Wait, the Toybox 3D printer is still around?
I saw a recent reference to the Toybox 3D printer and was a bit confused. The Toybox was a small desktop 3D printer designed for children that was launched six years ago. It first appeared on an Indiegogo campaign, which was somewhat successful.
The device was targeted at children, and it had pretty rudimentary technical specifications even for 2017:
- PLA only
- Non-heated print surface
- Small build volume of 90 x 80 x 100 mm
- Single extruder
- Slow print speeds of 20-60mm/s
However, it did include a WiFi connection, which was a bit unusual for that era. This allowed the company to build an app where kids could remotely operate the Toybox 3D printer, so long as they were on the same wireless LAN.
In 2017 the machine was priced at US$399 (but discounted to US$249 for pre-orders), which seems outrageously high today for a device with such poor specifications. However, in 2017 that would have been an appropriate price point.
Since then I haven’t heard much about the Toybox or the company behind it, aside from a sales incident we reported on back in 2019. The incident involved someone paying a shady Internet vendor for a Toybox 3D printer — but the machine was never shipped. It’s likely to have been a fake sales site that capitalized on an unknowing online shopper. I always wondered why that person would consider buying a 3D printer from a random website, but more on that later.
Then last week I saw a story in Popular Science about the Toybox 3D printer. Was the machine still for sale after all these years? Surely it’s been upgraded several times since 2017.
Looking at the Toybox website (which seems to have first appeared in 2021 when the original owner of toybox.com seems to have abandoned the site), we can find out the current state of this machine.
Let’s look at the machine’s current specifications:
- PLA only
- Non-heated print surface
- Small build volume of 70 x 80 x 90 mm
- Single extruder
- Slow print speed of 60mm/s
- WiFi (2.4GHz) with app
Those specifications appear roughly identical to the machine of 2017. Even the WiFi is using the older 2.4GHz standard, as it would have in 2017. The print speed is listed at 60mm/s, whereas in 2017 it was 20-60mm/s. I suspect both are really “up to 60mm/s”.
The current price of the Toybox 3D printer is US$299 — apparently on sale from its normal price of US$419. The early bird discount continues!
Visually, the machine of 2023 appears identical to the 2017 version.
There is also a small library of printable 3D models for the Toybox that can be accessed via the app or web, which also existed back in 2017.
I have a very strong suspicion this is literally the same machine, having been sold in identical form for the last six years!
I cannot name another desktop 3D printer that has survived without change for six years. Even Prusa Research tweaked the MK3 design frequently before they eventually launched the MK4 after five years.
How is it that this machine can last for six years — and counting — whereas other desktop 3D printers seem to technologically expire after a year or two?
My guess is that it’s all about marketing: this device is not targeted at the usual 3D print community. Instead all of the marketing material is focused around purchasing the item by parents for children. Specifications are de-emphasized, and much attention is paid to the colors of material that can be purchased with the machine.
By the way, there are mini-spools of PLA filament also sold as “food” for the Toybox that sell for US$11 per “half pound”. That works out to a cost of about US$48.50 per kg, about double the price of commonly available PLA filament.
It appears that the Toybox 3D printer capitalizes on parent’s lack of understanding of 3D printing products and pricing, and offers what appears to be a “safe” product for children. This aligns with the purchasing scam mentioned above, where the shopper really had no idea where or how to buy a 3D printer for their children.
It’s a completely different market.
What’s the conclusion here? I think there are several very interesting observations from this scenario.
First, there seems to be a clear market for children’s 3D printers that is not being addressed by mainstream 3D printer companies. This market niche doesn’t even look at or consider the traditional desktop 3D printer market. Otherwise, how could the Toybox survive this long without change?
Second, the Toybox is essentially a 2017 device that is effectively obsolete technologically, yet it still apparently sells. Its notoriety was sufficient for Popular Science to write about it in 2023.
Finally, it seems to me that any of several current manufacturers of desktop 3D printers could enter this market with adaptions of their current technology, combined with a sophisticated marketing program aimed at parents and children.
We do know of several companies that have billed their equipment as suitable for children — and they are — but these companies lacked the appropriate marketing to make their machines popular. I have a suspicion that the name “Toybox” is a key component of the company’s marketing campaign, and that’s the kind of approach that could be used by others.
Meanwhile, I see little advantage in buying the Toybox for children today as there are far more reliable, faster, cheaper and better machines today that would offer similar experiences — but perhaps without the color selection.