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Solidoodle takes on MakerBot with a super-cheap, super-sized printer

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In a market filled with low-cost, user-friendly 3D printers, Solidoodle was one of the first — it was announced in early 2012 as a simple $500 box for people who didn't need the relatively high-end features of something like a MakerBot Replicator. Two years later, dozens of people have had the same idea, and Solidoodle is branching out, attempting to satisfy both professionals and people who just want to dip their toes into 3D printing. The company is introducing a new trio of designs that are both more polished and (mostly) more expensive than its existing lineup, including an almost completely enclosed model that it hopes can finally deliver on the promise of pain-free printing.

The centerpiece is the Solidoodle Press, the Easy-Bake Oven of the lineup. Unless they're changing the spools of plastic filament or otherwise poking around inside, all a user will see of the pod-shaped Press is the space of the build chamber itself. A new design is supposed to prevent that filament from tangling, a heated bed will reduce warping, and Solidoodle is introducing an auto-calibration system called SoliTouch that eliminates the need to adjust the printing bed — although despite the specialized name, that's not an unusual feature to find in a 3D printer, unless it ends up working unusually well. The Press is designed for "mainstream appeal," and it's definitely less daunting-looking than Solidoodle's previous printers, which were essentially big black boxes or metal frames.

"Mainstream appeal" is the selling point for any number of 3D printers, and some of Solidoodle's selling points — a simple design, a catalog of ready-to-print objects — are simply par for the course at this point. At $599, the Press is $100 less than the last-generation Solidoodle 4, but it's more expensive than the older models that are being sold right now. It's about on par with the consumer-focused Da Vinci line by XYZ Printing, as well as the hobbyist systems sold by Printrbot. During a promotional period, however, you can get it for $349, which puts it closer to the rock-bottom price of unassembled kits or New Matter's very pretty Mod T. And unlike the Mod T, the Solidoodle Press has a firm, upcoming release date.

The metal frames are coming back for the Solidoodle Workbench and its smaller sibling, the Workbench Apprentice. At $1,299, the matte black Workbench is by far the most expensive Solidoodle printer yet, and it's got a significantly larger print bed: you can create objects up to 12 inches long, wide, and high, larger than any MakerBot printer except the outsized Replicator Z18 (which prints 12 x 12 x 18-inch designs.) Unlike the Press, it has dual extruders that let it print two colors at a time, as well as a heated print bed. The silver Workbench Apprentice has a significantly smaller 6 x 6 x 8-inch limit for objects, and it uses an unheated acrylic bed instead of the Workbench's aluminum and glass one. But it still prints in two colors, and it comes out at a cheaper $799. Both of these machines are designed for the hobbyist and professional market that MakerBot serves, the open design making them easier to modify or tinker with.

The Workbench isn't the only large-bed printer out there by far, and it's technically not the cheapest. The gMax printer, currently shipping to Kickstarter backers, prints 16 x 16 x 9 inches and can be pre-ordered for a base price of $1,295, though you'll have to put it together yourself. Still, you could buy about five Workbenches for the price of a MakerBot Z18, and printers that can handle a cubic foot or more in general remain in the multi-thousand-dollar range. And while MakerBot branched into extra-small printers earlier this year with the $1,375 Replicator Mini, it isn't trying to dip into Solidoodle's low-end market.

With these three additions, Solidoodle is also cleaning house: it's discontinuing its second- and third-generation printers immediately, and it's phasing out the Solidoodle 4, which will be available for $499 until the new printers start shipping. That won't happen until next month, but you can still order the new printers today on Solidoodle's site.