it working in 5-nozzle mode. 

But in the meantime, she turned her attention toward the use of 3D pens, which were inexpensive and could help fix some of the not-quite-perfect 3D prints she had produced. 

Bialek realized she was enjoyed using 3D pens, and continued using them. Another of her interests is watching artists on Twitch, and one in particular caught her attention. It was a coloring book artist from Seattle who drew 3D-like 2D images. Bialek had the idea to re-create the image (with permission of the artist) using a 3D pen. 

 One of Katherine Bialek’s amazing 3D pen artworks in progress, with original design drawing [Source: Fabbaloo]
One of Katherine Bialek’s amazing 3D pen artworks in progress, with original design drawing [Source: Fabbaloo]

The first piece done was quite complex, and based on the Seattle artist’s drawing. Bialek built the work live on her Twitch channel during two weeks of streaming, with several hours per episode. Why so long? It’s because Bialek was moving slowly and explaining her build strategy and extrusion techniques. 

These turn out to be quite important when building objects with 3D pens. You cannot just “make something”; you must carefully plan out your steps and techniques before starting the build. 

One of Bialek’s standard approaches is to decompose the intended object into buildable parts. Then after building each one they can be welded together with the 3D pen. 

After building several larger projects, Bialek says that “My thing seems to be the pens”, as they have become her standard building tool as an artist. 

I say “pens” instead of “pen”, because Bialek uses a set of different 3D pens for different purposes. 

3Doodler 3D Pen

 A well-used 3Doodler Pro 3D pen [Source: Fabbaloo]
A well-used 3Doodler Pro 3D pen [Source: Fabbaloo]

Her “original” 3D Pen was the 3Doodler, which we first saw in 2013 when the company launched their initial Kickstarter campaign and raised a startling US$2.3M, selling over 26,000 3D pens. 

However, it turns out that the 3Doodler is not her favorite 3D pen. While the 3Doodler Pro includes an ability to reach higher temperatures, a digital display, a battery pack for mobile use and auto-reverse mode, it requires using very expensive plastic “sticks”, which make using it too expensive. The 3Doodler Pro runs around US$250, whereas the basic version is around US$65. 

Bialek says the 3Doodler Pro can incur a jam, and they are extremely difficult to clear. She also says their customer service is lacking at times.

 The Scribbler Duo 3D pen [Source: Fabbaloo]
The Scribbler Duo 3D pen [Source: Fabbaloo]

Another 3D pen Bialek uses is the Scribbler Duo, which has the unique feature of dual extruders. This allows you to build two identical paths at the same time, but she says it’s often easier to simply use two 3D pens.   

Instead of these expensive options, Bialek likes to use other less expensive 3D Pens, and lots of them simultaneously. 

 Katherine Bialek’s set of 3D pens [Source: Fabbaloo]
Katherine Bialek’s set of 3D pens [Source: Fabbaloo]

Why have more 3D pens than you have hands? The reason is actually quite simple: Bialek has a number of them loaded with differently colored filaments, all ready to go. When switching colors during the build, she simply picks up a different 3D pen. 

Having multiple pens at the ready is also made possible by the current cost of 3D pens, which can be had for as little as US$20. Bialek says they are all essentially the same, so paying more doesn’t make a lot of sense. 

3D Pen Materials

 3D printer filament spool - only for use in 3D pens! [Source: Fabbaloo]
3D printer filament spool – only for use in 3D pens! [Source: Fabbaloo]

Bialek uses standard 3D printer filament for 3D pen materials, and says that the leftovers at the end of spools we so often have are ideal for use with 3D pens. She asks everyone to not throw them out, but try to find someone with a 3D pen to give them to. 

When buying a new 3D pen, Bialek says they often come with a small sample filament. However, she never uses them as their chemical composition is unknown. She strongly prefers using materials she knows, and this is good advice for any 3D pen operators. 

A curious opportunity arises when 3D pens intersect with 3D printing materials. Sometimes you will see 3D printer filament on sale at a steep discount because there is something wrong with that batch and the manufacturer is dumping the poor quality product. While such materials don’t work very well in a 3D printer, they actually do work very well in 3D pens, and thus Bialek is constantly on the watch for surprise filament sales of this type. 

3D Pen Alternative Uses

Bialek says she has found 3D pens are also excellent for fixing broken or messed up 3D prints. Essentially you use the 3D pen as a type of welding device to, for example, fill holes or smooth over unattractive blobs. However, she reminds everyone that you must take care to use the same filament, otherwise you’ll see the welding. 

3D Pen Accessories

When building with a 3D pen, Bialek has a few other tools handy. These include a set of files to grind down rough edges or remove accidental extrusions, a pair of side cutters to chop filament, and needlnose pliers to grab tiny extrusions. Interestingly, these are the same type of tools many 3D printer operators use. 

3D pens tend to be pretty solid, but the tips are typically made from ceramic and can break. However, with some searching she found a source replacement tips that costs only US$5, so that’s no longer an issue. 

Bialek explained that a very useful technique when using a 3D pen is to build on top of a solid surface. Very often she will build on a flat tale in 2D mode, but this is to make a part than will become part of a 3D object later. She also constructs extrusion guides using cardboard to assist in the building of more complex shapes. A common trick is to use a curved surface as a guide to build curves, for example. 

ABS Fumes From 3D Pen

What material is used? Bialek tends to use ABS, simply because it does not stick to paper and thus her use of surface guides works very well. She has not yet tried using PLA, but I’ve encouraged her to do so. 

One issue Bialek encountered early on was some effects after long exposure (hours) to ABS fumes. Many people experience a variety of symptoms caused by ABS inhalation, and Bialek was not immune. To rectify the situation and continue performing multi-hour Twitch sessions, she built a desktop fume extractor that apparently works very well and she has had no symptoms since. 

3D Pen Artwork For Sale

 Gothic Fairy Garden 3D pen artwork by Katherine Bialek [Source: Fabbaloo]
Gothic Fairy Garden 3D pen artwork by Katherine Bialek [Source: Fabbaloo]

Bialek not only streams her 3D pen work on Twitch, but also builds 3D objects on commission, and even sells popular items worldwide. One of her most popular items are small things for “gothic fairy gardens”, like dead trees, guillotines, fences, balconies, etc. 

One client apparently bought her guillotine and set it up with some ceramic figurines — that had their heads cut off! 

She’s now combining 3D pen art with other structures to make interesting artistic displays, like frames and containers, an example being a stained glass work.

 Stained glass-style 3D pen artwork by Katherine Bialek [Source: Fabbaloo]
Stained glass-style 3D pen artwork by Katherine Bialek [Source: Fabbaloo]

Bialek continues to operate her Twitch channel, but the content is about the process of using a 3D pen, not the building an items. Finally, it seems that she’s putting together all her experience with 3D pens to design a new concept that will offer a better experience to 3D pen artists in the future. 

Via Twitch

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!