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As posted on This isn’t a 3D printer, but it’s still a lot of fun

Fake news can even infect the tech gadget world.

Take IDO3D 3D Print Shop from Redwood Ventures. It’s a $60 kid’s toy that would like you to believe it’s a 3D printer.

It’s not. That’s Fake Gadget News.

It’s actually a 3D injection mold system that uses UV light—the same kind that your dentist uses to harden fillings—to create tiny molds. (Owing to the chemicals and tiny toy size output, this is for 8-year-olds and up.)

Despite the little white lie, though, IDO3D is good, slightly messy fun.

You get a few of these flexible molds.

You get a few of these flexible molds.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

The mostly plastic, 13-inch tall, battery-operated mold maker ships with 3 pre-made molds, 20 mold plates, something called Formula 4D for cloning objects (more on that later) and two ink cartridges.

IDO3D also comes with detailed instructions, but if you get lost, the print shop has numbers on each part to help guide you through each step.

Even with all this guidance, I must admit that my first attempt at mold-making was a mess. This was mostly my fault; I literally skipped a key step. 

Here’s the right way to create a mold of, say, half a hamburger. 

I started by collecting the two, rubbery halves of a pre-made hamburger mold. Both halves fit together and slide neatly into a provided plastic cylinder and then sit in a tray base that slides into the injection mold theater.

Inside the IDO3D 3D print shop.

Inside the IDO3D 3D print shop.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

I chose the pink ink cartridge (I also have blue), which, after I opened it and put on the included nozzle, snapped securely into a space right above the mold. Above the cartridge is a spring-loaded plunger that I pulled up as far as I could. 

I then used a lever to raise up the burger mold and holder, which aligned a tiny opening in the top of the rubber mold with the tip of the ink cartridge nozzle. Then I released the spring level on the side of the IDO3D Print Shop, which sent the plunger right down into the backside of the ink cartridge. Soon, brightly colored pink ink was flowing into the mold. Because a light turns on behind the mold during injection, I could kind of see through the semi-occluded rubber to the chamber filling up with pink ink. I would prefer a more fool-proof way of knowing that I’ve injected enough ink. More than once, I over-filled the mold with messy goo.

From left to right, the ink or polymer cartridge, clone your own mold maker and a 3D plate, one of the pre-made molds, a hamburger I made, and the teddy bear mold.

From left to right, the ink or polymer cartridge, clone your own mold maker and a 3D plate, one of the pre-made molds, a hamburger I made, and the teddy bear mold.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

As soon as I saw some of the ink shooting out of the four side channels on the mold, I quickly pulled up the plunger and then covered the nozzle tip as fast as I could because the ink tends to keep flowing out. You start, by the way, with enough ink to make dozens of tiny objects and refills cost roughly $5.49 apiece.

Next comes the critical part and IDO3D’s secret sauce.

I took the bright yellow, but translucent cover and put it on the front of the print shop. If this looks at all familiar to you, then you’ve probably been to the dentist recently. The cover is roughly the same color as the visor your dentist wears when she puts UV-curing polymer on your teeth and then uses blue UV light to cure and harden it. As a safety precaution, that UV light in the print shop won’t turn on unless the cover is firmly in place.

With my protective cover on the device, I hit the large blue button on the front and the UV light turned on for 90 seconds. Near the end, it started blinking to let me know my mold was almost completely cured.

With that done, I pulled the mold out of the print shop, then slid it out of the plastic cylinder and pulled the two halves apart. Inside was my perfectly-formed half hamburger surrounded by what IDO3D calls flash. 

I pulled the now hard, three-quarter-inch-tall half-hamburger from the mold and effortlessly broke away the excess plastic.

Eventually I made the other side of my hamburger and even joined the pieces by spreading some print ink on the two halves, throwing them back into the print shop and hitting the UV light.

This UV light hardens the polymer. In fact, the liquid ink won't dry or harden without it.

This UV light hardens the polymer. In fact, the liquid ink won’t dry or harden without it.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Using the Formula 40 strip, you can make your own molds.

To do so, you can start with either the included print plates or use whatever non-porous objects you have lying around (tiny keys, Legos, marbles, tiny toys, loose change).

Formula 40 is heat-activated material that gets super malleable when placed in hot water for a few minutes. After you soften it, you squish it into one half of the print shop’s clone mold maker and then press in any one of 20 pre-built plates (featuring shells, tiny guitars, elephants) or whatever object you want to copy.

Whatever you use, you make two mold halves, cool the material in ice water for 3 minutes to harden the mold (it remains rubbery) and then follow the same steps as you did for pre-made molds to make your own tiny toy inside the print shop.

I tried making a Lego piece clone with limited success. The result looked like it was produced in a factory during an earthquake. The top and bottom halves of the piece do not align.

What’s worse, though, is that the ink material inside the piece did not fully harden, and when I pressed on my fake Lego, pink ink started squeezing out the side.

I tried running the fake Lego piece through a few more UV light cycles, but the inside never fully hardened.

IDO3D isn’t 3D printing, the printed objects are, at under an inch tall, cute, but a little underwhelming and I don’t like that you must guess at how much ink to inject. Even so it’s a fun process. IDO3D is, ultimately, an affordable tchotchke-and-clone creating diversion that might teach a future dentist a thing or two.

IDO3D Print Shop

The Good

Easy to use if you carefully follow the steps. You can duplicate small household objects and toys.

The Bad

Can be messy The size of what you can create is very limited It’s too hard to tell whether you’ve injected too much or too little ink

The Bottom Line

Fun, affordable and could teach kids about UV-curing polymers, but needs a better way of managing ink injection.

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