3D Pen Basics




Embrace the learning curve

Refuse to be intimidated

Play fearlessly


There is no correct or incorrect way to hold a 3D pen. When you first start working with your pen, play around and see what feels right to you. Holding your 3D pen vertically may feel natural. For others, a 45 degree angle (similar to how many use a conventional pen) may work out better. Do what feels right to you. Once you’re comfortable, try to break out of your comfort zone and attempt different angles to achieve different results.

The angle of the pen in relation to your working surface makes a difference. Its personality changes as you move from vertical to horizontal. You may find “beading” easier when holding the pen vertically, but switch to a 45 degree angle when drawing straight lines. Keep in mind that your pen’s personality and abilities will reflect your own. If you have trouble drawing a straight line with a pencil, I guarantee you’ll find it difficult with a 3D pen!

Other tips:

  • Use your pinkie finger to steady your movement while drawing.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop and rotate your work surface. If you work best at a certain angle, this is how you maintain that angle. Moving your work surface also helps you maintain visual engagement with your creation. Don’t lose sight of the filament flowing out of that nozzle!


Gently press the nozzle against your work surface as filament flows from the nozzle. The melted filament must touch the surface before it cools to anchor itself. After anchoring the first point, release a bit of pressure as you being drawing. As you move avoid pressing too hard or you’ll break the line of filament. Press too softly or not at all and the filament will float above your work surface.


Listen to the sound of your pen. You’ll learn what it sounds like when the filament is feeding smoothly through the extruder and when it’s not. Pause until it sounds like it’s feeding smoothly, then start moving again.


 Extrusion Speed

How quickly the filament flows out of the 3D pen’s nozzle. Most pens on the market feature adjustable speed control. When you first start working with your pen, keep it on low. Slowly increase the speed as you become more comfortable with your pen.

Drawing Speed

How quickly you are moving the 3D pen. Firstly, don’t move too quickly if you want to maintain control. At least not at first. As you become more comfortable with the medium, you may be able to work more quickly. Secondly, drawing speed affects the diameter of the line. Move quickly for a thinner line and more slowly if you want a thicker line.  A medium fast drawing speed was used to create this egg nest.



Working Surface

A good Working Surface protects your table/desk from the hot filament. You’ll want something the filament likes, but not too much. It should anchor well enough to provide a good starting point and enough control to focus on the design. A working surface will “release” the filament once the design is complete. I’ve tested ABS and PLA filament on just about everything I have in the house. Hands down, the best working surface I’ve found is painter’s tape. Not just any painter’s tape. Get yourself the rough – NOT SMOOTH & SHINY – kind. Then grab some cardboard and cover it with painter’s tape.

Shaping Surface

A shaping surface may be used to easily achieve a desired shape: curves, whirls, corners, etc. Look around your house and poke around a craft store for shaping surfaces. Look around your home and see what you can find. Say you want to create a dress shape, then use your 3D pen to apply a “lacing” effect. To create an A-line dress a cone shaped funnel would do the trick. A hoop skirt could be created with a wine glass.

Simply because a material isn’t suitable for a shaping surface all by its lonesome, doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Remember painter’s tape? Use it on any shape of plastic, glass, wood or metal to get the “grip” you need. PLA is your best bet but ABS can work provided it’s anchored well.

Art Surface

An Art Surface is something you’re decorating or embellishing with filament. The goal is something permanent, perhaps something you’ll display. So, you’ll want a surface the filament likes A LOT. For 2D drawing, I’ve had great luck with foam board. Both PLA and ABS are fond of this surface. PLA is stickier and thus lends itself especially well to decorating various surfaces.


Anything you use to get the job done. Once again, nothing fancy needed so don’t discriminate. You don’t need to spend a lot of money.

Manipulating Extruded Filament

It’s hot. If your fingertips don’t mind, go ahead and use ‘em. If yours are more sensitive than mine, I recommend having a few items on hand to help you handle the hot filament flowing from the nozzle. When free-drawing in the air, filament simply cools and hardens wherever it may be. Try to direct the flow and guide the hot filament with wooden pencils or bamboo skewers. These tools help to manipulate, curve and bend the filament as it’s flowing out of the pen.

Filament Cutting and Removal

Have some palette knives and spatulas on hand. Small scissors come in handy. Jewelry making tools would be a great investment. I guarantee you’ll find a use for a small wire cutter, needle nose pliers, and possibly round nose pliers.

Tidying a Finished Project

Get yourself an inexpensive soldering tool. It useful to clean up loose ends, and the microscopic strings that form when you stop drawing and pull the pen away from your art. Make sure you keep it on its lowest setting. Use sparingly as it will leave burn marks on your creation if wielded too enthusiastically.

Glossy Finish

An acetone vapor bath may be used on ABS to achieve a glossy finish. Google it and you’ll find this may not be something you want to fiddle around with. If that’s the case, then here’s a workaround.

  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Place parchment paper on cookie sheet.
  • Place your 3D drawing in the middle of the parched cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 4-8 minutes (depending how glossy you want your finished piece).



A commonly used 3D material for both pens and printers, ABS is durable and resilient to high temperatures. It’s less “brittle” than the more delicate PLA, preferring to bend instead of break. ABS also contracts as it cools. If drawing on a piece of paper, expect it to “lift” off the paper slightly within a few minutes of extrusion. It cools quickly, lending itself to genuine 3D drawing in the air, up and off your working surface.

ABS has a distinct odor of hot plastic when printing. The odor can be strong or mild depending on the brand used. 3D Maker Nation ABS filament should have a mild odor compared to others on the market.

Please note that ABS is not food safe. Make a beautiful bowl but please don’t use it to eat your morning cereal!


Increasing in popularity, PLA is now a commonly used 3D material for both pens and printers. It’s stronger than ABS, but also more brittle.

It’s easier to go vertical with ABS but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for 2D drawing with PLA. It simply needs more support as it cools and hardens. If anything this makes PLA more versatile because you have time to manipulate and shape the filament.

PLA is sticky. Remember that. It’s important. Not kidding. It’s ideal for embellishing an art surface such as foam board. Once applied, it will stay put. No worries that it’ll fall off after hanging your masterpiece. That being said, PLA won’t stick to everything. I highly recommend consulting the tables in the “SURFACES” section of this booklet before beginning any project.

3D Maker Nation PLA filament is made from corn (hey, we hail from Heartland!). Because it breaks down into harmless lactic acid, it’s often used in medical implants (mesh, screws, pins, etc). It’s pretty much odorless. If you’re lucky enough to smell something, it’ll smell sweet. PLA is food safe. Go ahead and make that cereal bowl and treat yourself to an artistic breakfast. Just make sure it’s watertight!


Give your 3D pen a rest every now and then. It’ll appreciate the break.


3D Maker Nation filament is recyclable. If you’re jazzed about recycling, save any broken pieces or mistakes. Filament recyclers appear on Kickstarter every now and then as their popularity is increasing. It won’t be long before you’ll be able to purchase one for your desktop at home.


Want some?  I’ve got a big stash of some seriously awesome filament that I’ll be selling on Amazon soon (fingers crossed).

NOTE:  I will update this post as I learn more, have the time, etc.